Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Worst to Best: Stephen King Movies

I love making worst-to-best lists.  Sometimes I think that I ought to find new things to be interested in, just so I could make a list devoted to deciding what was the crappiest example of it.  Then I think that would be silly, and don't do it, but I reserve the right to change my mind at a moment's notice.  So if you someday see my name on a blog somewhere listing off the entire history of grape soda, from the worst example to the best, don't be surprised.

stolen from

For the record, I am not insinuating that Grapico is the worst grape soda.  What foolishness THAT would be.

Let's not worry about grape soda right now, though.  Let's worry about the episode of Mad Men I just watched: Roger took acid, Peggy gave a stranger a handjob in a movie theatre, and Don thought Megan had been killed.  It was awesome.  Let's worry about Stephen King movies.

Whoa, what just happened there...?  I feel like I was talking and got interrupted somehow.

Let's move past it and find out what my pick for Worst Stephen King Movie ever is.


#71 -- Creepshow III  (2006)

DISCLAIMER:  I have never actually seen this movie.  So is it fair for me to put it at the absolute bottom of the list?  Well, no.  However, since I've seen every other piece of shit fauxquel and ripoff "based" on King's work, I assume that there can only be one reason why I keep forgetting to watch this one:

Obviously, I am receiving subliminal messages from Captain Tansy Valanjean, a rogue time agent in the year 4976 who has determined that the point in time when everything went wrong (and the events which brought will bring about The Dark Age 2.0 were set in motion) is inextricably related to my having viewed a film called Creepshow III.  Defying her superior officers and the orders of the Chrono-Court, she has decided to try and save the future.

So, like, that means this has GOT to deserve to be at the bottom of the list.  Seriously, do you think Captain Valanjean would risk her neck with the C.C. if it wasn't important?

Yeah, me neither.

Of course, what she doesn't know is that I'm going to watch it anyways, sooner or later.  Let the future fend for itself; I've got to see it so that I know how bad this movie is.

It's debatable as to whether it ought to be included on the list at all, not because I've never seen it -- other than a rogue time agent from the year 4976, nobody (including me) gives a shit about THAT -- but because it has nothing to do with Stephen King's work, and is therefore not actually a Stephen King movie.  I won't argue that that isn't the case, because it demonstrably is.  So: why include it?

The short answer is this: because I feel like it.  The longer answer is this: because I feel like it, and also because while it might not have anything at all to do with Stephen King's work, it is a legally sanctioned continuation of a film series begun by King.  If nothing else, it -- and the various other similar fauxquels and ripoffs which will fill out most of this list's nether reaches -- will give me something to snark at.

#70 -- The Mangler Reborn  (2005)

God help me, but I've actually seen this movie.  It's terrible.  I mean, really, truly terrible.  Not as terrible as Crazy Fat Ethel II -- which actually does exist -- but pretty damn terrible.

This is the third in the Mangler series of films, and it is about a guy who (I guess) becomes possessed by whatever malefic spirit was possessing the industrial laundry press from the original film.  So he makes a machine, kidnaps some kids, and then chops them into pieces.  I'm sure more happens than that, but it's what I remember.  Someday, when my ideas for this blog begin to run dry, I'll rewatch it, and give you a more in-depth review.

I promise.

You just keep waiting.  Check back here every day.  Three times, if possible.

Eventually, you'll see it.

#69 -- A Return to Salem's Lot  (1987)

I like A Return to Salem's Lot more than I like The Mangler Reborn.

It seems incredible to me that I have just typed the phrase "I like A Return to Salem's Lot more than" and then not concluded it with "cancer," "anal rape," "spiders," "black holes," "tomatoes," or "Battlefield Earth," but I seem to have done just that.

You've got to admire the sac on the producers for claiming that this was based on characters created by Stephen King (and also for using the image of Barlow from the Tobe Hooper film): nobody from King's novel, or from the movie/miniseries based on it, appears here.  None of the events of that film are referenced.  Hell, it doesn't appear to be the case that anyone associated with this movie ever even saw the original movie, much less read the novel it was based upon.  No sir, no madam, let's have no misunderstandings: this was a cash grab intended purely to bilk a few nickels and dimes out of Stephen King fans too stupid to tell the difference.

In a way, I admire that.  It's at least got a ring of desperation to it, which is more than can be said for some of the other movies you'll find me complaining about later on.  Otherwise, this is an utterly abysmal film, one that I wish Captain Tansy Valanjean had prevented me from seeing. Where were you when I needed you, rogue time agent?!?

If, like me, you have actually suffered through this film and wish to find a way to make yourself feel better about it, here is a game you can play: pretend that it's a gift that was given to you by a visitor from a parallel universe.  In that universe, Stephen King wrote a vastly different -- and vastly less good -- version of 'Salem's Lot, and this is the movie that was made from it.  So, in a way, this is like getting a look at what an alternate-universe version of Stephen King might be like.  The movie still eats camelshit, but at least now it feels like a miracle of science that you were able to see it at all.


#68 -- The Mangler 2  (2002)

I met Lance Henriksen at Dragon*Con once, and he was literally one of the nicest people I have ever met in my entire life.  He's an actor, so maybe it was all a sham, but I doubt it; and even if it was, you'd have to idolize the effort put into fooling me.

With that in mind, I cannot begin to tell you how much it depresses me that someone of his stature should have to be in a movie this bad.  This man is Bishop!  He's Frank Black!!  He starred in Near fucking Dark!!!  And THIS is the best 2002 could come up with for him?!?


Director Michael Hamilton-Wright -- who also wrote the film -- has not directed a movie since.  Hard to believe, but true.  The story involves a computer virus that gets loose in a private school and begins using the school's high-tech security system to, like, kill people and shit.  I assume we are meant to believe that this virus is somehow the same evil spirit that possessed an industrial laundry press earlier in its career, but it's never spelled out in such terms.

There is a subordinate character -- a French chef who is the school's cook -- who would rank right up there among the worst characters in all of cinematic history.  He is played by Philippe Bergeron, who appears on the commentary track, just in case you are concerned with what he might think about all of this.  Astoundingly, Bergeron has gone on since then to appear in episodes of Alias, The Shield, The Sopranos, and Mad Men, so good for him, I guess.

#67 -- Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace  (1996)

Also known as Lawnmower Man 2: Jobe's War, this is a burnt-turd smoothie under any title.  As of the time I am typing this, it holds a 2.2 rating on IMDb, and is #72 on the Bottom 100 list.  Wowsa!  Even I wouldn't go THAT far.  I mean, it does at least seem to have been created by humans, and not by genius crows, so it's better than, say, Ultraviolet ... but that's about as kind as I can be.

The movie stars Matt Frewer -- always a sign of impending low quality -- as Jobe, who has now taken over the world, except not really, or some bullshit.  I can't really remember, and can't be bothered to find out.


#66 -- Trucks  (2000)

I can see how someone might have thought it would be a good idea to remake Maximum Overdrive and base it a little more closely on "Trucks," the Stephen King short story which served as its basis.  In theory, that could have worked.

It did not work.

The filmmakers defied all odds and managed to produce a film that is even worse than Maximum Overdrive.  And it's not merely worse, it's worse by a large margin.

For one thing, the lead is Timothy Busfield, who is typically restricted to smarmy supporting role, so right there, you know you're in for a bad time.

Frankly, that's all I can bear to type about this movie.  Moving on...

#65 -- Children of the Corn  (2009)

I'm trying to imagine what kind of consumer would be in a place where DVDs are sold, and find himself -- or herself (sometimes women can be mouthbreathing morons, too...) -- perusing the titles, only to see this one, and then find himself saying, "Hmm, well, since it's Uncut and Uncensored, I'll buy that; if it were cut and/or censored, then fuck a bunch of that, but this is not the case, so yay!", a mental process which is then followed by the conducting of an actual transaction with an actual cashier.  This person then walks out of the store, feeling as though the day had just improved mightily thanks to that transaction.

Somewhere, that person exists.  Or at the very least, marketing people think that that person exists.

I bought the DVD, but I did what any person with an acceptable amount of shame about feeling urged to do so should do: I bought it online, and was at least spared the humiliation of having a person look me in the eye and judge me while I was in the process of spending my money on such a shitshake of a film.  I have not managed to motivate myself to watch it, so I cannot say exactly what "Uncut and Uncensored" might amount to; I watched the television broadcast, and -- you'll find this hard to believe, I'm sure -- disenjoyed it so much that forcing myself into a second viewing has simply not been easy to do.  This, perhaps, is Captain Tansy Valanjean at work again, and if so, I thank her.

For the record, yes, I am indeed saying that this remake is THE worst Children of the Corn movie of all.  The child actor playing Isaac delivers one of the worst performances I've ever seen, hands down.  I don't blame him for this, partially because he's since gone on to do acceptable work on Dexter, but also because a child actor is never to blame for giving a bad performance; the director is always at fault there.  For God's sake, he couldn't even direct the kid into giving a decent performance on the cover of the DVD!  Look at him!  Does he look evil, or does he look like someone just told him they were out of chocolate ice cream and that he would have to settle for vanilla?  A squash in a hat and vest could have delivered a more believable performance than this.

Not merely bad; inept.

#64 -- Riding the Bullet  (2004)

Speaking of inept, Mick Garris finally makes his long-awaited debut on this list.  If you're a fan of his, well, settle in for a bumpy ride; you won't be enjoying most of this post.

First of all, I may as well admit that I'm not a fan of the short story this movie was based upon.  I've been a Stephen King fan long enough that I was one of the many thousands of people who logged in to the day the story was released, and bought my first ever "e-book" (what a science-fictional term that seemed at the time).  And I thought it was ... decent.  I wouldn't say much more for it than that, and subsequent rereads -- of which there have been two (one via audiobook) -- have done nothing to change my opinion.

So the movie version was always starting out handicapped, but really, there's no reason why a movie version couldn't at least have managed to be mediocre.  It didn't have to be what this movie is, which is bad to a degree that I find it hard to imagine ANYONE liking it.  And yet, I know people do; dozens of them, perhaps.

I am at this point going to issue my standard pro-Mick Garris apology and say that I always feel like an asshole for railing on his movies, because every time I read or listen to or see an interview with him, he just seems like the nicest guy.  And I mean that.  You don't see me making time to say nice things about the burger flippers who made the "sequels" to The Mangler, do you?  No, you don't.  So believe me when I say that I genuinely wish I didn't hate Mick Garris's movies.

But I do hate them, and I hate none of them worse than I hate this one.

Part of the problem is that the tone is just all wrong.  Part of the problem is that David Arquette -- I mean, David mother-scratchin' Arquette, man! -- is playing the malevolent ghost.  A jar of pickles would have been better-suited to that role; perhaps Vlasic's agent held out for too much money.

Another problem: Barbara Hershey plays Alan's mother, and man, let me tell you, she looks AWFUL in this movie.  She's a good actress, and she does decent work, and that last statement is more than I can say for her plastic surgeon, who at some point in time ruined her face.  As a result, she not only looks too old for the role -- and let's have no mistake about it, she looks forty fucking years too old for the role (at least in the flashback scenes) -- but she looks like a skeleton to boot.  Does it make me a bad person for pointing that out?  Well, I'm a mostly-bald, 320-pound loser who wasn't particularly good looking before gaining the weight and losing the hair; I have no problem admitting that I'm WAY outside the boundaries of attractiveness.  That's nobody's fault but mine, and Barbara Hershey ruining her looks in what I assume was an attempt to convince people she wasn't aging ... well, that's nobody's fault but hers.

Ladies, please: stop doing that to yourselves.

And Stephen King: stop allowing Mick Garris to do this to your stories.

#63 -- Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror  (1998)

Perhaps best-known as the Children of the Corn movie that co-starred Eva Mendes in her first film role, I prefer to think of it as the Children of the Corn movie that co-stars Fred Williamson and David Carradine.

Even more cringe-inducing, it stars another Arquette.  When last we spoke of Arquettes, we were at least speaking of David, the reputable one.  THIS time, we're speaking Alexis Arquette, who is best-known for later undergoing a sex-change operation and becoming an exceptionally unattractive woman.  But hey, so be it.

Well, science can take a dong and turn it into a vag, but it can't remove the stain of Children of the Corn: Alexis, you're stuck with that.  Best of luck with the reality TV show.

#62 -- Children of the Corn: Genesis  (2011)

Lol.  This one barely even has children OR corn in it.  Awesome.

#61 -- Children of the Corn: Urban Harvest  (1995)

Say, I know what a great idea for a sequel to Children of the Corn would be (said somebody in roughly 1994): let's have people grow corn in a city!  And then, like, bad things can happen!

This is -- shocker! -- a terrible movie.  However, supposedly Charlize Theron is in it somewhere; I cannot immediately verify that, but IMDb says so, and for now, that's good enough for me.  I like Charlize Theron.  She's purty.  And unless my memory fails me, she's the only good thing in the movie.

Please note that I say that despite not even being sure she is actually IN the movie.

#60 -- Sometimes They Come Back ... For More  (1998)

When a movie co-stars Chase Masterson -- a lovely actress best known for her role as Leeta, the dabo girl on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine -- in the role of a character called "Major Callie O'Grady," you know you are in for a rocky ride.

So it is with this, the final part of the Sometimes They Come Back trilogy, which -- you guessed it -- has precisely nothing to do with the original story or film.  Instead, it is a ripoff of The Thing!  Give 'em credit for having balls; when you are making a cash-grab direct-to-video cheapie designed to exploit Stephen King fans and take the time and effort to then rip off Howard Hawks and/or John Carpenter in the process, I have no choice but to salute you.

You might be surprised to learn this, but director Daniel Berk has apparently not worked in the movie business since making this film.


#59 -- Children of the Corn: Revelation  (2001)

Surprisingly, I don't actually remember what gets revealed in this movie, except for the fact that in 2001, Michael Ironside was not being very choosy in terms of what movies he would appear in.

#58 -- Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice  (1992)

I'll say this for Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice: it is, at the very least, an actual sequel to Children of the Corn.  If I recall correctly, it involves the surviving kids from Gatlin being packed up by Social Services and being sent to live in some other rural midwestern town, where a reporter and his troubled teen son find themselves just in time for things to start getting hinky.  I think a major subplot involves Native Americans, but don't take my word for it; find out for yourself via the home video delivery mechanism of your choice.

#57 -- Pet Sematary Two  (1992)

I fucking hate Edward Furlong.  Hate him.  Not personally, of course; I know nothing about him in that capacity.  But on-screen, I hate him.  He may, in fact, be in the upper echelon of actors I hate to see in a movie, right up there with Christian Slater and Rob Schneider.

He almost single-handedly wrecks the otherwise-awesome Terminator 2: Judgment Day; the only reason he doesn't is that in that movie, John Connor is kinda supposed to be an unlikeable little shit, so Furlong's inexplicably-smug little troll face works in favor of the movie's themes in that regard.

Well, here he is stinking up Pet Sematary Two, as well, and while it would have been a colon taco with anyone in the role, he certainly doesn't help matters any.  The story this time: someone else comes and lives in Ludlow near the pet cemetery, and then, ill-advisedly, buries first a dead pet and then a dead relative there.  There are moments in the movie that come close to being competent, but then things run very badly off the rails when Clancy Brown comes back from the dead.  His character is almost decent pre-zombiefication; post-zombiefication he becomes a cartoonish kind of horrible comedic relief.  It doesn't fit the tone of the first movie, and doesn't particularly fit the tone of what has come beforehand in the second one, either.  Don't blame Clancy for this, though: he's giving it his all, and it's not his fault that director Mary Lambert had really terrible ideas.

#56 -- Children of the Corn 666: Isaac's Return  (1999)

God help me, but I kinda like this movie.  I mean, don't misunderstand me: it is a terrible movie.  I makes mo claims to the contrary.


Okay, that last sentence should have read "I make no claims to the contrary," but the typo fairy visited me, and that amusing sentence was the result.  I don't have the heart to delete it; can't be done.

Thing is, my enjoyment of 666 here is kinda similar: it's like if I had a brain-damaged cat who couldn't do anything but crap in the floor and fail at meowing, I'd realize it was a terrible pet, but I'd love it and pet it just the same.  It's a weakness in me, I suppose.  It must also have been a weakness in Stacy Keach and Nancy Allen, who co-star here.  Wow.

Some day, somebody will write the definitive history of the Children of the Corn series, asking questions like "Had you ever actually seen a horror film before filming began?" and "Did you at some point believe that making this film would serve as a springboard into better work?" and "How did that work out for you?"  I'm interested enough and masochistic enough to be the man for the job, but I lack resources and motivation.

Somebody else get that book written so I can read it, stat!

Anyways, as far as Children of the Corn movies go, this one is better than most.

#55 -- Sometimes They Come Back ... Again  (1996)

Unless I misremember this movie, it has literally nothing to do with the original Sometimes They Comes Back, but let's not focus on that too much.  Instead, let's focus on forcing ourselves to -- now and forever -- ONLY read that title in the voice of William Shatner: "Sometimes," he says, "they come back..." --- and here he pauses as only William Shatner can pause -- "...AGAIN."


Anyways, in case you were wondering: yes, of course this movie is shit.  However, it's got Michael Gross and Hilary Swank in it, so it gains a couple of points for that.  The Michael Gross points are immediately lost due to the presence of Alexis Arquette -- who, for those keeping score at home, co-starred in both this AND Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror -- but future two-time Oscar-winner Swank still adds some class to an otherwise classless endeavor.

#54 -- Thinner  (1996)

A genuinely awful movie.

This is a case of my head vetoing my heart a bit: my gut impulse is to put this very near the bottom of the list.  I can't do it, because my brain tells me that while it is indeed a bad movie, it is not inept in the way that, say, The Mangler Reborn and A Return to Salem's Lot are.  And yet, I'd kinda rather watch A Return to Salem's Lot than Thinner, and if Anton Chigurh were to walk in right now and tell me to pick one or the other and watch it, friendo, I betcha I'd pick the one that ISN'T about a gypsy curse.  Because yes, A Return to Salem's Lot is godawful, but it at least isn't wrecking a good Stephen King novel.

Thinner wrecked a good Stephen King novel.  Not a great one, by any means, but definitely a good one.  The movie version is bad on every level, from the casting to the direction to the dialogue to the lighting to the effects to the makeup.  I suspect the catering was bad, too.

#53 -- The Langoliers  (1995)

Once, a co-worker asked me if I had ever seen a movie called The Langoliers?  "Have I!", I said delightedly; "that's a terrible movie!"  She scowled at me and disagreed and said it was one of her favorites from childhood.  I said if she wanted to borrow it to find out how wrong she was, she was welcome; she borrowed it, and STILL thought it was great.


This is a piece of shit.  For one thing, Bronson Pinchot gives one of the world's all-time worst performances playing Craig Toomey.  Why anyone would ever cast Balky in a serious role is beyond me.  The character was a hemorrhoid to begin with; why compound the situation?

Even worse: the Langoliers themselves.  This came out in 1995, six years after the water tentacle in The Abyss, four years after the liquid-metal assassin in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, two years after the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, and one year after the amazing legless Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump.  So yes, computer effects were still in their childhood, if not exactly their infancy; I get that.  And yet I can distinctly recall watching this movie upon its initial broadcast and dropping my jaw when the time-devouring monsters showed up.  Even then, those effects were shockingly substandard.  Today, they could almost certainly be bested by a kindergartener with an iPad.

Apart from that, the movie feels cheap and rushed in other ways, too.  The presence of David Morse and Dean Stockwell helps a bit; they do good work.  And the story does have a bit of Twilight Zone-esque charm.  Otherwise, though, this movie is laughably bad in almost every regard.

Now, for the record, allow me to note that both Thinner and The Langoliers were directed by Tom Holland, who is currently putting together a feature-film version of "The Ten O'Clock People" from Nightmares & Dreamscapes.  Do I assume that movie will suck?

Yes I do.

#52 -- Firestarter 2: Rekindled  (2002)

Here's the thing: I've actually got a decent amount of interest in seeing a sequel to Firestarter.  I'd love to see what Charlie is up to these days.  Obviously, I'd prefer that such a tale be written by Stephen King, but in a pinch, I'd accept well-crafted fanfic.

This is legally-sanctioned fanfic, but sadly, it's not particularly well-crafted.  It's got Malcolm McDowell and Dennis Hopper in it, and they're both doing their overacting-for-hire routines, which is fine by me since it's all I expect from a low-rent gig like this anyways.  I actually rather like Marguerite Moreau as growed-up Charlie, so add her into the mix with those salty old pros cashing their checks, and it makes for occasional scenes that entertain.

Overall, though, this is not a great deal better than you would expect from one of those websites that specializes in "publishing" the stories that tell you all about the special wand-training classes Professor Snape held for Harry, and then Ron, and then Harry AND Ron, and then Harry and Ron while Hermione observed.

In other words: this really isn't very good, and probably shouldn't exist.

#51 -- The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer  (2003)

I'm not a huge fan of Rose Red to begin with, so my expectations for this prequel were not over the moon.  However, I had enjoyed the novel it was based upon (which was ghost-written by Ridley Pearson, almost certainly from ideas supplied by Stephen King [but don't quote me on that because it's sheer educated-speculation on my part]), which supplied some depth that I felt was maybe lacking from Rose Red.

Sadly, despite following the novel closely and having the same director from Rose Red, this movie is a near-complete botch.  The acting is mostly bad, the pacing and tone feel off in ways I can't quite put my finger on, and it simply doesn't capture the voice of the source material.

I've seen worse, but in this case, that's no compliment.

#50 -- Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering  (1996)

That kid doesn't look like he's about to cut someone down with that scythe; he looks like he's marching in a flag parade, and some asshole swapped his flag out for a scythe, but the kid didn't notice and just kept on marching.

That's a decent summary of precisely how scary this series is: it isn't.

However, this one comes very close to being the best movie in the entire series.  I'm aware that that's like saying Sunday was the best day during the week you had explosive diarrhea, but hey, one of 'em has to be the best!  This isn't it, but it's close, and it almost becomes competent moviemaking on occasion.

Helping this greatly is a star turn from the not-a-star-at-the-time Naomi Watts; she's gorgeous here, of course, but she's also obviously a good actor waiting for the right role to come along (which it did three years later when David Lynch cast her in Mulholland Dr.)

Apart from Watts, there's not much going on worth a loose stool, but a star is a star, and a star counts for something even when her efforts are in vain.

#49 -- Sleepwalkers  (1992)

Can I be honest?

I'm finding it mildly difficult to come up with interesting ways of saying "this movie sucks."  Thing is, that's what I'm forcing myself to do, and I'll go ahead and give you a spoiler: that won't change until we're well into the 20s on this list.  And we're only at forty-fucken-nine right now!  Sheesh.

On the subject of Sleepwalkers, damn does this movie suck.  I mean, it's just friggin' awful.  Part of me feels like I ought to drop it down eight or nine or ten places, but I won't, for two reasons: (1) there is a cat named Clovis in it and (2) at one point, Clovis's owner sings a song that has lyrics that go "Here comes Johnny with his pecker in his hand / He's a one-balled man / And he's off to the rodeo."*  That jumps you up three spots on any list, automatically.

(* Google informs me that this song is something called "The Rodeo Song."  I was more charmed with it when I thought it was some bullshit the actor made up while pretending to drive, but it's still pretty funny.)

I also placed it this high for no better reason than that it is an original screenplay by King.
Is that a bad reason?  Probably.

#48 -- Graveyard Shift  (1990)

To the extent it is possible within the boundaries of my ego, I try to separate the idea of good movies / bad movies from the idea of movies that I like / dislike.  When I say that, I mean this: if I put my critical hat on, I am forced to admit that about half of the James Bond movies are bad, artistically-speaking.  That does not change the fact that I love almost all of them, for one reason or another.  Sometimes, I love something for no reason other than that I love it.  I do not see any contradiction in that at all.  The trade-off is that I'm never going to try to convince you that something is good when I don't think it is actually good.  I love Moonraker to death, but you'll not catch me claiming that it's some sort of hidden masterpiece.  It isn't; it's a piece of crap.  A piece of crap I adore, but a piece of crap nonetheless.

With that in mind, here's what I have to say about Graveyard Shift: I kinda love it.  It's a terrible movie, but for whatever reason, I have an affection for it.  So sue me.

Some of the acting is ludicrously bad, but I like Stephen Macht as the villain, and I thoroughly like Brad Dourif in his small role.  He plays an exterminator who takes his job so seriously that you get the feeling he would be better off in a lineup of other dudes who are applying for a job with Darth Vader to locate and detain the Millennium Falcon.  Dude: chill; they're just rats.

#47 -- Desperation  (2006)

I like the novel, but it isn't one of my favorites.  So from my perspective, a movie version of Desperation was always going to have limited potential.  Now, add the following elements: screenwriter Stephen King (who, frankly, has had only very limited success in adapting his own works for the screen); director Mick Garris (who seemingly has zero ability to elevate a mediocre screenplay in translating it to film); a small budget; a too-short runtime that over-compresses a lengthy novel; and network-television standards-and-practices which remove a lot of the bite from a pretty bitey story.  Put 'em together, and whattaya got?  You've got a recipe for disaster, is what you've got; and that is exactly what this lame movie amounts to.

If nothing else, it has a pretty good cast.  They are squandered almost to a person, but I suppose that's better than squandering no-name actors.  Or is it worse?  I can't say for sure.

#46 -- Dolan's Cadillac  (2009)

At one point in time, "Dolan's Cadillac" (from Nightmares & Dreamscapes) was going to be adapted as a movie starring Sylvester Stallone and Kevin Bacon; years later, we finally get the movie, but it stars Christian Slater and a palpably disinterested Wes Bentley.  This is akin to ordering a cheeseburger and being given two slices of bread and a straw; what you ordered wasn't exactly filet mignon, but at least it was apt to fill you up, whereas after the two slices of bread, you're just left wondering how to go about getting a decent dinner.

There are occasional moments when the movie almost begins to work, among them the extended finale sequence.  It never comes together, though.  Slater chews the scenery almost as if he were on a mission to make himself uncastable from that point forward, and, as I implied, Bentley is simply not present mentally.  More and more, Sam Mendes appears to be a genius for having wrung a sympathetic performance out of Bentley in American Beauty; if he has shown any glimmer of that role's promise in any role since, I have not seen it.  (And don't come at me with The Hunger Games, bro; that movie sucked, and Bentley sucked IN it.)

I once read a critic's opinion stating that Stephen King's shorter works were better-suited for the movies than his longer works are.  That may be the case, but Dolan's Cadillac does nothing to prove it, and I don't think King's shorter works have fared any better overall than his longer works have in terms of the movie adaptations.

#45 -- Quicksilver Highway  (1997)

Mick Garris is back again, this time doing his thang to a Stephen King short story ("Chattery Teeth" from Nightmares & Dreamscapes) and a Clive Barker short story ("The Body Politic" from The Inhuman Condition).

This "movie" was actually a two-hour pilot for a proposed anthology series for Fox.  The series never happened, so they just dumped this movie onto the schedule when nobody was looking.  Which is actually a better fate than most failed pilots receive; the public mostly never sees those.

This one stars Christopher Lloyd as Aaron Quicksilver, a weirdo traveling collector of macabre curios; naturally, he has a story to tell to accompany each.  As far as horror-anthology concepts go, that one is pretty good, and Lloyd is obviously having a blast in the role.  However, his wardrobe/makeup/hairstyle is simply ludicrous, and I'd be willing to bet at least $2 that it played a huge factor in Fox's decision to not take the show to series.

Sadly, Lloyd's wraparound segments are handily the best scenes.  The stories themselves are complete duds.  "Chattery Teeth" is one of King's lesser short stories to begin with, and while I'm not familiar with Barker's story in its original form, I can say unequivocally that it does not survive the translation into film.

"Chattery Teeth" is the story of a driver who is saved from a violent hitchhiker by a pair of oversized malicious chattery novelty teeth.  Stephen King almost makes that laughable premise work in prose; Mick Garris certainly isn't capable of improving on King, so you do the math on that one and tell me how you figure it turned out.

As for "The Body Politic," it is the story of a plastic surgeon whose hands achieve independent sentience, revolt against the rest of the body, figure out a way to liberate themselves, and then instigate what appears to be a revolution among the rest of hand-kind.  This is a deeply silly idea, but I figure (and I apologize in advance for this) that in the hands of Clive Barker, it probably works pretty well as satirical prose.  In Mick Garris's hands ... well, it doesn't work all that well.  However, it IS the better of the two episodes, and a lot of that is due to a genuinely good performance by Matt Frewer in the lead role.  He does a tremendous job of performing with his hands; they actually do seem to have minds of their own.  This is supported by an effective score courtesy of Mark Mothersbaugh, the former lead singer for Devo who has since gone on to have a fairly distinguished career scoring movies and television shows and video games.

On the whole, though, this movie is a dud, and is for only the most devotedest of devoted fans.

#44 -- The Tommyknockers  (1993)

There are things I like about this movie/miniseries.  For example, I think Jimmy Smits is very good as Jim Gardner; he doesn't match the Jim from the novel all that well, but I don't mind that.  Marg Helgenberger is also pretty good as Bobbi, and more importantly, Smits and Helgenberger have good chemistry.

Not that the movie takes any advantage of it.  It decidedly does not.

Even more disappointingly, the epic majesty/horror of the alien spacecraft, so palpable in the novel, is almost entirely missing from the movie.  In some ways, that's understandable: television productions circa 1993 were simply not capable of providing the effects that would have been needed to replicate that massive excavation that features so prominently in the book, nor the climactic happenings associated with it.  I understand that, and I don't hold it against the movie.  However, the producers didn't even really try to hint at any of it.  Worse: they failed to come up with an acceptable way of replacing what was, out of necessity, omitted from the story.  And some of the special effects are about as un-special as it's possible to get.

Nope, sorry: this one was a missed opportunity.  (I reviewed this movie in a lengthier fashion previously.  Here's the proof.)

#43 -- Tales from the Darkside: The Movie  (1990)

Spun off from the '80s horror-anthology television show, this is a grab-bag of a movie that doesn't have much in the way of cohesion.  It's by no means one of the worst movies I've ever seen or anything like that, but as horror anthologies go, it's a few steps below Creepshow 2, which is a few steps below Cat's Eye, which is quite a few steps below Creepshow, which is a few steps below The Twilight Zone: The Movie, which is not as good as it probably ought to have been (and is certainly not good enough to have justified the accidental deaths which happened during the filming of John Landis's section).

The story goes that this movie was at one point intended to be the third Creepshow movie, and it is directed by the first film's composer, John Harrison.  Harrison is a for-real director, and went on to direct the uneven but ambitious Sci-Fi Channel version of Dune.  Here, he does decent work.

Only one segment is based on a Stephen King story: "The Cat from Hell," which was scripted by George Romero from a story King had published in 1977.  That story really ought to have been included in Night Shift (King's first story collection, published in 1978), but was omitted, and in fact never appeared in one of King's books until it finally showed up in 2008's Just After Sunset.  Adapted to film, it doesn't work all that well; it's still an intriguing concept, but the execution isn't up to snuff.  It does, however, co-star William Hickey, which is always good for a chuckle.

The other stories are "Lot 249" (based on an Arthur Conan Doyle story and starring one of my least favorite actors, the odious Christian Slater) and "Lover's Vow" (easily the best of the bunch, an original by Michael McDowell of Beetlejuice fame).  There's also an amusing wraparound story starring Debby Harry of Blondie.  Run a YouTube search for Blondie, kids; you might even not regret it.

#42 -- The Lawnmower Man  (1992)

Famously, Stephen King sued to have his name removed from this film because he felt it was SO far removed from his source material as to be unrelated.  That's probably a fair assessment, although one scene does at least sorta reference the short story; also, King's shadowy governmental agency The Shop is mentioned a few times.  I think.  To be honest, I don't remember.  Wait ... wait ... ah, yes: Google has confirmed my memories.  The Shop is indeed mentioned (and one agent is played by Hank from Breaking Bad!).

Granted, the mere presence of The Shop is not exactly a whole heck of a lot to go on in terms of arguing for the Stephen King-iness of this movie.  And I'm not interested in making that argument; I'd simply like to mention that it has about as much to do with Stephen King as, say, Haven does.  So why hasn't Stephen King sued to have his name taken off of that mediocrity of a television series?

Beats me, and it really doesn't matter, so we ought to press on.

The Lawnmower Man isn't much of a movie, but I have a sort of soft spot for it regardless.  For one thing, it was the first Stephen King movie I ever saw in a movie theatre.  For whatever reason, I can still remember taking my brother to the theatre and having a double feature consisting of this and Sean Connery's Medicine Man.  Not exactly a banner day at the old cinema, that.  But it was, retroactively, a double feature starring a James Bond on both ends of the bill: Connery the old pro, and Pierce Brosnan, still about three years away from debuting in the role.  Here, clearly, he was slumming, waiting for that big breakthrough.  That remains a cool memory for me.  Sad but true.

I also still think Jeff Fahey is pretty good in the role of Jobe, the titular lawn jockey who starts the film as a simpleton and ends the film as a malefic neo-deity.  Fahey is a remarkably underused actor; here, he's a little dodgy in his simpleton scenes, but he brings real gravity and menace as the film progresses.

When it was released, The Lawnmower Man was primarily notable for its supposedly revolutionary visual effects.  They were ambitious, but I don't know that they were especially revolutionary; I don't recall being all that impressed by most of them.  They certainly were nowhere near the level of what James Cameron had been doing in The Abyss (1989) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991).  A year later, Spielberg's Jurassic Park came out, and blew them all out of the water.

Looked at today, the effects of The Lawnmower Man are so dated that it's hard to believe anyone could EVER have considered them revolutionary as cinematic effects.  It is theoretically possible, though, that the movie had a more palpable impact on the effects of video games.  I'm far too ignorant of that medium to say one way or another, beyond simply raising the question ... but it seems possible.

Either way, this is a weak and irrelevant movie.  It has a very modest historical appeal, and that's about it.

#41 -- Golden Years  (1991)

I considered not including this "movie," because in some ways, it isn't a movie at all.  As you may know, but also may NOT know (like how I covered all the bases there?), Golden Years was originally a seven-episode series that aired on CBS in the summer of 1991.  The final episode -- which was seemingly intended to end the first season, but not the entire series -- ended on a massive cliffhanger, so in interests of having a complete -- and, therefore, marketable -- story, somebody decided to make an alternative ending that could be slapped onto a home video release.

This is that home video release.  It is a drastically edited-down version of the series, and frankly, it is not very good.  If you are a King fan, and want to watch Golden Years, I highly suggest that you find the original episodes on YouTube, or elsewhere on the internet.  Don't settle for this shoddily-edited version, which has only the lure of a definitive ending to recommend it; the ending is a weak one (and was quite probably not written by King at all, but by one of the other producers).  I'd say you're better off with the cliffhanger, which is at least intriguing, and feels genuinely like a concept Stephen King would have come up with.

For the record: I like the series.  It's kinda cheap and cheesy, but I definitely like it, and it bums me out to no end that the unedited episodes are not commercially available.  In compiling this list, I did not rank short films or television series, hence the absence of The Dead Zone TV show, and Haven, and odds-n-ends like "Sorry, Right Number" and "The Revelations of 'Becka Paulson."  However, if I had included them, the unedited version of Golden Years would be higher on this list.

#40 -- It (1990)

Perhaps not for the final time, I'm probably about to piss somebody off.  I know this movie has legions of fans, and to any of you who happen to be reading this, I apologize for my opinions and envy you yours.  But I gots ta be me, so if this is a movie you hold near and dear, you might want to go ahead and just skip ahead a bit.

This movie sucks.  It is a poorly-directed, overly condensed, spottily-acted, cheap-looking trifle that has not aged well at all since its debut.  It has occasional moments of power, but they are entirely due to the excellent source material (my personal favorite of all of King's novels).

There is one element here that still works: Tim Curry's performance as Pennywise.  As is typical of Curry, he is terrific, maybe even iconic.  Scratch that; he's definitely iconic.  However, in this case, that's like doing iconic work as Santa Claus at a Walmart in Starkville, Mississippi: he was great, but oy, what a shithole he was in!

Some, though not all, of the rest of the cast is decent.  Anette O'Toole is the best of them as Beverly; the others run the gamut from good (Richard Thomas) to decent (John Ritter) to bad (all of the child actors not named "Seth Green") to wretched (Harry Anderson, playing as unfunny a comedian as I have ever seen).

Let's talk about the child actors.  Except for Seth Green, who has some decent comic chops as young Richie Tozier, they are not very good.  This was not their fault.  Blame director Tommy Lee Wallace and screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen, who ought to have figured out a way to allow the kids in this movie to seem more natural on screen.  Instead, most of them seem like they are merely reciting lines and trying to get it done in two takes maximum.  You can practically see Jonathan Brandis counting out every "juh" sound so that when he stutters the name "Georgie" he uses exactly the right number of "g"s.  That's no way to have kids turn in convincing performances.  So, as a result, these kids turned in unconvincing performances, and what ought to be the heart of the movie feels like amateur filmmaking.

Now, let's go back to Harry Anderson for a minute.  He's playing the older Richie Tozier.  And boy, he fucking sucks.  To be fair, Tozier is not one of King's better characters.  We're meant to believe that he was a kid with aspirations toward hilariousness, who then grew up to be a professionally funny adult.  King does okay with '50s Tozier; '80s Tozier is another story, and is painful to read at times.  King is rarely at his best when he's trying to be funny, and with Tozier he tries to be funny a lot.  In the movie, this might have been saved by the acting.  Want proof?  Witness Seth Green, who actually IS kinda funny.  Anderson, on the other hand, is wretched, and if you for one moment believe that this character is plausible as a successful professional comic, you obviously have a completely different sense of humor from the one I've got.

I could go on.  The bad special effects deserve to be raked over the coals, and so does the whittling-down of the novel from an oak into a pencil, but that ought to do for now.

#39 -- Children of the Corn  (1984)

Finally, we have come to it: THE very best of all the Children of the Corn movies, the first one.

And, of course, it still sucks.  Duh; of course it sucks.  However, unlike the others, it at least sucks with some panache.  Plus, it's got a pre-Terminator Linda Hamilton, and it's got at least the bare bones of Stephen King's classic short story, along with which come a few creeps if no outright scares.

When you stop and think about it, it's amazing to consider the fact that this grim, incompetent little misfire of a movie has managed to spawn seven "sequels" and one remake.  It says something interesting about the way the movie business works, and it also potentially says something interesting about the way the name "Stephen King" works as a marketing tool.  The question has to be asked: why would anyone have shelled out even the smallest amount of money on any of those movies after the first one?

Having spent money on every single one of them, I suppose I am qualified to answer that question: in my case, I bought them all because I considered them to be part of my Stephen King collection, no matter how tangentially, and I felt like it would bother me to not have them.  In other words, it was probably a mild form of obsessive-compulsive disorder on my part.

But I refuse to believe that there are more than a few thousand people in the entire world who would buy all of those movies for that reason.  Perhaps I'm wrong; it doesn't seem wrong to me, but it might be.  So who are the other people buying and/or renting these things?  Are they people who compulsively feel the urge to see every horror movie series that comes out?  Are they fans of appearances by corn in films?  Are they pedophiles?

Alternatively, are there plenty of people out there who somehow find themselves suckered into one of the movies, not knowing what it is and failing to pay close enough attention to avoid that fate?

Or -- horror of horrors -- could it be that there are enough people who ACTUALLY LIKE the movies to continue to make them (marginally) profitable?

More provocatively, might it be the case that the films are made as intentional money-losers for obscure tax reasons?  Such things do happen, so it isn't out of the realm of possibility.

There is probably truth in most of those hypotheses, and until somebody writes the definitive study of this implausible series, we won't know.  Happily, most of us won't spend much time worrying about it.

#38 -- The Mangler  (1995)

Terrible though it may be, I like this movie, and for one reason: Ted Levine.  Four years after his iconic performance in The Silence of the Lambs, here he is, having a grand old time playing the lead -- and a protagonist! -- in a silly movie about a possessed piece of industrial equipment.  And yet, the opportunities to see Levine play a lead have been all too few in his career; they ought to be treasured no mater how slap-dash the film in question.  This one is exceptionally slap-dash, but Levine is good, and that's enough to endear it to me.

You can also see Robert Englund chewing up the scenery like it was a Kit Kat, which is fun.

Otherwise?  This is dreck.  It's hard to believe the same man directed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 'Salem's Lot, and Poltergeist.  In the case of that latter one it's easy to understand why someone would look at it and then look at something like The Mangler and decide to simply believe Poltergeist was directed by Spielberg.

#37 -- Dreamcatcher  (2003)

I hate this movie.  Hate it, hate it, hate it.  If I were being less objective, I'd fling it about twenty places further down on the list.  Truthfully, it's not THAT bad, though; pretty bad, but not THAT bad.

It's one of King's least effective novels, so the movie was hamstrung to begin with.  Defying the odds, screenwriter William Goldman -- who once upon a time scripted Misery, The Princess Bride, The Stepford Wives, All the President's Men, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid -- takes an uneven novel and makes it even worse.  Director Lawrence Kasdan does a decent job with the visuals, and some of the acting (Thomas Jane, Damian Lewis, Jason Lee, Timothy Olyphant) is good ... but some of the acting is bad (Morgan Freeman, believe it or not), some of the acting is horrible (Donny Wahlberg), and the tone in the latter half of the movie goes all wonky.

The story sticks fairly close to King's novel, though heavily condensed, but there is a poorly-thought-out addition to one character's story that makes for perhaps one of THE worst climaxes in a big-budget movie that I've ever seen.

Fuck this movie; it's awful.

#36 -- Bag of Bones  (2011)

I did my best to give this movie a chance, and I liked parts of it (moreso during the first night than the second).  I've got no problem with Pierce Brosnan being cast as Mike, and in theory I've got no problem with the various other changes that were made to the characters.

However, the problem is that the screenwriter -- Matt Venne, whose prior work includes why-did-they-make-that sequels to White Noise and Mirrors -- is inept and seemingly does not understand that if you make a change to a character, you have to then track that change throughout the entirety of the story and correspondingly change any bits of the story that might suddenly (given the changes you have made) seem out of place or unlikely.  If you fail to do this, then you fail altogether, and Venne's screenplay fails altogether.  Given his previous credits, this is no surprise.  And yes, I am just a dick on a blog, so I'm in no position to judge.  And yet, I've come to the correct judgment; make of that what you will.

As we've already established, Mick Garris (returning here for what I dearly hope will be his final raping of Stephen King's work) is not particularly capable of elevating a screenplay.  He comes close in certain scenes here, though, and from a visual standpoint he does some of his best work to date.

It isn't enough.  This is a bad movie, and the novel deserved MUCH better treatment.

#35 -- Sometimes They Come Back  (1991)

From the director of Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives and the screenwriters of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace comes a television movie that, in a surprise to nobody, is not particularly good.

It isn't horrible; King's story makes for a good concept, and the film is helped immensely by having Tim Matheson, who does good work and probably deserved better circa 1991 than to be in this turkey.

Also deserving better: Brooke Adams, who you might remember as Sarah in David Cronenberg's The Dead Zone.  Once upon a time, she seemed to be on the verge of breaking through and becoming a movie star: in 1978, she starred in both the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and in Terence Malick's Days of Heaven.  Cut to 1991, and she's stuck in this, a low-profile made-for-television Stephen King cheapie.  What's worse: she's good it it, and is obviously not merely phoning it in.  She deserved a  much better career than she seems to have received.

So on the plus side, this movie has a good concept, Tim Matheson, and Brooke Adams.  Apart from a short appearance by William Sanderson, those are its only substantial virtues.

On the plus side, this one is prime remake material.  So we've got THAT to look forward to some day.

#34 -- Creepshow 2  (1987)

Thanks for the ride, lady!  This sequel was not directed by George Romero, nor was it written by Stephen King; instead, it was scripted by Romero from three King stories (one of them a published story, and two of them brief story concepts).   How ya doin' lady?  Thanks!  Thanks for the ride!  The direction was handled by Michael Gornick, who didn't do a great job, but probably didn't have much of a budget to work with.  Thanks for the ride, lady!  As a result, what you've got here is a sporadically charming effort that simply doesn't measure up to the original, and probably shouldn't have been made at all.  Thanks for the ride!  After all, if a sequel can't be made well, sometimes it's okay to just not make it at all.  Thanks for the ride ... lady!  But "The Raft" is okay, and a former Bond girl (Lois Chiles from Moonraker) gets topless, so it's not a complete waste.  Thanks for the ride, lady!  Hey!  Thanks for the ride!  The final segment, "The Hitchhiker," is so stupid that's it's kinda fun; if nothing else, it may give you a vaguely amusing inside joke you can share with anyone else who has seen the movie.

#33 -- The Rage: Carrie 2  (1999)

Of the many fake sequels -- I like to call them fauxquels -- to Stephen King works, this is the one that comes the closest to being decent in its own right.  It doesn't quite get there, but it gets a damn sight closer than the rest, and it also makes a better movie than some of the other atrocities on this list.

Personally, I rather like the movie.  The main character here is Rachel, who has developed the same abilities that Carrie White once developed, much to the alarm of her guidance counselor, Sue Snell (whose presence is an understandable-but-lame attempt to make this an actual sequel as opposed to a mere ripoff).  In many ways, Rachel is nothing like Carrie; she's an outsider, but not a loser, and I think Emily Bergl is quite good in the role.  I wish that the filmmakers had given the character a better fate; as in Carrie, Rachel dies in the end, but it really feels like she ought to have lived.  She isn't a tragic character, so a tragic end simply doesn't suit her, and the movie feels very much off-balance as a result.

I also like the chemistry Bergl has with Jason London, who plays the character who corresponds to Tommy from the original.  They have a romantic relationship, and it actually works relatively well, as does the plausible story of the football players who have another game going on the side: they screw as many girls as they can, assign each other points for the conquests, and try to "earn" the most points.  There's nothing there that isn't workable, storywise, but the elements from the original film are very obviously shoehorned in, and the third act feels completely forced.

My point being: the setup here is pretty good, and some of the execution is good.  For those reasons, I like this movie; but overall, it doesn't work, and is nothing more than a footnote.

But as fauxquels go, it's a winner.  Compare it to The Mangler 2 if you don't believe me.

(Sidebar: I like the word "fauxquel," which I invented.  I also like the acroynm SKINO, which stands for Stephen King In Name Only, and is pronounced "skee-no."  Use both terms as you see fit, but remember: you heard 'em here first.)

#32 -- 1408  (2007)

Things to like about this movie: (1) John Cusack, who is in virtually every scene and who gives a good performance from start to finish; and (2) Samuel L. Jackson, who brings his considerable verbal dexterity to bear on a small (but crucial) role and improves the film considerably.

Things to dislike about this movie: everything else.

I know this movie has fans.  I'm not one of them.  Rarely have I seen a scary movie that is less scary than this one.  Not only is it not scary, it isn't creepy, or disturbing, or eerie.  In fact, it evokes almost no emotions of any kind from me, unless annoyance and boredom are emotions, and it evokes plenty of those ones.  Overlit and overscored, with special effects that are seemingly intended to chill but instead fall flat, this is a shout that ought to have been a whisper.

The expansions of the plot from the original short story are not bad.  A good movie could theoretically have come out of all this.  It didn't; this, for my money, is a complete misfire, and I'm mystified as to why so many King fans specifically, and horror fans generally, seem to like it.  Maybe someone can explain it to me some day.  That person may also be well-suited to explain to me why World Of Warcraft is fun, and / or why drinking milk straight out of the cow is the best way to do it.

Probably not, though.

#31 -- The Shining  (1997)


Let's go ahead and deal with this now: on the subject of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, Stephen King and I do not see eye to eye.

Personally, I think it is a great movie; not a merely good one, but a great one.  It is not a great adaptation of the novel, but that's okay; it doesn't have to be.  Movies and books are different things, and there is no pressing need for a movie adaptation of a novel to avoid changing plot, character, setting, or even tone in order to produce a good film.

In his role as cultural commentator, Stephen King has always been a champion of that idea, typically by intimating that a movie can change as much as it wants, because through all the changes, the book remains on the shelf; the "real" version remains unchanged.  This is a sensible position to take, and King has been consistent with that viewpoint ... except in the case of Kubrick's The Shining.  To this day, he is still complaining about the changes Kubrick made to the story for the movie, and he is happy to repeat himself any time the topic comes up.

I understand the viewpoint; if I wrote a novel, and some smarty-pants filmmaker changed things around in a movie version, it would probably tick me off, too.  What I do not understand is the inconsistency from King: why is it okay for, say, Hearts In Atlantis or The Mist but NOT okay for The Shining?  Don't try to actually answer that question; it can't be answered without twisting yourself into knots.

In any case, it is that atypical attitude toward The Shining that eventually led King to cash in his power at ABC -- where he had had a massive hit with director Mick Garris on the miniseries version of The Stand in 1994 -- on a new, more faithful adaptation of one of his personal favorite novels.

You might think based on the tone I've been employing here that I thought then, and think now, that the idea was doomed from the get-go.  Wrong.  My default position on remakes is that I have no problem with them.  Actually, I kinda love them, in theory: I think good stories are worth retelling, and provided that remakes are approached from a standpoint of artistic integrity, they're fine by me.  It's hard to imagine a remake that has more fundamental artistic integrity than a novelist wishing to craft a film that is more faithful to his original ideas than was the previous film version.

So, no, I had no problem with the idea then, and I've got no problem with it now.

But did it have to suck?

Answer: with director Mick Garris at the helm, yes, it did.

This movie is not by any means a total loss.  The acting from Steven Weber and Rebecca DeMornay is generally quite good, and it's nice in general to see more of King's novel unfold in this medium.  On the other hand, Melvin Van Peebles is weak as Dick Hallorann, and the kid playing Danny is simply awful.  When I say "awful," I mean worse-than-Jake-Lloyd-as-Anakin-Skywalker bad; I mean genuinely AWFUL in an inept way.  Every scene he is in drags the movie to a grinding halt, and while on the one hand I can sympathize with the difficulty inherent in finding such a young child to adequately fill such a major role, the fact that this movie went into production with so poor a fit for the job speaks to a level of incompetence at every stage of production.  Don't blame poor little Courtland Mead: blame Mick Garris, Stephen King, ABC, and everyone else who ought to have known to keep on looking for a better actor.  I'd've scuttled the entire project before going into production with that kid playing Danny.

Mead's performance is not by any means the movie's only problem.  Mick Garris is inept at filming horror.  I'll give you an example.  One of the elements of the novel that fans most regretted missing in the Kubrick film was the animal topiaries.  These hedge animals come to life and start menacing people ... but they only move when nobody is looking at them.  With that in mind, the miniseries made for an excellent opportunity to put these excellent beasties on film.  So what do King and Garris do?  They include a scene where you see the hedge animals moving.



WHY would they do that?!?  I'll tell you why: because neither of them realized that they would be be vastly more scary if you never actually saw the things moving.  Want proof?  Look up a Doctor Who episode called "Blink," in which writer Stephen Moffatt spins a tale of stone angels -- "the weeping angels," they're called -- who move if you aren't looking at them to hold them in place.  They are legitimately frightening, and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that with good editing, the idea works like a charm. The fact that neither King nor Garris realized that in showing the hedge animals moving, they were betraying the entire idea of the hedge animals indicates that they were simply ill-equipped to carry out the stated goal of the miniseries: to get the novel right where Kubrick had gotten it wrong.

That scene is the worst offender, perhaps, but it isn't alone.  The miniseries is filled with scenes that don't work, including a cringe-inducing coda involving an older Danny ("Kissin', kissin'; that's what I been missin'..."), a why'd-they-do-that cameo of King playing a ghostly big-band leader apparently named Gage Creed (one of the few instances of a King reference to one of his other works that falls flat on its face), etc.

This version of The Shining is probably one of the areas where I find myself most at odds with the rest of the King community.  It is mostly well-liked, but for whatever reason (apart from the ones I've spelled out above), it just doesn't sit well with me.  Alas, we can't all agree on everything, and it may be that in this case, I'm the one who simply isn't seeing straight.

#30 -- Rose Red  (2002)

An intriguing idea: a team of paranormal investigators get their Shirley Jackson on and investigate the grandmomma of all haunted houses.  Rose Red itself is a cool haunted house; it's downright Hogwartsian in terms of how it shifts and changes and seems to have a life of its own.

However, this movie is a failure, and I'll tell you why: two key members of the cast -- Nancy Travis and Matt Ross -- are simply awful in their roles.  Other players, especially Melanie Lynskey and Julian Sands, do very good work; Travis and Ross ruin most of the scenes in which they appear.

The movie is also overlong, and when you're talking too much of a good thing that might be okay.  Here, it's too much of a mediocre thing, and that's decidedly NOT okay.

Overall: not particularly good, but with enough interesting ideas and effective scenes to make it at least worth seeing.

#29 -- The Stand  (1994)

If you've read this far into this post, you're well aware by now of the fact that I am not a Mick Garris fan.  So, then, you know that when I say "The Stand is my favorite Mick Garris movie," I'm not necessarily being complimentary.

There are parts of The Stand that work well.  For example: Gary Sinise is an excellent Stu Redman.  Also, the score by Snuffy Walden is really good.  Perhaps most important, ABC gave the miniseries four nights over which to develop, so King's epic actually has some breathing space.  Not enough (it could have used even more); but hey, at least it wasn't crammed into two nights like It was a few years previously.  So those are pluses, and then there's the fact that it's just a thrill to see one of King's true epics spooling out on screen.

Unfortunately, there is also a lot to dislike here.  Let's start with the casting of a few key roles: Molly Ringwald is simply awful as Frannie, and she's not as bad as Matt Frewer (whose performance as Trashcan Man is one of the most annoying I have ever seen).  Neither is Jamey Sheridan, who has some good moments and is badly hampered by Garris's inability to effectively frame a shot; nevertheless, he was woefully miscast as Randall Flagg.  Kareem Abdul Jabbar shows up, for some reason.   Corin Nemec is awful as Harold; Shawnee Smith is awful as Julie, and to an assaultive degree; Rick Avila as the Rat Man seems to be laying Wolfman Jack, but as if Wolfman Jack was a robot designed to annoy humans to death; and so forth.  Laura San Giacomo is pretty bad, too, although she has good moments.
Rob Lowe does reasonably well, as do Ruby Dee, Ray Walston, Bill Fagerbakke, and Miguel Ferrer; they, combined, do not make up for the suck that is the Rat Man.

The underlying problem is that Garris simply doesn't know how to make scenes realistic on film, so instead we got a lot of scenes in which people don't behave like anything approximating human beings.  I've chatted with at least one fan who feels this style is a throwback to the Roger Corman and William Castle days, and maybe he's onto something there; remind me to never see any of those movies, because if they're like Garris's, I'm better off without them.

#28 -- Salem's Lot  (2004)

I'm a fan of the Tobe Hooper movie (as you'll see by its relatively decent placement on this list), but it made enough changes to the novel that I had no problems with the idea of mounting a second, more faithful remake.

This is not quite THAT remake.  It definitely sticks closer to the novel in some respects -- such as in the depiction of Barlow, and in the reincorporation of several characters (such as Dud Rogers and Jimmy Cody) into the story -- but it also takes just as many liberties with the material.  As in the 1979 version, some of those liberties work, but some do not.  For example: I do not buy the new backstory for Ben Mears, nor do I approve of a massive change made to the end of the story.

However, the acting is mostly good, the quality of the filmmaking itself is fairly high, and there is a good score.  Overall, this movie is a bit of a missed opportunity, but it definitely has its moments.

#27 -- The Dark Half  (1993)

This is not a bad movie, but it certainly isn't as good as one might have hoped for from a George A. Romero adaptation of a Stephen King novel.  This biggest problem is that the premise -- a writer's forcibly-retired pseudonym comes to life and starts wreaking havoc -- is so loopy that it resists almost all attempts to take it seriously.  In the novel, King manages to get away with this, partly by the strength of his writing (both in terms of the sheer quality of the prose and in terms of the strength of the underlying themes) and partly by the bread crumbs he leaves that enable a reader to concoct enough of an explanation so as to make the whole endeavor work.  It hangs on the precipice of falling apart ... hangs there by its bare fingernails; but it DOES avoid plummeting to the rocks beneath.

The movie does not have the benefit of King's prose, so what it has instead is a solid setup, some quality mayhem, generally good performances (especially from Timothy Hutton), and a resolution that simply does not work on film.  Romero gives it his all, but in the end, it's for naught.

Still, overall, the movie has its moments.  (If you have an interest in reading even more of my thoughts about this movie, here's a post that will scratch that itch for you.)

#26 -- Cat's Eye  (1985)

This is an awfully cheesy movie, and if you don't believe me, think about Alan King lip-syncing a terrible cover version of "Every Breath You Take."  Yep, that happened.  That Ray Stevens song on the end credits happened, too.  Who, you might ask, is Ray Stevens?  Beats me; but he performs a song called "Cat's Eye," which surely ranks as one of the most gloriously awful of all end-credits songs in Hollywood history.

For all the movie's cheesiness, though, I think there's something fundamentally charming about it: it's cheesy, but it kinda works that it's cheesy.  Maybe that's just the cat-lover in me coming out.

Of the three segments, it's hard to say which one works best.  "Quitters, Inc." has the twin virtues of James Woods and the above-mentioned Alan King; "The Ledge" has an entertainingly brutal premise, plus Kenneth McMillan; and "The General" has kitty-cat heroics, good special effects, and a solid dark-fairy-tale feel that makes it an unlikely but undeniable bit of kiddie bait.

In fact, despite the inappropriate subject matter of the first two segments, the movie overall has the tone and feel of a low-budget kid's movie, and even has some of the cartoonish logic that can be typical of that genre.  I'd be curious to know if either King (who wrote the screenplay) or director Lewis Teague had that goal in mind in any way.

Overall, this is no masterpiece, but I think it's a fun little movie that has very definite selling points.

#25 -- Needful Things  (1993)

I may be swimming against the tide on this one, but hey, so be it: I like this movie.  Sure, a lot of the novel is left out.  Guess what?  Not as much as you think: there exists a three-hour cut of the movie that pops up on television once in a blue moon that makes up a LOT of ground in that added hour of runtime.

The cast is a big part of what makes the thing work for me.  Ed Harris is just fine playing a cop (the same one Michael Rooker was similarly just fine as in The Dark Half), and Bonnie Bedelia is also just fine as his much-suffering ladyfriend, but the real stars here are the bad guys: Max Von Sydow playing Leland Gaunt and J.T. Walsh playing Danforth "Buster" Keeton.  They're both having a grand old time, and they take every bit of scenery they have and run with it like a dog frolicking with a Frisbee; and honestly, who doesn't enjoy seeing dogs frolicking with Frisbees?  Fucking nobody, THAT'S who.

Also on hand and doing good work: the ever-nutty Amanda Plummer (she's almost as good as Sydow and Walsh).  Major bonus points for an excellent score by Patrick Doyle, who was best-known around this time as director Kenneth Branagh's go-to guy; he'd done fine scores for Branagh films like Henry V and Dead Again, and he brought that energy to Castle Rock, Maine.  It's easily one of the best scores ever composed for a King movie.

Overall, this probably isn't the best possible adaptation of the novel, but I think it's an underrated movie, one that has an abundance of wit, charm, and intrigue, if no real scares.

#24 -- Firestarter  (1984)

Here's one of the movies that frequently gets cited as an example of a piss-poor King adaptation.  But as for me, I kinda like it.  It's got serious problems: it feels quite cheap and rushed in certain places, and the special effects added to Drew Barrymore's hair are, to be charitable, silly.

However, people also like to trash the casting of George C. Scott as Native American psychopath/assassin John Rainbird, and I am not on board with those complaints.  Why?  Well, for one thing, if you have the opportunity to cast George C. Scott circa 1984, you cast George C. Scott.  Is he plausible as a Native American?  Nope.  Is he plausible as a psychopathic assassin?  Yep.  I call that a net win.

I also really like Drew Barrymore here, and David Keith, and Martin Sheen.  Overall, it's a solid cast, and director Mark L. Lester gets as many things right as he gets wrong.

Not a classic, but I think it gets a bad rap, personally.  I'll take this over a rampant mediocrity like 1408 any day of the week.

#23 -- Maximum Overdrive  (1986)

What can you say about Maximum Overdrive?

That it's a terrible movie?  It certainly is.

That Stephen King might have been better off to not try his hand at directing?  I'd say that's a fair statement.

That the production seems to have been haunted by the incompetent hand of Edward D. Wood, Jr., infamous director of such turds as Plan 9 From Outer Space and Glen Or Glenda?   Yes, that's fair, too, because this movie verges on sheer ineptitude, just as Wood's films do.

It's hard to argue with any of that.

And yet ... I find Maximum Overdrive to be a lot of fun.  It is not a good movie in any way, but a movie doesn't have to be good in order to cause enjoyment.  In this case, you have a movie that involves sentient eighteen-wheelers on the rampage.  You get to see people electrocuted by arcade games, killer soda machines that use their own sodas as weapons (!), Little Leaguers who get run over by a steamroller, an ATM machine that tells its customer (Stephen King in a glorious cameo) to go fuck himself ... in one scene, the owner of a diner produces a rocket launcher, seemingly from nowhere, and explodes a truck with it!  In another, a Bible salesman is run over.  This is all set to AC/DC music.

Brothers and sisters, that puts a smile on my face.

The acting is awful, as is the dialogue and the editing and the cinematography and the shot composition and almost everything else.  But by God, it's fun, and so what if the reasons it's fun were maybe not necessarily intended?  I'd bet you a gajillion dollars that the first human being to create fire didn't do it on purpose, either, but that doesn't keep me from using it to cook a steak every now and then.

#22 -- Carrie  (2002)

Does it feel as if almost nobody knows this movie actually exists?

Released only a few years after the much-maligned (and yet still reasonably successful) "sequel" to the original film, this made-for-television version landed on screens one Monday night in early November with very little promotion or attention, and it has been a relative obscurity ever since.

I'll catch hell for this from some people, I guess, but I may as well admit it: I like it better than I like the Brian DePalma movie.  (Which begs the question as to why that movie is higher on this list; you'll have to wait to find out the answer to that head-scratcher.)  The reason I prefer this version is simple: it sticks way closer to King's novel than does the DePalma film, and it mostly avoids that movie's campy excesses.  There ARE still substantial differences between this movie and the novel, at least one of which is extremely controversial (and is very difficult to talk about in a non-spoiler manner).  I'll limit myself to saying that I rather like this particular element of the movie, although I would certainly not want that particular change to be made in every version of the story; but in this case, I like it.

The movie was written by Bryan Fuller, who later created three excellent cult-favorite television shows (Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, and Pushing Daisies) and is currently producing two new upcoming series: Hannibal (which is yet another take on the Hannibal Lecter story, this time supposedly telling the story of how he was caught) and Mockingbird Lane (a new version of The Munsters).  Fuller is a good writer, and he does a credible job here of updating the story.  He gives it a framework that is somewhat reminiscent of the framework King uses in the novel, and he also does a good job of making Margaret White a believable monster.

He didn't do that by himself, of course; Patricia Clarkson -- whom you might also remember from a role in The Green Mile -- does really good work in the role, bringing a quiet menace that is entirely absent from Piper Laurie's Oscar-nominated version.  Of the two, I'll take Clarkson over Laurie every day of the week.

I can't make a similar claim when it comes to the actor playing Carrie herself, though.  Angela Bettis plays Carrie, and she's good, but she's no Sissy Spacek.  Bettis is an odd-looking woman, and she also behaves somewhat oddly here; those qualities work well for the character.  Spacek, however, with her doe eyes and soft voice, had a quality about her that made her version of Carrie a bit more sympathetic.  Whether that fits the story, or whether it is more appropriate for viewers to feel antipathy toward Carrie (as we sometimes do in this version), I leave for you to decide.  I'm torn, personally, but I think I'm in the Spacek camp.

The rest of the cast is fairly good, too.  Kandyse McClure is good as Sue, and Emilie de Ravin is good as Chris; both would go on to notable roles on television shows not too long afterward (on Battlestar Galactica and Lost, respectively).  David Keith shows up as a detective, and Rena Sofer makes for a good Miss Desjardin.  Some of the rest of the cast doesn't exactly shine, but nobody is particularly bad.  Overall, it's a solid cast.

I think this is a movie that deserves a bit more attention than it has received so far.  It's no classic, but it's a well-made, reasonably faithful adaptation of the novel; it's been completely overshadowed by the original movie, which is too bad, as far as I'm concerned.

#21 -- The Running Man  (1987)

I may as well admit that I feel a bit of a personal connection to this as a Stephen King movie, because it was this movie that caused me to read my first King novel: The Running Man.  I wasn't able to go see the movie, which came out when I was 13, so I read the book instead.  (If you happen to want to know more about that, I wrote about it at length here.)

It's a cheeseball '80s action flick, and whether you can stomach it depends in part on whether you've got any love for that era's idea of what an action hero was.  If you can only look at Arnold Schwarzenegger and roll your eyes, then this is not going to be the movie for you.

Also making it a bit of a roadblock for King fans is the fact that the movie really has very little to do with the novel.  Some character names stay the same, and the concept -- a televised "Most Dangerous Game" -- is ported over; otherwise, that's about it.  However, it's worth pointing out that Schwarzenegger was a huge star at the time, and it says a lot about how the producers valued the basic concept that they felt it had mass-market potential.

I kinda dig the movie, personally.  It's cheesy, it's goofy, it's silly; it's all that.  However, it's also got occasional moments of real wit, and as a piece of satire it has somehow managed to cease becoming futuristic and has become oddly relevant to our own times.  If you're a Schwarzenegger fan, you'll have fun with this, and it's also got a great villainous performance by Richard Dawson.

#20 -- Pet Sematary  (1989)

There is a lot -- A LOT -- about this movie that doesn't work.  As Louis, Dale Midkiff is simply awful; as Rachel, Denise Crosby is, similarly, simply awful.  That counts for a lot; when the male and female leads of your movie are complete stiffs, it makes it difficult to get a good movie out of the process.

And yet, somehow, this flick sorta works.  Give roughly 25% of the credit for that to the source material, which translates rather well into a b-movie.  Give another 25% or so to the kid playing Gage, 10% more to the score by Elliot Goldenthal, and most of whatever is left to Fred Gwynne, ole Herman Munster himself, who plays Jud Crandall in a memorably scene-chewing -- and yet, somehow, restrained -- fashion.

On the other hand, the staging of certain scenes -- I'm thinking here specifically of anything involving Pascow -- is quite bad, and all in all, the movie fails to do justice to the novel.  "Wait," I imagine you saying, possibly aloud; "didn't you just say the source material translates well?"  You're correct.  I did say that.  And it's true.  But here, it translates into a b-movie.  It ought to be an a-movie, or whatever you call the real deal.  The novel is gripping, horrifying, memorable supernatural drama, laced with huge dollops of moral ambiguity.  There's no reason a film can't be made from it that would be amongst the most unsettling ever made.

This isn't that.

But it does have its moments, and for that, I give it relatively high marks.

#19 -- The Night Flier  (1997)

Here's a movie that, like Pet Sematary, probably shouldn't work, but, somehow, does.  The Night Flier is the story of a tabloid "reporter" who is hunting down the truth at the center of a series of apparent vampire incidents, all of which seemingly involve a vampire who owns his own plane and flies it around from burg to burg, feeding on the innocent.  He nicknames himself Dwight Renfield, on account of how Dwight Frye played Renfield in the Tod Browning version of Dracula.  Cute.

In no possible scenario should that movie work.  Hell, the story it's based on only barely works.

And for some people, maybe, this movie doesn't work, but it works for me.  A great deal of that is due to lead actor Miguel Ferrer, who -- and pardon the pun (which isn't even appropriate), please -- sinks his teeth into a meaty role as the reporter, Richard Dees.  Ferrer is obviously having a blast, and this movie makes it evident that he ought to be getting more lead roles.

Sadly, much of the rest of the cast is a bit on the weak side.  Julie Entwisle, who seems to have dropped out of acting after this, is a very weak leading lady, although some of that weakness works for the character; either way, she's easy on the eye, which is a plus.  And she's better than the guy playing Dees' boss; that guy, frankly, is awful.

Most importantly, director Mark Pavia seems to understand that tone is everything, and what the movie might be lacking in some of the performances, it makes up for with tone.  There is a shot of a dog standing on top of a roof which creeps me out every time I think about it, and that counts for a lot.

#18 -- Apt Pupil  (1998)

This one could have been a classic; as far as that goes, it's a near-miss, but a miss nonetheless.

Here's who's NOT to blame: Ian McKellan, who was having a hell of a year between this and Gods and Monsters (and who was only a few steps away from the superstardom that came with X-Men and The Lord of the Rings).  He completely inhabits his role as an aging -- but by no means toothless -- Nazi, so much so that there are scenes in which you almost feel sorry for the old cretin.

And guess what? That's a good thing.  It's important to remember that the Nazis were humans.  They were not monsters, but men.  And what that means is that in terms of their potential, they are not merely a thing of the past, but can appear again.

In his novel -- and please don't bother writing me to point out that Apt Pupil is a novella (it isn't; it's length puts it solidly in the "novel" category, as far as I'm concerned) -- Stephen King seems to be making the point that one of the major contributing factors for the rise of Nazism was the potential for humans to be ... well, for lack of a better word, insane.  And 1930s Germany certainly did not have a monopoly on insanity.  No, indeed, that type of insanity might be lurking right around the corner, in the dark heart of the boy next door.

Apt Pupil is, for my money, not only one of King's best works, but also one of his most disturbing.  I mean, you read that thing and you feel like you need a shower (no pun intended)!  And if I have a complaint about the movie, it's that it never manages to really reach into the bottomless pits of filth that the novel does.  It tries; and in a few scenes, mostly involving McKellan, it gets very close.

Ultimately, though, I think the film took a couple of wrong turns in the casting: in essential roles, both Brad Renfro and David Schwimmer strike too many false notes, and in my opinion, the movie suffers as a result.  Renfro is simply a blank as a performer; he always was, and while it makes me feel a little bad to speak ill of the dead, it's not going to stop me from giving my honest opinion, which is that he had virtually no on-screen charisma.  And if Todd Bowden needs to be ONE thing, it's charismatic.  He isn't in this movie, and consequently, he's also not scary.  He does a few scary things, but doing scary things and being scary are not at all the same thing; it's like the difference between a lion and a man in a lion suit.  The counter-argument might be that Renfro's ordinariness made him perfect for the role; there might some truth to that, but not enough to persuade me.

As for Schwimmer ... well, god bless him, but he just doesn't work here.  Maybe viewers who have never seen him on Friends will have a dfferent reaction, but for me, he's basically just playing a semi(?)-gay version of Ross, complete with a porn-stache.  He plays the role competently, but it's difficult to take him seriously.

Otherwise, though, the movie is solid.  Make no mistake: I like the movie, and think it is fundamentally good; my complaints are that certain elements keep it from being great, as opposed to good.  It's directed well, has a good musical score, is nicely paced.  There are some changes made to the story, especially in terms of the ending, but those changes mostly work.

So, yeah, GOOD movie.

But put someone a bit more skilled in the role of Todd, and ratchet the disturbing elements up a notch or two, and it would have been a classic.

#17 -- Silver Bullet  (1985)

This low-key charmer works relatively well as a monster movie, and it also works relatively well as a coming-of-age story.  Filmed from one of King's better screenplays (based on the novella Cycle of the Werewolf), it's got some genuine heart to it, and while it isn't particularly scary, it's got some good creature effects and some decent gore.  Best of all, it's got Terry O'Quinn and Gary Busey, who are always fun to watch.

The movie is maybe most notable for being one of the very few films in which someone in a wheelchair gets to be an adventure hero.  And here, it's a kid in a wheelchair!  That probably has made this a favorite movie of many a handicapped kid in its day; I'd love to see a top-notch remake at some point, just to give a new generation of kids on wheels a hero they can take some pride in.  That'd be pretty cool.

#16 -- Hearts In Atlantis  (2001)

Even though he has been a part of a decent number of mediocre movies, you've got to pay at least a little bit of attention any time an actor the caliber of Anthony Hopkins takes on a role.  As someone who loved the novel Hearts In Atlantis, I was fairly thrilled to learn that Hopkins would be playing Ted Brautigan in a movie adaptation.

Unfortunately, the final film didn't quite manage to live up to my lofty expectations, but that's okay; it's a rather good movie despite that.

The biggest complaint that most King fans have is the most obvious one: that the screenplay jettisons all of the Dark Tower references and changes the villainous Low Men from otherworldly monsters into what seem to be run-of-the-mill G-men.  This is a sensible complaint if you're a major Towerphile.  However, if you're a serious Towerphile, you've already got a ready-made excuse that you can assign the movie, if you so desire: this version of the story simply takes place on some other level of the Tower, and in that version of reality, things play out differently.

See how easy that was?  If you find it necessary to do so, you can actually use this trick to explain away all sorts of things that bother you about King adaptations.

Either way, I don't think Hearts In Atlantis -- which, you will note, has nothing to do with the section of Hearts In Atlantis titled "Hearts In Atlantis" (it is, instead, an adaptation of "Low Men In Yellow Coats") -- is a great movie.  The tone is off in places; most of the scenes between Bobby and his mother feel totally forced.  However, the scenes between the kids are great, and the scenes between Bobby and Ted are great.  Hopkins, as almost always is the case, does a terrific job, and he is nearly matched by young Anton Yelchin (who has gone on to high-profile co-star roles in movies like Star Trek and Terminator Salvation, and is also attached to the lead role in a film adaptation of Dean Koontz's Odd Thomas books).  David Morse is also good as grown-up Bobby.

Not a home run; but it definitely gets on base.

#15 -- Salem's Lot  (1979)

The second-ever movie adaptation of King's work, 'Salem's Lot was produced for television and was originally shown over the course of two nights.  It later ended up in cinemas, in a drastically cut-down form.  I've never seen that theatrical edit; I'd kinda to some day, just say I've seen it.

It doesn't really hold a candle to the novel, but I still like this movie a lot.  It was directed by Tobe Hooper, who had previously directed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and would go on to direct Poltergeist three years later; Salem's Lot is not as good as either of those classics, but it's held up quite well over the years, and remains a favorite movie that I tend to watch every other October or so.

A lot of what makes it work for me comes down to tone: it's got a great autumnal feeling of things that are beginning to slide, slowly, into decay and dissolution.  That tone is reflected in almost every aspect of the movie, from the excellent production design to the costumes to the performances to the cinematography.  It isn't a perfect movie: the pace seems badly off in terms of the editing (too many scenes have a tendency to begin or end in what seems like a haphazardly-timed fashion), and the movie could have used a bit more of the hints toward a rich town history.  However, a lot here is right, and I'd wager a guess that it seems like near-genius compared to most of what would have been on television in 1979.

One thing I love: the Marsten house, which looks great, even though it is clearly a bit of an homage to Psycho.  The interior has echoes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which means that the Marsten house is calling to mind both of the two most famous movies that were inspired by the Ed Gein case.  That one might creep even Barlow out.

Well, maybe not this version of Barlow.  In the novel, he's a more traditionally Dracula-like figure, menacing and horrible but not without charm.  Here, he is a monster, one who is visually more than a bit reminiscent of the original Nosferatu.  The first time I watched the movie -- which would have been in an airing on TBS, I think, probably around Halloween 1990 -- I nearly 'bout shit my pants when Barlow appeared the first time.  Yeek!

Other things to love: the music by Harry Sukman; Geoffrey Lewis, especially in his scenes as a vampire; the floating vampire kids (cheesy, yes; creepy, yes); a super-fine Bonnie Bedelia; James Mason, having a glorious old scene-chewing time as Straker; and Fred Willard in a pair of silk boxers.  I also quite like David Soul as Ben; apparently a lot of people do not ... but for me, he works just fine.

Between this version and the less-good-but-still-decent remake, the novel hasn't quite been done justice, still.  But between the two, most of it has been represented on film.  I still hope for a solid ten-part HBO miniseries someday, but I suspect no matter how good such a theoretical project might (theoretically) end up being, I'm going to forever have a soft spot for the 1979 version.

#14 -- Secret Window  (2004)

Here's a movie that feels as though it's gone under-appreciated.  Personally, I thought it was really quite good, with an outstanding -- and comparatively restrained! -- performance by Johnny Depp anchoring it.

In key supporting roles, there are good turns by Maria Bello, Timothy Hutton, and Charles S. Dutton, but playing opposite Depp as the film's second-most-important actor is John Turturro.  Now, I've got a theory.  It may not be true, but let's put it to the test: you either like or dislike this movie based on whether you like or dislike what Turturro is doing in his role.  This is by no means a universally loved film, even among King fans, and a lot of the negative opinions I've encountered have keyed in on Turturro's role as John Shooter.

I'll admit, it is a broad performance, occasionally verging on cartoonish.  However, I think it works well for the movie; having a more realistic performance for that role might have been the wrong approach.

In any case, I keep hoping the tide of opinion will begin to shift as regards this movie.  I don't think it's a classic or anything, but I do think it deserves more praise than it receives.  It also deserves more praise than, say, 1408 receives.  That movie sucks.

#13 -- Creepshow  (1982)

Here's a movie that is a bit difficult to assess.  On the one hand, it has terrible acting, is as cheesy as a pizza, and ... well, did I mention the acting?

On the other hand, those aspects seem, somehow, like virtues.  The movie IS cheesy, yes; but in a glorious way, and in a knowing way, too.  It's cheesy on purpose; it's almost like King and Romero have their arms draped around your shoulders, and they're saying to you, "Hey, look, I know you can't take one second of this shit seriously, and you know you can't take one second of this shit seriously, but here, have a few beers and let's have us a good time, pal!"  And then the three of you go traipsing off into the distance, hollering and singing and kicking rocks and not really worrying about how stupid that dance Ed Harris does is, or how bad an actor the guy playing Jordy Verrill is, or how weird those shots of the maintenance man talking through the door in the final segment are.

I'd say the odds are good that if you are seriously bothered by things like that, you are probably the type of person who would never watch a movie like Creepshow in the first place.

So, as with Maxmimum Overdrive, what we're really talking about here is a movie that ought to not be judged in the same way you would judge, say, The Green Mile.

Worst segment: "Father's Day," in which Viveca Lindfors gives a genuinely awful performance as Bedelia.  And when I say "awful," I mean it not in the sense that Stephen King is awful in "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill" (i.e., awful in a fun and memorable and, therefore, effective way), but in the sense that she is seemingly beaming her performance in from some other movie, one where she was trying her damnedest to win an Oscar.

Best segment: kind of a toss-up between the remaining four, but I think I'll cast my vote for "The Crate," although points off for not figuring out a way for Adrienne Barbeau to take her shirt off.  Sure, sure, we'll always have Swamp Thing; but Romero, I think you dropped the ball on this one nevertheless.

You've also just GOT to love the fact that King's son Joe plays the little boy in the wraparound segments.  That little fucker went on the become the author of Heart-Shaped Box and Horns; very, very cool.

Final note: the score by John Harrison is not only THE best score to any Stephen King movie, it's also one of the all-time best horror movie scores.  Nary an October goes by without me listening to the CD half a dozen times or so.  Classic stuff.

#12 -- Christine  (1983)

I love John Carpenter.

As you will find if you follow that link, I love even some of the lesser films in his filmography, such as The Ward and Ghosts of Mars.  I make no real argument for them as being works of high art, but that's okay; you don't have to justify why you love a movie, sometimes ... it CAN be enough to merely love it.  Pretty sure I've mentioned that before in this post, but it seemed to merit repeating.

That said, I think Christine is a rather good movie.  Not perfect, by any means; the climactic confrontation doesn't quite work, despite some effective individual moments, and it's hard to argue that leading lady Alexandra Paul is anything more than a pretty face.

However, the concept -- a killer car -- is such a fundamentally goofy one that if Carpenter had not managed to make the car cool as hell, the movie would have been utterly laughable.  As is, it's only intermittently laughable.  Carpenter's best decision was to avoid trying to make the car scary; instead, he simply made it cool, which is what we all really want it to be anyways.  Then, by giving the movie a slightly chilly tone (much of it accomplished through Carpenter's excellent score) he was able to make it the type of movie that sticks with you, even if it doesn't scare you.  At the time, I think the movie was perceived as a failure due to those lack of scares, but I'd argue that it has held up extremely well in the intervening decades.

You mileage may vary, of course.

I would like now to quote from my worst-to-best of Carpenter list (from the comments about Christine):

"Also, let me state for the record: I don't care that the dude playing high-school bully Buddy Repperton (a) appears to be 47 years old, (b) looks amazingly like Diet John Travolta, (c) can't act, and (d) can't act.  Why don't I care?  Because he has great, great hair, and is somehow still menacing despite all of these things working against him; but mostly it's the hair, which I would kill multiple people to possess."

#11 -- Carrie  (1976)

I don't like this movie.

There, I said it.  I said it, I mean it, I stand by it, and I will repeat it frequently in the course of my ongoing King blogging.

So, you might ask, why do I have it ranked so highly on this list?

Fair question.  And here's a fair answer: because I realize that I am in the minority as far as my opinion of this movie goes.  I also think that it may be a case of me not being able to separate the movie from the book.  Typically, I can do that with no problem; here, not so much.  But does that make Carrie a bad movie?  No; it makes it a good movie, one I simply do not like personally.

But your friendly neighborhood blogger is a fair man, so I have no choice but to acknowledge that I am at fault here, and not the movie, and therefore I have no choice but to give it its due and rank it highly.

By the way, this is how you know you can trust me when I remind you that 1408 is completely mediocre.  Because it is.  Have I mentioned that lately?

I still think a better version of Carrie can be made someday, but it's hard to deny that Sissy Spacek is great, and that the prom massacre is iconic, and that Piper Laurie -- who I find to be shrill, campy, and unbelievable in the role -- is very memorable in the villainous-mother role.  You get to see young John Travolta at his yuckiest; personally, I think he's just kinda goofy and not at all menacing, but hey, that's just me, and even so, it's fun to watch him.  I also like William Katt and Amy Irving and Nancy Travis a lot.

Then again, I despise the Psycho references in the score, and the actor playing the English teacher does an atrocious job, and the cornball buying-a-prom-tux scenes are just awful.

I'm harsh, yes; but I'm also fair, and there's simply no denying that this film is a classic.

#10 -- Dolores Claiborne  (1995)

When this movie came out, I went to see it with several co-workers, one of whom had, like me, read the novel.  As we were walking out, he went on and on about how much he hated the movie because it didn't follow the novel.  And I've heard a few similar opinions online in the last year or so since I started my blog.

I don't get it.  Do the differences between the novel and the movie really make that big a difference?  Do they negate the outstanding performances by Kathy Bates, David Strathairn, and Christopher Plummer?  Or the expert cinematography by Gabriel Beristain?  The terrific score by Danny Elfman?  The sharp screenplay by Tony Gilroy?

Not in my book, they don't.

Folks, this is perhaps THE most underrated of all Stephen King movies.  To be honest, I think it's a great film just in general.  Kathy Bates is every bit as good here as she is in Misery, and I am still waiting on someone to tell me why -- apart from a vague and general "it's not like the book" -- it isn't more highly regarded.

#9 -- The Dead Zone  (1983)

I'm a horror fan in addition to being a King fan, and one of the areas of horror film in which I am the most lamentably weak is on the subject of David Cronenberg.  I've never seen most of his major horror films, such as The Fly, Scanners, Rabid, The Brood, or Dead Ringers.  I loved A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, but when it comes to his early work, I've been a slacker, and that's a mistake I will need to fix one of these days.

For now, though, I can only take people at their word when they say that The Dead Zone ought to be considered a somewhat surprising (but also very important) change in tone for Cronenberg.  I assume those people are right.  What I know is that this is a very good movie, one which has a terrific lead performance by Christopher Walken, from back in the days in which he was still an actor as opposed to a highly-amusing collection of verbal tics.  That's not to denigrate the man, either; it's just merely to point out that once upon a time, Walken could play a great role like this and not feel like a ham.

Also great: Martin Sheen, playing a psychotic political candidate; Michael Kamen, delivering a fine score; Tom Skerritt, Herbert Lom, and Anthony Zerbe in supporting roles; and Brooke Adams as John Smith's lost love Sarah.

You know, I never understood why Brooke Adams didn't have a better career.  She must have had a shit agent.


Say, did I have almost exactly the same thing to say about Adams earlier when I was talking about Sometimes They Come Back?  I think I probably did; oh well, fuck it, it's true, so I'm leavin' it in!

#8 -- Cujo  (1983)

It seems like a crock of shit that Dee Wallace Stone didn't get an Oscar nomination for this movie, because she is great.  She's great in the car-under-siege scenes, but she's arguably just as great earlier in the film, when she is playing a normal woman dealing with some unfortunate choices and dealing with the consequences of those choices.  Remember a few moments ago, when I was repeating myself on the subject of how Brooke Adams ought to have had a better career?  Well, the same applies double for Dee Stone, who on the basis of this and E.T. ought to have become a major star.  She didn't, and I have a feeling that movies from 1984-2012 were poorer for it.

Also a crock of shit: that the AMPAS does not award an Oscar for animal training.  Along with stunt coordination, it's one of the major oversights of that always-controversial organization.  If ever an Oscar for animal training deserved to be given out, it was to whoever was responsible for the dogs who played Cujo in this movie.  Of course, a lot of the credit for that go to director Lewis Teague, and also to cinematographer Jan DeBont and editor Neil Travis, all of whom combined to create a menacing atmosphere that was awesome then and is still awesome now.

There will probably be a remake someday, and it's all but certain that in many cases, the dogs will be CGI.  Maybe it'll work and maybe it won't, but I'm guessing it won't work as well as this.

#7 -- Misery  (1990)

It's hard to say much of anything negative about this movie.  I suppose I ought to try, though, so here goes.

Kathy Bates, great though she is, goes maybe a wee bit over the top in a few scenes, and director Rob Reiner seems all too happy to let her do it.  I might have preferred a quieter, more menacing approach to Annie Wilkes.

I'll leave it to you to determine whether or not you think I'm being honest with those sentiments.

Either way, Misery is a classic, and Bates gave an Oscar-winning performance that is probably one of the rare instances of the AMPAS defying the odds to actually get it right (in retrospect, it's hard to believe they didn't fall into the trap of giving Julia Roberts the award for Pretty Woman).

That said, I'd still like to demand that someone film a remake starring Bryan Cranston and Melissa Leo.  If they are unavailable, I will accept Michael Shannon and Cate Blanchett.  I'd like to see this no later than 2014, so chop-chop, y'all.

#6 -- Storm of the Century  (1999)

It's possible that I overvalue this movie.  I don't think I do, but it is possible.

Here's my opinion: I think this is easily the best thing that Stephen King has written directly for the screen.  Apart from that, I think it is the best King movie/miniseries produced for television, and one of the best films overall to be based on work by King.  The reasons for that are numerous, but I think the simplest is probably that it is the one that comes the closest to replicating for the screen what King is able to do in his lengthier novels: i.d., create a solid cast of characters and then spend the time necessary to make us fully invested in them.  Add to that the fact that King's story and plot are effective, clear, and satisfying from beginning all the way to the end, and what you've got here is a bit of a classic.

For one thing, the cast is top-notch: Tim Daly, Colm Feore, Debrah Farentino, Jeffrey DeMunn, Julianne Nicholson, Becky Ann Baker, Casey Siemaszko, they're all really good.  Heck, even Stephen King himself is effective in a creepy cameo, and when Stephen King turns in a good performance, you know things have gone well from an acting standpoint.

More to the point, this is the one King original screenplay that seems essential within his canon.  Yeah, sure, you can make an argument for Creepshow, and maybe even for Golden Years, but the rest...?  Not so much.  I think it's telling that of his screenplays, this is one of the only ones King has allowed to be published in its entirety.  I think he's proud of it, and he should be.

#5 -- The Mist  (2007)

Some of this movie is not particularly great.  The effects, for example; the CGI budget on the movie was apparently rather low, and it shows in places.  I also think the movie could have been very, very scary, and isn't.  That seems like a bit of a shame.  There are also places where the acting is perhaps not as good as it could have been (I'm looking at you, Thomas Jane in a few overwrought moments right at the end).

Otherwise, though, I have little but praise for Frank Darabont's The Mist.  Overall, I think it's one of the best horror movies made during my adult life; sure, it's not scary, but it's disturbing as hell.  I won't ruin the ending for those of you who haven't seen it, but suffice it to say that it is a gut-punch, a kidney-punch, a nut-punch, a tittie-twist, and a pimp-slap, all simultaneously, all delivered by someone who wants to hurt you.  Apparently, some people feel it went too far.  Me, I feel like horror ought to actually horrify every once in a while.

Well, here it is.  Enjoy!

#4 -- Stand By Me  (1986)

Good lord, where do you even begin with this one?

Ah, hell, I'm not sure I'm even going to bother.  It's a great movie. you know it, I know it, everyone knows it.

It was the first Stephen King movie I ever saw, I know that much for certain.  I saw it on HBO sometime in mid-1987, which makes it my first real exposure to King.  That meant nothing to me at the time; I doubt I even noticed his name, and may not have even knew who he was.  As I've written about elsewhere, the first King book I ever read was The Running Man, this around the time the movie came out in late 1987, so it's possible that I read that before I saw Stand By Me ... but I'm about 90% certain I saw this before I read The Running Man.

Those odds are good enough for me, so I am hereby officially claiming that Stand By Me was my first substantive exposure to Stephen King.  I would've been twelve when I saw it, which is kinda the perfect age for Stand By Me, if you think about it.

Sorry if my lack of insightful commentary bummed you out.  I may as well warn you, I've got little of use to say about the remaining titles, either.  When movies are this good, there's no real point.

#3 -- The Green Mile  (1999)

I work at a movie theatre, and worked at one when The Green Mile came out.  If you work at a movie theatre, it is a fact that you will occasionally have customers who complain to you about the content of the movies.  It's unavoidable.

Well, in this case, I was accosted by an old fart who wanted his money back because he was mad about us supporting a movie that dared to protest against the death penalty.  He seemed to feel we had written and produced the movie, too.  He was a fucking idiot.  Almost as big an idiot as the woman who asked me, a few years later, what Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones was about.  "You don't know what Star Wars is?" I asked, incredulously.  "Well," she replied, "I've seen all the others.  What's this one about?"  I just looked at her for a moment, and then answered, "It's more of the same."

Then there was the summer where three customers out of every ten pronounced Kazaam (starring Shaq) as Shazaam.  In what world is a "k" pronounced with a "sh" sound?  Morons!

Sorry, I've veered into a tangent.

Anyways, I argued with that dried-up old fart about The Green Mile, and tried to tell him that it wasn't an anti-death penalty movie at all; if anything, it made you glad that Wild Bill was killed, and made you wish Percy would ride the lightning, too.  I tried to convince him that the movie was making the point that we're ALL on death row, and some of us deserve it, and some of us don't, but it's maybe not important in the end ... because one way or another, we're all walking the same mile.

He couldn't've cared less about any of that.  He just wanted his money back.

And I'm pretty sure I refused to give it to him.

#2 -- The Shining  (1980)

In the great rivalries of life, you've got your Marvel fans versus your D.C. fans; you've got your Celtics fans versus your Laker fans; you've got your Coca-Cola fans versus your Pepsi fans; you've got the Crips versus the Bloods; you've got John Wayne versus Clint Eastwood; you've got Michael Jackson versus Prince; if you're an SEC fan, you've got Alabama versus Auburn.  There's Metallica versus Megadeth, Paul versus John, Mario versus Zelda, and so forth.

And then you've got the case of The Shining, where the King fans and and the Kubrick fans pretend to be the Greasers and the Socs, and none of them realize that they don't look a damn thing like Patrick Swayze.

Now, in some of these cases, the choice is clear: Alabama is clearly good, whereas Auburn is clearly evil; Coke is clearly good, whereas Pepsi clearly tastes like socks; Mario is clearly superior to Zelda.

However, who in the hell likes either John Wayne or Clint Eastwood but not both?  Who rocks out to "Master of Puppets" but doesn't like "Symphony of Destruction"?  Who loves "Billie Jean" but can't stand "When Doves Cry"?  I'll tell you who: people who can't be trusted.

Well, in this particular instance, I think Stephen King is on the wrong side of being trustworthy, which is another way of saying that I think Stephen King is wrong.  The Shining is a GREAT movie.  Not a bad one; not a decent one; not a good one.  A GREAT one.

For the record, that does not mean that I think the movie is better than the novel.  I don't.  I think they are both classics.  I've got not use for King fans who hate the Kubrick movie, but I've similarly got no use for Kubrick fans who hate the King novel; those people are fucking crazy, too (some of them, I suspect, literally).

But who I really and truly loathe are the people who think the Mick Garris movie is better than the Kubrick movie.

You people are simply sad.  You're like the people who look at the Metallica versus Megadeth debate and wonder why nobody is talking about Krokus.

(Please note that you are obviously welcome to your opinions.  Just as I am welcome to mock you for them.  I should also point out that I am a fatso who lives alone with five cats, so, like, I'm probably nobody to be labeling other people as "sad."  And yet, still I do it!  Tee-hee!)

#1 -- The Shawshank Redemption  (1994)

Yay!  Another genuinely great movie, but one there is no need to defend!

Nope, this one is firmly entrenched as one of those rarest of movies, an Acknowledged Classic.  Acknowledged by whom?, you might ask.  Simple: by pretty much everyone.  Honestly, do you know anyone who has seen The Shawshank Redemption and doesn't love it?  Have you even heard of such a person?

Me neither.  I'm sure they must be out there.  Somewhere.  They probably love Mick Garris movies...

Here's how good The Shawshank Redemption is: even Tim Robbins is great in it.  Tin Robbins has given a few good performances over the course of his career, but he's never been cast so well as he was here, where his slight unknowability (he's a strangely personality-free actor, and one who therefore is, unless the material is perfect, hard to take seriously -- see also Keanu Reeves) made him perfect as Andy Dufresne.

Really, though, this is Morgan Freeman's movie.  Is this his finest role?  Hmm; it may be.

There is very little in the entire movie that does not approach perfection, from the villainous Bob Gunton and Clancy Brown and Mark Rolston to the humorous William Sadler to the heartbreaking James Whitmore to the Thomas Newman score to the Roger Deakins cinematography.

I don't want to say it's perfect, because nothing is.  But it legitimately approaches perfection, and that is a true rarity.


Well, this list has been a true chore to compile.  I enjoyed it, but there were times when I thought I'd never finish it.

But, like Rustin Parr said, it's finally done.

It'll have to be refined over time, of course, especially as new King movies come out.  The new version of Carrie is in production right now, so I may as well leave you with this cool fan-made poster for it:

Here's hoping it makes the top ten...


  1. I wish someone would reimagine The Running Man, and do it like the book, and with quality actors. I think it would work SO much better than the Arnold version that kind of makes me a little ill reliving. I should wish for the lottery numbers while I'm at it...

    1. I'm a little surprised that hasn't happened, actually.

      Which makes me remember something ... unless I somehow dreamed the whole thing, there were rumors going around a decade or so ago that there WAS going to be a remake. A remake starring Dennis Rodman.

      I don't know whether to be really happy that never happened, or a little sad...

  2. If the Rodman thing is accurate, then I'm really happy it never happened. Remember Double Team w/Van Damme? Ugh ... that rots brain cells, Man!

    Any thoughts on actors for the few roles in a new The Running Man movie? I'm on a Sam Worthington kick lately. I enjoyed Man on a Ledge, which is where I first wished for a Running Man redo, so I'll stick w/him ... for now.

    1. I can see him being a good fit for that role. I haven't seen "Man on a Ledge," but it looked pretty good from the previews.

  3. Got an email today from Andy Williamson, author and blogger extraordinaire, who informed me of a few things: first of all, that Blogger wasn't letting him publish a comment, but most importantly that I was being a bit of a dick on the subject of Mick Garris's "The Shining." Upon reflection, I realized he was totally correct, so I've revised my sections about "The Shining" a bit.

    Thanks, Andy! By the way, folks, at the end of this comment you'll find a link to an article Andy himself wrote about the various versions of "The Shining." It's well worth your time to read, as is Andy's blog in general.

    Since Blogger was being difficult, I'll post it for him:

    1. Part 1 of Andy's comments:


      I agree with most of your list here. I might have moved The Dead Zone, Christine, and Misery up a bit. Glad to see high rankings for underrated films like Dolores Claiborne and Cujo, and also happy to see someone else who appreciates the 2002 TV version of Carrie. I personally would have put Rose Red further down the list as I hate that piece of crap. It only took me three viewings to decide I hated it, but – terrific production design aside – that movie was filled with two kinds of characters: stupid and annoying. I blame King's script, in which he blatantly rips himself off. But, I digress …

      No, I'm here to talk about Stephen King's The Shining – the miniseries version which you shat on above. Incidentally, you've got a rather egregious error there. You said: "where [King] had had a massive hit with director Mick Garris on the miniseries version of The Shining in 1994."

      I think you mean 'The Stand' in 1994.

      I used to like Mick Garris more than I do now. Loved his version of The Stand when it first aired, but it hasn't aged well. As for what he did with The Shining … I'll get to that.

      Where Garris started to lose me was 'Riding the Bullet'. One of the worst pieces of shite I've ever seen. Positively inept. 'Desperation' was better, but that's not saying much. And 'Bag of Bones' … pppfffhhh … another turd, possibly the most frustrating one, because parts of it worked great but, inevitably, it was sunk by poor directorial decisions and miscasting. Pierce Brosnan is a terrific actor, and knows about being a widower, but he was WRONG for the role of MIke Noonan because of his age. 40 in the book became 60 in the movie, which meant Mattie went from 20ish to mid-30s, and Kyra went age 3 to age 7. These seemingly minor changes affected the entire story, which was DEPENDENT upon age-specific character motivations, and …

      Dammit, I went off topic. Yes, Mick Garris has shown his true colors in recent years, but his work on 'The Shining' deserves much more credit than you give him.

      No, it is not perfect. And I have seen it SO many times, even I could nitpick the things that don't work in it, more than you have. But MUCH more works than you doesn’t. Steven Weber is TERRIFIC as Jack Torrance, and makes us CARE about him more than Nicholson ever did. And his final scene with Danny, on the third floor of the Overlook, is a POWERHOUSE.

      Rebecca DeMornay makes for a smart, beautiful, and tough wendy Torrance.

    2. Part 2 of Andy's comments:

      I understand you have problems with Courtland Mead as Danny, but I actually like him in the role. You're being WAY too hard on the kid. The scene where he goes into Room 217 – "with a little boy here, and a little boy there" – was one of the more frightening scenes I've ever seen on television.

      Living in Colorado, less than 100 miles from Estes Park, where lies The Stanley Hotel, also ups my affection for this adaptation. King was staying there in 1975 when he came up with the idea for The Shining – and wrote it in 3 months after coming back down to Boulder.

      I actually LOVE this take of 'The Shining' – warts and all – and would put it in the top 10 BEST King adaptations. (And thanks for inferring that BECAUSE I feel this way, I should be compared to people who like to be “urinated on.” Sheesh! Are you kidding me? I quote 'The Green Mile': "Piss on ME …?")

      I love Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’, too – though I, like most fans of the book – was sorely disappointed by it in 1980. It has since become one of my favorites. These three versions of The Shining – book, Kubrick, and miniseries – all coexist happily in my mind and heart. You don’t have to be hating on one to defend the other. In fact, I could teach a college course on these three versions alone. Yet, I also think we haven't seen the definitive film version of this story. Maybe we still will someday.

      Thanks for letting me vent.

      For those interested in my thoughts on ALL versions of The Shining, see my article ‘King, Kubrick, and The Shining’ on TheWordslinger.

  4. Thanks for the kind words, Bryant. And the revisions. And the plug.

    1. You betcha! I've been known to be overly harsh when it comes to giving my opinions on things. Sometimes, it's for no better reason than that going a bit over the line makes me chuckle; it's an act of keeping myself amused as much as anything.

      But I'm always happy to be called to the mat for it when that needs to happen, and I think you were right to do so in this instance.

      You and I are in lock-step on the subject of "Riding the Bullet," though; what a dreadful movie...

  5. I also am wont to be overly harsh when it comes to criticism of certain things – if something's worth doing, it's worth overdoing (except for eggs, and bacon, and pancakes … mmm, must be breakfast time).

    My original comment was much longer before I trimmed it down to see if I could make the durn thing post. What I trimmed was more ranting about Garris' incredibly disappointing 'Bag of Bones', and why it didn't work. (In addition to my reasoning above … the Mike/Mattie/Kyra love story was treated as an afterthought rather than the HEART of the story; William Schallert is a TV legend, but should NOT be playing villains, at least not this one, I'm surprised Garris didn't give him a mustache to twirl; the ending with the tree slapping Mike as he was pouring lye on the bag of bones reminded me of both The Three Stooges, and Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi in 'Ed Wood' fighting with the rubber octopus; the inept staging of the assault on Sara Tidwell … I could on at length here. The house looked terrific, though – too bad they never actually called it 'Sara Laughs'. I guess they thought I was too dumb to understand.)

    Anyway, due to your putting 'The Storm of the Century' so high on your list, I pulled out the DVD of that last night and watched the first half. I hadn't watched it in years, and forgot how well this movie works. Great cast, great special effects on the storm itself, and the creepiest use of "I'm a Little Teapot' ever – got that damn song stuck in my head this morning. I'll watch the second half tonight … along with the saddest ending of ANY King story. Craig Baxley did a fantastic job directing this 3-parter, too bad he couldn't do the same on Rose Red. Bleccchh!

    I will say this about 'Stephen King's The Shining' … if you haven't seen it since it first aired 15 years ago – holy shit, how did that happen? – the DVD is quite good. It's presented in 1.85:1 widescreen, and has a terrific commentary track by King, Garris, and Weber. Stephen even tells the story of how he came up with the idea for The Shining while staying at The Stanley – returning its karmic debt here after 20+ years.

    One last thing before I wrap up my rambling here. I see no mention above of TNT's 'Nightmares and Dreamscapes' from a few years ago. Most of the episodes were decent, but the standout was 'Battleground' starring William Hurt as a hitman besieged by little army men. All told without a word of dialogue. Brilliant. One the BEST King adaptations, with several nods in it to Richard Matheson.

    Thanks, Honk. Later.

    1. Well, I'll just tackle those comments in order:

      (1) Like you, I thought "Bag of Bones" was a near-complete failure as a movie. I actually liked Brosnan, but his labors were utterly in vain.

      (2) You are right to point specifically toward the scene in which Sara was raped. That was staged about as poorly as it possibly could have been. (Pardon the crudity that is about to happen, by the way.) The actor throwing the hump looked as though -- apologies -- he had no idea what to actually do with his penis, apart from a vague notion that some sort of motion should be involved. And the guys looking on appeared not uncomfortable, or scared, or excited; they appeared to be wondering whether they'd set their DVRs to record "NCIS" before they left home that morning.

      (3) I was TOTALLY reminded of poor Bela Lugosi wrestling with the octopus during the Mike vs. Tree scene. Awful.

      (4) The fact that the love story between Mike and Mattie was, for all practical purposes, eliminated from the movie just ... well, it simply tells me what I already knew, which is that Mick Garris may love King's work, but he has absolutely no idea what actually makes it tick. Leaving that element of "Bag of Bones" out of the movie would be almost as bad as making "Cujo" without a dog.

      (5) The house really DID look great. In fact, from a standpoint of sheer visuals, I thought the movie was perhaps the best work Garris has done yet. I don't think he's a complete lost cause as a director, but he obviously needs to work with a really good screenplay. I'd love to see what he could do as a director-for-hire on a good television series, for example. I think he might be really good at that.

      (6) Kudos on rewatching "Storm of the Century." It's been entirely too long since I did that. I still find it a little hard to believe that ABC let King get away with that ending. As I recall, that's another top-notch commentary track.)

      (7) I'm thinking -- STRONGLY -- about planning a month of King movie viewing this October, complete with all the requisite blogging. I might even consider watching my own list in reverse order. That's a tall drink of water, though; might need to start in September.

    2. (8) Like you, I was especially disappointed that "Rose Red" did not turn out better, given how well "Storm of the Century" had turned out. I know there were some serious production problems involving a cast member who died during (though not as a result of) filming; maybe that affected things really badly. But I'm inclined to blame King's screenplay moreso than Baxley's direction, which is mostly competent.

      (9) Ever seen "The Dairy of Ellen Rimbauer"? It's like a poor man's version of "Rose Red," if THAT tells you anything...

      (10) As for rewatching "The Shining," it's been probably seven or eight years since the last time I watched it, so it's about time for a re-up on that one, too. And yes, I do remember the commentary being terrific. What's so frustrating about Garris as a director is that in interviews and commentaries, he always sounds really smart, and REALLY nice, and I hate the fact that I hate his movies. I genuinely do. But whenever I get around to viewing his version of "The Shining" again, I'll do my absolute best to approach it with an open mind.

      (11) You know, since I didn't rank television series or short films on my list, I didn't even consider the episodes that comprise "Nightmares & Dreamscapes" for inclusion here. But if the thought had crossed my mind, I might HAVE included them; that might be cause for another revision, now that it has been pointed out to me. Each episode is essentially a mini-feature, so they might actually belong.

      (12) If so, "Battleground" -- which, I agree, WAS the standout episode -- would probably get close to my top 20. That episode was thoroughly excellent. I'd love to get that book devoted to it that's out now (or comes out soon); it sounds cool.

      (13) I was already planning to, at some point relatively soon, do a second post dealing with the short films and television episodes not included on this list. I just haven't figured out the format yet; ranking all of the episodes is probably a lost cause, seeing as how I have two seasons or so of "The Dead Zone" that I have yet to watch, plus about half a season of "Haven." I'll come up with something, though.

      As always, thanks for reading! I love talking about this stuff, so it's always nice to see that a comment has landed in my in box.

  6. This post made my afternoon. I am in awe, sincerely, of the wealth of material/ review on this blog. Happy to have discovered it! I feel like I opened a random door and discovered this palace filled with all my favorite things.

    As mentioned elsewhere, I've got my own overview / re-watch/ re-read going on and wasn't planning on watching the 2004 "The Shining," but as a result of reading Andy's points, now I'm curious... I don't recall liking it when it first aired (I don't really remember much about it except not liking it) and I'm such a huge fan of the Kubrick version that I felt I could skip it. But now I'm not so sure.

    Can't argue with your rankings - you annotate your selective criteria quite well, anyway, so how could I? I might re-arrange a few/ put Creepshow a bit higher, but, once again, kudos for such a fantastic job.

    1. Hey, thanks! That's a terrific compliment.

      Glad there's a fellow "Creepshow" fan out there; that movie never, ever, ever gets old. I try to watch it around Halloween every year or two, and it never fails to cheer me up.

      Thanks a bunch for reading!

  7. A lot to disagree with here. I certainly would have ranked IT higher and Riding the Bullet I would have ranked far higher.

    Having said that, thanks for taking the time to do this and while I may not agree with you about 50 percent of the time, I'm glad you made me re-examine these films.


    1. Well, Brian, you obviously already know my thoughts on those particular movies, so there's no need for me to offer up a retort.

      Instead, I'll just say this: while I'm quite set in my opinion on "It," I ought to admit that I've only seen "Riding the Bullet" once. And I know that movie has fans out there, so you are definitely not alone in liking it. It might be that I've been overly harsh toward it; a second viewing might well chance my mind.

      Anyways, sorry I got it wrong about half of the time! I'm only human. :)

      In all honesty, though, I'm imagine that every single movie on this list has fans who love it, and also detractors who despise it. There is no such thing as a movie EVERYONE agrees on. The good news is that even though (from your point of view) I got it wrong 50% of the time, that means I got it right 50% of the time, too! So we agree roughly as much as we disagree, and that's pretty cool.

      What would your #1 be, by the way?

    2. My number one is The Shining. I like it better than The Exorcist which many consider to be the finest horror film of all time.

      My thoughts on Riding the Bullet are on my blog, but to summarize, it was poignant for me. I had to make a long trip, alone, to watch my mother die. Fortunately, I did it by car rather than hitchhiking.

      I thought the subtext of a boy and his mother, how they relate to each other, and only those you love the most can hurt you the most, was captured pretty well by Mick Garris who has an uneven track record with King works.

    3. You'll certainly get no argument from me on the subject of "The Shining." Masterpiece!

      As for "Riding the Bullet," well ... as you've gleaned, I'm not a fan. But I can certainly see how having a personal connection to it in that way would give you a TOTALLY different perspective on it. I'll have to find that post on your blog; sounds like it'd make for an interesting read.

  8. This is incredible. What a post! I'm with you on Secret Window. I saw that in the movies when it came out and I walked out really liking it and then bought it when it came out on dvd. I thought I was the only one!

    1. No, sir, you are definitely not the only one. I hope the movie's reputation will improve as time goes by; something tells me it will.

      Thanks for reading!

  9. You've got some great stuff, here, to be sure, and well-annotated. I won't quibble with your rankings or where they differ from mine - that's what my own yet-to-be Bryan Ranks All Things King blog is for! - but some general observations:

    Return to Salem's Lot - okay, let's get this out of the way: this is not a good film. No one can confuse it with a well-made film, and anyone who tries to convince anyone that it isn't so terrible is compromised. Nevertheless, that is exactly what I will try to do, here... If this film was called 'Don't go to Vampire Town,' it'd still be bad, but it'd be Prom Night bad, i.e. really, harmless and kind of fun and not without its charms. (Tho it would certainly benefit from a few hotties to keep the adolescents, or perpetual-adolescents-like-me, entertained.) What I mean is, as a continuation/connection to King's work, it's ridiculous, but as its own thing, it's much better. Plus, I mean, it's got Sam Fuller. He ain't Hitchcock, but he's a film icon, for me, personally. It's a bit like watching a movie where the Statue of Liberty not only appears but also says things like 'You won't turn me into a bloodsucker, you bastards...' So, I'll just wrap this up with: a) it perhaps should be compared to other-straight-to-video 80s horror-dreck, and when contextualized like that, it's really a lot better than it appears, and b) the production value is better than given credit for. I'm always more forgiving of something that is better than it has to be, and more damning of something that isn't as good as the production value.

    Case in point: Dawn and I watched 2 movies recently (Chronicle, and Exorcismo... i THINK. No record of this film exists, online, yet we got it from netflix... it was from the UK and came out recently (not the one google-results-show came out in 1975 and not the UK "Exorcism" which came out in 2011; an enigma! But outside my scope here) which LOOKED like they were meant to be taken seriously. Yet, they were pointless, annoyingly acted, written poorly, and with terrible characters. And when they ended, you were left with a "good lord, WHY was that made? Such a waste of money and time." To me, this sort of context is what makes me forgiving of things like Return to Salem's Lot. All dressed up and nowhere to go, vs. a barn-dance-one-stumbles-upon with some spirit. Or something. When I finish return to Salem's Lot, I'm chuckling, and I know exactly why it was made - someone wanted to make a quick and cheap buck off me. That's fine. It'd be like going back to the carnival and beating up the guy who got me dollar for the ring toss or something; I'd rather go after the guys who made Chronicle, or whatever.

    Does this make any sense? A better thing to take from this: anyone who goes on for three paragraphs on Return to Salem's Lot should not be trusted. Moving on...

    1. You make a good case for A Return to Salem's Lot; I will try to keep that in mind the next time I watch it. I recently upgraded to DVD (from VHS), so maybe a rewatch is due this Halloween season. And by the way, where can I go to start a campaign to have the movie officially retitled "Don't Go to Vampire Town"?

      I liked Chronicle well enough, personally, but I didn't love it or anything, and ultimately it didn't really make an impact on me. And yet, I know people who took it to heart immediately as one of their all-time favorite movies. All I can do is shrug and make dunno-face at that one.

    2. Me, too re: Chronicle. I've gotten a few angry emails from friends asking me just "what the hell I expected." Meh, not for me, I guess.

  10. Holy crap, there are THREE Mangler movies???

    Holy crappier, there are THREE Sometimes They Come Backs???

    Thinner is just... so unbelievably bad. I cannot believe that fat suit was allowed to see the light of day. And I further can't believe this is on cable as much as it is. I can never catch Graveyard Shift or The Night Flier on one of cable's King-marathons, but every other damn week, I can see Thinner. This freaking universe...

    (UPDATE: I sent Dawn an email asking what the hell the name of that movie was, and it's apparently 'Exorcismus.' Like the planet Earth in Star Trek IV, avoid at all costs. It's made worse by not being over-the-top-awful, if that makes any sense; extra bad manners for being so boring and deceptive)

    I like 1408; count me among its fans. The story it's based on is way better, of course, but I think it's a fun movie. I mean, you've got the Shining with Stephen Weber above it in your countdown! That to me is insanity. PURE INSANITY. But I like 1408 - the ending/ plot expansions work for me. There are some images and sequences that have really stayed with me, and considering how forgettable 99% of 21st century horror films have been, that alone says a lot.

    If I'm being honest, making Duddits an alien works for me, too. (Switching to Dreamcatcher) Not that I am in ay way defending the holy-mother-of-God-trainwreck that is Dreamcatcher. But if you're going to suck, suck big, I say... or, uhm, something like that. I'll watch a thousand big-trainwrecks like Dreamcatcher rather than another small gasp of a pointless fender-bender like "Exorcismus."

    (Dreamcatcher, the novel, by the by, seems to be routinely dismissed by King fans, which I think is unfair.)

    I was surprised/ disappointed by "Stand By Me" the last time I watched it. But, it meant everything to me when I saw it in the theater/ on VHS. It has the magical air of being 12 years old around it, to be sure, both in the making and in personal memory. But I had trouble accessing it the last time I watched - way too many big-emotional-outbursts from the actors. Love that damn soundtrack, though, and it's gorgeous to look at. (I'm always amused by how everyone remembers Kiefer Sutherland as being 'terrifying' on the set. That guy's got a real darkness to him. Unlike Corey Feldman, which works against the film, viewing it in 2012. He's just hard to take as a "troubled youth." Hell, he can't even convince me he's troubled even in real life, tho he ACTUALLY has been.)"

    p.s. Did you edit this at some point? I seem to recall there being a line in your sum-up of the Children of the Corn remake (2009) about how it had the obligatory 21st century interracial couple, which a) cracked me up, and b) is 100% accurate; it's the sort of observation that people shy away from, tho it's true. I mean, on one hand, hey, cool, times are a'changing; on the other, it's become kind of tv/adaptation-shorthand, like the "token black character" of the tv we grew up with. I can understand, tho, why you'd take that out, if indeed you took that out and I am not just misremembering/ making stuff up/ embarrassing us both.

    p.p.s. Speaking of this remake, I always thought Kandyse McClure was cute on BSG, but she is flat-out hot in that yellow dress in this version. It's a terrible movie for all the reasons you cite and more, but yellow is definitely her color. I think that's about the only thing that film has going for it.

    1. "Like the planet Earth in Star Trek IV, avoid at all costs."

      That's maybe the best thing I've heard all month. Genius!

      Re.: 1408 -- I don't know what it is, but something about this movie makes me irrationally angry, and also irrationally prone to lash out at anyone who speaks up for it. This is undoubtedly some sort of flaw in my programming; I'll investigate it, but will not immediately apologize for it. ;)

      Re.: Dreamcatcher -- Makes sense to me. I'm not one of the novel's fans, although I do feel there are sections of it that are absolutely awesome. This might be one of those cases that finds me loving it when I revisit it finally. Not the movie, though; never the movie.

      Re.: Children of the Corn '09 -- You know, I remember writing something about the obligatory interracial couple! I wonder if it was in a different post...? I don't remember editing this one, and if I did I can't imagine why I would've taken out that section, seeing as how I feel like I'm on solid ground in saying that was exactly what was going on in this movie. Hmm... Oh, well, it's a mystery, I guess.

      Either way, yes, yellow is most DEFINITELY McClure's color.

    2. Mystery solved! Those comments were made in a review I posted of the movie, and amounted to this:

      "The original story, of course, is not necessarily a classic, but it’s got style and tone going for it. This movie has none of those things. What it has is a lame attempt at social relevancy, coming via a poorly-considered Vietnam allegory which clearly wants to be an Iraq allegory. However, since Borchers also wanted to be able to claim on DVD bonus features that this film was more faithful to the story than the original film, he insists on setting the film circa 1975, complete with ’00s-style interracial marriage and ’00s-style sundress."

      Just to be clear, I've got nothing against interracial marriage -- I am of the firm belief that if you have the opportunity to marry a hot woman of ANY race, you take that opportunity and you run like hell with it -- but am instead opposed to anachronisms in movies.

      I am not opposed to sundresses. No, no, no, I am not.

      For any who happen to be interested, that full review can be found here:

    3. I'm probably remembered it from another post, I'm sure. Glad I'm not crazy, though! Well, at least, in this.

      I'm a fan, as you know, of designing stupid sequels no one ever asked for/ would ever in their right mind finance. (re: DREAMCATCHER 2: KILL, DUDDITS, KILL! as noted elsewhere) I always thought it'd be great to see a "1409." "no one bothered to check... THE ROOM ACROSS THE HALL" or something.

      Good for the world I am not an eccentric rich dude, or we'd be swimming in it... haha!

    4. Ah, there it is!

      Final tally: marrying hot women of any race, and sundresses, the yeas have it. Anachronisms, your bus is leaving...

  11. UPDATE!

    I have now viewed "Creepshow III," Tansy Valanjean be damned!

    It is horrible! Abso-fucking-lutely awful!

    And yet STILL better than "The Mangler Reborn"!

  12. Putting 'The Shining' at number 2 is laughable. It sucks, pure and simple. The movie is overlong, plodding and full of "suspense" scenes that lead absolutely nowhere. In reality all this movie is, is an 'Amityville Horror' rip off. By far Stanley Kubrick's worst movie by a long shot. It's hellishly overrated, overacted and overscored - and oh so loved by fan boys who think they're intelligent for saying they like it, so that the "powers that be" will pat them on the back and tell them what good guys they are for conforming. It adds nothing to the steadicam work that other directors had introduced prior to this dreck!! 'The Shining' is simply a movie which got by on a directors name and for someone who pushed back cinematic boundaries on all his other films, there is sadly a total lack of anything interesting going on here. I would even go as far as to say that if you took Kubrick's the credits I would have no idea that he had anything to do with this. It's a turkey.

    1. Well, to each his own, I guess. But you and I do not live in a universe in which "The Shining" is Kubrick's worst movie, and certainly not by a long shot -- because we live in a universe in which "Killer's Kiss" exists. That one isn't much. I suspect the same is true for "Fear and Desire," but I've still never seen that one.

      Personally, I'd rank it at about his -- oh... -- fourth-best. Maybe fifth-best, and I'd be willing to consider sixth-best.

      By the way, I'd request that if you're going to come here and offer dissenting opinions -- which I'm more than happy to have, by the way -- you do so without being insulting. Calling me a fanboy and implying that I'm unintelligent isn't something I have much tolerance for. And I can guarantee you that I don't praise the movie out of some weird desire for a pat on the back from the powers that be, whoever they are. I praise it because I think it's praise-worthy.

      You're free to disagree, but I'd prefer that you do it respectfully.

      Now, that said: what's your personal favorite Kubrick movie? Mine's "2001," with "Dr. Strangelove" nipping at its heels.