Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Worst to Best: Stephen King on Film [Revised 2013 Edition]

Having recently seen (and mostly liked) the new remake of Carrie, I figured it was time to update the old Worst-to-Best list of King movies.  As with my revised rankings of King's books, this is mostly a cut-'n'-paste from the previous version of the same post, so if you read that, there's probably no need to do anything other than skim this.

I've tried something different this time out, though; I've attempted to incorporate some of the television series into the rankings.  I've avoided ranking individual episodes -- that would be a madman's task -- and have adopted the half-measure of treating each season of shows like The Dead Zone and Under the Dome as a single entity.  I'm not entirely sure that's a good idea, but it seemed like one at the time.

Let's see how the rankings stacked up this time:


#DH (Dishonorable Mention) -- The Dead Zone Seasons 5 and 6





Just so we're clear on this, let me specify that I am not saying that the final two seasons of The Dead Zone belong on the bottom of the heap.  They probably don't belong very high; but the fact is, I can't say for sure, because I haven't seen the final two seasons.  I think I saw maybe two or three episodes of season five before pulling the ripcord and bailing out of the flaming wreckage that was that series by that point.

I'll get around to seeing them eventually, but until I do, here they reside.

But I feel absolutely certain that they are better than...


#83 -- The Mangler Reborn
 
 
 

 
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.


#82 -- Creepshow III




This is a genuinely awful, inept film in every way, and I'm angry with myself for not placing it last on the list.  However, I am going to give it a very slight edge over The Mangler Reborn -- which is similarly awful and inept -- because of the two fauxquels, Creepshow 3 does actually manage to at least somewhat follow the concept of the series to which is ostensibly belongs.  By which I mean that this is at least an anthology of horror stories that could be said to be in the EC mold of morality tales.

That is the only good thing I have to say about the film, but it's juuuuuuust enough of an advantage to keep it out of last place.

If, God help you, you want to read a longer review of what I think about this atrocity of a film, I actually reviewed the piece of shit once upon a time.  Here ya go.  Don't say I never did anything for you.


#81 -- Lawnmower Man 2: Jobe's War




Also known as Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace, this is a burnt-turd smoothie under any title.  As of the time I am typing this, it holds a 2.3 rating on IMDb.  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.
 
Awful.


#80 -- Pet Sematary Two





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.


#79 -- The Mangler 2


 

I met Lance Henriksen at Dragon*Con once, and he was literally one of the nicest people I have ever encountered in my entire life.  He's an actor, and a damn good one, so maybe it was all a sham; but I doubt it, and even if it was, you'd have to idolize the effort he would have to 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?!?
 
Shameful.
 
Director Michael Hamilton-Wright -- who also wrote the film -- has not directed a movie since.  Hard to believe (what with the movie's 2.5 on IMDb), 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.


#78 -- Children of the Corn (2009)



  
Up until this point, we've been talking entirely about fauxquels (i.e., ripoffs that are not actually based on Stephen King books and stories, but merely use the conceits -- or, in some cases, merely the title -- of something with King's name attached to it, for no better reason than that some production company had the legal right to do so).

This, then, is the lowest-ranking title on the list that actually IS based on something written by King.  And here's what I have to say about that:
 
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 it; if it were cut and/or censored, then fuck a bunch of that, but this is not the case, so yay!", a mental process followed by the conducting of an actual transaction with an actual cashier.  This consumer 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 appropriate sense of shame about feeling urged to do so should do: I bought it online, and was 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 the disc, 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.
 
For the record, yes, I am 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.  And yet, at one point, I wrote a longer review of it.


#77 -- Trucks



 
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 roles, 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...


#76 -- Riding the Bullet




And before we even reach seventy-friggin'-five, Mick Garris makes his first appearance 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 big 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 Amazon.com 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 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 most 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, 340-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.


#75 - Sometimes They Come Back...For More




  
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 your moxie.  Ya got spunk, kid!
 
You might be surprised to learn this, but director Daniel Berk has apparently not worked in the movie business since making this film.
 
GASP! 


#74 - Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror



  
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, we all hit our rough patches in life, don't we?
 
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.


 #73 -- Children of the Corn: Genesis


  
  
Lol.  This one barely even has children OR corn in it.  Awesome.  Ya got spunk, kid!



#72 -- Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest


 
 
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.


#71 -- Children of the Corn: Revelation



  

  

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.


#70 -- Children of the Corn 666: Isaac's Return


   
 
 
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 how, 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 the filmmakers 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.


#69 -- Sometimes They Come Back...Again


 

If I'd produced this film, I'd have made sure there was an exclamation mark on the end of the title.  I mean, which movie would YOU rather see (Sometimes They Come Back...Again or Sometimes They Come Back...Again!)?

I think we all know the choice is clear.
 
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."  And I'll grant you, when he reads it, he reads it without an exclamation mark.  So maybe the choice isn't so clear.
 
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.


#68 -- Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice


 

What the fuck...?!?  Are those kinds inside V'Ger?
 
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.


#67 -- Thinner


 

 
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 Trucks are.  And yet, I'd kinda rather watch Trucks 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, Trucks 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.


#66 -- The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer


  
  
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 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.


#65 -- A Return to Salem's Lot


   
 
I like A Return to Salem's Lot more than I like eighteen other movies on this list.
 
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 testes hanging off the crotch of these 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.
 
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.
 
Neato!


#64 -- Desperation


   
 
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 somewhat 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.


#63 -- Firestarter 2: Rekindled


  
  
  
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.


#62 -- Sleepwalkers


 
 
 
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.


#61 -- Quicksilver Highway


   
 
Mick Garris is back again, this time doing his thang, this time 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 it 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 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 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.


#60 -- The Mangler


  
  
  
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.


#59 -- The Langoliers




A former co-worker once 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.

Yikes.
 
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.  But I console myself by noting that it seems to have no forward momentum, and may never get made.  Fingers crossed...!


#58 -- Bag of Bones



  
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.


#57 -- Haven Season 2




I was only mildly entertained by the first season of Haven, and the second season was actually worse.  A great deal of the season revolved around the conflict with the Reverend, a poorly-written character who the writers clearly wanted to make into a Big Bad-style villain, but instead made into a nonentity.


#56 -- Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering


  
 
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.


#55 -- Haven Season 1




If I am correct in my assumptions, I invented the word "fauxquel," which designates a sequel or prequel that is essentially unrelated to the original material.

I don't have a word for an adaptation that fails to actually adapt its source material.  "Adapfaketion"?  Close enough, I guess.

Anyways, this is an adapfaketion of the King novel The Colorado Kid, and is almost literally doing nothing with it.  It mentions a "Colorado Kid," and has two crusty-old-man reporters.  That's about it.

Worse sin: it is set in Haven, Maine, and the producers seem to have not realized that King's literature already had a town in Maine named Haven.  This is not the same town; it is on the ocean, whereas the one in The Tommyknockers is entirely landlocked.

So...yeah.  THAT'S the level of expertise we're dealing with from this show's producers and writers.

The story is that FBI agent Audrey Parker finds herself in Haven, investigating "Troubled" people (i.e., people who have weird mutant-style powers and afflictions).  She becomes involved to one degree or another with a local cop and a local criminal.  The three leads are all very good, and have terrific chemistry, and they are good enough that they occasionally distract you from just how incredibly bad almost every episode is.


#54 -- Graveyard Shift



 
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 / movies that I 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.  (Not you, Diamonds Are Forever and Die Another Day.)  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.


#53 -- Dolan's Cadillac


   
 
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.


#52 -- 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.


#51 -- The Lawnmower Man


   
 
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, oddly.  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.  He's put to better use than he would be two decades later in Under the Dome, at least.
 
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 in cinematic terms.  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.


#50 -- The Dead Zone Season 4




What I mainly remember about this season is that it included an episode titled "A Very Dead Zone Christmas," involving Johnny using his powers to find a video game his son wanted for Christmas.  I am not making that up.

By this point, the series had turned into something that was a pale shadow of its former self.  I seem to recall there being a few decent episodes, but only a few.


#49 -- Under the Dome Season 1




There were times during this first season when I quite enjoyed what I was seeing, but things took a major turn for the worse about halfway through, and never recovered.  And the season-finale was, simply, awful.

There are some good actors on hand, including Dean Norris and Rachelle Lefevre, but they mostly get squandered by writing that has no earthly idea what direction it wants to go from one episode to the next.

Worst of all, the series simply has no bite to it.  The novel may not be anybody's picture of perfection, but it at least had some genuine menace to it at times.  The television version, so far, has virtually none.

A massive disappointment.


#48 -- Golden Years


  
 
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 what home video releases consist of to this day, in fact; the complete series has never been released commercially, although it does apparently pop up on Netflix streaming on occasion.  If you are a King fan, and want to watch Golden Years, I highly suggest that you find the original episodes there, or on YouTube, or elsewhere on the internet.  Don't settle for the 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.


#47 -- Creepshow 2


   
 
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.



#46 -- 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 the first version took.  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.
 
Much of the filmmaking is poor; the whole thing feels cheap and rushed.  However, the acting is mostly good, and there is a good score.  Overall, this movie is a missed opportunity, but it has its moments.


#45 -- Dreamcatcher


   
 
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.


#44 -- The Dead Zone Season 3




A few good episodes happened this season, but I mostly remember this as the year when it became evident that the series was going to utterly squander the Greg Stillson plotline by drawing it out much too far.


#43 -- Carrie (2002)




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.

The pros: it sticks way closer to King's novel than does the DePalma film, and it mostly avoids that movie's campy excesses.  However, 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 cons: the movie looks cheap as hell, and some of the acting is weak.  The guy who plays Tommy may as well be a waiter at Applebee's.

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 the excellent Hannibal.  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.  The movie fails to capitalize on this in any meaningful way, however, and Clarkson is nowhere near as memorable as Piper Laurie (to say nothing of Julianne Moore).

Angela Bettis plays Carrie, and she's okay, but she's no Sissy Spacek; nor even a Chloe Moretz.  Bettis is an odd-looking woman, and she also behaves somewhat oddly here; those qualities work well for the character at times, but are grating at others.


#42 -- Haven Season 3




I more or less hated the second season of this show, and only barely tolerated the first, so my expectations were not high for the third.  Imagine my surprise, then, when I found myself -- relatively -- enjoying it!

We learn more about Audrey's past; we learn more about The Guard; and there is a big old cliffhanger at the end that actually made me moderately anticipatory of Season 4.  (Which, so far, has continued to be solid -- you won't see it ranked here, though, because it's only halfway concluded.)


#41 -- Nightmares & Dreamscapes






Some of y'all may castigate me for saying this, but...this miniseries is crap.  The first episode ("Battleground") is quite good, and a couple of others ("Umney's Last Case," "The End of the Whole Mess") are decent.  Everything else is pretty weak, with two ("Crouch End," "You Know They Got a Hell of a Band") that are just dreadful.

On its own, "Battleground" would rank considerably higher; without it, the miniseries would rank considerably lower.


#40 -- The Tommyknockers



 
 
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.)


#39 -- Sometimes They Come Back


   
 
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, whom 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.


#38 -- It


 
 
 
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.


#37 -- The Rage: Carrie 2 


  
 
Of the many fauxquels to Stephen King films, 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 for 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."  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.)


#36 -- The Shining (1997)




It's October, right?  Right.  And one of my yearly traditions is that during October, I listen to as many Stephen King soundtracks as I can.  And so it is that as I am typing these words, I find myself listening to Nicholas Pike's score to the 1997 remake of The Shining!  Cool.
 
Okay, that said, 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.
 
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
 
NO!
 
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.


#35 -- Firestarter


   
 
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 (i.e., wind) 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.  I think this one gets a bad rap.


#34 -- The Running Man


  
 
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.  It's not quite an adapfaketion, but it gets close: 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.


#33 -- Tales from the Darkside: The Movie


   
 
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 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.


#32 -- Kingdom Hospital


 

Kingdom Hospital is a one-season television series, adapted by King (and others, but mostly King) from a Danish miniseries directed by Lars Von Trier.  Like Golden Years, it was intended to last for more than one season, but got canceled due to lousy ratings numbers.

Unlike Golden Years, however, the story comes to a reasonably satisfying conclusion.  Not every plot thread is resolved -- you can sort of see where the second season might have been headed -- but the main plotlines are definitely resolved.

Unfortunately, the series is a mess.  It works well at times, but at others is laughably bad.

The premise?  Haunted hospital.


#31 -- Maximum Overdrive


 
 
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 a musical score written by AC/DC!
 
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.


#30 -- Rose Red


   
 
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 Dark Half


   
 
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.)


#28 -- The Stand


   
 
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 terribly 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, but 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.  I also quite like Adam Storke as Larry, but he can only help so much.
 
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.

I recently wrote a four-part review of the miniseries, which can be found here, here, here, and here.  There are great screencaps, if nothing else, so go check 'em out, won't you?


 #27 -- Cat's Eye


  
 
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.  It's awful; oh, how I love it.
 
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.

And now, because I can:





Ignore the spelling; it's "Stevens," not "Stephens."


#26 -- Needful Things


  
  
  
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.


#25 -- Silver Bullet


   
 
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.


#24 -- Pet Sematary

   
  
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.


#23 -- The Night Flier


   
 
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.


#22 -- 1408


   
 
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.
 
Now...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.

And yet, because it has SO many admirers, I have elected to place it higher on the list than I would otherwise be inclined to do.  I am a generous overlord.

Am I not merciful, Klytus?


#21 -- The Dead Zone Season 2




A step down from the excellent first season, the second is nevertheless very solid, with numerous fine episodes and only a few mild duds.  I should probably be able to say more than that, but -- apart from complaining about the show getting rid of Dana at some point -- I don't know that I can do it at the moment.


#20 -- Apt Pupil




The soundtrack-synchronicity continues!  I am now writing about Apt Pupil while -- in unplanned fashion -- listening to the score to Apt Pupil.  And a solid score it is, too.

As for the movie...
 
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.  Do not take that to mean that you should feel sorry for Nazis; you shouldn't.  But you should be willing to at least consider it, if only so that your refusal to do so carries some added weight.
   
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.


#19 -- Hearts in Atlantis


   
 
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).  David Morse is also good as grown-up Bobby.
 
Not a home run; but it definitely gets on base.


#18 -- Secret Window


   
 
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.


#17 -- The Dead Zone Season 1




In a sense, this series is even more of an adapfaketion -- is that word growing on you yet? -- than Under the Dome is.  However, the story bears the weight much more gracefully, because what the producers did, essentially, was simply posit that Johnny Smith had the same tragic arc; he simply had a few more adventures before reaching that end.

Of course, the series, as it played out, never bothered to actually reach the end; but that's okay, in terms of judging the setup of the concept, which is what Season 1 is.  And to tell the truth, there was a huge amount of potential in that concept.  The first season even manages to capitalize on a good bit of it, exploring the notion of what sorts of situations a genuine psychic with predictive abilities might become interestingly involved in.

Anthony Michael Hall makes for an excellent Johnny, and most of the rest of the cast is good, too.  The writing is crisp; the series looks good; there are only occasional excursions into television-style cheesiness.

Overall, this is solid stuff.  The series wasn't as good in its second season, sadly, and declined rapidly after that.  Still, this first season is the real deal.


#16 -- Carrie (2013)




See, the thing is...we already know her name.  And since the idea of people not knowing her name is a non-issue in the movie itself, I have to ask: why was this movie's marketing campaign so heavily focused on that tagline?

It's a mystery.

The movie, however, is quite good.  There are a few missteps, such as a weak-as-hell final scene and what appears to be some heavy-handed editing.  However, Julianne Moore is phenomenal, Chloe Grace Moretz is solid, and director Kimberly Peirce does a strong job visually for the most part.

Here is a lengthier review, if you want to know more of my thoughts on the subject.


#15 -- Creepshow


  
 
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 (who looks oddly familiar...) 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.  And while intellectually I suspect I ought to fling it into the twenties on this list, I just can't do it; here it is, and here, for now, it stays.
 
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 and NOS4A2; 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.


#14 -- Cujo


   
 
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.  She ought, on the basis of this and E.T., 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.


#13 - Christine


   
 
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 (an opinion that was reinforced soundly when I recently had the opportunity to see the movie theatrically for the first time ever).  Not perfect, by any means; the climactic confrontation doesn't quite work, despite some effective individual moments, and it's hard to argue that the character work is as strong as it ought to be.  The three leads are all fairly good, though, and each brings more to the movie than was present in the screenplay.
 
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.
 
Your 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."


#12 -- Room 237




Not based on a King book at all, but rather centered on a movie that itself is based on a King book, the inclusion of Room 237 is arguably out of bounds.

But it's my list, and I can do what I want, so nanna-nanna-boo-boo.

A lot of people roll their eyes at it, but I think this is a terrific movie.  It presents five interviewees who have one manner of lunacy or another to spout about Kubrick's The Shining, ranging from faked-lunar-landing conspiracy theory to metaphor-for-Native-American-genocide readings.  And so forth.

But that's not what Room 237 is about.  It's about the way in which we watch and interpret things.  It is beautifully-edited, has a sly sense of humor, and is well worth your time.

Here's a lengthier review.


#11 -- 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.  Just as it seems like Dee Stone ought to have had a stronger career, so too for Brooke Adams.
 
.....
 
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!


#10 -- Salem's Lot (1979)


  
 
The second-ever filmed adaptation of King's work, 'Salem's Lot was produced for television and was originally shown over the course of two nights, a week apart.  It later ended up in European cinemas, in a drastically cut-down form.  I've never seen that theatrical edit; I'd like to some day, just to 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 it could have used a bit more of the novel's hints toward a rich town history.  However, Hooper and screenwriter Paul Monash get a lot 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 might creep even Barlow out.
 
Well, maybe not this version of Barlow.  In the novel, he's a 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 (which finally received a soundtrack release on CD this year); 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 decidedly-less-good 2004 remake, the novel hasn't quite been done justice, still.  But between the two, most of it has been represented on film.  I continue to 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.


#9 -- Storm of the Century


  
  
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.


#8 -- Misery


   
 
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 2015, so chop-chop, y'all.


#7 -- Carrie (1976)




As with Christine, I had a chance to see this movie theatrically for the first time this year, and while I was already a fan of Christine, I mostly was NOT a fan of Brian DePalma's adaptation of Carrie.

That has now changed.  There are still aspects of it that I do not care for -- I still think Piper Laurie is entirely too campy in certain scenes -- but overall, I've finally caught up with the rest of the King community and found some love for the film.
 
I still think a better version of Carrie can be made someday (the recent remake comes close, and even manages it in some aspects), but it's hard to deny that Sissy Spacek is great, and that the prom massacre is iconic, and that Piper Laurie -- campiness notwithstanding -- 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.  [Editor's note: who the hell is Nancy Travis, Bryant?  Don't you mean Nancy Allen?  And the answer to that question is yes.]
 
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.


#6 -- Dolores Claiborne


   

When this movie came out, I went to see it with several then-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 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.


#5 -- The Mist


   
 
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


   
 
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


   
 
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 supposedly 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.

I don't think I persuaded him.

His loss.


#2 -- The Shining


   
 
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; and Coke is clearly awesome, whereas Pepsi clearly tastes like socks.
 
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, and Room 237 does little to dissuade me of that suspicion).
 
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 four 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


   
 
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.

*****

And with that, my compadres, we have reached the end of the countdown.  What's next on the King-movie spectrum?  Two movies based on his work should come out in 2014: A Good Marriage (based on the novella from Full Dark, No Stars), and Mercy (which is ostensibly adapted from "Gramma," but seems likely to be an adapfaketion).

Once those are out, it'll probably be time to update the list again.  For now, though, as Rustin Parr said, it's finally finished.   I believe I shall celebrate by watching an episode of The Musters.  Tis the season!

29 comments:

  1. Alas, everyone's list is different, but...

    You have put Under the Dome season one above A Return to Salem's Lot - understandable, but I enjoy that one the way you enjoy The Rage: Carrie 2) -Graveyard Shift - probably equally understandable, but a perfectly enjoyable film - and the original Children of the Corn... which is by no means a great movie but a seminal roadside attraction of the 80s landscape. But even more bafflingly, you have also listed De Palma's Carrie behind Garris' The Shining!! Call The Low Men!!

    haha - normally, I see fairly close to eye to eye with you on things, but I can't hang with those. Not that that's a bad or even irregular thing. Infinite diversity in infinite combinations and all that. I agree in way more places than disagree and as ever am impressed at the comprehensiveness of this.

    Very high ranking for the new Carrie, as well. Surprising. Good to see Room 237 make a high appearance.

    I appreciate your generosity for 1408, but that's pretty high for a movie that falls apart under repeat viewings. (I agree, tho, that Cusack's very good in it. There's some great atmosphere in that one. I loved it on first viewing, liked it on the second, and started grumbled on the third.) Graveyard Shift, though! Just gets better and better.

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    1. HOLD THE PHONES - total mistake on my part, got my Carries mixed up. Please ignore that part of the above comment.

      Nice to see Storm of the Century get some love, by the way. It and The Dead Zone (Cronenberg) don't get enough praise, I feel, for as good as they are.

      Delete
    2. You know...I actually agree with you about "Graveyard Shift" getting better and better. Every time I watch it (which admittedly, isn't that often), I think, hey, you know, this isn't THAT bad...

      Your zeal for "A Return to Salem's Lot" is becoming infectious. Previously, I had it ranked second or third from last; I've bumped it up considerably. And just as with my rankings of the books, I recompiled this list without first consulting the older one! So your pernicious influence is obviously taking hold. Maybe it's time to give that movie a rewatch.

      As for "Under the Dome," I understand the objection to having it ranked even THAT highly. My rationale is that there were, at least, about four or five episodes that I genuinely liked, at least on first viewing. I suspect I will like none of them on whatever dark day finds me rewatching the entire season. Which means that the next time this post gets revised, the first season is likely to rank much, much lower.

      When I saw what you said about me putting DePalma's "Carrie" that low, I went into a low-grade panic, because I had no idea how I'd managed to do that. I thought I'd put it in the top ten! And sure enough -- whew! -- that was the case.

      As for the 2002 remake, I have to admit, it did not hold up for me at all when I rewatched it recently. When the Blu-ray of the new movie comes out, I think I'll do a "Carrie vs. Carrie vs. Carrie" post and compare the three, and the 2002 one is not going to do well at all.

      Delete
    3. My pernicious influence... (cackles and rubs hands together.) I look forward to the 2022 Rankings!!

      Yeah, the 02 remake is rather meh. I like the idea of a threeway Carrie (hey-oh!) cage match, though. One for the queue!

      Delete
  2. I was going to add an editor's note to the post itself to convey this information, but Blogger is being a cock and refusing to allow me to publish an edited version of the post. So, instead, here's an oh-so-important update:

    This video:

    http://syrinscorner.blogspot.com/2012/11/castle-rock-cash-in-sometimes-they-come.html

    reminds me that "Sometimes They Come Back...Again" actually DOES reference the first film, Not only that, it also adapts elements of King's original short story that did not make it into the first film in that hard-to-believe-it-exists trilogy. It seemed only right to include that info here!]

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  3. Totally agree with you up to #67 - Thinner sorta-maybe could've been a good flick if the actor playing Billy Haleck wasn't so completely godawful. He ruins every second of film he's involved in.

    Sleepwalkers and Graveyard Shift are terrible, but I adore both of them.

    You are not alone in your feelings about It. I've always hated it - mostly for the fact that it was not one iota as scary as everyone makes it out to be. It's ridiculous. The acting is horrible by both child and adult alike and the overall look of it is cheap and cheesy as hell. HATE IT.

    You're... you're seriously ranking Pet Sematary at #24? You're ranking it below 1408??? Below that incredibly disappointing Carrie remake??? Sir, I don't understand you. But to each his own, I guess.

    Now Needful Things, Dreamcatcher, The Dark Half, and especially Secret Window are all ones that I've always had a fondness for that nobody seems to share! Secret Window is freaking awesome, that's all there is to it. I honestly don't understand the hate for Dreamcatcher. Is it the effects? Morgan Freeman's eyebrows? I can't help it, I dig that one a lot.

    VERY surprised to see Dolores Claiborne ranked so high on anybody's list. That seems to be a forgotten one, or just one that is not all that great but also not all that terrible so there isn't much to talk about with it!

    Again, the Carrie remake? No. Just... NO. I might go into more detail on my blog at some point.

    The Mist, The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption, Stand by Me.... OF COURSE. All awesome movies and I don't think you'll find a single movie fan who doesn't love all of them. If you're going for pure emotion though, I think Green Mile actually surpassed Shawshank in that regard, at least for me. Still cry like a baby at that, and all the wonderful bromance-y scenes.

    As for The Shining thing - book and movie are totally different. Book is awesome, movie is awesome. One does not cease to make another exist, so why can't one love them both for what they are? That's what I do.

    One thing I've thought about when it comes to King adaptations is that things mostly go wrong with the casting. And sometimes the casting for King characters is perfect, it just never happens where it matters, you know? Like, Amanda Plummer in Needful Things. Awesome casting, shit movie nobody cares about. Shelley Duvall in The Shining. Shit casting, awesome movie that everybody's seen. Everybody in Bag of Bones sucked. Everybody in Green Mile was fantastic. Maybe if they just got the casting right more often than not on some of these, things wouldn't have turned out so bad.

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    1. You make some fine points there, no doubt about it.

      On the subject of "Dreamcatcher," I can sum up my disdain for that movie in one word: Duddits. Duddits sucks in the book, too, but in the movie he -- be it the kiddie version or the adult version -- is just stupefyingly awful. And he movie's climax is pretty horrible, too. Apart from that, it's not that bad, I guess. I can see how a person would have a soft spot for it.

      Do I really have "Pet Sematary" ranked below "1408"? That does seem like a bit of a failing.

      "Everybody in Bag of Bones sucked. Everybody in Green Mile was fantastic. Maybe if they just got the casting right more often than not on some of these, things wouldn't have turned out so bad."

      Agreed, agreed, and agreed. Some famous director or other -- can't remember who -- said something to the effect of casting being half of the way toward the making of a good film. I could not agree more. And King movies have sometimes been totally schizo in that regard. Take "Pet Sematary" as an example: Fred Gwynne and Miko Hughes were brilliant casting, but then the two leads were just terrible! As a result, the movie is badly uneven.

      But casting isn't everything. The cast of "1408" is solid, but the movie is kind of lame.

      Oh, well. Glad I gave you a few things to disagree with, if nothing else! ;)

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    2. Hi Bryant Burnette

      I’ve followed your blog for a while and really enjoy reading it. I found this an interesting list, though I would find it very difficult to be so objective and have only seen about ¼ of the films (and come to think of it would be too lazy to summarise even them anyway). Personally, I feel that The Dark Half is under-rated but it does have its faults.

      As for Dreamcatcher (which would be at the very bottom of my list), what I really disliked was the way that the narrative was handled: that it was badly paced and there was so little tension, it couldn't decide if it was a sentimental drama or a thriller. I also feel shamefully geeky pointing this out (but hey, what do I really have to lose), I felt that it shared the fault with every post-80s monsters vs military film that there are too many guns and they’re too big. What I thought worked so well about the 80s military sci-fi highlights (The Thing, Predator, Aliens) was that the soldiers were so vulnerable and these were more chase movies than war movies. Having half an army with jets n stuff just felt too OTT. They’d have been better just leaving the army out of it.

      The strange thing though with Dreamcatcher is how many people hate it for different reasons. I didn’t personally mind Dudets. I’ve also seen people complain about the ‘bum aliens’ as if it strains credibility that someone could be killed in such a humiliating manner, but I’m sure anyone who’s ever had a nasty experience with a candiru or tapeworm will tell testify that hostile animals don’t really take people’s dignity into account.

      I'm a bit ambivalent about 'It'. I agree entirely with you on the Richie Tozier angle, the scripting, effects and acting. But it also had some of the scariest things I've seen. The 'I knew it all along' sensation I had when I saw the clown's fangs (really don't like clowns) and that bit when Georgie's photo blinks made me feel faint. Goes to show that artfulness and scariness aren't always closely related.

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    3. They really aren't, are they? And right there, in one sentence, I believe you may have explained why horror films work sometimes despite not actually being very good. I'm not a fan of the movie version of "It," but there is simply no denying that it works, despite its many flaws; I've heard from WAY too many people who talk about the movie in hushed tones, almost as if they're afraid to speak too loud lest Pennywise hear them somehow. I have talked to at least a dozen co-workers over the years (most of whom are a decade or so younger than myself) who were obviously hugely impacted by the movie as children. That sort of thing can't be faked; so whatever its flaws may be, "It" has unquestionably been an impactful film.

      What you say about "Dreamcatcher" makes a lot of sense. The only thing in the movie that works for me at all is the casting of the four leads; they are all good, and that is about all I would say for the film.

      I'm with you in terms of not quite getting the objection to the shit weasels. If the movie had been good, I suspect people would feel differently about those scenes. I didn't like the novel all that much, but the corresponding scenes were -- for my money -- among the best King has ever written. The story fell apart for me after that point, but it didn't keep the shit weasels from being hugely disturbing. In a good way.

      Thanks for reading!

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  4. I actually haven't seen all all these either, but except from a few exceptions I pretty much agree to the order of those I've seen. Especially the top three. It's also interesting to see that only one of these three is actually horror. I always use The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile as examples when trying to convert people from disliking King because they dislike horror. I don't know about the US, but here many people tend to overlook that King is more than just "the King of horror"...

    Now that I think about it, many of my favorite King books are non-Horror (or just tangentially horror), too.

    Dan

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    1. One of King's favorite stories to tell in interviews is of being in a grocery store in Florida. He is approached by an old lady who gives him a squinty eye and says, "I know who you are; you write all those nasty scary books. Well, I don't like things like that; I like upflifting stories, like that Shawshank Redemption." To which King replies, "But I wrote that!" To which the lady sniffs, "No you didn't," and walks off.

      I don't know if I believe the story is true or not, but even if it isn't, it may as well be. There are undoubtedly tons of people who are surprised to learn that King wrote that, or "The Green Mile," or "Stand By Me," or "Dolores Claiborne," even.

      I'd definitely have to say that it's an ongoing problem of perception. But it isn't unusual; as a mass, people tend to be very unobservant and ill-informed when it comes to their entertainments. I work at a movie theatre, and I cannot even begin to count the number of conversations I've had with people in which they try to remember the name of that one movie who starred the girl who was in the other thing. You know, the one with the stuff in it? What was that called...?

      Many people have too many other things on their mind to worry about keeping up with such things. My gut impulse is always to shake my head sadly; but the truth is, it simply isn't a top priority for some. And that's understandable.

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    2. Actually, even the advertising of the non-horror movies seems to forget (or to hide??) the fact that King is the origin of the story. Look at the movie posters above. Most horror/mystery movies advertise by "Stephen King's xxxxxxxxxx" or "based on a book/story/novel by Stephen King" or in similar ways, you almost always see King's name automatically.
      And now have a look at the non-horror ones. Like The Shawshank Redemption, Green Mile, Dolores Claiborne and many more. King's name only appears in the credits, in small letters and only after a lot of other names. So no surprise people don't know where these stories originated from...
      Dan

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    3. Good point.

      There have been a lot of good King movies, but there have been even more bad ones; as far as Hollywood goes, I don't think his name is much of an asset in the marketing phase of things.

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    4. Watched The Mist. Right now. And that one certainly belongs in the top five. I agree with pretty much every thing you write about it above. I was somewhat okay with Thomas Jane, though. Yeah, you do see that he's not a Oscar-level actor, but the thing keeping this movie from having a chance to enter the top three are rather the monsters, not the humans, in my opinion. Really cheap tricks at times.
      (SPOILERS AHEAD!) Especially at points where you would expect it's relatively easy to animate. Like the tentacles. The more "complicated" and detailed the monster looked, the better they looked. Meaning the bug- and spider-types were at least somewhat okay. The Mist was one of the very first pieces I read (not watched) from King, and I do remember only little. Still, if I remember correctly, the novela was more scary by showing less. And that's what may have made the movie a top three candidate. More hiding the monsters in the Mist, less directly showing. Would be more scary AND hide the cheap effects at the same time. They do that with the crab-type and to some extend with the giant four-legged one at the end. It's just a bit too much "In your face!". Also with the arrowhead project. Just giving indications and hints would be much more mysterious and scary than downright saying "it was xxxx, because they did yyyy". btw, the word "door" is used in that context (not "gate", like you would usually expect, I think), but I'm not sure if it's supposed to be related to certain doors we talked about in a different post.
      Oh, I think you're not into games from your replies, but still: The novela was one of the things inspiring the Silent Hill games (if you've seen pictures, you probably at least remember the fog and otherworldly creatures). And I think Silent Hill then inspired this movie to some extend. The music sounds very similar to SH background music. If you can even call it "music", that is. Also that female preacher and some other things reminded me a lot of the one in the first SH movie. The games are much much more scary and have way better stories, but at least the look was pretty good in the movies.
      And last but not least: I think the ending is great the way it is. If at all, they made it look too easy for the military. But well, that's not the point you are talking about. The point you are talking about belongs into good horror movies at times, and it's awesome here.

      Dan

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    5. Oh, I forgot:
      The movie is also a nice recollection of faces known from both King Movies (for example
      Jeffrey DeMunn, the "Robert" from SotC) and the SH movies (for example Laurie Holden, who plays Cybil Bennett in SH). XD

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    6. I didn't know "The Mist" was an inspiration for "Silent Hill," but it makes sense. Isn't there another game whose creators cited "The Mist" as an influence? "BioShock," maybe?

      It's not that I'm not into games, per se, but that I just don't have the time for them. After my work-week is done, there are only x-number of hours left to go around for hobbies, and at some point I realized that there just weren't enough of them to allow me to be into all the things I'd like to be into. So, no more gaming for me.

      I'm a Stephen King completist, though, so if and when an officially-licensed King-based game gets released -- which you just KNOW will happen eventually -- then I'll have no choice but to play it.

      Glad you liked "The Mist"! A surprising number of King fans don't.

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    7. The novel was one of the very first I read, so nostalgia might be a part of it, who knows.

      I'm not playing FPS, so I have no idea if Bioshock was inluenced by it. The few things I know about it don't remind me of The Mist at all. It wasn't the main influence, there are movies which had much more impact (ever seen Jacob's Ladder, for example?), but it is one of many. So is Carrie. (If you know SH1, you might guess why.) Also King in general. Street names in SH are named after authors, and the first street in the first game is Bachmann Road. One of the later games also has a King Street, I think. And there are several shops and posters based on King's work. Fan's cracking the game discs have found even more, unused ones. Find some here:
      http://silenthillcommunity.com/viewtopic.php?f=20&t=433228
      Or this topics, which lists a plethora of references but Ctrl+F-ing "King" gives you more results than pretty much everything else:
      http://silenthillforum.com/viewtopic.php?t=157
      So in a way, there already IS a King game. ;)
      I'm not gaming as much as I used to anymore, either. The Silent Hill games were a thing of my past, but a thing I wouldn't like to miss. I still play a bit, but mostly games that don't cosnume much time, like The Walking Dead which doesn't eat up more time than watching a few episodes of that show.

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    8. Related: Have you heard about the new TV series which is planned for The Mist? At first, I didn’t like the idea. At all. The original story barely had enough material for the 2007 movie, and now a whole series? Seems like a series which is damned to feel lengthy. Then I read who´s doing the series. Frank Darabont. The man responsible for 3 of the Top 5 movies in your least above. So maybe I should give it a chance, after all. Let’s just hope the special effect budget is better this time around...

      Dan

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    9. There could theoretically be a good series in it, I guess, if there is some backstory layered in and if you assume that what the series will be is survivors roaming the countryside, trying to stay alive in the face of all sorts of nasty other-dimensional monsters having been dumped into our world. COULD be good, sure, why not?

      I'm skeptical, though. And there's been no news on it lately, so I'm not sure it'll even end up happening.

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    10. I just had a nightmarish* vision they could extend Project Arrowhead in a Stargate kind of way...
      Let's hope that doesn't happen.

      *like in "really bad", not like in "being creepy" as we like it :)

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    11. I'd prefer that there just never be a series based on "The Mist." Even if Frank Darabont were involved, I don't feel optimistic about its chances of being good.

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  5. If you're ever in Northern California you'll want to pay a visit to Ferndale. That's the town where they filmed the 1979 "Salem's Lot" as well as "Outbreak" and "The Majestic". Terrific town and the cemetery is a blast. Of course if you've already been there then never mind.

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    1. I'm pretty lame, so I've never really been much of anywhere except Disney World. (That's an exaggeration, but not much of one -- never been overseas, never been to most of the major U.S. cities, never even been to Mexico or Canada. Like I said, lame.)

      So no, I've never been to Ferndale. But I would absolutely go there just for that Salem's Lot connection!

      I'm turning 40 this year, and I'm hoping that around the time I turn 50, I can afford to take a looooong vacation based around visiting various places in King books and movies. So, obviously, Maine. But hey, also New York, and Colorado, and so forth. I'll definitely add Ferndale to the list.

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  6. Ferndale is a great town. It's actually beautiful with many well preserved Victorian buildings. The Redwood forest is close by as well. I'm not a big fan of California, but there is lots to see and do on the Left Coast.

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  7. Pet Semetary gets points for being the only movie that honestly scared me as a kid. I had older sisters who use to let me watch pretty much every slasher or horror movie that came to home video and those basically became to me what Disney movies probably are for normal kids (lol). All through them I'd laugh or cheer or genuinly have a good time. I watched The Excorscist and went about my day like nothing. But whoever it is that played Zelda in this movie for some reason cracked my armor. I had legitimate nightmares about her. Only movie before or since that ever managed that, so I have to acknowledge it, flaws and all, as being worthwhile.

    The first 50 titles in this list are heartbreaking. King's work has really inspired some horrid films. Did they really make 3 Mangles movies??? 8 Children Of the Corn sequels??? There is an even worse version of "Trucks" then Maximum Overdrive??? Mick Garris made a "Bag of Bones" movie??? SAY IT AIN'T SO!!!!!

    I wonder if the studios that own these franchises even take the time to alert him of new movies. I imagine King glancing the DVD rack of Best Buy, coming across Sometimes They Come Back part 3 and asking himself "When the fuck did they do that??"

    When you look at the top 20 though, it gets respectable. I would have Apt Pupil a lil higher, Storm of the century a lil lower, but overall, a good list.

    On a side note, you should really look into those David Cronenburg movies when you get the chance. I think you'd like them. Dead Zone, as much as I thought it was really good, still wouldn't crack a top 5 Cronenburg list In my opinion. Start with Rabid!!!

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    1. Yeah, I definitely need to make that a priority at some point. So many priorities, so few hours!

      Do yourself a favor and don't watch that "Bag of Bones" movie. It is dreadful.

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    2. I've never fully recovered from the Mick Garris version of "Desperation". I can only imagine....

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  8. I hate your list, so conventional, and so embarrassed. I think Kings best films are the stand, it, rose red, and storm of the century. Shawshank, green mile, and Claiborne just suck, I hate these "serious" movies, so pretentious and so dull...do you actually enjoy watching them? Your comments about graveyard shift make me think you are ashamed of what you like. If you like that film, put it in the top ten, seems like you hate most of the films here so it should be pretty high. This list is supposed to be your ranking, not rotten tomatoes or IMDb.

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