Monday, November 3, 2014

Worst to Best: Stephen King Films [2014 edition]

We're getting very close to the release of a new Stephen King novel (Revival, November 11), and I thought that was a good occasion to unleash the 2014 version of my Worst To Best rankings of Stephen King movies.  October alone saw three new movies join the ranks, so an update was certainly warranted based on those, if on nothing else.

Truth is, though, my thoughts on all these things shifts and changes over time.  "Evolves," I sometimes think, although "devolves" might be equally true.

I won't belabor the introduction, except to offer a word about the way I went about compiling the list.  I started totally from scratch.  So if you've ever read one of the previous versions of this post, what you're getting with this version is a wholly fresh set of rankings; I did not consult the previous editions at all in terms of checking to see what had ranked where in previous years.

So if this version seems inconsistent with last year's, that's okay by me; I set it up to allow for that.

In addition to the new films released since the last time we did this, I've also added individual television episodes into the rankings.  Not in the case of ongoing series (like Under the Dome and Haven) or even single-season series (like Golden Years and Kingdom Hospital), though, because that'd be too much work.  But adding one-offs and episodes of anthology shows seemed entirely doable, so they've been added into the mix here for the first time.

I did, however, carry over a good deal of the text from last year's post.  Most of it still seemed thoroughly usable.
Before we get started, I'd add that this is just a harmless bit of fun.  So if you're a die-hard fan of some of the pieces of shit films we'll be ranking here, I apologize in advance.  I'm sure you probably hate something I love, too, so let's just call it even, okay?

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

Just so we're clear on this, let me note that I am not saying that the final two seasons of The Dead Zone belong on the absolute bottom of the heap.  They probably don't belong very high, if the fourth season is any barometer; 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...
Creepshow III

Here's what I wrote last time: "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."

I decided this time that even that mild edge isn't enough to keep the dreck that is Creepshow III out of the bottom spot.

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.

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 nonetheless.
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.
The Mangler 2
I met Lance Henriksen at Dragon*Con once, and he was literally one of the nicest people I have ever encountered.  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 admire the effort he put into fooling me.
With that in mind, I cannot begin to tell you how much it depresses me that someone of his stature should have to be in a movie this bad.  This man is Bishop!  He's Frank Black!!  He starred in Near fucking Dark!!!  And THIS is the best 2002 could come up with for him?!?
Director Michael Hamilton-Wright -- who also wrote the film -- has not directed a movie since.  Hard to believe (what with the movie's 2.2 [it was a 2.5 last year!] 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, for me, rank 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.
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.

Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice

What the fuck...?!?  Are those kids 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.  Barely; but still.  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 spending some quality time just as things 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. 

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.

I don't remember what the movie is about, but I remember that it co-stars Alexis Arquette, which is never a good thing.

The Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace

Also known as Lawnmower Man 2: Jobe's War, this is a burnt-turd smoothie under any title.  As of the time I am typing this, it holds a 2.3 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.

I'll be glad when a few more King movies get released just so I can remove the stain on my soul caused by having this movie ranked in a top 100 list.


U-TURN, U-DIE!  U suck, slogan-writer. 

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 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...

Sometimes They Come Back . . . For More


When a movie co-stars Chase Masterson -- a lovely actress best known for her role as Leeta, the scantily-clad 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 you then take the time and effort to 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.
You know, part of me misses these direct-to-video fauxquels that the industry was pumping out back in the day.  It's not a part I'm proud of, but it exists nevertheless.

I've admitted that, so we can move on now.

Children of the Corn: Genesis

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

Children of the Corn: Revelation

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.

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.
Furlong 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 in that regard.
Well, here he is again a bit later than T2, stinking up Pet Sematary Two, as well; and while this particular movie would have been a colon taco with anyone in the lead role, Furlong 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.
You've kind of got to wonder why Stephen King allowed this movie to happen.  I'm sure he must have had no legal ability to stop it, but it seems like he could at least have threatened to use his numerous interview opportunities to bad-mouth the movie and the studio.  Chrissakes, even in 2014 he's still trash-talking Stanley Kubrick.  But nary a word to prevent Pet Sematary Two from happening...?
Riding the Bullet
And before we even reach the top ninety, 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 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 have done nothing to change my opinion.

So the movie version was always starting out handicapped.  But there's really 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, i.e. 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 of Mick Garris's movies.
But I do hate them, and I hate none of them worse than I hate this one.  Frankly, I feel ashamed to be claiming that it's better than any of the other movies which ranked lower; but yet I know it to be true.
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 prior to the filming of this movie ruined Hershey's 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 pointing that out make me a bad person?  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.
Nightmares & Dreamscapes: "You Know They Got a Hell of a Band"
I'm not a fan of the anthology miniseries Nightmares & Dreamscapes.  Great idea; poor execution, for the most part.  And the worst episode by far is "You Know They Got a Hell of a Band," which is bad enough that (as you will see) it actually ranks below a few student films and fauxquels.
It's that bad.
The story itself is probably not one of King's best, but it's quirky and fun and horrific in a somewhat unique way.  Thing is, it only works on the page.  The conceit -- that two lost motorists accidentally stumble into a town populated by deceased rock stars -- would be almost impossible to film well, simply because anyone playing most of the dead rockers is going to look like an actor playing a role.  The story doesn't have that problem, because our minds can supply the faces and voices.  For a filmed version to work, the casting would have to be absolutely superb.
The casting here is NOT absolutely superb.  Nor is the music, which is of the for-legal-reasons knockoff variety.
Bad stuff, y'all.
Children of the Corn (2009)

I'm trying to imagine what kind of consumer would be in a place where DVDs are sold, and find himself 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!"  This mental process is 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.  [Or, at least, they did circa 2009.  Even in the year since my last version of this post, streaming and video on demand have become so pervasive within the industry that marketing shenanigans like this one are no longer quite what they once were.  I'm not sure anybody even really considers the DVDs and Blu-rays anymore.]
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.
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 later went 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.

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 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.  Wow.  Stacy, you were Mike Hammer!  Sheesh.
Someday, 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.

The Boogeyman

I won't be listing many "dollar baby" films here, but there are three which were released commercially on VHS, and I'm going to include them just for the sake of doing so.

The first (i.e., the worst) of them is Jeff Schiro's "The Boogeyman," which is a fairly amateurish short, but which has moderate virtues.  Most of them are via the strength of the source material, but give Schiro credit for managing not to utterly bury them, which is more than most student filmmakers can say.

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.  [Bryant's note: the movie actually does have some relation to the short story, and it adapts a few elements which were left out of the first movie.  Not much; but it gives it at least a modicum of King-liness, which is more than most fauxquels can claim.]
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.
Nightmares & Dreamscapes: "Crouch End"

I love the short story "Crouch End," but this television adaptation is a disaster.  The cast is awful, the visuals (especially the color palette) are utterly unappealing, and the creeping dread of the story has been replaced by lame-o "scares."

We hates it, precious.

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.
Making things even worse, director Mick Garris (returning here for what I dearly hope will be his final raping of Stephen King's work) has no ability to elevate a weak screenplay 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.
A Return to Salem's Lot

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.  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 on this list.  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.

I know it will chagrin fellow blogger Bryan McMillan (of the excellent Dog Star Omnibus) that I'm not more enamored of this film.  He's a fan.

And who knows?  Maybe the next rewatch will convert me.

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 grown-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.
The Langoliers
A former co-worker once asked me if I had ever seen a movie called The Langoliers.
"Boy, 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.

No accounting for taste, y'all.
This movie is a piece of shit.  For one thing, Bronson Pinchot (playing Craig Toomey) gives one of the world's all-time worst performances.  Why anyone would ever cast Pinchot 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 terminator 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.  Not in a "wow, that's awesome!" way, either; in a "wow, that's awful!" way.  Even back 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, carried over from the fun novel.  (YOU can call it a novella; I'm saying it's long enough to be considered a novel.)  Otherwise, though, this movie is laughably bad in almost every regard.
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 (unwillingly) 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 Drive.)
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.
Under the Dome Season 2
I was frustrated by the first season of Under the Dome, but was entertained by it at times.
I could say much the same about the second season.  It has a few episodes toward the center of the season where it looks almost as if the show's quality is on the upswing.  The series immediately squanders every ounce of that potential, and all in all, the second season is lamentably awful television.  There's an episode written by Stephen King, and he proves to be not one whit better at adapting his own novel than any of the show's other writers have been.
There is very little to recommend here, unless you're in the mood to view a terrific example of how NOT to adapt a long novel.
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.
Children of the Corn (1984)
Finally, we have come to it: THE very best of all the Children of the Corn features, the first one.
This does not mean that it doesn't suck.  Duh; of course it sucks.  However, unlike the others, it 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 knew 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.  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?
Alternatively, are there tons of people out there who somehow find themselves suckered into buying 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.
Graveyard Shift
To the extent it is possible, 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, Never Say Never Again 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 in some objective sense.  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 silly bit of fluff.
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.  [If you'd like to read a lenghtier piece I wrote about the movie, here it is.]
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.

Disciples of the Crow

For the record, yes: I am saying that the best adaptation of "Children of the Corn" is an eighteen-minute student film.

It's not something you'll mistake for being good, but I'm grading on a curve, and in doing so I would have to say that this short has more tone and atmosphere for its budget than the whole series of features has put together.  Not enough to make this any sort of hidden treasure; it's nothing of the sort.

But is it better than the 1984 movie?  I'd say so.  If nothing else, it ends a lot faster.   With Children of the Corn movies, that counts for a lot.


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.


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, Trucks is.  And yet, I'd rather watch Trucks than Thinner, because yes, Trucks is godawful, but at least it 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.

Nightmares & Dreamscapes: "The Road Virus Heads North"

Here's the thing: if you're going to make a movie about a scary painting, the painting(s) you use to depict that onscreen had better be top-notch stuff.

These are not scary at all.  They are decent, in terms of the sheer aesthetics of the art; but, like so much of Nightmares & Dreamscapes, they are considerably more low-rent than the source material demanded.

I don't much care for Tom Berenger in the lead role, either.  He's not somebody I can empathize with, and that's a key element of this story.

Nightmares & Dreamscapes: "The Fifth Quarter"

Coming from a decidedly slight short story (one which King originally published under the pseudonym "John Swithen"), this tale was an odd choice for inclusion in Nightmares & Dreamscapes (the miniseries, that is, not the book).

In terms of sheer filmmaking competence, it probably deserves to be a few places higher on this list; but my indifference toward the story has convinced me to strand it down here in the seventies.

Monsters: "The Moving Finger"

What a weird twenty minutes of television this is.

The short story is a weird one to begin with (it's the story of a guy who discovers a really long finger emerging from his bathroom sink), and the oddball performance of Tom Noonan send this sucker into loonyville.
Which, admittedly, makes "The Moving Finger" interesting, if nothing else.
Not helping one iota (except to make things even weirder): a cheap, tacky musical score which seems to be trying to convince us that what we're seeing is a comedy.  And to be fair, maybe it is.

Nightmares & Dreamscapes: "Autopsy Room Four"

This episode, like most of Nightmares & Dreamscapes, falls flat.  In this case, I'd argue that it's due to some miscasting: namely, Greta Scacchi, whose portrayal of the attending doctor is affected by the fact that her American accent sounds less like an American accent than it does like an Italian pretending to be an American.

Richard Thomas is excellent in the role of a guy lying there looking dead.  That sounds like a snarky comment; it isn't.  You try pretending to be dead and see how it works.  This is the sort of role that doesn't tend to get much praise, but Thomas is deserving.

That alone arguably makes the episode worth seeing, so it might be that I've ranked this one a bit too low.

Oh, well.  There's always next year.

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 got a movie, but it starred 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; 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, Bentleyseems to perhaps not even have known the cameras were rolling .  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.

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 Dean "Big Jim Rennie" Norris!).
Granted, the mere presence of The Shop is not 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 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 soft spot for it regardless.  For one thing, it was the first Stephen King movie I ever saw in a movie theatre.  I can still remember taking my brother to the theatre and "treating" him to 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.  I enjoy that memory.
I 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.


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 a pre-existing ditty called "The Rodeo Song."  I was more charmed by 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.

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 who helmed 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.


For a slightly fuller review, check out this post.  If you're disinclined to do so, here's the short version: this is not a particularly good movie.  However, it is not AS bad as I expected it to be.  There are moments when it comes close to working.  In cinematic terms, this a bit like if your car doesn't want to start, and you try cranking it a bunch of times, and on a few of those times the car almost starts.

There will probably be people who enjoy it more than I do, though, and if kids see it, I can imagine them holding a fond place for it in their hearts for years to come.  All movie-loving kids have a few stinkers close to their hearts, and I was -- am? -- certainly no different.

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 a complete botch.

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.

Haven Season 2

I was only mildly entertained by the first season of Haven, and the second season was a step down.  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.

The charms of the main trio of actors remains considerable, though, which is at least something.

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.  I remember it being one of the worst episodes of television I'd ever seen (at least among episodes from series I liked), and I wonder if it can possibly live up/down to that memory whenever I finally get around to rewatching the series.  We'll see, probably in about 2037.

By the fourth season, The Dead Zone was merely a pale shadow of its former self.  I seem to recall there being a few decent episodes, but only a few.

A Good Marriage

I planned to lead off this paragraph by saying that I found this movie to be a crushing disappointment, but if I'm being honest, I got more or less what I expected out of it.  Which is to say, not much.

I did expect to at least love Joan Allen in the lead role, but director Peter Askin is such a non-talent that he managed to coax a mediocre performance out of one of the great actresses of her era.

Which is almost impressive.

You can read more of my thoughts about this misfire of a film here.


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 -- took an uneven novel and made 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.

The Woman in the Room

Call that number.  I'm sure they'll still answer.

The final "dollar baby" student film we will be considering, this one is easily the best.  I haven't seen it in years, so I don't remember too many specifics, but it's a Frank Darabont movie, so that's got to count for something.

My memory of it is that it shows a great deal of potential from Darabont, but is also typical of most student productions in that the acting seems to be somewhere south of what you expect from a "real" movie.  Because of that, it's hard for me to rank this much higher.

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.


Perhaps not for the final time, I'm probably about to piss a few people 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.  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!

[2014 update: I rewatched the movie a few days ago, and I'm going to take back what I said about Curry.  I don't even think he's very good.]
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 (i.e., however many the screenplay specified).  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 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.

Quicksilver Highway

Mick Garris is back again, this time doing his thang to a Stephen King short story ("Chattery Teeth" from Nightmares & Dreamscapes) AND a Clive Barker short story ("The Body Politic" from The Inhuman Condition).
This "movie" was actually a two-hour pilot for a proposed anthology television series for Fox.  The series never happened, so they just dumped the 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 notwork on 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 pun) that in the hands of Clive Barker, it probably works pretty well as satirical prose.  In Mick Garris's hands . . . 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, Quicksilver Highway is a dud, and is for only the most devotedest of devoted King (or Barker) fans.

Salem's Lot (2004)

I'm a fan of the Tobe Hooper version of Salem's Lot (as you'll see by its placement on this list), but it made enough changes to the original novel that I had no problems with the idea of mounting a second, more faithful remake.
This, unfortunately, is not quite THAT remake.  It definitely sticks closer to the novel in some respects, such as the depiction of Barlow; and it reincorporates several characters (such as Dud Rogers and Jimmy Cody) eliminated from the Hooper version.  However, 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 give a crap about the new backstory for Ben Mears, nor do I approve of a massive change made to the end of the story.
Worse, much of the filmmaking is poor; the whole thing feels cheap and rushed.  The acting is mostly good, but overall this movie is a missed opportunity.

The X-Files: "Chinga"

This is not only NOT "the most terrifying episode you'll ever see" of The X-Files, it's a fairly mediocre piece of work that doesn't particularly have much to do with the screenplay Stephen King actually wrote.  The as-produced episode was extensively re-written by Chris Carter.  That's not unusual for television, so let's not hold that against Carter; let's instead hold the finished product against him.

It's (sigh) the story of, like, a possessed doll or something.  It takes place in Maine, so you know it's got something to do with Stephen King.

Kingphiles, I leave it up to you to determine whether this means the entirety of The X-Files (and, by extension, Millennium and The Lone Gunmen) is canon for the Kingverse.

Nightmares & Dreamscapes: "Umney's Last Case"

One of the better episodes of the series, this one is just as cheap-looking as most of the others, and feels just as perfunctory; but, thanks to the strong source material and good performances, it gets close to working.

The story involves a noir-esque private eye whose world is turned upside down when his author turns up and explains to him that he's only a piece of fiction.  Given certain occurrences in The Dark Tower, this is an interesting thing to consider within the broader scope of King's work.

However, the thing the television adaptation puts me most strongly in mind of is the Dixon Hill episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Probably that's because I'm a nerd moreso than because of any legitimate reason; but, still.

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, 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.  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.)

Nightmares & Dreamscapes: "The End of the Whole Mess"

King does pretty well with end-of-the-world scenarios, and while this one isn't as epic as The Stand, it works pretty well for an hour-long episode of television.

Seems like I ought to have more to say than that.

I don't.

The Twilight Zone: "Gramma"

When I sat down to compile this list, and began trying to decide where to rank "Gramma," an interesting fact occurred to me: I'd never actually seen the episode.

A few weeks ago, when I wrote a brief review of the new feature-film version, Mercy, I wrote the review as if I had seen it, and I think I actually believed it.

Nope.  Never had, and I remembered that when the time came to determine whether it was better than or worse than _________.  I suppose I could have continued the accidental charade and just gone right ahead and ranked it anyways, but instead I decided to take twenty minutes out of my life and give it a look-see.

And you know what?  It's okay.  I wouldn't make any claims for it being some sort of obscure gem, but it's an enjoyable enough example of anthology television.  The screenplay by Harlan Ellison does a solid, economical job of making sure the half hour feels neither rushed nor slow.  The effects and the makeup are a bit on the weak side, and that hurts, but the short version is creepy in a way that the long version (Mercy) mostly isn't.

Tales from the Darkside: "The Word Processor of the Gods"

Ah, early-eighties computers . . . how charming.

I like the King story a lot, and while this episode feels low-budget even by the standards of the day, I think the concepts and (most of) the acting gets it over the hump.

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 backbone, and the presence of Tim Matheson (who does good work and probably deserved better circa 1991 than to be in this turkey) helps immensely.
Also deserving better circa 1991: 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.

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 the same abilities that Carrie White once had; this understandably alarms her guidance counselor, Sue Snell (whose presence is a 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; Rachel dies in the end, because that's what happens in a Carrie movie, 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 story of the football players who screw as many girls as they can, assign each other points for the conquests, and turn the whole thing into a game.  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.)

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.

Tales from the Darkside: "Sorry, Right Number"

You know what would be a GREAT idea for a book?  Somebody should print up a fake phonebook, using all of those "555" telephone numbers from movies and television shows.

I don't envy you the task of researching that, whoever you are; but I do expect a royalty check to arrive at my door on a semi-regular basis, because that is a genius idea.

Anyways, this episode -- an original which King wrote with Tales from the Darkside in mind -- is pretty solid, and has a good screenplay that makes up for the not-great performances, the not-great direction, the not-great music, and the not-great sets.

Haven Season 3

Tank-tops are cool.

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 anxious to see Season 4.

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 laboring in obscurity ever since.

The pros: it sticks somewhat 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; I would certainly not want that particular change to be made in every version of the story, but in this case, for this specific movie, 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 of updating the Carrie 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 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 a Margaret as Piper Laurie is.

Angela Bettis plays Carrie, and she's okay, but she's no Sissy Spacek.  Bettis is an odd-looking woman, and she also behaves somewhat oddly here; those qualities work well for the character at times, but are grating at others.

The Outer Limits: "The Revelations of 'Becka Paulson"

This one is a curious case if only due to the nature of the material it is adapting.  The short story "The Revelations of 'becka Paulson" was originally published in an issue of Rolling Stone and was also included in a limited-edition of the story collection Skeleton Crew.

Most King fans did not encounter it until King revised it substantially and then incorporated it into The Tommyknockers.  That particular chapter featured fairly prominently in the miniseries adaptation, too.

This episode of the revamped Outer Limits, however, is an adaptation of the Rolling Stone version of the tale, which means that Tommyknockers fans who are curious about how the original version was different have the option of checking this episode out to satisfy their curiosity.

It's a pretty good episode.  Catherine O'Hara is the star, and I'm all for Catherine O'Hara starring in things.

Golden Years

As you may know, Golden Years was originally a seven-episode series that aired on CBS in the summer of 1991.  The final episode culminated in a massive cliffhanger, so in the 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.  A condensed four-hour version, complete with this new ending, was released on VHS.

This is what home video releases of Golden Years consist of to this day; the complete series has never been released commercially, although it does apparently pop up on Netflix streaming on occasion.  Even those use the ending created for the feature edit, however.  So I have been told; I can't verify it.
If you are a King fan, and want to watch Golden Years, I highly suggest that you find the original episodes, by hook or by crook.  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.

A lengthy post about Golden Years can be found here, if you're interested.  It will -- in excruciating detail -- tell you all about the differences between the episodic and the feature versions of the series.

The Shining (1997)

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 mostly 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 elaborate 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.  [2014 update: to be fair, King's primary objections seem to center on Jack seeming crazy from the outset of the film and on Wendy seeming to be a weak-willed and spineless shadow of the character King wrote.  I don't agree with either assessment, necessarily.  But even if I did, do those changes automatically invalidate the movie?  I can't see how they would.]
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 in 1997 (and still 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.  Every scene he is in drags the movie to a grinding halt, and while I can sympathize with the difficulty inherent in finding such a young child to adequately fill such a major role, I can't give it a pass.
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 creepy beasties on film.  So what do King and Garris do?  They include a scene where you see the hedge animals moving.
Why would they do that?!?  I'll tell you why: because neither of them realized that the scene 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 angel statues -- "the weeping angels," they're called -- that 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. In showing the hedge animals moving, Garris and King betrayed the very concept of the hedge animals; this indicates that they were ill-equipped to carry out the stated goal of the miniseries: to get the adaptation 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 (a shout-out to Pet Sematary 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 isn't seeing straight.

Nah.  This is inferior filmmaking, plain and simple.


Things to like about this movie: (1) John Cusack, who is in virtually every scene and who gives a good performance from start to finish; and (2) Samuel L. Jackson, who brings his considerable verbal dexterity to bear on a small (but crucial) role and improves the film considerably.
Things to dislike about this movie: everything else.
I know this movie has fans.  I'm not one of them.  Rarely have I seen a scary movie that is less scary than this one.  Not only is it not scary, it isn't creepy, or disturbing, or eerie.  In fact, it evokes almost no emotions of any kind from me, unless annoyance and boredom are emotions, and it evokes plenty of those ones.  Overlit and overscored, with special effects that are seemingly intended to chill but instead fall flat, this is a shout that ought to have been a whisper.
The expansions of the plot from the original short story are not bad.  A good movie could theoretically have come out of all this.  It didn't; 1408, for my money, is a near-complete misfire, and I'm mystified as to why so many King fans 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.

Am I not merciful, Klytus?

Big Driver

I'm not especially enamored of the novella this movie is based on, and if I were I don't know that it would cause me to be kinder in my rankings here.  The movie isn't bad; Maria Bello is solid as Tess, and there is some decent tension.

However, the movie feels morally compromised in a way that the novella (mostly) doesn't, and there are also some stupefying plot holes.  And the ending is entirely too abrupt.

You can read a longer review here, if you're interested in the specifics of my complaints.

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.

Lest it seem as though I'm overpraising a trifle of a movie, I should specify that this movie does have a super high cheese factor, and that might well make you vastly less sympathetic toward the movie than I am.

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, and 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.
I almost forgot to include this short "animated" film on the list, but lucky for us all, I remembered it at the last minute.
I put "animated" in quotation marks because the animation is incredibly limited, and there'd be plenty of room to claim that it isn't animation at all.  As such, there'd be plenty of room to claim that this isn't a film at all; it is a fancy audiobook, perhaps; or, even better, a gussied-up comic-book.
I'm pedantic enough to have that debate, but I'm not currently prepared to have it, and so I've opted to include it here just to be on the safe side.
The story the film/"film" is based on is one of the best short works King has produced these past ten years or so.  It survives mostly intact into this new form, although I'd argue that the voiceover acting is a bit weak and therefore hurts things just a bit.
The story itself remains effective, however, and I like the visual style.  If you like it, too, then I highly suggest getting a copy of the Marvel Comics graphic novel, which uses the same artwork and doesn't find itself being (slightly) weighed down by voiceover acting.

Haven Season 4

If you've been reading this post, then you know that my feelings about Haven have not always been very kind.  But the series has improved since its debut, and the fourth season was the best so far.

It's still not exactly what I'd call event teevee, though.  There is a strong tendency toward goofiness, especially as regards the Troubles.  However, the writers clearly figured out at some point that they were in good shape if they focused on the characters, and season four does a lot of that.

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 Nielsen ratings.

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.  I don't need semi-imaginary production numbers.  I just don't.  Even Mad Men barely got away with that, and Kingdom Hospital is so far beneath Mad Men in quality that we may as well be talking about two different mediums.

Nightmares & Dreamscapes: "Battleground"

I don't really like this episode all that much.

There: I said it.  I feel a lot better now.

A lot of King fans hold it in very high regard indeed, and I don't begrudge them that enjoyment.  If anything, I envy it.  But I certainly don't share it.  I don't dislike the episode, and it's handily the best hour of Nightmares & Dreamscapes.

Apart from that, though, I don't think it's all that special.  It feels to me like exactly what it is: a stunt, a filmmaking exercise designed to put "ooh"s and "ahh"s on the lips of people engaging in low-level film theory.  In case you are unfamiliar with the episode, what I mean is that it is (almost) entirely free of dialogue.  The main character never speaks a word.

Here's my thing: so what?  Does it make sense for Renshaw to remain silent the entire time?  No.  It really doesn't.  It seems to me like he ought to be screaming and cursing at his tiny assailants, threatening them, bargaining with them, maybe even pleading with them.  Not nonstop, but at least a bit here and there.

To me, having him remain utterly close-mouthed the entire time feels (as I've said) like what it is: an exercise.  This is the equivalent of a director watching one of Hitchcock's experimental movies and assuming that the movie works because of whatever bit of trickery Hitch employed, and not because Hitch experimented in a way that enhanced the already-present virtues of the story.

"Battleground" is, in other words, a prime example of putting the cart before the horse.

But to be clear, it's not bad.  It's entertaining, and William Hurt is good.  So are the effects.  It's a good hour of television.

Not, for me, a great one.
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.
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 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.

[2014 update: I watched this movie again during my Halloween-month viewing, and I enjoyed it more than I expected to.  It doesn't measure up to the original, and it really does feel cheap and rushed; but I actually like all three stories, and overall I'd say it feels like at least a semi-legitimate follow-up to the first film.]

Apt Pupil

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 human insanity.  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)!  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 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, 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.

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, 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 same 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.  The climax doesn't add up to much, unfortunately, and I think that's probably a big part of the reason why the movie failed to catch on.

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.
The story goes that this movie was at one point intended to be the third Creepshow movie; serving as a potential piece of evidence for that is the fact that 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, and he makes a movie that could very easily have be branded as a Creepshow flick.
Only one segment is based on a Stephen King story: "The Cat from Hell," which was scripted (in another piece of evidence) 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.

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.

[2014 update: I rewatched the movie just a few weeks ago, and found myself enjoying it much more than I ever had before.  I think it's still mostly a failure -- it isn't particularly scary, and it never really manages to come together in any meaningful way.  You're left wondering what the point of it all was.  Who was this story about?  Why should we care?

However, the concept is great: a sort of super-team of psychics getting together is a fun idea, and the fact that the end result fails to take advantage of the concept fully doesn't make it less fun AS a concept.

I also feel I was overly harsh toward Nancy Travis and Matt Ross.  Both are actually good in their roles, although I have to append asterisks to that statement.  Asterisk the first: Travis is probably miscast as Joyce, but she's also victimized by the fact that King gives her no backstory, no rationale, and no arc.  She is ostensibly the movie's lead character, and Travis plays her that way -- as I'm sure she was directed to do -- but the screenplay does not give her any support in this endeavor.  None of this is Travis's fault.

Asterisk the second: Ross's character is perhaps one of the most annoying characters ever written.  Ross excels at bringing that gape-mouthed, heavy-breathing, incredibly whiny fellow to life, and if I'm being objective then I think I have to conclude that he delivers a very good performance at playing a character who is intended to be the human equivalent of nails scraping a chalkboard.  Should we blame that on Ross, or on King and director Craig Baxley?  You be the judge.]

The Night Flier

Here's a movie that probably shouldn't work, but somehow does.  The Night Flier is the story of a tabloid reporter who is investigating a series of apparent vampire incidents, all of which seemingly involve a "night flier" who owns his own plane and uses it to hop 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.  [2014 update: I rewatched this one recently, too, and I'm feeling much more kindly toward Entwisle.  In fact, I'm not sure why I was down on her when I wrote this originally; she's not up to Ferrer's level, exactly, but she's good, and she's got a haunted sort of innocence that works for the character.  I still don't like the boss much, though.]
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.  Pavia also knows how to pace a scene and how to compose a shot.  Why he hasn't been able to make more movies since is a mystery to me.  It seems like a goddamn shame.

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 flick that caused me to read my first King novel: I wasn't able to go see the movie, which came out when I was 13, so I read the book instead.  (If you 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, plus a vintage score by Harold Faltermeyer (about whom you can, and should, read more in this post at Dog Star Omnibus).


Why do people hate this movie so much?  It's not exactly Oscar-winning material, sure, but I don't think it's anywhere near as bad as most people seem to do.  (Conversely, I don't like 1408 the way most of my fellow Kingphiles do, so maybe this is a case of me being wrong where everyone else is right.  More likely, "right" and "wrong" don't factor into it at all; it's just personal preference.)
As a movie, 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 (she's not great, but she seems authentic enough), 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.  The music by Tangerine Dream is groovy.

I think this one gets a bad rap.

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.

The Dark Half

This is by no means 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, 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, we're left with a movie whose whole does not equal the sum of its parts.
Still, it 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.)

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.  [2014 update: not true.  Midkiff IS awful; Crosby, on the other hand, is fairly good, and of the two is by far the more successful.]  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 frightfest.  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.

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 was posit that Johnny Smith had the same tragic arc; he just 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.

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 rather good.  There are a few missteps, such as a weak-as-hell final scene and some heavy-handed editing.  However, Julianne Moore is phenomenal, Chloe Grace Moretz is solid, and director Kimberly Peirce does a strong job visually.  There was no particular reason to remake the movie (and don't try to sell me that load of bullshit about this being a readaptation of the novel instead of a remake of the movie; it demonstrably IS a remake of the movie); but if it had to be done, this was a decent outcome.

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

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.  However, in this case, I think I'd say The Stand still mostly gets the job done.
There are parts of it 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 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 playing 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 seemingly doesn't know how to make scenes realistic on film, or perhaps has no interest in doing 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 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?  During that process I rediscovered a bit of my appreciation for the miniseries, hence its improved performance in 2014 compared to 2013.
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 works that it's cheesy.  Maybe that's just the cat-lover in me coming out.  More likely, it's the anthology-film lover in me coming out.
Of the three segments, it's hard to say which one works best.  All three are good, and I'm hard-pressed to pick a favorite.  "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, great 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:

Doggone it, I like that song more every time I listen to it.  It could only have happened in one decade.

A Night at the Movies: "The Horrors of Stephen King" 

I probably shouldn't include this here, since it's a documentary.  But I've included Room 237 later on, so why not this one, too?  Bottom line: my list, my rules.
Either way, this A Night at the Movies special aired on TCM, and it is terrific.  It's basically just an hour of Stephen King talking about his copious thoughts on horror movies, complete with clips of everything from Nosferatu to Earth vs. the Flying Saucers to The Blair Witch Project.  As always, King is an entertaining, affable, and knowledgeable interviewee, so needless to say, this is a blast.
TCM finally put it out on DVD this year (on a single disc alongside three other A Night at the Movies specials, none of them King-related, all of them good).  You can find it here.


I love both of these posters, and didn't feel like choosing between them.  Recently, I bought replicas of both, and they are noe hanging on the wall over the short bookcases which house my King-movie collection.  Neat!

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 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.  I'm a believer in judging a movie based on how successfully it achieves what I perceive to be its goals, and I think this one achieves its goals admirably.
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.  Or maybe I have it wrong; maybe that, too, is the idea, and it's genius.  This stuff gets complicated.
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.  Does that make me a pig?  Yeah, probably so.
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.  [2014 update: October 2014 was not an all-time champion among Octobers at the Truth Inside The Lies offices.  In fact, October 2014 mostly sucked ass around here.  Proof: I only listened to the Creepshow soundtrack once all month.  ONCE.  Horrendous.]

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 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.
For a longer review of the movie, check out this post.
I love John Carpenter.
As you will find if you follow that link, I even love some of the lesser films in his filmography, such as The Ward and Ghosts of Mars.  I make no real argument for them being works of high art, but that's okay; you don't always have to justify why you love a movie, even if you're a blogger.  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 last year when I 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." 

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 adaptation 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, and is clearly 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 last 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.

The Dead Zone


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 Wallace 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!


It seems like a crock of shit that Dee Wallace 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 rather severe marital problems.  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 1984-2014 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.

I had occasion to see the movie in a theatre for the first time this year, and I'll repeat something I've said before: good movies are so much better in a theatre.  Assuming you're sitting in an audience full of dickbags.  I wasn't, and so the virtues of Cujo seemed even more virtuous than ever before: Stone is great, the animal training is great, but there's more to it than that.  The entire cast is good, and the music by Charles Bernstein works extremely well.  The movie is still surprisingly scary, too.

My only complaint: the film ends too abruptly.  I could have used a modicum of epilogue, although I also understand the desire to get out early while the gettin' is good.



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.

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.

Room 237

Not based on a King book at all, but instead centered on a movie that itself is based on a King book, the inclusion of Room 237 is arguably out of bounds here.
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 Room 237, 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, and it's easily one of the best things I've written for this blog.  I'm not always happy with my posts.  In fact, I'm rarely happy with them.  I was happy with that one, though, and I'm happy to recommend it.

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.e., 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 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 Cat's Eye, 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.

If there's a downside to Storm of the Century, it's overlength.  I don't mind a sprawling tale, either on the page or on film, and this film's length is not a major drawback for me.  However, the length causes a certain amount of repetitiveness that arguably weakens certain aspects.  Example: how many time did we need to see Linoge bare his teeth while people weren't looking?  I'd argue we needed to see it once; instead, the movie gives it to us what seems like about a dozen times, and that's WAY too many.

If elements like that mean more to you than they mean to me, you won't be as impressed by this movie as I am.

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; granted, 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!

Side-note: don't fall for the allegation that the black and white version is better than the color version.  That's nonsense.  The black and white version is fine, but it's not genuine black and white.  If you're old enough to remember this, it's like watching a color movie on a black-and-white-only television.  And if you're into that sort of thing, I guess that's okay for you.  But for me, this is a color movie, and that's the way I'll watch it.

Carrie (1976)


As with Christine, I had a chance to see this movie theatrically for the first time last 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 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 Allen a lot.
Then again, I despise the Psycho references in the score, and the actor playing the English teacher does an atrocious job, and the cornball buying-a-prom-tux scenes are just awful.
I'm harsh, yes; but I'm also fair, and there's simply no denying that this film is a classic.
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, at 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.

The Green Mile

There was never much chance that The Green Mile was going to become AS well-loved as The Shawshank Redemption.  Few movies manage that.  To me, though, it feels a bit as if nobody ever thinks of The Green Mile unless they are thinking of it as the less-accomplished sibling of Shawshank, and that's a fate the movie simply does not deserve.

By virtually any sane standard of judgment, The Green Mile is a classic film.  The performances are uniformly excellent; the screenplay is economical and effective, and occasionally inspired; the technical aspects are nearly flawless.  There's not much to complain about.

Some critics have alleged that the story shows evidence of racial insensitivity (namely the "magical black man syndrome"), so if you're inclined to put stock in that argument, then you might have some complaints.

Otherwise, this HAS to be near the top of any list of the best King movies.

The Shining

In the great rivalries of life, you've got your Marvel fans versus your D.C. fans; you've got your Red Sox fans versus your Yankees 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 football 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 fight it out in the rain, hooting and hollering and cracking the occasional nose.
Now, in some of these cases, the choice is clear: Coke is clearly awesome, whereas Pepsi clearly tastes like socks; Auburn is clearly a mere pretender when compared to Alabama.
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 no use for King fans who hate the Kubrick movie, but I've similarly got no use for Kubrick fans who dismiss 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 three cats, so, like, I'm probably nobody to be labeling other people as "sad."  And yet, still I do it!  Tee-hee!)
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.
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.
For this 2014 edition of the post, I considered putting The Shining at #1.  But when the time came to actually do it, I couldn't make myself remove The Shawshank Redemption.  See, I've got no problem with the idea of The Shining as #1; it's just that I don't like the idea of Shawshank Redemption NOT being #1.
And so, at #1 it stays, quite possibly forever.  I'd love to think a King-based movie will eventually come along to topple it; but the odds seem unlikely.


And with that, my compadres, we have reached the end of the countdown.  What's next on the King-movie spectrum?  The only movie actually in production is Cell, which stars John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson and will hopefully have a better release-pattern fate than A Good Marriage and Mercy had.

I'm sure there will be other King films on the horizon eventually, though, and when we've accumulated enough of them to make this list seem worth revisiting, I'll revise it again.  Maybe I can find a way to rank Dreamcatcher lower next time...


  1. Good to Needful Things and Arnold's version of Running Man getting some much deserved support. I'm hoping to see a review of the audiobook edition of Needful soon, hopefully (though I'm not gonna argue if Revival beats that one to the finish line).

    While I'd argue Arnold's take as an underrated guilty pleasure, I'm sorta not averse to seeing a remake some day, just not right away.

    The reason for the hesitation is because if a remake were to be released now, it'd be right in the middle of a slew of other dystopian/apocalyptic flicks (blame that weirder than hell Hunger Games phenomenon) and at worst, it would be made to conform to a lot of the formulas of those other films, at best it would be dismissed as just another cash in, which is really unfair in as much as that King book, along with The Long Walk, is sort of responsible for the current "trend" of similar films, starting with Hunger.

    The funny thing is, I could Arnold co-star Michael Biehn in a different take on the character of Richards. I don't know, that was just one idea.


    1. Man, I don't know what it is lately, but those "Needful Things" posts are just not coming together for me. They're still in the works, though: one more about the novel, one about the movie, one about the soundtrack, and one about the audiobook. God knows when they'll be done; I don't.

      Michael Biehn would have been a terrific choice for that character. He's probably too old now. Why doesn't he get more quality roles? He's a quality actor.

      I totally agree that a remake seems in order. But you're right that it would be labeled a "Hunger Games" ripoff. But imagine how many possibilities that opens up to go around the Internet correcting people! Exciting.

    2. Well when you put it that way; in terms of chickens and eggs, there will always be a "major minority" that will have taste enough to remember that books like Long Walk and Brave New World did Hunger Games better and smarter and beat those knock offs to the punch.

      The problem is something Huxley touched on, the problem of never being able to give out enough genuine "information" (Pat Mcgoohan would probably strangle me for that) to the public at large. The result is that people are willing to flock to second rate trash while Orwell pretty much is ignored (much as predicted).

      ...End of rant.


    3. Theoretically, the idea of giving out adequate information to the public is kaput. I mean, in the Google era, what more can one need? The problem seems to be information overload, combined with an inability to trust the sources from which information is coming. What's the end result? Beats me. It's probably not good, though.

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

    Still chuckling over this one. Is this a new line or carried over from previous rankings? Whichever the case, I salute you.

    For the record, I could never be chagrined with anyone for recognizing the self-evident crapitude of "Return to Salem's Lot." That one puts the "guilty" in "guilty pleasures," for me. One of these days I should blog it up and try and capture what it is I enjoy about it, but I think I'd need to be at a pizza party sleepover in the late 80s to truly do the job justice. So, when time travel is invented, we can expect that blog. ("THIS is what you use time travel for, McMillan?!" - future aghast reviewer.)

    It makes me happy to hear you've re-evaluated Carrie. And I almost whooped aloud here in my office chair at the high rankings of Room 237 and Storm of the Century. I heartily concur.

    Now we just need someone to make Duma Key into a mini-series. (And a good one, not a crappy one.)

    Cujo above The Dead Zone?! Christine above Secret Window?! And all above Creepshow?! haha - well, I couldn't let those go without at least a "?!" but of course, to each his own, and you make excellent points about them. And hell, I'm not to be trusted - catch me at the wrong time of day and I'll bump "Graveyard Shift" all the way to my top 10.

    I'm still waiting to see "Cat's Eye" as a karaoke selection. If I ever made a movie, someone would be performing this as background karaoke in one of the scenes where the protagonist is doing something else. That would amuse me to no end. Hell, if I ever made several movies, perhaps this would be my own version of the Wilhelm scream.

    That TCM documentary is indeed fun. I didn't like it when I first saw it, for some reason, but a repeat viewing made me wonder why I'd resisted it. It's terrific, as you say.

    Cracked up at the Creepshow 2 review.

    Another well-deserved chapeau from Chicago - kudos, sir, kudos.

    1. The Krokus line was ported over from last year's (or 2012's) post. I have to admit, that one puts a grin on my face. Sometimes I crack my own self up!

      That "Return to Salem's Lot" idea strikes me as a perfectly legit use of time travel, actually. A genuine self-interview. Imagine!

      "Room 237" -- I haven't yet read King's recent interview with Rolling Stone, since I couldn't locate a copy in all of Tuscaloosa (every store still has the previous issue for no apparent reason). But apparently he had some unkind things to say about "Room 237" being academic bullshit. I'll reserve my thoughts on that until I've actually read the interview, but I suppose it doesn't surprise me; it disappoints me mightily, though.

      The prominent placement of "Cujo" might be due to me seeing it on a big screen this year. That also accounts for my sudden reappraisal of "Creepshow 2," which is WAY better than I'd remembered. Not a great movie, but a fun one for sure.

      I don't even have the words to express how much I approve of your "Cat's Eye" karaoke idea. If I were watching a movie and that happened, I'd gibber myself into a frenzy. Get it done!

    2. The "Stone" interview can be found here. What King has to say about "237", ermmmmm.....Over to you Sai!:

      Cat's Eye Karaoke....That may simultaneously both the worst and greatest idea I ever heard.


    3. Well, King's thoughts about "Room 237" are about what I expected: he watched about half the movie, and never once does the thought seem to have occurred to him that the movie is not even vaguely about what the people in it are saying.

      That movie is incredibly misunderstood.

    4. It bothers me that he's so down on The Tommyknockers. But I'm comfortable disagreeing with him. He thinks his best book is Lisey's Story, crissakes.

      Another vote for Cujo, in that interview! The signs are multiplying today that I need to watch it again apparently.

      "That may simultaneously both the worst and greatest idea I ever heard."

      My specialty.

    5. I can see his point about "The Tommyknockers," but I'm with you: I think it's way better than its reputation.

      As for "Lisey's Story," well . . . the fact that he holds it in such high regard makes me think I need to give it another chance. And I fully intend to do so one of these days! I'm sort of dreading it.

  3. Can't quibble with anything in the top five, and I'm pleased to see Storm of the Century get some love and appreciation. I've also made the argument that it's the only screenplay of his that has the same essential texture as the novels. It even sticks in the memory in the way Rose Red (fun but disposable) doesn't: "Give me what I want and I'll go away," for example, or, "In daylight I know better." The ending's pitch-perfect.

    I'm another defender of the Needful Things adaptation--I caught it on TV and expected to be thoroughly whelmed, but was pleasantly surprised. Sydow makes the film. It's an oddly pleasant thing to curl up and watch.

    I'm one of the defenders of "Battleground" and 1408, but your points on them are completely fair.

    My out-of-nowhere feeling is that Jaws is the best Stephen King adaptation in no way based on or connected to Stephen King, but with exactly the same appeal factors: camaraderie, small town atmosphere, Everyman characters, suspense, adventure, pauses in the suspense for character development and interesting writing bits (the U.S.S. Indianapolis speech), etc. This leads to my theory that on some level of the Tower, Stephen King wrote the book, not Peter Benchley. (Which probably means it's better. I've heard the book is sort of awful.)

    1. Wow, I'd never considered that about Jaws, but 100% agreed. (And yeah, the book is terrible.)

    2. I haven't read the novel "Jaws" in decades, but I remember being none too impressed by it. The movie certainly does have some King-ian qualities.

      The real question for me now is, if I were to pretend "Jaws" WAS a King movie . . . where would I rank it?

      Gotta be honest: probably #1.

      I enjoy flights of fancy centered on what other-Tower-level versions of King ended up doing. My favorite one is the one in which he became a Hunter S. Thompson-style nonfiction writer. I think he'd've been well-suited for that.

      We are (obviously) totally in agreement about "Storm of the Century." I'd love to know what it is about that one that makes it work so well whereas most of King's other screenplays don't. There's a story of some sort there waiting to be uncovered.

    3. I actually still have a copy of one of the UK literary reviews where the original book version of Jaws is dissected. Benchley is sort of damned with faint praise for attempting to homage (or cash in, depending on how you view it) on the style and substance of J.G. Ballard, especially the novel crash. Basically, Spielberg seems to have done Benchley a favor by making him clean up his original treatment and making it (weird, but true) more family oriented.

      I'd just like to imagine some level of the tower where perhaps King managed to cram it all into one book in the style of the original 81 Gunslinger. Man that would have to be a mind trip!


    4. All I remember about the novel "Jaws" is that Hooper has an affair with Brody's wife. Thank goodness that didn't make it into the movie.

    5. I'm basing my review of Jaws on reading it in 1986 or 1987. I should probably footnote "It's terrible" with that, eh? But it left a negative impression. I'm intrigued to re-read it as an homage to Ballard's Crash. Although I never warmed much to Ballard, that novel or otherwise.

    6. I have never read anything by Ballard. But he's endeared to me via the severely underrated Spielberg film "Empire of the Sun."

    7. It's pretty bad. What I remember of UK review retrospective, there's a scene involving an imagined fantasy involving a fetishistic death scene in which Brody, his wife, and Hooper all die horribly, and there personal areas are all exposed for some reason.

      Cue Loony Tunes Jaw Drop on behalf of fans everywhere (me included).

      Unfortunately, I did not make that up. After reading that bit of info, I'm glad I've never really looked into the book version. I was sort of left wondering, uh, what the hell were you on about, Benchley?! Seriously, finding out the story contained those kind of elements tipped everything into made no sense territory. Now compare that with the tightly focused movie.

      You get the idea. I'm just assuming Spielberg must have demanded massive re-writes.


    8. Maybe. But it's worth remembering that Spielberg was a nobody at the time. He'd struck out at the box office with his first movie ("The Sugarland Express") and while he had supporters within Universal, he was almost certainly seen as a promising potential talent rather than as a genuine power-player.

      So it seems more likely that it was the producer (Richard Zanuck) who would have been making decisions like that, albeit probably in consultation with Spielberg.

      Whoever gets the credit, though, it was a good decision.

    9. I just listened to Jaws and don't remember that scene at all.("imagined fantasy involving a fetishistic death scene in which Brody")
      The book isn't too bad, there is a large chunk devoted to Mrs Brody's affair and a lot of mob stuff (the reason they won't shut down the beach). It didn't hurt my love for the movie. It's a short book. Oh and there is no ending to the book really, it ends sort of like a wet fart. I listened to The Deep right after and that was kind of ok too. He's not that great of an author but not awful.

    10. This is off tangent, but I do think there was a way Spielberg could have improved his one film that definitely needed a boatload of rewrites.

      All they had to do was take Belushi's character, and that Zoot Suit kid (he was supposed to be the main character), and pair them up against Mifune and Lee.

      They could start out as enemies on opposite sides (American WWII G.I. Pilot vs Proto-Beatnik) and wind them up working together.

      Lee should have been the main antagonist, with Mifune being the calm voice of reason at the center of the chaos, ultimately abandoning Lee on the beach to get run over by the Ferris Wheel (hopefully taking Deezan along with it). I also think Belushi's character should have been given the unpredictable rage issues of Zoot Suit's rival, and eliminate that character entirely.

      Just some too little, too late note suggestions.


    11. Those are decent ideas. But I love "1941," so I'd be reluctant to change anything. Just got it on Blu-ray, in a box set with other Spielberg Universal films! Gotta find time to watch 'em all now!

  4. Johnny Depp and Jesse Eisenbergh are my Christian Slater and Rob Schneider.
    I'm listening to Secret Window right now and it's just a really bad story. I watched the movie bc of John Turturro who was quite good it but the story is so weak the movie did nothing to escalate it.
    Same with Green Mile, nice movie but source material is weak to me.

    1. I can see that with Depp and Eisenberg, although I personally like both.

      We'll have to part ways entirely on "The Green Mile," alas. I love that novel. We can't all agree on everything, though!

    2. I will say I would love if he did another serialization.

  5. Top 10 for me:

    1. Stand By Me
    2. Carrie
    3. The Shining
    4. The Green Mile (yes, ahead of Shawshank; it's just a more original story. Much of Shawshank can be found in Escape from Alcatraz or countless other prison movies)
    5. The Shawshank Redemption (with that said, both the novella and the film are fantastic)
    6. Misery
    7. Creepshow
    8. 'Salem's Lot
    9. Storm of the Century
    10. The Dead Zone

    My biggest complaint is that you havd Christine far too high for my tastes. I love John Carpenter. I consider him one of my all-time favorite directors in fact, but Christine just doesn't do it for me. The best parts of the book were left out. Of course I'm open to the idea that I'm less forgiving of an unfaithful adaptation here because Christine was my first King book.

    Anyway... Mr. Mercedes. I've been thinking about a movie version for the past few days. "Who would play Hodges?," I wondered. Bruce Willis? Not a good fit. Stallone? Too superhuman. Tommy Lee Jones? Looks too old. I thought of just about every 60ish dramatic lead and dismissed most of them. Then I watched a new movie called Cold in July (highly recommended, by the way) and it came to me. Don Johnson. Not a joke. He's remembered as an '80s cliche now to the extent that he's remembered at all but he was also a pretty damn good actor at the time and the movie reminded me that he still is. He'd do a great job in the role.

    Mercy and Room 237 are both on Netflix so I'll have to watch them soon. A Good Marriage also as soon as it's available. I'll want to buy it just because King did the screenplay.

    1. I can find no fault with that Top 10. Those are all very good movies.

      Don Johnson for Hodges, eh? Hmm. Interesting. He's a bit more hard-edged than I've been imagining the character. The only person I can see is that cop from "The Exorcist." But clearly he's off the table.

      Johnson would be interesting casting, especially given his past as a tv-cop.

    2. Don Johnson is the only one from that list who would do TV regularly. I can't shake the image of him as a "pretty boy", though. I know he's gotten older and more ugly, but still.

      I'd go with someone like David Morse, William Fichtner, Peter Weller or Michael Chiklis.

    3. I don't know; television is not what it used to be. Heck, Anthony Hopkins -- ANTHONY HOPKINS -- is starring (co-starring, at least) in an upcoming HBO version of "Westworld." If Hopkins will do series television, then I see no reason why some of the other guys wouldn't consider it if the role was right.

      I like Hodges on the page, but if you put the right actor in that role it'll become a classic. Potentially, at least.

      I'd be cool with Peter Weller playing the role; I like that suggestion.

    4. I see your point, but I still think that Stallone, Willis and Jones are still too focused on movies. I don't see Sylvester Stallone ever doing TV. Jones, maybe, if it was something really great, which, let's face it, this isn't. Willis also doesn't seem too interested in returning to TV. Unlike Jones, he hasn't even done a TV movie or mini-series since becoming a movie star.

      Weller is one of those actors who makes me think he's not playing a tough guy, he IS a tough guy.

  6. This is a lot to ask, but have you ever considered putting together a timeline of SK's novels and stories in chronological order within the works?

    For example:

    1850- Jerusalem's Lot
    1922- 1922
    1932- The Green Mile
    1957- Blockade Billy
    1960- The Body and Low Men in Yellow Coats
    1966- Hearts in Atlantis
    1973- Joyland and Roadwork
    1979- Carrie

    And so on... Of course, for most we can assume that they take place when written or published and others, such as It, have multiple years. I just thought it could be an interesting idea, even if used only for the books and stories that are clearly set earlier than their publication.

    1. Hmm! No, I have never thought of doing that . . . but it's a great idea. An extremely time-intensive one, though, so I'm not sure I'd be capable (currently) of actually putting such a thing together.

      And how would you even begin with something like the "Dark Tower" books?

      Great idea, though!

    2. This may or may not be relevant, however Bev Vincent has teamed up with a blogger named Richard Chizmar to create Stephen King Revisited. The purpose of the blog is to read King's works in published chronological order. Chizmar will approach the books from a personal reaction perspective, and Vincent from a publishing history and critical perspective.

      The blog can be found here.

      A double review of Carrie is already up. It sounds like it could be interesting.


  7. The Mist was intended to be black and white and the b/w version Darabont went over the entire film adjusting the contrast and exposure as opposed to just turning it to black and white and calling it a day.

    1. And it doesn't look particularly good. Not to my eyes, at least.

      A movie can be filmed in color and then turned into b/w and look great; the Coens did it with "The Man Who Wasn't There." But it often looks drab and unimpressive, as is the case with "The Mist" (and, more recently, "Nebraska").

      granted, I only saw it that way once, and on DVD. Maybe a Blu-ray viewing would change my mind.

      Either way: great movie.

    2. Along these lines, this post on Raiders of the Lost Ark in black and white seems appropriate to link to:

      Definitely worth reading the preamble, at least, and skipping around to your favorite scenes.

      For what it's worth and neither here nor there: The Mist is such a great 1950s black and white sci-fi film, even in print. I don't know how I'd even quantify that, but that's my impression.

    3. Oh, I agree. My only contention is that the b/w they ended up with doesn't look as good as the color version.

      I seem to remember King somewhere saying that "The Mist" (novella) had a black-and-white feel to it. Not sure where. Not sure I'm not imagining it!

    4. FWIW the black and white version does look better on Blu-ray at least in regards to color.

      Some comparisons here

    5. Thanks for posting that link!

      I would definitely agree that the Blu-ray looks improved. That's often the case with Blu-ray, of course, but it looks even more pronounced in the case of the b/w version. I've got the Blu-ray, but haven't watched it since upgrading. I'm kind of looking forward to checking out the black and white version again, now -- who knows, maybe I'll change my mind about preferring the color version. Stranger things have happened!

  8. Man Bryant I really dig these long ass posts you make! Fantastic work - can only imagine how much time it takes you to put them together.

    Your observations about Mick Garris are spot on. He seems like a helluva of a nice guy but his adaptations of King's works - with the exception of The Stand which is at least workman like - underwhelm.

    Agree with the general placement of your rankings and Shawshank - yeah, there is no such thing as a perfect movie but this is the closet there has ever been to one.

    I like Kubrick's Shining as a horror movie but it doesn't feel like it's based on a King book at all much in the same way 2001 bears little resemblance to Clarke's short story it was based on. I don't include in my King movie rankings - hey, as you say it's my list! - but I do like it better than the mini-series.

    Awesome work sir! Awesome.

    1. Thanks! That's a greatly-appreciated compliment, there.

      I see your point about Kubrick's "The Shining." (And you are 100% correct about "2001" having practically zilch to do with Clarke's "The Sentinel.") And I don't disagree with it at all. For me, though, it's a case of being able to mentally put the novel aside while watching the movie. I can usually do that with any adaptation, not just King ones but adaptations of anything I've enjoyed. Not always; but usually.

      One of these days, I plan to go back to "The Shining" and cover the novel, the movie, and the miniseries for my blog. Maybe when that time comes around, I can make some sense out of the whole situation, at least in terms of my own feelings about it.

  9. For me it boils down to Kubrick stripping away all the humanity of King's book to focus on how we perceive reality. Which is what I believe King is referring to when he states his book is fire and Kubrick's movie is ice.

    Damn! Just read your Needful Things entry. More fantastic stuff to ponder!

    1. On the one hand, yes, that is a very valid assessment of Kubrick's work.


      While I think it's mostly true that Kubrick strips away the humanity from his approach, I think what he was interested in was for the audience to bring their own humanity to put in place of what he was removing. I look at most of his movies as a challenge: "can you care about these people and these situations even though I'm giving you no easy means by which to do so?"

      Is it an icy approach? Sure. But I don't think that makes the approach untenable.

      I'm sure there will eventually be another remake, and hopefully it will be able to do what neither of the first two versions did: adequately represent the novel in cinematic language.

  10. Christine Maximum Overdrive and Cat's eye are my favorites of King's and a few others. William who played Buddy is a real nice guy that a few of my fellow Christine fans met before. And on one of the sites for Christine I go to he answered a Q&A and answered mine but I don't remember the Q or the A at the moment.

    Ray Stephens was for a short time as lead vocalist for The Village People on their 1985 album Sex Over the Phone. There was a single for the song on EBay months ago but I couldn't get it.

    I love the series Haven too. This might be the last season which I think was bumped up in the number of episodes.

    1. The Village People!

      Oh, that's fantastic. I'd expect nothing more (less?) from the singer of that song. Which I do love; and not in a hipster-y, ironic way, I just love it because it's great.

      Glad to hear the actor behind Buddy Repperton is a nice guy. I really like him in that movie.

      Last I heard regarding "Haven," they had not yet made a decision as to whether this would be the final season. It's got extremely low ratings; I hope they just wrap it up and give it a solid conclusion. I'd hate for it to get canceled and the story be left unresolved.

    2. He was only with them for that one album and he was on a kids show The Great Space Coaster too. I can get it stuck in my head every time I watch Cat's Eye.

      So do I. He was on a 2001 episode of Angel which I didn't notice at the time until I watched the DVD's earlier this year. I have a LG 2D to 3D TV so the Christine looks even better that way. Side note that Twilight Time will release another Blu-Ray late next year for Christine with a few new features. The same with Fright Night early next year too.

      From what I know of I believe they said they already have the final ready if Haven gets cancelled so there shouldn't be a worry for that. Some games playing on TV at the same time and having to change it to Friday at 7 got to the ratings. The ratings being low has happened for other TV shows showing against games too on Thursday so hopefully SyFy will put that in their minds when they decide.

    3. I hope that new Blu-ray of "Christine" has a higher print run than the first one did. I get aggravated just thinking about how fast that first one sold out.

      If it's got new bonus features, I'll probably buy a copy -- I'm a sucker for that stuff.

  11. Hey, just stumbled onto your site a couple of months ago when Googling "Stephen King books ranking". You are exactly the kind of guy I was hoping to find. I have to comment on Tim Curry and It. I agree with nearly everything you said about the casting, Harry Anderson, etc. However, I watched this multiple times as a teenager, and the consensus with my best friend at the time was that the first half was great and the second was utter crap. I haven't re-watched, but I wonder why you changed your mind about Tim Curry? And more importantly, don't you have to grade on a curve here, since this was a made-for-network-TV miniseries from the early nineties? Certainly it's not that much worse than the adaptation of The Stand?

    1. I would say that "The Stand" is maybe a few notches better, but obviously it's all very subjective.

      As for Tim Curry . . . I know I'm swimming against the tide on this one, but the last couple of times I've watched the movie, his performance has just felt like empty hugger-mugger to me. Very one-note, and probably just as much to do with the way his scenes are staged as with the actual performance.

      But I'm certainly aware that it's an iconic performance that has haunted the dreams of who knows how many kids since 1990. I don't expect to change anybody's mind, and even if I could I'm not sure I would want to!

      Thanks for stopping by, Aaron -- you are welcome back any time!