[9 April 2014]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Forty years ago, on 5 April to be exact, a book entitled Carrie was released to limited fanfare. Written by a then unknown scribe named Stephen King, while he was struggling, it was actually his fourth complete novel (but first to be published). With an initial run of 30,000 copies, few could imagine the cottage industry it would help fuel. While the hardcover was hardly a hit, the paperback sold over one million copies. King quit his job as a teacher to concentrate on his new career and the rest, as they say, is one of the greatest runs in horror prose history. The mild mannered man from Maine with a wealth of internal demons and a demented way of expressing them would go on to sell a staggering 350 million books, many of which have been adapted into successful (or in many cases, schlocky) movies. In fact, during the ‘80s and ‘90s, hardly a year went by when another King effort made it onto either the big or small screen.
Since then, King’s commercial cache has cooled off quite a bit. Sure, there’s been continuing contributions to his “in other media” mentions on Wikipedia, but for the most part, the most significant entry was last year’s uninspired remake of, of all things, Carrie (unless you count Under the Dome, and frankly, who does?). With that in mind, we decided to celebrate four decades of dread by picking five original efforts and five existing King productions that should be reset for further film enjoyment. While many of these are listed as TBA through various sources, we are casting our vote for their release from Development Hell. True, his movie legacy has been more miss than hit, but King remains a consummate storyteller and if there is one thing solely lacking in Hollywood these days, it’s compelling tales.
With The Hunger Games and Divergent attempting to steal away most of the YA dystopian thunder (and money) from the international box office, it seems odd that no one has attempted King’s Richard Bachman penned precursor. Granted, the Master of the Macabre’s version of such a kid vs. kid stand-off is far darker and more dour, but in the right creative hands, it could be amazing. Of course, one setback could be the framework, which imagines the grueling marathon as a “boys only” experience. Another could be the defiantly “downer” ending. Still, King’s pulp prose is riveting here, making the lack of an adaptation all the more unfathomable.
No, this isn’t the Christopher Nolan film from a few years back. That was an adaptation of a sensational Swedish thriller. Of all of King’s books, this stands as one of his most imaginative, drawing in elements of life, aging, and various enigmatic mythologies. An elderly man named Ralph Roberts finds it difficult to sleep, and the resulting title syndrome tunes him into a parallel universe he can see people’s life forces and the creepy little creatures cutting off same with razor sharp scissors. It makes more sense on paper, admittedly, but when our hero learns of his own fate, he plots to thwart his tormentors.
Since Hollywood seems to love an epic which can be divided into several, hopefully successful films, this collaboration with Peter Straub (Ghost Story) seems perfect for such production parameters. The first book features young Jack Sawyer as he travels through something called “The Territories” hoping to save a dying Queen, and as a parallel, his own mother. The second tome takes up with Jack as a police detective trying to solve a string of child abductions and murders which may have a connection to his past. With the right creative team behind the scenes (Steven Spielberg once expressed interest), this could be a truly amazing fantasy frightmare.
First, Eli Roth was slated to make a movie of King’s clever zombie reimagining. Then he dropped out, citing difference with his approach and that of The Weinstein Company, who were to bankroll the project. Now, there are hints of a completed screenplay and some casting (John Cusak, Samuel L. Jackson), but nothing definite. Sure, the ending is a little lame, but in this drowning in high tech world, the tale of people going berserk thanks to a rogue cell signal seems more prescient that ever. Here’s hoping the powers that be can find a way to resolve their differences and deliver the goods.
Granted, this is still a possibility. Director Ron Howard desperately wants to turn these books into a monumental multimedia blockbuster with both major motion pictures and TV tie-ins as part of the overall plan. With eight books to contend with, however, along with a diehard cult of fans who will wince at the very idea of certain actors playing their favorite post-apocalyptic gunslinger (Javier Bardem? Russell Crowe?), this remains a enormous undertaking. While we always argue for film, perhaps a better approach would be to get some cable network with a history of handling difficult properties like this, get them to commit, and then go the Walking Dead/Game Thrones way with this series.
Mostly forgotten by fans, the original film made by Fraser Heston (Charleton’ son) suffers from being almost too literal. Instead of expanding on the core concept—a stranger opens up a novelty store in a small Maine town, offering items that customers cannot resist—and turning it into a treatise on desire and its devilish downfalls, we get characters cut from the novel doing things we know because of our already established familiarity with the book. Imagine someone like Gore Verbinski stepping in and taking charge. He could make this otherwise forgettable King entry into something akin to a classic.
Vampires. Will they ever be scary again? Some suggest that Twilight and all of its diamond sparkling stains can never be removed from the legendary neckbiters, but if any movie could make a difference, an adaptation of King’s second novel sure could. Tobe Hooper’s TV film remains a masterwork, but it would be nice to see the story broadened (and beefed up, scare/blood/gore wise) for the movie going crowd. Even better, the character of Barlow has all the makings of a post-modern horror icon. Just drop the whole drippy romance claptrap and let Nosferatu be mean again and everything will be fine.
We like Mary Lambert’s adaptation of this controversial King tome (his wife supposedly rejected it as “too scary” while psychiatrists got complaints from distressed parents over the whole “killer kid, kid killing” finale). We even dig The Ramones’ theme song. What we miss, however, is the depth. The original narrative was filled with the kind of frightening details that allowed the ending to really deliver. The film? Not so much. While there was a lot of buzz last year about a possible remake, nothing solid has occurred. We tend to agree with Jud Crandall that “dead is better,” but not when it comes to another shot at this story.
Why Warner Bros, why? Why couldn’t you make a Ben Affleck directed multi-film adaptation of this monumental King masterpiece work. The 1000-plus page story is even split up into easy to achieve separate story paths for easy movie merchandising. While the well-liked TV miniseries suffered from surreal casting (who in their right mind would have picked Corin Nemec as psycho-nerd Harold Lauder?) and a lack of real post-apocalyptic brutality, this update could be just the ticket to reintroduce the book to a whole new generation. Now if the studio would just stop interfering and let the true moviemakers make their movie.
All alien spiders aside, this is an amazing read. It perfectly blends nostalgia for the past with the dysfunctions of the present, all within a narrative that could easily comprise two or more films. Again, the TV miniseries was serviceable. It even included one of the best visualizations of a King villain ever in Pennywise the Clown. However, the rest of the effort lacked the scope and loss of innocence that the book provided. Of course, there is that ending, and the great big turtle of the universe to contend with. Still, someone with skill could easily make most of the problems part of a larger mythology. As long as they provide the scares, we are there.