Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Thursday Movie Picks Meme: Stephen King

Well, by total chance, I found out about an interesting little event. Another blogger known as "Wanderer" has started what she identified as the "Thursday Movie Picks Meme". The idea is that each week, there is a different theme, and we have to write about three movies which fit that criteria. This week, the theme is "Movies Based on Stephen King". I haven't read much of the guy's work outside of part of The Dark Tower, but I have seen plenty of the films based on his stories, so I should be able to come up with three.

The real trick is to find some unusual choices. It's hard to label the most "obvious" choices, but there are a few that I'm going to avoid because I imagine there'll probably be a ton of other people mentioning them. The Shining, for example, is one I won't bring up because I figure there'll probably be a bunch of other people talking about it. Here's what I'm going to do. Stephen King is known primarily as a horror writer, so I'm going to subvert expectations by discussing three non-horror adaptations of his work, and maybe throw in one horror film as a bonus. Here we go!

The Running Man (1987)

Oh wow, this is certainly a guilty pleasure if ever there was one. I mean, it's a campy, over-the-top action film but it's just so much fun as well an interesting satire of consumerism. It even has Family Feud host Richard Dawson (in one of the only big acting roles he got after starring in Hogan's Heroes) running an evil game show in which over-the-top psychos with weird gimmicks (this movie has an opera singing electric gladiator) chase convicts through a series of mazes. 

Of course, the real star is Arnold Schwarzenegger who is always a lot of fun even with the campiest scripts. He's one of his usual tough guys here, getting lots of over-the-top action and amusing one-liners. What else can I say? If you want a serious adaptation you might want to avoid this one, but for those of you who just want a little bit of fun give yourself a treat.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Now this is a popular one, though I'm not sure how popular it is as a Stephen King adaptation. Even casting aside the source material this is just a fantastic movie. To this day it still remains in the #1 spot on the IMDB Top 250, and it deserves to be there. It would be almost impossible to list all the things that are great about it. You'd be hard-pressed to find problems with the movie.

The thing that leads me to put it on this list, however, is in just how unlike Stephen King's usual work this is. There's no supernatural or science fiction elements, and no real horror. It's just pure emotion and character, and ultimately a very optimistic little piece for a story set in a prison.

The Green Mile (1999)

It's funny how for a respected horror writer, a lot of King's best films are the ones that have no horror elements in them at all. Take The Green Mile for instance. Here's a story that has some supernatural aspects but much like The Shawshank Redemption is ultimately a story about human goodness. This was made by the same director but adds a few twists to make it unique enough.

For one thing the perspective is flipped from the prisoners to the guards, but this doesn't mean the prisoners become horrible people. On the contrary, with one exception most of the prisoners are quite sympathetic, and similarly all but one of the guards are decent people. The story really becomes one about the ethics of death row, and the strain that comes with such a job. After all it takes a lot of nerve to spend months getting to know and comforting prisoners only to eventually have to watch them die by electric chair.

Bonus: Christine (1983)

Now there's a few good ones for the horror genre, but I figure Carrie and The Shining are much too obvious. Instead, let's look at Christine. This is an interesting experience for me because this was the film that re-ignited my confidence in John Carpenter's talent for horror (something that had been shattered by the experience of watching Halloween).

What is really fascinating about this movie is the fact that it's one of those films that could very easily have gone wrong. This could very well have just ended up being a generic slasher in which a bunch of uninteresting and poorly acted teens are gradually murdered by the obviously fake killer car with overt amounts of gore. Instead it becomes a surprisingly intelligent movie, largely because it makes the smart move of focusing primarily on the characters.

In short, the story is less about the killer car itself so much as how the various characters are affected by it. In particular one of the main characters is gradually driven insane by his obsession with the car while slowly alienating himself from his friends. In fact you actually have to wait for some time before you even see the car in any kind of action, and even when you do it becomes hard to tell how much of the carnage has to do with the car itself and how much is at the hands of her increasingly troubled owner.


  1. Hey there glad you took part. I've watched all your picks except The Running Man, though I can't remember much of Christine other than it's about a killer car. I also have The Green Mile on my list.
    If I'm not mistaken The Shawshank Redemption is a short story which is part of a book of short stories called Different Seasons. The other short stories were also made into the movies Stand By Me and The Apt Pupil so it seemed none of them have any sci-fi/supernatural elements.
    I've only read one of Stephen King's books but from what I've seen of the adaptations I'm getting the impression that even when there are sci-fi/supernatural horror in his stories it is used as a premise/device to explore the dark side of human nature.

    1. Different Seasons is a title that rings a bell. I may have heard that name somewhere.

      That actually makes a lot of sense. I mean after all when you get down to it, Carrie is really just about a bullied young girl being pushed to her breaking point.