Stephen King at Seventy

On Film / The Daily — Sep 21, 2017

It’s #StephenKingDay. The author of fifty-four novels, most of them bestsellers, six works of nonfiction, including the widely revered memoir On Writing (2000), and nearly 200 short stories turns seventy today. “The ‘King of Horror’ has sold an estimated 350 million books,” notes Matthew Wills at the top of an entry for JSTOR Daily. “His work has been adapted for many feature films, television serials, and graphic novels. A new movie based on his 1986 novel It is currently the highest-grossing horror film of all time.”

“In addition to developing a sequel to the horror hit, focusing on the adults who return to finish off the shapeshifting entity, director Andy Muschietti and his sister, producer Barbara Muschietti, have another King classic they’d like to adapt,” reports Anthony Breznican for Entertainment Weekly. “They’d like to breathe new life into Pet Sematary.

King wrote the screenplay for Mary Lambert’s 1989 adaptation and, as Dana Schwartz notes in a piece for Vanity Fair last month, King has, all in all, “238 ‘based on the original story by’ writer credits on IMDb, spanning the course of forty-one years. So perhaps it’s more statistical inevitability than anything else that over the next few months, five Stephen King adaptations will be out simultaneously. . . . ‘There’s also a couple of Netflix films,’ King tells me: ‘Gerald’s Game and 1922. But I think those will be later this year.’”

One of the most ambitious of these projects in the works is Castle Rock, a Hulu series being developed by King and J. J. Abrams. “Set in the Stephen King multiverse,” wrote Nellie Andreeva for Deadline this summer, it’s “named after the fictional town in King’s native Maine that is featured prominently in a number of his novels, novellas and short stories. Per the producers, it combines the mythological scale and intimate character storytelling of King’s best-loved works, weaving an epic saga of darkness and light, played out on a few square miles of Maine woodland.” The cast includes Sissy Spacek, André Holland, Melanie Lynskey, and Scott Glenn.

Last month, a team at Rolling Stone wrote up their list of the “Top 30 Stephen King Movies, Ranked,” and just a couple of weeks ago, Will Leitch and Tim Grierson posted their rankings at Vulture—their list runs to forty titles. These are very different lists, but ranking high on both are two directed by Frank Darabont, The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and The Mist (2007), and two directed by Rob Reiner, Stand By Me (1986) and Misery (1990).

Topping Rolling Stone’s list is Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976), “one of the more compassionate horror flicks you'll ever see. . . . The bestselling author's literary debut got the inaugural cinema du King film it deserved. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Grierson and Leitch on their #1: “Perversely, one of the reasons that The Shining [1980] is such a beloved horror film is that Stephen King hates it so. ‘I don’t get it,’ he said in 2014 about the movie’s passionate fans. ‘But there are a lot of things that I don’t get. But obviously people absolutely love it, and they don’t understand why I don’t. The book is hot, and the movie is cold; the book ends in fire, and the movie in ice.’” But Grierson and Leitch argue that Stanley Kubrick “opened viewers’ minds to a treasure trove of possible interpretations, many of which were compiled in the wonderfully labyrinthine documentary Room 237. (Not surprisingly, King hates that movie, too.)”

But of course, Stephen King does love movies. “My favorite film of all time—this may surprise you—is Sorcerer, William Friedkin’s remake of the great Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear,” he told the British Film Institute just last week. “Some may argue that the Clouzot film is better; I beg to disagree. Nevertheless, my second pick would be Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques, his suspense-horror masterpiece, as terrifying now as it was back in 1955. He out-Hitchcocked Hitchcock.” He then has a few words each on six more.

Update, 9/27: “Do you think that a generation raised on your books is newly eager to bring them to the screen?” asks Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan. King: “I don’t know! It’s kind of a perfect storm, isn’t it? A lot of these things came up all at the same time, and I don’t think there was any particular reason for it to happen. It’s like a farmer having a really good year. . . . As far as I’m concerned, if somebody wants to make a movie [from my stories], I’m behind that idea and I’m always interested to see what they come up with. . . . When I was in college, I read something that stuck in my mind from James M. Cain, who did The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity and Mildred Pierce. He did an interview near the end of his life where the reporter said, ‘They ruined your books for the movies,’ and Cain snapped his head around and pointed at the bookshelf and said, ‘No they didn’t, they’re all right there.’ In a way, the book is untouchable.”

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