Ezra’s Spooktober 2018 – Year Of The King

By Ezra Stead 

As always, I’m far from finished watching scary movies for the month of October, and we won’t be covering everything I’ve watched this month, for the sake of your time and my sanity. In brief, I’ve caught up on some classic franchise entries (Stepfather IIDamien: Omen IIHalloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers), checked out some newer gems like this year’s The Endless and Terrifier, and revisited some old favorites, including five generally less-loved Stephen King adaptations, which is what we’re going to focus on here.

Stephen King’s Children of the Corn (1984) is not exactly a critically beloved film, but it has managed to spawn eight sequels and a 2009 TV-movie, which is pretty impressive considering the original short story that started it all runs about thirty pages in total. Meanwhile, King’s Dark Tower series, a sprawling saga that runs well over 4,000 pages, got a disappointing 90-minute film adaptation last year. As William Goldman (screenwriter of, among many others, Misery and Dreamcatcher) famously said regarding Hollywood decision-making, “Nobody knows anything.” Anyway, in this writer’s opinion, Children of the Corn is a very enjoyable B-movie worth revisiting, especially for all the scenes that really forefront the very creepy kids. Courtney Gains is especially fun to watch as Malachi, he of the most hateful face in all of cinema. Just look at that scowling bastard up there. Awesome. 

Stephen King’s It (1990) is one of the best of the many TV miniseries adaptations of King’s work, which is to say that it doesn’t entirely hold up. Last year’s theatrical adaptation was able to more faithfully capture some of the book’s real horror due to its R-rating, but this miniseries version does have its own soap opera-like charm, which serves the story well despite some very clunky overacting, particularly on the part of the adult cast. The kids (including a young Seth Green) come off as more authentic, give or take a melodramatic “Let’s see you now” speech. The main thing I noticed this time around, though, was how much Henry Bowers (Jarred Blancard) looks like a young Jim Jarmusch when his hair turns white in the sewer.

Stephen King’s Sometimes They Come Back (1991) begs the question of just how many stories bear this extremely specific title, necessitating the clarification of the author’s name. Obviously it’s for marketing purposes, as King has been a very lucrative brand name for decades, but of the three movies so far discussed, only It really benefits from the specificity. Speaking of which, there is a decent amount if It‘s DNA in this one, with its tainted nostalgia for the 1950s, its narrative of vengeance for the death of an (in this case) older brother, and its leather-clad gang of juvenile delinquents, reminiscent of It‘s Henry Bowers and his gang. Nostalgia for the ’50s and childhood bullying are, of course, very common themes in King’s work, but this one also has shades of The Shining in Jim Norman’s (Tim Matheson) arguments with his wife, Sally (Brooke Adams), about doing the job he’s agreed to, and his history of violently attacking a student, just as Jack Torrance did in King’s novel. Almost makes me wonder if King himself ever threw hands during his time as a teacher.

George A. Romero’s adaptation of The Dark Half (1993) has always held a special place in my heart, but I’m unable to separate my own personal feelings (this was the first Stephen King novel I ever read) from an objective viewing of the movie. Regardless, I’m pretty sure it’s underrated, at least. It’s a wonderfully faithful adaptation of the novel without being slavish about it; the changes that are made are very much in the right spirit, and the attention to detail is staggering, right from the opening scene in which young Thad Beaumont (platted by Timothy Hutton as an adult) writes a short story with a Berol Black Beauty pencil (the story itself is another Easter egg for King fans, bearing the title and onscreen text of an early King tale, “Here There Be Tygers”). The performances and effects are really good as well, though I have to admit I prefer Ed Harris as Castle Rock Sheriff Alan Pangborn over Michael Rooker. It’s nothing against Rooker’s performance here; I just happen to think he’s best in more villainous roles.

Finally we come to Salem’s Lot (2004), the second attempt at adapting one of King’s best-loved novels. Tobe Hooper’s 1979 version fared better overall, but there are some excellent casting choices here, especially Donald Sutherland as Straker, Rutger Hauer as Barlow, and James Cromwell as Father Callahan, and this TNT miniseries is at its best when any of them is onscreen. Its biggest failure, to my way of thinking, is in updating the story to contemporary times; something about this one just feels like it should be set in the ’70s. It’s also unintentionally hilarious at times, like when Ben (Rob Lowe) has the epiphany that maybe killing Barlow, the head vampire, will release all his victims from their vampiric state… shortly after he has personally staked the shit out of at least three of those victims.

In closing, I would be remiss not to point out the great work of Andre Braugher in Salem’s Lot; Braugher also had a killer role in the King adaptation The Mist, which got me thinking about actors who have appeared in multiple Stephen King movies–Ed Harris, Kathy Bates, Tim Matheson, etc. Are they fans, or is it just that King’s work has been adapted so many times for TV and the movies that any prolific character actor will inevitably end up in more than one? Given King’s own highly prolific nature, and the remarkably consistent quality of his work, I’d guess it’s a little of both.

Ezra Stead is the Head Editor for MoviesIDidn’tGet.com. Ezra is also a screenwriter, actor, filmmaker, rapper, and occasional stand-up comic who has been previously published in print and online, as well as writing, directing and acting in numerous short films and two features. A Minneapolis native, Ezra currently lives in New York City, where he is working on his first novel.

For more information, please contact EzraStead@MoviesIDidntGet.com


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