Home Movies Horror From ‘Carrie’ to ‘It’: A history of Stephen King movie adaptations

From ‘Carrie’ to ‘It’: A history of Stephen King movie adaptations

SCRIPT: Since 1976, when ‘Carrie’ hit the big screen, more than 100 movies have originated from Stephen King stories.

Adaptations include ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, widely regarded as one of the best films of all time, ‘Stand By Me’, which King has stated is his favourite adaptation and ‘Misery’, a film that saw Kathy Bates win the Oscar for Best Actress.

“He’s such a great storyteller. Particularly in an age where we seem to rely a lot on the recycled, remakes, and franchises” says Allan Bryce, Editor and Publisher of horror magazine ’The Darkside’. “Stephen King has now become a bit of a franchise himself. But in this case there’s enough variety within that franchise to deliver a lot of interesting plots and movies.”

‘It’ is the latest of King’s novels to get the feature film treatment; a story about a monster, taking the appearance of a clown, who hunts children—a story that was first told in a TV mini-series in 1990.

“What’s the most important thing about horror movies is when you first saw something that really made an impact on you” says Bryce. “The whole scary clown in the sewers sequence in the original ‘It’ is the classic scare moment in that whole series and I think that really had an impact on people all those years ago.”

And it’s that sewer scene, which Bryce references, that the first trailer for the new film, tapped into—attracting nearly 200-million views in it’s first 24 hours.

‘Carrie’ was Stephen King’s first novel and also his first novel adapted for the big screen.

It’s also the film that propelled director Brian De Palma to the mainstream and attracted other visionary directors to adapt King’s work.

They included ‘Halloween’ director John Carpenter (Christine), ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ director Tobe Hooper (Salems Lot) and ‘Scanners’ director David Cronenberg (The Dead Zone).

One of the reasons King’s stories are so attractive to filmmakers is the authors openness to adaptations of his work—how he isn’t precious if directors have a different vision, accepting that a film is a film, and a book is a book.

And in the mid-eighties he helped student filmmakers by licensing the rights to his work for a dollar.

“They were called his “dollar babies”” says Michael Blyth, British Film Institute (BFI) Cult Programmer. “So you could buy the rights to a short story for one dollar and then you could make your student film out of it and use King’s name on it.”

One director who took advantage of King’s “dollar-babies” was Frank Darabont who’s first King adaptation was short film ‘The Woman in the Room’ back in 1983.

Fifteen years later he’d go on to make, what are arguably some of the best King adaptations; ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, ‘The Green Mile’ and ‘The Mist’.

But many King movie adaptations including ‘Children of the Corn’, ‘Dreamcatcher’ and ’Maximum Overdrive’—the one movie that King actually directed himself—haven’t fared so well.

And a recent thread on a ‘Stephen King’ Reddit asked why?

“For me,” said Lenny Ray, “the biggest reason is King creates brilliant characters, and his plots always exist to serve them, not the other way around. The good adaptations – Shawshank, Green Mile, and the like – are the ones that recognise this. The bad ones – I’m looking at you, The Shining – put the horror/action/thriller aspects above everything else.”

King has described Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ as “like a big beautiful cadillac with no engine inside it”.

“There’s no arc there, there’s no time for this character to develop” says Blythe. “He doesn’t start off as an interesting, lovable family man and slowly become crazy, he’s insane from the beginning. And I think that was what King really resented. That it stripped away the heart of his novel.”

“A lot of his books are big door-stopping books and they lend themselves more to being filmed as mini-series than they do being condensed down into a feature film running time” says Bryce. “Of course Stephen King was rather left with egg on his face because he said “right, I’m gonna make my own TV movie version of The Shining” which nobody really, particularly likes.”

In the U.K., the British Film Institute is running a ‘Stephen King on Screen’ season, to celebrate the author’s 70th birthday on September 21st.

“My main intention that I wanted to get from this season was to combine the well-known with the lesser well known, with the overlooked, and possibly with the unloved” says Blythe. “And to kind of look at Stephen King’s body of work as a whole and look at his impact on cinema which is, you know, you can’t underestimate the impact that he’s had on modern cinema, not just horror cinema.”