Pet Sematary: A look at the 10 best Stephen King film adaptations, from The Shining to It
As Pet Cemetary returned to theatres this month, here is a list of ten best films which have been adapted from Stephen King's works.
Horror maestro Stephen King is known as much for his novels, as he is known for the cinematic adaptations of his works. With a large oeuvre, the adaptations of his works fall under both the categories. Some movies based on his work are so bad, that they are good. While some have gone on to become the greatest movies ever made.
As a classic novel of his, Pet Sematary, returned to theatres this month, here is a list of ten best films which have been adapted from his works.
Stand By Me
Stand by Me is perhaps the most unusual of all Stephen King stories. While known for his horror masterworks, this story, in many ways, serves as a precursor to his masterpiece IT, but is spare and devoid of any supernatural elements.
A simple coming-of-age tale of a few friends who are suddenly confronted by a corpse, it was adapted for screen by Rob Reiner and starred River Pheonix. The movie itself is one of those rare examples where the cinematic adaptation itself is better than the original source material. Reiner carefully focuses more on the friendships, the humour of being a child, and at the same time, the horror of growing up in a world that is itself not permanent, where relationships are fleeting, and how class differences begin to grow more prominent as we grow up. Released in 1986, it marks the zenith of a filmmaker’s career who also gave us such gems like When Harry Met Sally and A Few Good Men.
Perhaps, the most famous of the lot. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, adapted from the novel of the same name, is now regarded as the veritable Holy Grail of filmmaking. Yet, few would know that when the movie came out, King wasn’t particularly pleased with the adaptation and found the movie cold, bereft of life.
The movie is all about atmosphere and architecture, with Kubrick’s keen eye focused on carefully constructed set pieces, through which he allows his all-pervasive camera to move seamlessly. Can anyone forget that memorable scene where young Danny Torrance pedals his tricycle through the interiors of the hotel, only to come across the apparition of those twin sisters? Notice how the camera – a stand in for Danny’s perspective – moves with him. Kubrick did not employ any jump scare, and yet when the twins appear, the effect on the audience is one of sheer terror.
Adapted for screen by Frank Darabont, Shawshank Redemption is now considered a classic, ranked consistently as one of the greatest films ever made. Unlike other King stories, this one doesn’t really have any supernatural element in it, and is a searing tale of survival, set in a penitentiary. Andy Defresne, sent to the Shawshank State Penitentiary for murdering his wife, has to survive the harsh prison sentence. This prison drama has it all: violence, camaraderie, melancholy and a twist in the end which would leave you breathless. Besides, the movie now has become a cultural touchstone.
Directed by Brian de Palma, Carrie is a tale of a young school girl – played by Sissy Spacek – who is bullied and harassed by her peers at school, until she realises that she possesses telekinetic powers. Classic Stephen King stuff. Yet, in Brian de Palma’s deft hands, the movie, with its lush cinematography, becomes so much more.
The thing about Stephen King that we all forget when we read his works, is that the core of his novels are not really the supernatural. The supernatural only accentuates the normal. It is the latter which is scary. Whether it is growing up in Stand by Me and IT or dealing with an abusive parent in The Shining, it is this that lies at the heart of his works. In Carrie, de Palma maintains this aspect, and gives us a portrayal of the fears of a young girl as she matures into adulthood. The very beginning, when Carrie White begins to menstruate for the first time, and is bullied for the same, sets the tone for what to expect from the movie. And boy, does it not disappoint! Highly recommended.
The 2017 film was only the first part in what is conceived as a two-part adaptation of a novel widely considered to be Stephen King’s masterpiece. The movie broke all box office records, surpassing even that of The Exorcist to become the highest grossing horror film of all time!
As an adaptation, the movie tries to retain the essence of King’s novel, which really was a large metaphor for the horrors of growing up. And the movie sticks with this. Pennywise – played to perfection by Bill Skarsgård – is as scary as we all imagined it to be when reading the novel. And yet, the horror aside, the movie – much like the book – is all about growing up in rural Derry, the friendships, the first heartbreak, encountering bullies, and confronting the demons in our own house.
Gerald’s Game, in many ways, should be read and seen as a feminist text. The premise is simple. Gerald and his wife, Jesse, have been married for a long time. To spice up their marriage, they drive up to a secluded cabin, and indulge in a bit of BDSM. Jesse is tied up, blindfolded. And at that moment, her husband gets a heart attack and dies. The story begins from here.
Told from the perspective of Jesse, the story then goes into her flashbacks, as she revisits her life, and confronts the demons from her past. Adapted by Mike Flanagan, this 2017 Netflix film retains the flavour of the novel, gives us ample scares to last a lifetime, and yet manages to move us in equal measure. It needs to be a must watch!
Compared to the sheer scale and breadth of numerous King adaptations, Misery may come across as a chamber piece. By and large, it is set inside a small house. But it soars on the back of outstanding performances by Kathy Bates and James Caan. Bates won an Oscar for her terrifying turn as Annie Wilkes, surely one of horror cinema’s most intimidating antagonists. Rob Reiner helmed this adaptation, having previously tasted success bringing King to the screen with the memorable Stand By Me.
Misery explores the dark side of fandom and popular success. These attributes delineate the worlds Wilkes and Paul Sheldon occupy respectively. When Wilkes rescues Sheldon from a car accident and brings him home to recover, the clash of these attributes creates a uniquely eerie atmosphere. It results in a harrowing, disturbing and brutal work of popular entertainment.
To this day, we can’t get over the damning exhilaration we experienced when The Mist revealed its twist ending. Not only because it wasn’t remotely expected. That was definitely a plus. But because it enriched and substantiated an already superior King adaptation. Frank Darabont, an old hand at bringing the writer to the screen, crafted a human—if not entirely original—story that explored the spectrum of our emotional responses to a bewildering situation.
A supermarket is surrounded by an otherworldly fog that harbours terrifying creatures. The customers must now band together and find a way out of this strange turn of events. Darabont added a healthy dose of politics, group dynamics and emotional heft to the basic set-up, taking The Mist to places where one seldom expected it to go.
The Green Mile
Another Darabont film based on yet another work by King set inside a prison. Michael Clark Duncan’s John is the big, beating heart of an emotionally sprawling, occasionally manipulative story. The Green Mile wants to move you, reduce you to tears. Not a single napkin shall remain dry.
It also wants you to believe. The real magic at the heart of this film about an inmate who seems to possess magical powers is the timeless truth of cinema itself. The film invokes and invites surrender from the viewers. Notwithstanding its flaws, The Green Mile brandishes an unparalleled faith in good old storytelling and soldiers on undeterred by doubt right towards the audience’s heart.
The great John Carpenter helmed this story of a teenager who becomes obsessed with a car that’s possessed by supernatural forces. It is buoyed by the director’s trademark electronic synth musical score and eerie, wide-angled visions of suburbia. Now a cult classic, Christine’s absurd premise is justified by the machine’s acquisition of a distinct personality that gradually takes over the teenager and the film.
Carpenter places the car right in the middle of his film and lets it do its own talking. The self-healing, avenging, angry beast with an alluring sheen casts a spell only too well known to the material world. The director invests his faith in the ludicrousness of the story’s premise, building upon it a serious tale reflective of its times.
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