After last week’s list of awesome Stephen King adaptations dropped, the challenge became to write a counterpoint to that list outlining the more execrable films made from Stephen King works. This is where I must confess: my opinion is woefully uninformed. There are a lot of movies that probably should be on my list, and “a lot” turns into “a ton” when you expand to include terrible tv movies (which I’m not, hence no 2002 Carrie or Desperation, among others); and yet, I simply can’t spend that much time watching movies I’m aware are going to be terrible. So this list is not only shorter than it could be, it’s less comprehensive. Deal.
That said, there are filmmakers who can turn King’s digression-prone, internal-monologue-heavy novels into gold, and then there are filmmakers who simply can’t handle it. Here are five movies that couldn’t cut it.
5. Children of the Corn (1982)
A messy, amateurish number that aspires to “The Wicker Man” but barely reaches “Pumpkinhead”, “Children of the Corn” is notable for that extra-creepy child preacher, and nothing else. It’s an archetype of ’80s road horror, sure, and it’s appropriately backwoodsy, but there’s nothing to latch onto here; the performances are sub-community children’s theater, and violent things happen, but never horrifying things. It’s quite the yawner, all told, and makes me not care a whit about the 42 straight-to-DVD sequels it spawned.
4. Hearts in Atlantis (2001)
Adapted from a novella in King’s Hearts in Atlantis volume – but not the one actually called “Hearts in Atlantis”, rather the previous novella entitled “Low Men in Yellow Coats”, just one of many mistakes this film makes – this film is a four-alarm snoozer from jump street. It wants to be one of those wistful, dramatic, nostalgic, heartfelt King-inspired films, like Shawshank or The Green Mile or Stand By Me, but it winds up a saccharine mess with a go-nowhere plot. It’s the kind of aimless, hazy remembrance that King can weave into heart-tugging gold (his latest, Joyland, is a five-star example of this), but that comes across limp and lazy on film.
3. The Dark Half (1993)
One of King’s most electric, personal yarns, The Dark Half practically cries out to be turned into a great film – and horror icon George Romero, of all people, couldn’t quite get it right. Timothy Hutton’s a fine enough actor to make the epic struggle between author Thad Beaumont and rogue pseudonym George Stark seem a little less paltry through sheer gravity – ditto a young-ish Michael Rooker, turning in perfectly professional performance as a skeptical sheriff – but the whole thing just seems so flaccid. There’s no atmosphere, no edge; everything’s sanded right into oblivion, down to the final epic showdown being delivered with a smirk and a shrug.
2. Needful Things (1993)
The largest disconnect between the quality of a King movie and that of its source material? Perhaps. As written by Stephen King, Needful Things is a gloriously addictive tome. It’s savagely satirical, urgent, utterly disquieting, fervent and vivid; qualities utterly ignored by the film. Cheese effects, hammy acting, and stilted, impersonal direction shave off the electricity of the source. Read Needful Things, please – it’s among his most evocative work, and easily in his top ten – but the film is an utter slog.
1. Dreamcatcher (2003)
I haven’t actually read Dreamcatcher; I own all of Stephen King’s books, so it stands to reason that I’ll get around to it, but I’m putting it off until there’s little else of his to dig into, at which point I will read it out of pure obligation. I have, however, seen this movie, and it’s one of the ugliest wastes of space I’ve ever seen committed to celluloid. It’s a series of King cliches – childhood friends encountering unspeakable evil, tyrannical authority figures, magical mentally-challenged character – distilled into a zany yarn about aliens that come out of your butt. That sounds like an exaggeration; it is not. I assume we can blame King for that innovation, but Morgan Freeman’s horrible performance and his villainous flattop are all the fault of this film, which you should never watch under any circumstance ever. I mean, maybe if you’ve seen every movie of all time, go ahead and watch it to be a completist, but you’d be better off enjoying the sunlight and not getting to that point.
Next week, we unveil a secret, controversial edition of Drews & Don’ts! And by “secret”, of course, I mean I haven’t decided what I’m going to write about yet. OH BALLS I GAVE AWAY THE SECRET