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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

God Save the King, Book III

For those of you just joining the series, I'm taking a look back on Stephen King's contribution to the world of film. The good, the bad, and the 'wtf'. From the top. In four parts.

Books I and II focused on the good (Carrie, Shawshank, The Shining, etc.) and the bad (Pet Semetary, Dreamcatcher, *cough*thegreenmile*cough*). We're at Book III now, and it's time to ask Hollywood a very serious question on behalf of the King -

Seriously, guys? Guys. Seriously.

More after the cut -- 

I don't want to waste any time. We have too much ground to cover. I will say this, though - if anyone important is reading, and you want to adapt Cell to a major feature film? 


Book III - The "WTF"

Christine. 1983.
John Carpenter has a unique way of messing up his own films. Obviously, the man is a huge success in the horror world. The Thing is a masterpiece, as is Assault on Precinct 13. But, those are really the only two I can get behind. Even Halloween is too messy for me to consider great, despite its hand in shaping the slasher film as we know it. I consider his "template" to be more of a "beta", ready to be improved. Christine, however, is a pure "wtf" moment in Carpenter's career, and makes me long for the subtlety of Ghosts of Mars. Bad acting, bad writing, bad direction, terrible beyond terrible cinematography... Saw it once when I was young, saw it again a couple of years ago, and I have no interest in ever seeing it again. 

Firestarter. 1984.
Okay. For all intents and purposes, this is a pretty watchable film. Not good, by any stretch of anyone's imagination, nor is it something that I'll make time to see again anytime soon. But, the failure of this film winds up lying in the casting of a young Drew Barrymore, and that's where the film falls apart. It's a strong read, King's book, and could have been a beautiful film. But, there's a weird absence in Barrymore's performance that stunts the whole film. Maybe this should be on the bad list, but... her work is awful enough for me to look at the film and say "what the fu..."

Cat's Eye. 1985.
Three years in a row, bad Stephen King movies. You'd think that the 80's Hollywood people would have learned their lesson of what's been going wrong. But, again, Drew Barrymore takes a brilliant series of stories, and runs it into the ground. The thing about Drew is that she's a tremendous actress when given a good script. Mad Love, Home Fries (shut up), Scream, etc. All wonderful performances, especially in Scream. But, with King's work, something about her just doesn't flow with it all. Alan King and James Woods excel, but the film's direction by Lewis Teague, and the casting of Barrymore slam the whole thing to pieces. Which is made even sadder by the fact that Teague directed Cujo, and Cujo is a masterpiece. 

The Running Man. 1987.
It seems to be a trend that casting leads to a bad Stephen King adaptation. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as a man set to receive a public execution, but the entire thing is staged as a reality TV-esque type game show. If this idea were legal, MTV would run with it. It's a good story, but when your lead actor can't act to save his life? It's hard to believe him when he's trying to save his life. 

The Mangler. 1995.
See, I can't even defend the book. It's about a laundry folding machine/ironing machine that eats people. And there's a cop who is actually in charge of investigating this. What is this I don't even... Bad performances, terrible direction from Hooper (who is a master of the genre, so I'm still surprised), and a generally wtf idea from King himself. It's just... an unfortunate movie. 

Apt Pupil. 1998.
When I discovered this movie walking down the aisles of the local Choice Video store in North Carolina, I was so excited. Ian McKellan as a nazi, Bryan Singer directs a Stephen King book? I was hooked, just by the cover of the DVD. But, and I'll be honest as hell here, I was so disappointed. McKellan does the best he can with a weak script, and Singer's direction is noble but misguided. The entire idea of the film is supposed to be redemption, but there isn't anything to take away from it except an underlying tone of nastiness and deviousness. I was sorely let down. 

Secret Window. 2004.
Okay. I've seen this movie way too many times. And every time I watch it, I try to remember what it is I enjoy about it that keeps me coming back. Is it Johnny Depp's random barking in the middle of the film? Maybe. Is it John Turturro's field-full-of-fire performance? No. Is it Timothy Hutton begging for a paycheck? Could be. It could also be the fact that I'll watch Maria Bello in anything. But, this film is absolutely awful. No suspense, no drive, and absolutely no emotional core. It's about wicked people, doing wicked things, and there's no center to the story at all. Ridiculous ending, ridiculous performances, ... ew. But, I'll watch it again, like always, just to make sure. 

So, there we have it. The good, the bad, and the wtf. In three books. 

In the next, and final installment, of the series, I'll take a look at Stephen King's miniseries (from Salem's Lot on down) and talk about how they worked and why some of them didn't exactly get up to snuff. I'll also take a closer look at the director's cut of Needful Things, and some of the King feature films I need to rewatch before I can make an accurate criticism (I'm looking at you, Dolores Claiborn and Riding the Bullet). Stay tuned!

And thank you, always, for reading.