By now, you’ve probably caught It in theaters; Stephen King’s latest page to reel adaptation, and quite possibly his most daring of all 90+ books written. Breaking box office records with a $127 million opening weekend, it seemed like the entire world couldn’t get enough of the King (sorry, Elvis!). Telling the story of ‘The Losers’, a group of friends who must confront an evil force masquerading as a clown named Pennywise, It rips apart the very quintessence of adolescence. It’s a massive 1,138 page epic that required director Andres Muschietti to separate it into two-parts, a mistake this summer’s The Dark Tower seemingly refused to do.
With the entire world pulling out their ‘Stephen King Rules’ shirts while revisiting the 1990 It miniseries that cemented Tim Curry as a jack of all trades, not to mention the release of adapted King short story 1922 on Netflix, we thought it would be best to look back at the shorter, less biblically portioned stories that received the adaptation treatment.
From small town werewolves to grocery store fanatics, the short story adaptations of Stephen King weren’t without their nail-biting evils, even if the shortest of the lot’s a mere 24 pages…
The Raft (as seen in Creepshow 2, adapted from the anthology Skeleton Crew)
Four college friends decide that the only way to properly close summer and let their freak flag fly, is to hang out on a dock in the middle of a secluded lake. Unbeknownst to our co-eds, there’s a thick slab of creeping crud that begins to pick them off, corroding their skin and digesting the remains; think The Blob meets On Golden Pond. It’s one of three horror shorts in an otherwise insufferably mundane and cruel sequel that attempts to ride the coattails of the hit EC Comics anthology, Creepshow.
Witnessing four friends smoke pot and freak – one by one succumbing to a living breathing landfill – is both haunting and humorous, giving us some skin-grabbing special effects. Maybe you’ll think next time before dumping your beach party in the water.
Silver Bullet (adapted from the novella, Cycle of the Werewolf)
Have you ever wanted to see Corey Haim pop a wheelie on a motorized wheelchair? How about witness a werewolf use a baseball bat not once, but twice on its victim? Then Silver Bullet is that werewolf film for you! Based on the novella ‘Cycle of the Wolf’, Silver Bullet finds a town terrorized by gruesome slayings. While local mobs gather to try and serve citizen’s arrest, a wheelchair bound boy, his sister, and their uncle (hooch hittin’ Gary Busey in a role he’s perfected) attempt to rationalize that maybe the murderer isn’t human after all. It’s a small film with a surprising amount of heart that attempts to cash in on the lycanthrope (that’s werewolf to all you muggles) effects wizardry made famous by the likes of Rob Bottin and Rick Baker.
Despite its lack of genuine scares, outside a particularly effective window scene, Silver Bullet’s an adaptation that has enough small-town charm that it’d take six silver bullets to stop its heart.
1408 (adapted from the audio book, Blood and Smoke)
Seeming to reprise his role as heart-stomped record store owner Rob Gordon from High Fidelity, John Cusack shuffles back into the lethargy only he knows how to embody, this time as Mike Enslin, a jaded ghost writer. After numerous best-sellers that eventually find their way to the dusty confines of every bookstore, it seems like Mike is resigned to a life of unsuccessful haunts, tirelessly visiting motels, hotels, bed and breakfasts and inn’s without so much as a jitter. That is until he receives an anonymous postcard inviting him into room 1408 of The Dolphin Hotel in New York City; a city that seems to hide one or two skeletons from his own past.
There’s a slow burn to 1408 that begins gathering kindle early on, as Mike’s disbelief in the supernatural slowly crumbles. The tension is quickly ratcheted up in various and striking ways; The Carpenters ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’ effectively repeats itself, visitors of the doomed room appear as if out of a Twilight Zone episode, and the entire fabric of Mike’s past begins to come alive in a chilling yet surprisingly heartbreaking fashion. If you’ve ever thought King worked best when mirroring himself, pent up in a hotel ala The Shining, then this short story adaptations one you’ll want to check out, even if it does feature the tamest Samuel L. Jackson performance of his career.
The Mist (adapted from the anthology Dark Forces)
If the grocery store was ever your first pick as a defense bunker against a wide assortment of apocalyptic like threats, then you would fit right into The Mist. That is, until the most frightening thing becomes the terrified survivors who have latched onto the one fanatic (Marcia Gay Harden as one of the most terrifyingly infuriating villains in modern day horror) that just happened to need Cool Whip the same day you ran out of flour. You see, there’s something outside in the mist, a dense layer of fog that swept into town accompanied by the sound of an air-horn. Some don’t know where it came from or what it means, while others say its judgement day. It’s these two ideologies that divide our survivors, and give our film its true horror.
Director Frank Darabont, the official sultan of King – having directed five of the authors work – adapts what is the longest short story from King’s 1980 anthology behemoth ‘Dark Forces’. The Mist is a bleak telescopic examination of a world gone terribly mad; one that tells us whatever creatures lie in wait within the fog are nowhere near as dreadful (and real) as those within us. Similarly to Silver Bullet, there’s a small town feel to the people of Bridgton, Maine, which accentuates and heightens the hysteria that washes over our survivors. There’s a pent up mania rattling the foundation of community, and witnessing that grow behind the seemingly protective glass of our grocery store is a nerve-racking experience.
It all mounts to terror that beats at the heart of this creature feature, effectively showing us the Lovecraftian horror of the underworld and the horror of our own.
Stand by Me (adapted from the novella The Body)
Who would have ever thought that one of the most sincere and genuinely terrifying Stephen King adaptations would come from Rob Reiner, the man who brought us Meg Ryan’s delicatessen orgasm and Misery, another King adaptation? Nobody! Originally published in 1982 as part of Different Seasons, ‘The Body’ happens to be the most unlikely of the author’s works to pop, standing amidst countless novels of dread and terror that have defined not only a man, but a generation. Instead of the supernatural infiltrating our minds and bodies, it’s the frightfully natural way our minds and bodies grow up; a time when our closest friends feel infallible, and our life feels indestructible.
Sure, coming of age tales have been around since James Dean drunkenly gazed at a toy monkey, but it’s the path that’s wandered in Stand by Me that creates its adolescent fears. Hearing of a missing boy, a group of four friends set out along the train tracks to uncover his body; a journey that acts as a heart of darkness tale, leading them to discover more than just a dead boy. There’s an unparalleled revelatory level of excitement within our group, played by Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell, who genuinely feel as if they’ve had each other’s back since kindergarten. An insurmountable and impenetrable level of callow vigor flows between each boy, and the more we peel back Stand by Me, the more it feels as if we’re watching something so pure and unadulterated that it might very well be a memory captured on celluloid.
The deeper they go on their journey – the boys making a point that it’s the furthest they’ve traveled from home – the more our own fears of the unknown become transparent; an excavation only the true master of horror could unveil.
1922 is released on Netflix this weekend. What is your favourite Stephen King short story adaptation? Let us know!