“We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.” – Stephen King
In the literary pantheon, it sometimes feels as though the authors of horror fiction get short shrift, compared to their contemporaries or counterparts in other genres. Maybe the reason is because horror is seen as less worthy or legitimate in some circles than other brackets of literature. The writers of such works have even been lampooned and ridiculed, such as in Matthew Holness’ incomparable creation, the ‘Titan of Terror’ and ‘Dream Weaver’ himself, Garth Marenghi.
Yet the books are hugely popular all the same, and appear to sell well enough to sustain both the creators and the genre. It seems about time that any snobbery about the worthiness of horror novels gets a stake through the heart. Somebody who has done far more than their fair share to legitimise horror in the printed form is Stephen King, whose name has ended up becoming synonymous with stories of dread, suspense, and the supernatural. Even though you might never have read a Stephen King book, you could most likely rattle off the titles of at least half-a-dozen without any real effort.
And yet it is perhaps deceptively easy to forget King’s output is far more than simply the ghoulish, grisly, and macabre. To pigeonhole King in that way is to sell him short, and do him a disservice. Across the decades, he has also been responsible for delivering us tales of fantasy, science-fiction, crime, and suspense. King is no one-trick pony, and his works have been translated to the visual medium, as both films and television productions, some of which have been hailed as classics, like Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of King’s 1977 bestseller The Shining.
Many people probably have a favourite movie based on one of King’s publications, and our own Eamon Hennedy gave a breakdown in 2017 of the best movie adaptations of King’s work, which demonstrated the breadth and depth of King’s oeuvre. Another one of our contributors, Tawny Farber, has penned A Love Letter To Stephen King, showing us just how much his writing means. Arguably more than anyone else in that literary group, King has done much to legitimise horror on the printed page – probably more than he gets credit for – as well as playing his part in its transformation into being an ongoing staple of the Hollywood mainstream.
A long-overdue appreciation of King’s various creations and their place on screens both small and big has been lovingly put together by actress-turned-director Daphné Baiwir, in the form of documentary Stephen King on Screen. This is a love letter to the author, aided by contributions made by so many key players in his journey from the written word to the flickering image. The care and attention, as well as affection, is best dedicated by an opening credit sequence which is just a beautiful, loving homage to King, with so many little visual cues, Easter eggs and treats which truly pay so much respect to the man and his legacy.
Wonderfully, Stephen King on Screen helps recontextualise his writing, by pointing out that something like horror is just a vessel through which King channels his ideas. Right at the very heart of his writing is a deep humanity, as well as a study of the human condition, being projected through a variety of different prisms and contexts. This documentary helps give even the casual observer a newfound appreciation of King’s writing, and makes the viewer perhaps challenge any ideas or preconceptions they may hold. Put simply, you don’t have to be a King ‘stan’ to come away from this documentary with the maximum benefit.
Baiwir has managed to assemble an impressive collection of so many filmmakers who have helped recreate King’s tales for a different medium. From Mick Garris (Sleepwalkers, The Stand, Bag Of Bones), Greg Nicotero (Shudder’s Creepshow series), Mike Flanagan (Doctor Sleep, Gerald’s Game), Josh Boone (2020’s The Stand miniseries), to Taylor Hackford (Dolores Claiborne) and Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Mist), along with many other King collaborators, there is so much insight provided into the creative process, as well as an appreciation of King from those who know and have worked with him.
The documentary revisits the long standing controversy of King’s well-known antipathy towards Kubrick’s take on The Shining, and the overview here helps to explain why this was such a meaningful, personal story for King, as well as why he felt so let down by what actually ended up on screen. It also takes lengthy looks at The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, with Darabont letting us see just what a partner in the production process King can be, even if that only goes as far as entrusting his property to someone he considers to be a safe pair of hands, and who can do justice to his writing. It also studies King’s work directly for the screen, including his acting roles and cameos.
Stephen King on Screen is both intelligent and thoughtful in its appraisal of Stephen King, and it gives us a peek beneath not just the covers of his novels, but also the persona – be it crafted by King, or perceived by others – of the man himself. Baiwir‘s production is a genuine revelation, one which gives all due to credit to the writer, as well as the others who have participated in breathing life into realising his visions.
Stephen King on Screen is out on Digital Platforms on 26th June and Blu-ray on 18th September from Signature Entertainment.