Friday, October 25, 2013

Stephen King: From Page to Celluloid (Part 2)

Hello and welcome back!

I've had a great time going over these titles and writing about them.  So, if you're ready to am I.

Leaving off with Cujo, we’ve barely cracked the surface of Stephen King movie adaptations and looking at the list of films in front of me, I don’t even know if I’ll be able to get through all of these.

But…without further ado, let’s continue…

The Dead Zone
Continuing King’s reign of films based on his books taking over Hollywood, 1983 brought another of his stories to theaters: The Dead Zone.

Based on King’s 1979 novel of the same name, the film stars Christopher Walken as Johnny Smith, a man who gets into a horrific accident that leaves him in a coma for five years (seven years in the book) only to wake up with lots of physical therapy as well as a gift for seeing the future.

The movie plays out a lot like the book, but there are subtle differences.  In the book, it seems as if Johnny has the gift before his accident—not as strong, but there nonetheless.  I don’t remember much else from the novel, there may be more, but from what I can remember, it plays out the same way in the film.

The film also stars Tom Skerritt as Sheriff Bannerman, a name you might be familiar with if you’ve seen most of the films based on King’s books, or if you’ve read most of them.  The character appears a few times in King’s books, as well as a few movies over the years.

A chosen scene I recall from the film is when Johnny shakes hands with Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen), an up-and-coming politician and gets a vision of the future.  The revelation shows Stillson as President of the United States and wanting to start a nuclear war, making his vice president agree to it by force.  This scene is the turning point of the film where you know Johnny has to do something to stop the future from happening.
The film’s third act begins with Johnny facing a dilemma and not knowing what he should do about it.  A very poignant scene in the film has him asking his doctor a philosophical question, which, when answered, helps him in his decision: If you could go back in time to Germany, before Hitler came to power, knowing what you know now, would you kill him?

The Dead Zone has some remarkable performances throughout and the film is a pretty darn good adaptation of Stephen king’s novel.  It’s an heroic story for our main character, but a heartbreaking one to the end.

The third film of 1983 that was based on a Stephen King novel—published in the same year—was Christine, a film by John Carpenter and one of the few films he’s directed that he didn’t have a hand in writing.  In one sentence, the film’s about a killer car that goes after anyone who’s wronged her owner.

I thoroughly relished this book when I read it back in the late 80s.  Knowing there was a movie based on it that I hadn’t seen at the time, I wanted to finish the novel before I decided to rent the film.  Stephen King used an interesting narrative in the novel, going from one character’s point of view in one part, to another and another.

The trend of not fully adapting his works to film well keeps right on going in this one.  There were some changes that I can see made some sense.  Like, for instance, in the book Arnie buys the car from the original owner.  In the film, the original owner has been dead for a while and his brother is the one selling the car.  That, I thought, made sense as the original owner was so in love with the car that his death was the only way that could separate him from it.  A few other minor changes were noticed when I first saw this flick, but it’s long been forgotten.

The film’s lead character, Arnie, is played perfectly by Keith Gordon.  I never really liked him much in any part that he played, but when it comes to playing the character of Arnie, he nailed it.

A few favorite scenes of mine in the film are when Christine goes after Buddy Repperton (William Ostrander) and his friends who had trashed the car.  The very memorable scene where the car is emerging from the exploding gas station, fully engulfed in flames, is terrific.

I’ve said it before in a previous review that I’m impressed to this day on how they performed the special effects of the car rebuilding itself and that’s one accomplishment that still stands up today.

Children of the Corn
Although first published in Penthouse magazine back in 1977, Stephen King included the short story, "Children of the Corn," in one of his best short story collections, “Night Shift.”

The book has had a number of stories made into movies and all are very enjoyable to read.  Published in 1978, the book features this one, about a small town taken over by the children who live there, much like the movie version.  However, the story and film have different endings.

The 1984 film stars Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton as Burt Stanton and Vicky Baxter respectively.  The couple is driving across country to Burt’s new job as a physician when they hit a small boy outside of Gatlin, Nebraska.  Burt and Vicky then go to the town to try and get help and see that the town seems abandoned.  They soon discover the children, led by Isaac (John Franklin) and Malachai (Courtney Gains), and see that they need to get out of town as the children try to kill them.

Although the film is a bit one-dimensional, it’s still a fun watch, very nostalgic of the 1980s.  John Franklin is a stand-out due to the fact that he was a 25-year-old playing a pre-teen due to his GHD, so it gave him a creepy and offset portrayal of a child with such disciplined vocabulary and speaking of biblical references.
The film is a great watch and pretty good special effects for its time.  Performances are perfect and much, MUCH better than the remake in 2009.  See this one…a must for your Stephen King collection.

In the 80s, there seemed to always be one of two go-to actresses that were always cast to play cute little girls.  One was little Heather O’Rourke of Poltergeist fame and the other was Drew Barrymore, who stars in this 1984 film.  It was adapted from Stephen King’s novel, of the same name, published in 1980, and like most of King’s stories, I made sure to read this one first before watching the film.

The story is about how Andy McGee and his soon-to-be-wife, Vicky Tomlinson, during college, agree to participate in experiments in which they’re given a low-grade drug called Lot-6.  They end up getting certain powers—Andy can make people do things and Vicky can read minds.  They end up having a child, Charlene “Charlie,” who has the power to start fires.  After Vicky’s been murdered, Andy and Charlie go on the run from a government agency that wants Charlie for her abilities.

The film version is more or less the same, with some minor differences here and there.  Of course, I think everybody does the same thing while reading a story.  I picture someone, usually an actor or an actress, for each character in the book.  At the time, I knew Drew Barrymore was the lead, so I pictured her of course.  But there’s one character translated to film that I disagree with the casting wholeheartedly, and that’s the casting of George C. Scott as the character of John Rainbird.  The character was supposed to be Native American, so how they thought of Scott to play the role is beyond me.  The whole time I read the book, I was picturing Will Sampson in the role.  You know?  An actual Native American?

Anyway…the film is a little weaker than the standard King adaptations we’ve gotten before—especially the middle segment where our main character is stuck in a comfy-looking compound—but still a treat to watch.

Cat’s Eye
Being a fan of Creepshow, it was nice to get another anthology film featuring Stephen King’s works.  Although with Cat’s Eye, we get more of a family-friendly film with no gore and nothing that’ll give children— or adults—nightmares when trying to sleep at night.

The film consists of three tales all tied together as we follow the adventures of a stray cat trying to get to a little girl (Drew Barrymore) he has visions of along the way.  Two of the stories are adaptations from Stephen King’s short stories, while the last one is written specifically for the film.

The first tale—adapted from the short story of the same name published in 1978’s “Night Shift” collection—“Quitters, Inc.,” is about a guy, Dick Morrison (James Woods), who is referred to an office that helps people quit smoking.  However, the techniques the company uses are quite unusual yet extreme.  The story is completely unbelievable and the things that happen to James Woods’s character are highly unlikely, yet the story is very enjoyable and probably the second best story of the film.

The cat’s involvement in this story is simply that the president of the company, Dr. Vinny Donatti (Alan King), happens to find the stray on the street and brings it in to his office, using it as a demonstration during one scene of the film before the cat gets out and runs away.

The second story, “The Ledge” (also from the “Night Shift” collection) is my favorite of the movie and is the one story that makes you think what you would do if you were in this guy’s place.

After retrieving the cat following a morbid bet with a friend, a rich Atlantic City gambler, Cressner (Kenneth McMillan), has Johnny Norris (Robert Hayes) brought to his penthouse after he finds out the man is having an affair with his wife.  Being a gambling man, he tells Norris that he can have his wife and a bunch of his money if he does one thing: climb down onto the ledge of his building and travel the perimeter without falling.  Of course, the ledge is several stories up and looks to be around eight inches wide.  Having no choice as Cressner’s goons force Norris out with their guns drawn, he reluctantly starts the deadly task.

Before the third, and final, story begins, “The General” (the one story written for the film exclusively), the cat gets away from the penthouse and makes his way to the house of the little girl he’d been having visions of throughout the film.  The girl (Drew Barrymore) finds him and brings him home where her father is okay with the new pet, but not the mom.  But she agrees as well, with some strict rules for the cat.

The story turns out to be about a troll that lives within the walls of the girl’s bedroom which comes out at night to wreak havoc and to steal the breath of the little girl, a switch in the old wives’ tale about cats stealing the breath of babies.

The third one is the one segment that feels a little soft and too family-friendly.  It doesn’t seem to belong to the film when compared to the first two stories, almost seeming like some feel-good Spielberg yarn.  Also, the whole thing was filmed with a bit of lighthearted acting, giving it a cartoonish feel during the course of the movie.  But I think most people will like it…just don’t expect the usual Stephen King fare when pulling this off the rental shelf.

Silver Bullet
Not only was the mid-80s a good few years for Stephen King, but it was also the time that the two Coreys (Corey Feldman and Corey Haim) ruled the teen flicks.  Most of those movies they had starred in during those days, I had no interest in viewing.  However, Corey Haim turned a solid performance as wheelchair-bound, Marty Coslaw, in 1985’s Silver Bullet.

The film was adapted from King’s 1983 novella, “Cycle of the Werewolf,” that I’d tried reading a while back but couldn’t get through it.  The book seemed poetic in nature, with not too much dialogue, and I just don’t enjoy those types of narratives.  That said, Silver Bullet is your typical 1980s horror flick that really feels like a TV movie by today’s standards.  The special effects are not that great and the werewolf costume is sort of lame.  But…the film does have some tension and a few scares here and there.

With a standard telling of the classic wolf-man lore, the plot goes through the motions of the full moon coming out and people getting killed by a monster until a final showdown between the protagonists and the werewolf.

With all its faults I’ve just mentioned, Silver Bullet is still a good movie that’ll keep most people enthralled and overlooking the weaknesses.  I mean, who doesn’t like a good werewolf movie, right?

I think I’ll stop there to give you all a breather on my look at Stephen King’s books-to-film for now.  Be sure to check back soon for my continuation of this subject in the very near future.

Stay tuned for the third part of my Stephen King retrospective and, as always, thank you for reading.

If you have any comments, I welcome them any time.

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