Sunday, November 3, 2013

Stephen King: From Page to Celluloid (Part 3)

As I continue on the enormity of Stephen King’s presence in the movies during the 1980s in part three, I still wonder at how many movies were made from his literary workings.  I haven’t seen every single film adaptation because either I can’t find it or just haven’t got to it yet.  Some, I’ve actually rented and tried to watch, only to turn it off as it seemed not to be a good adaptation of his work.  But I’ll get there…I’m determined.

Anyway…moving on…

 Maximum Overdrive
Starting part three’s exposition off is one of the silliest adaptations of Stephen King’s legacy of creative writings.  A film so laughable and middling, you’ll find it hard to believe it came from one of his short stories.  What’s even harder to believe is that Stephen King directed it himself!  The film I’m speaking of is 1986’s Maximum Overdrive.

The film is adapted from a 1973 Cavalier magazine short story, “Trucks,” that was featured in his 1978 “Night Shift” collection.  Reading the story played out about the same, but had a more serious and logical tone to it.  Unlike the film, the end of the story was unresolved and ambiguous, leaving it up to the reader to think about what was eventually going to happen to the characters.

The film seemed like it would do well.  You have the actual author of the story directing it, AC/DC providing original and re-recorded music for the soundtrack, and you had some well-known actors starring in this feature.  So what could go wrong?

Maybe it was the implausible killing of humans by previously inanimate objects like simple lawnmowers and vending machines.  Perhaps it was the dumb jokes that peppered the film like the ATM calling some character—Stephen King’s cameo—an asshole.  Or possibly this is the one adaptation that just couldn’t translate well to film.

I really can’t put my finger on it.

All that aside, this film has that Plan 9 From Outer Space appeal where you know it’s bad, but you still relish the hell out of it.  From the overacting of Pat Hingle as the service station owner to Emilio Estevez hamming it up as the bad boy gone hero.  It’s just one of those movies that are so bad and ridiculous that you actually want to watch it.

In all seriousness, I think the story could’ve been translated better and if it were to be remade today, I think the story would be more believable with the technology that we have today.  With our tablets, smart phones and electric cars, the film would have a better chance with the threat of those devices turning on us.
Still, Maximum Overdrive is a nice little nostalgic piece to take in on a Saturday night with nothing to do and a few people to enjoy it with.

Stand By Me
In the same year as the previous ridiculousness, Rob Reiner decided to dispel the recent belief that all Stephen King stories are silly by bringing us a thoughtful reworking of one of King’s stories by bringing Stand By Me to the screen.

The film is a very successful adaptation of King’s novella, “The Body,” published in 1982 and featured in his collection, “Different Seasons.”

The film, as well as the novella, is a coming of age tale of four friends who go on an adventure to find the body of a child that had been missing for some time.  The film features some of the best and believable acting of the four main actors: Wil Wheaton as Gordie Lachance, River Phoenix as Chris Chambers, Corey Feldman as Teddy Duchamp and Jerry O’Connell as Vern Tessio.

Some other great performances to note in the film are Kiefer Sutherland as the villainous Ace Merrill, John Cusack in flashbacks as Denny Lachance and Richard Dreyfuss as the adult Gordie Lachance who narrates the story.

You know a movie’s great when it moves your emotions like this film does.  Reiner does such a fabulous job on the filming of the scenes, blending in the flashbacks, and capturing the feel of the time period the crux of this film takes place.  The use of pop music and TV show themes of the time really help give this film the emotions it evokes.

The movie won a few Golden Globes and an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.  It’s one of my favorites from all of King’s stories-to-film and I find myself watching it all the way through no matter what I may be doing at the time.  It’s a must to own and add to your Stephen King movie collection if you haven’t already.

Creepshow 2
After completely loving 1982’s Creepshow, when the sequel was released in 1987, I was raring for it and hoping lightning was going to be captured in a bottle for a second time.  However, this new film wasn’t going to have George Romero behind the camera.  Instead, he helmed the screenplay duties while a little known director, Michael Gornick, was to direct.

For the most part, the film is entertaining and nearly has the same themes as the first film.  They both feature a story that bookends the film and animation is featured throughout.  Not as good as the original, but a worthy sequel nonetheless.

For more on my thoughts on Creepshow 2, please check out my review last Christmas.

The Running Man
Another icon of the 1980s was muscle man, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the decade was filled with his action films, one of them being 1987’s The Running Man.

Many people don’t know that the film was based on a Stephen King story because the book—published in 1982—that the film was derived from didn’t feature King’s real name on the cover.  Instead, it featured his pseudonym, Richard Bachman (and in the film’s credits, that’s the name we see).

In the paperback, the story takes place in the future, just like in the film.  Unlike the film, however, the main character, Ben Richards, voluntarily participates in the game show rather than being forced to do so as it’s portrayed in the movie.  Also, the contestants are allowed to go anywhere in the world as they’re being chased by “hunters” rather than just being in a closed-off set.

It’s really difficult to think of this as a Stephen King adaptation because of the futuristic nature of it as well as the exploding action scenes.  The film was very loosely based on the book, just the name of the main character and the game show aspect, but that’s about where the similarities end.  However, with that said, the film is your classic Schwarzenegger action piece with almost a spot-on prediction of the popularity of these reality shows that feature competitions, daring everyday people to attempt dangerous stunts.  Maybe it’d be a good idea to have death row inmates compete in events like this and save us taxpayers some money.

Anyway, as a Stephen King adaptation, it’s a little off-kilter for what he’s usually known for.  As one of Schwarzenegger’s oeuvre of 80s action flicks, it’s one of his best.

Pet Sematary
1989’s Pet Sematary is a special film for me and I love to revisit this one around October or November every year, as it seems to take place between the two months.

As a little bit of a personal back story, I read this book (first published in 1983) back in 1987 while I was vacationing in Portugal.  I was only 18 years old and traveling with my family throughout the coast of the country.  Getting into Lisbon, I felt sick and feverish, discovering I had appendicitis and went to the local clinic to have emergency surgery to have my appendix removed.  While recovering, my mom brought me this book that she had purchased at a store where I had seen it.  From the day I cracked the book and before getting back to the USA, I was enthralled and captivated by it.  It took me less than a week to finish it and I’m usually a slow reader.  But that was how magnificent that book turned out to be!

Well, a scant two years went by when I noticed a TV spot for a new movie that looked like a horror film.  Before they even announced the title, I knew it was Pet Sematary.  All it took was for me to hear the Character of Jud call to Gage and I think I even yelled out at the TV, “That’s Pet Sematary!”  Of course, back then, there was no internet to keep track on what movies were coming out, so I was completely surprised to see this trailer.

Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) starts a new job as doctor at a Maine college, moving his family to the countryside town to start a new life there.  On day one, when Louis’s son, Gage (Miko Hughes) almost gets run over by the one of the constant convoy of rigs from the nearby factory, he meets the neighbor from across the street, Jud Crandell (Fred Gwynne).  Louis’s daughter, Ellie (played by Blaze and Beau Berdahl), discovers a path near their house right away and they ask Jud about it.  He says he’d take them down the trail to show them where it leads and one day, he does just that.  When Jud takes Louis’s family down the pathway to show them where it leads, which happens to be the local children’s pet cemetery, Louis notices a closed-off entryway, piled with large branches and fallen trees and asks Jud what’s beyond it.  Later in the film, he finds out after his daughter’s cat is killed on the road.  Jud takes him there and Louis is introduced to the place where the dead walk.

I don’t want to give too much away, but this film—at the time—was the best adaptation to date.  It had some good jump scares and creepy moments that had me squirming, as well as good gory effects here and there, as well as a pretty good performance by that little three-year-old, Miko Hughes!

Remembering when I first watched this movie, I noticed that there were a couple of differences from the book.  The only ones I can recall, however, was the scene with the housekeeper killing herself (in the film but not in the book) and that Jud had a wife (in the book but not in the film).

Overall, the story is pretty basic, but has a question of all questions: if you were able to bring someone back from the dead—someone you loved and could not let go—would you do it?  But, as Jud tells Louis in the film, “Sometimes dead is better.”

Pet Sematary is one of the best adaptations from King’s books, translating the themes well enough, never really losing the feel of the whole story.  As a person who had read this novel, it was a real treat to see this film made and brought to the silver screen.  It’s one of the favorites in my King collection.

Tales From the Darkside: The Movie
In 1990, another anthology film, Tales From the Darkside: The Movie , was released touting the name of Stephen King along with it.  While only one of the tales were adapted from a Stephen King work, the film, as a whole, is pretty good and was featured in the same approach as Creepshow.  The movie includes three stories, as well as a wrap-around story to bookend the film.

The film opens with a normal-looking suburban housewife (Deborah Harry) who has a child (Matthew Lawrence) trapped in a cage in her home, as she gets ready to prepare him as dinner.  To stall her, he begins to tell her horror stories, and that’s when the vignettes begin.

The first tale is “Lot 249,” an adaptation of a short story by Arthur Conan Doyle, about a revenge plot by an art student (Steve Buscemi) who gets back at his classmates for ruining his chances at getting a scholarship.  The revenge involves reanimating a mummy and dispatching it to kill the classmates.  When the brother (Christian Slater) of one of the classmates gets involved later, things get even crazier.

The second story, “Cat From Hell,” is the one tale that was adapted, by George Romero, from a Stephen King short story first published in Cavalier magazine in 1977.  A wealthy wheelchair-bound man (William Hickey) hires a hitman (David Johansen aka, Buster Poindexter) to kill a black cat that he says is evil and that has killed three other people.  Even though he thinks the old man is crazy, he agrees to make the hit on the cat since he’s being paid $100,000 for his service.  What follows is a bit of a cat-and-mouse game between the hitman and the cat with the hitman having more trouble than he thought he was going to have in disposing of the cat.

The third, and last, tale of the film is “Lover’s Vow,” which is my favorite of the three stories even though this one wasn’t written by King.  The story was written by Michael McDowell and is about an artist (James Remar) who witnesses a murder committed by a gargoyle-like monster.  The monster says it’ll spare his life if he agrees never to speak of it ever again.  He agrees and the monster vanishes.  Soon after, the artist’s life turns for the best, meeting and marrying a woman, starting a family with her and leads a great life.  Years later, tormented by the memories of the monster, he breaks down and tells his wife the secret he promised he’d never tell.  What happens next is crazy!

As a whole, the film is a nice horror anthology.  It’s a little lighthearted and not very scary, but entertaining even so.  Each vignette features either a twist or shocking moment at the end, but the best one happens in the last story.  As for the little boy who’s telling these horror stories to the housewife to stall her from cooking him?  Well, you’ll have to watch the movie to find out what happens to him.

Once again, take these all in and give them a watch while I catch up on the next few titles from Stephen King’s works.  Be sure to check back soon for my continuation of this subject in the very near future.
Stay tuned for the fourth part of my Stephen King retrospective and, as always, thank you for reading.

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

You can also tweet at me on Twitter: @CinemaBits