Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

September 21, 2012

From the Wolf to the King: Happy birthday, Part 2

Rob Cox
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — Uber best-selling author and Hollywood stalwart Stephen King turns 65 Friday.

King has given tinseltown almost four decades of bankable material. He's been around so long in fact, it's difficult to remember a time when his books didn't dominate bestseller lists; a time when films adapted from those bestsellers weren't being churned out like snowflakes from a blizzard cloud.

The man is a machine; more specifically, he's a one-man, book-making, movie-adapting, money-printing phenomenon. Unfortunately, prolific doesn't always equate with quality; in fact, in Hollywood, it seldom does, and there've been loads of bad movies made from King's work.

There've also been some really good ones, and for King's 65th, it seems fitting to celebrate the 10 best film adaptations of his stories. Halloween's just around the corner too Ñ always reason to celebrate the King of Horror.

Last week, in part one, I presented three films Ñ "Stand by Me," "The Shawshank Redemption," and "The Green Mile" Ñ that redefined King as a story teller and alerted audiences to his considerable talents beyond the horror genre.

This week, with one exception, the films are more in line with what audiences expect when they read "written by Stephen King."

Again, the films aren't presented in any particular order.

1408 (2007)

"1408" stars John Cusack stars as a writer who stays the night in a haunted motel room in New York City. Samuel L. Jackson's character states early on that the entity residing in room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel isn't a ghost. Make no mistake though, in the purest sense, 1408 is indeed a ghost story.

There's not much gore or violence, but there's creepiness galore. This film does an outstanding job of translating the emotional heart of King's story into film, making it integral to the eeriness, something many King-adapted movies fail to do. You're also unlikely to see a creepier use of a song by '70s ultra-lite pop group The Carpenters.

Misery (1990)

Kathy Bates earned the heck out of her best actress academy award for portraying Annie Wilkes, the psychotic nurse of "Misery." James Caan is Paul Sheldon, the best-selling novelist who's rescued by Annie following a terrible car accident along an isolated, blizzard-shrouded Colorado highway.

Annie, as fate would have it, is Paul's Ônumber one fan,' but when Paul kills off her favorite character, Annie's psychotic tendencies surface.

Bates plays Annie with a perfect, amusing balance of self-righteousness and insanity; Annie works hard not to cuss or take the Lord's name in vain but has zero compunctions about imprisoning and torturing Paul to make him write a novel resurrecting her favorite character.

The interplay between Bates and Caan is raw and powerful, and the film's climax is twisted, violent and satisfying.

As Annie's behavior grows progressively more deranged and sadistic, Paul, badly injured and clearly disadvantaged, must use his wits to both placate and outmaneuver his captor in pursuit of escape. "Misery" is the second Rob-Reiner directed King adaptation, and it's entertaining enough to justify a third collaboration between the pair.

Carrie (1976)

As the old saying goes, this 1976 film about an ostracized teenage girl with telekinesis is "the one that started it all." There was a 2002 remake, but don't mistake the Ôlatest' with the Ôgreatest'. This Brian De Palma-directed vehicle is one of the most influential horror movies of all time and deservedly so.

"Carrie" remains surprisingly relevant, especially in it's portrayal of the pecking orders and social cliques that so dominate high school life to this day. This film is dream-like, yet gritty, creating a viewing experience that's both believable and surreal. And of course, it boasts the most unforgettable prom scene in the history of cinema.

The Shining (1980)

"The Shining" is one of two ghost stories on my list ("1408" being the other), and although the two films are markedly different, I enjoy both equally.

King himself, however, doesn't agree. Over the years, the author has adamantly and vocally expressed his dislike of this Stanley-Kubrick directed interpretation. Owing, at least in part one suspects, to King's displeasure, audiences didn't embrace it in theatres.

Kubrick largely rewrote the novel, stripping away most of the emotional resonance and instead focusing on Jack's (Jack Nicholson) isolation and guilt and his slow descent into madness and murder; Kubrick also changed the ending.

Regardless, "The Shining" is a genre classic and one heck of a good, creepy time. Jack Nicholson's performance is intense and unforgettable, if way over the top.

Considering that the 1997 television remake of "The Shining" (produced by King himself) is one of the all-time worst King adaptations, it seems that Kubrick did something right. All work and no play make Jack a dull boy indeed.

Dolores Claiborne (1995)

"Dolores Claiborne" is perhaps the least appreciated of King's quality adaptations. To paraphrase King himself regarding the plot: Dolores Claiborne is about a woman who gets away with one murder (her husband's) only to fall under suspicion for another many years later she didn't commit (her employer's).

At its core, "Dolores Claiborne" is a character study and a very good one. Moreover, it's an introspective reflection on the relationships and experiences that define us; it's a heck of a good yarn to boot. The film boasts terrific performances all around, but is held together by Kathy Bates in the title role. Bates' performance was, in my opinion, award worthy.

Contact: Rob Cox at 812-663-3111 x7011.