Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The King of Horror

I lament that my summer theater-going experiences have been sub-par this time around. I don't mean in terms of quality but quantity. I blame it on my kids. What movies I have been able to see in the theater have been along the lines of Shrek 3 and Nancy Drew. I did get to take my son and daughter to see The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, which was a good time although it resulted in my being blasted with a string of questions that I found myself profoundly incapable of answering. "Why is the Thing made of rocks? Why are the rocks orange? Why does Ben Grimm's voice change when he becomes the Thing, but Johnny Storm's didn't when he turned into the Thing?"

But I did get to see one movie recently that I enjoyed immensely: 1408. I am a big fan of Stephen King and this film is based on one of his recent short stories. It is a horror movie in the old-school tradition -- big on atmosphere, suspense, and subtle chills -- that creeps one out in a much more effective way than the recent spate of "can you top this" gore films like Saw 8 or whatever number they are up to now.

Movies made from Stephen King writings are a curious lot. The quality scale ranges from outstanding to embarrassing. But when it works, it works well. So seeing 1408 got me thinking about other great adaptations from King's stories. Now when many people think about the best Stephen King movies, they often point to the more highbrow fare: Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption, or The Green Mile. I, however, would not include them on my list, not because they are not great movies, but because they lack one essential feature of a great Stephen King adaptation: they don't scare you. At least not in the nightmare-inducing way. For my money, the best adaptations are:

Misery: This film certainly captures the claustrophobic fear of the book, although it does tone down some of the horrors that the woman inflicts on her favorite author.

The Dead Zone: A relatively faithful and effective thriller about the responsibility one has if one can see the future.

The Stand: King's magnum opus translates into a very effective and very creepy meditation on faith.

It: This book scared me more than any other I've ever read, except perhaps for the directions to the 2006 Federal tax return. The movie does not quite capture the excellence of the book, but seeing Pennywise the clown come to life on screen is a treat. What could be scarier than a clown?

I also have hopes for the future. One of Stephen King's best short works and a personal favorite, a novella called The Mist, is currently filming.


At 1:17 AM, Blogger Stephanie Corp said...

I loved "1408"..I mean, it was no "Pet Cemetery", but l liked it nonetheless-haha..."Misery" has to be my favorite though...I agree with you about "It"--I loved the book, but actually SEEING the clown in the movie freaked me out--i still have nightmares about him...don't think less of me, but I did not know that SK wrote Shawshank...does the movie follow his story pretty closely?...I will have to check out "The Mist" before the movie comes out...

At 5:50 PM, Blogger Bruce said...

Give us a quick story line and review of 1408.

At 8:06 PM, Blogger Greg said...

It's been a long time since I read the short story which is actually titled "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption." The movie is generally faithful to the story but expands on it and, I think, actually improves on it. Both in this case and in the case of "Stand By Me," which is based on King's short story "The Body," I think that the movie's were better than the stories. "The Mist" was a novella that was contained in one of his collections of short stories, but I can't remember which one at the moment.

At 8:14 PM, Blogger Greg said...

The basic story line is that the lead character is a writer who has a series of books on haunted places in America. He himself, however, is a complete skeptic who does not believe in the supernatural. He learns of a hotel room in New York City -- room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel -- that is supposedly haunted and goes to spend a night there. Unlike other places he visits where the proprieters are eager for him to stay for publicity purposes, the manager of the Dolphin hotel begs and bribes him in order to keep him out of the room. He shows him the history in which 56 people had died horrible deaths in that room. Of course, the writer doesn't buy it and checks into the room.
So most of the movie takes place in the room as we witness it working its mojo.
The movie is scary and creepy in the suspensful sense rather in the gross-out sense. It's actually quite faithful to the short story except that they add a storyline about the writer having a deceased daughter. One thing this does for the movie is to allow them to bring God and the question of the supernatural/afterlife into the discussion more.
If you get a chance to see it, I'll be curious to hear what you think. You can give me your assessment in Nashville in between golf rounds.

At 1:42 AM, Blogger Jim said...

I think It is the best of the lot (book-wise).

I know you probably intended to include Maximum Overdrive, but that was probably just an oversight.

At 9:32 AM, Blogger Greg said...

Yes, though "Maximum Overdrive" is what one might term an intentional oversight.

At 1:51 PM, Blogger Jim said...



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