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.