As a selection of 25 unreleased Stephen King films will be streamed at the Stephen King Rules Dollar Baby Festival between April 23-25, the question about the horror author’s undying legacy crops up once again. Recently, Netflix picked up the rights to adapt the acclaimed author’s novel Talisman and Apple Tv+’s upcoming show Lisey’s Story starring Julianne Moore is based on his 2006 novel of the same name.
For decades, King’s works have been highly celebrated and adapted to the big screens in Oscar-winning performances like Kathy Bates in Misery. From Kubrick’s The Shining to the recent two-part adaptation of IT, featuring Hollywood’s most infamous clown Pennywise, Stephen King’s domination of the horror genre has been widely appreciated.
The author has written over 55 books but not all his adaptations have gone on to become big-budget movies warranting countless pop culture references like his classic films Cujo and Carrie. Some of them, despite being good films, have not received dizzying recognition. So, Silverscreen India brings you a list of seven lesser-known Stephen King adaptations for viewers to enjoy.
- Dolores Claiborne
This 1995 psychological horror film is the second Stephen King adaptation that features actor Kathy Bates. In the movie, the titular character is accused of murdering her old wealthy employer forcing her estranged daughter Selena to come back home. Soon after Selena’s arrival, the reason for their estrangement is unravelled causing old family secrets to spill out.
Despite Dolores Claiborne not being a typical Stephen King horror tale, the movie delves into horrors that are not only realistic but perhaps even more terrifying than dancing clowns and creepy pet cemeteries. Touching upon domestic abuse, trauma, and repression, Dolores Claiborne is a compelling movie with a great cast.
- IT Miniseries (1990)
At a time when horror movies were seldom made into direct-to-TV movies, broadcasting network ABC adapted King’s IT into a two-part series. The series focuses on a group of children who realise that a clown called Pennywise is terrorising their town, Derry. When kids and adults go missing, they realise that Pennywise is not a clown but a demonic being that feeds off people’s fears.
The 1990 adaptation is delightful and horrifying in equal parts. Curry’s performance carries the film through and makes it an unmissable adaptation. His take on Pennywise the Dancing Clown even served as an inspiration for Bill Skarsgard’s rendition of the character in the 2017 film.
With new adaptations of classic King novels like Misery, Green Mile coming to the forefront in the late 90s, IT remains an underrated horror classic.
- Stand by Me (1986)
Stand by Me is adapted from King’s novella The Body. Starring Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell, the film is about four teenagers, who in the hopes of garnering fame, venture into the woods to find the body of a schoolboy who was hit by a train. Despite having a well-known cast and a refreshing storyline, Stand by Me remains relatively unknown to the mainstream audience.
In a rare shift from the horror genre, this Stephen King adaptation is a coming-of-age story that uses the boys’ quest to become famous to tell a story of self-discovery and maturity. With ace direction and poignant storytelling, Stand by Me is a compelling, funny, and equally emotional story about angst and friendship.
- Doctor Sleep (2019)
The late 2010s saw King’s works once again being adapted to the big screen. Andres Muschietti directed the successful IT and IT 2, Netflix produced Gerald’s Game and even Pet Semetary got a remake. Around this time, ace horror film director Mike Flanagan directed Doctor Sleep. A sequel to The Shining, the story follows an adult Danny Torrance, an alcoholic who is traumatised by the events that took place in his childhood. He still possesses his shining abilities (telepathic communication) that he mostly keeps locked away. However, he is forced to fight his demons and embrace his powers to save a young girl Abra from a murderous cult that survives on consuming people’s shining abilities.
It is no secret that Stephen King disapproved of Kubrick’s The Shining. The 2019 sequel not only got Kings’ approval but also received good reviews from critics. Despite being a relatively unknown film, Doctor Sleep has all the elements that make it a successful horror sequel. Terror is the all-encompassing theme of the film; Danny’s trauma, the gruesome murder of young children and well-placed jump scares make this one of King’s better adaptations.
- The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Considered one of the greatest movies of all time, The Shawshank Redemption stars Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman in lead roles. Set in Shawshank maximum security prison, new inmate Andy Dufresne who is serving two life imprisonments meets Red, a smuggler who deals prison contraband.
While the movie is well-known, the fact that it is based on Stephen King’s short story Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption is often forgotten. In a career filled with writing horror and thriller tales, King wrote this story of redemption and friendship in his 1982 collection of novellas Different Seasons.
Andy is accused of killing his wife and her lover but he continues to claim that he is innocent. Depicting the lives and various brutalities (rape, abuse, and betrayal) that take place inside the prison, this film is about hope. Despite the harrowing life that Andy is forced to live, he still has hope that he will make it out there one day.
- The Dead Zone (1983)
This 1983 science fiction thriller film features Christopher Walken as Johnny Smith, a former high school teacher who wakes up from a coma and discovers that he is clairvoyant. The Dead Zone is based on King’s 1979 novel of the same name.
The lead is initially terrified and unsure of his powers but he resolves to utilise them to help those in need as his visions can alter the future. The supernatural thriller quickly ventures into the vigilante genre as Smith eventually takes on a power-hungry politician after seeing his true intentions. An unsettling film interspersed with heartbreaking moments, The Dead Zone is a well-executed and classic Stephen King adaptation.
- Creepshow (1982)
Creepshow is an anthology film series that saw King come on board as a screenwriter for the first time. It is a mixture of stories that were written exclusively for the film and a couple of short stories that King had previously published. The series has five films with an unconnected prologue and epilogue.
It is not a typical horror film filled with jump scares. Rather, the film is a tribute to old horror comics that featured grisly and creepy characters as seen in E.C. Comics. Creepshow is an unnerving and satirical take on the comic book genre whose storylines echo R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series which also debuted in the early 80s.
The movie might be left out of contemporary horror movie lists, but it is filled with gory scenes and bizarre horror tropes like alien plants, a cruel germaphobe who ends up with roaches coming out of his body, and a mysterious crate containing an ape-like monster that can make viewers squirm in disgust and horror at the same time.