Stephen King has ruined our lives.
Who can think of prom night without thinking about pig’s blood, thanks to “Carrie”? Or bend down to pet a strange dog without worrying about rabies, because of “Cujo”? When I sneeze, my first thought is of Captain Trips and the flu-like plague that killed 99 percent of the world’s population in “The Stand.”
King has demonized — often literally — classic cars (“Christine”), small towns (“Salem’s Lot”), hotels (“The Shining”), handshakes (“The Dead Zone”), antiques stores (“Needful Things”) and the entire state of Maine.
With the recent blockbuster adaptation of “IT,” King has once again made us terrified of clowns, storm drains and pronouns.
Despite selling millions of copies of his 50-plus novels and short story collections, many people’s first experience with Stephen King the author came via Hollywood adaptations.
I saw “Cujo” and “Firestarter” before I knew who Stephen King was. “Salem’s Lot” scared the bejesus out of 10-year-old me. I still have dreams of pale kids, enveloped in fog, floating up to my window begging, “Let me in.”
“Based on a novel by Stephen King” is a siren’s song for Constant Readers who will seemingly go see anything with their favorite author’s name attached. (Witness the SIX “Children of the Corn” movies.)
And yet King is as synonymous with “bad movie adaptations” as he is with “horror writer.”
King’s horror movies are mostly forgettable or downright laughable, save for “Misery” and maybe “Cujo.” (I’m not counting “The Shining” or “The Mist.” Both are awesome, but both directors went rogue in their versions.)
King’s best movies — “Stand by Me,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Green Mile” — aren’t scary at all.
And yet today — with upwards of 100 movies and TV shows inspired by his work — Stephen King is experiencing an unprecedented Hollywood revival.
In the past year or so, “Mr. Mercedes” was turned into a TV series, as were “11-22-63” and “The Mist.”
“Gerald’s Game” and “1922” have gotten the Netflix treatment.
“IT” continues to shatter box office records, as will its sequel.
And while “The Dark Tower” didn’t exactly come out with guns-a-blazin’, the fact that it was made into a movie at all is an accomplishment.
Remembering your first time
Discovering Stephen King is kinda like the first time you hear the Ramones (one of his favorite bands). Once you hear The Ramones, your life is divided into Before and After.
Same goes for King. If you read a novel and it speaks to you, you’ll be forever chasing that revelation as a Constant Reader, generally to increasing disappointment (“Tommyknockers,” “Dreamcatcher,” “Rose Madder” — still the worst novel I’ve ever read).
Once 10-year-old me had discovered King’s movies, I sought the source material, starting with short stories. “The Boogeyman” from “Night Shift” still haunts me, as does “The Ledge” from the same collection and “The Monkey” from “Skeleton Crew.”
From there, it was on to the novels. My mom gave me “The Shining,” saying it was the scariest book she’d ever read. I second that emotion.
Fads and hobbies came and went. Girlfriends became wives, then ex-wives. I had dogs then kids to raise. Through it all, there was Stephen King.
With many of his later novels, the reality rarely matched the hype. But there was the occasional revelation (“11-22-63”).
Given the recent attention on King’s work, I decided back in May to take a deep dive into his novels, some I hadn’t read in decades, if at all.
The books hadn’t changed, but the reader had.
As a 43-year-old father and grandfather, I saw things in the stories I missed as a kid.
“Firestarter” is about a father doing whatever it takes to protect his child — same as “Cujo,” only the latter shows how one small choice can ruin lives in ways great and small.
And “Pet Sematary” …
I first read the book when I was 15. (I finished it while waiting for the movie to start.) It scared me then; it terrifies me now.
Not the cat and the kid coming back from the dead or all that “sometimes dead is better” nonsense. It’s the thought of a child dying and coming to terms with that loss that is truly terrifying. As a father, there were parts of that novel I could not read.
31 nights, 31 movies
King is a prime example of “the book is better.” But since his movies are often a jumping-off point for readers (many of whom might not read otherwise), they are a worthy exercise.
For the past few years, I have spent the month of October watching a different horror movie every night and writing about it.
For Horrorfest 2017, I will be watching exclusively Stephen King. Thankfully, King has enough adaptations to start his own streaming service.
I’ll forgo the movies we’ve all seen a million times (“The Shining,” “Carrie”), instead digging deep for ones I’ve never seen (“Dolan’s Cadillac”), didn’t know existed (“Desperation”) or wished I didn’t know existed (“Sleepwalkers”).
You can read my reviews every day at my blog, BrettBucknerTheDirt.wordpress.com.
Like the man himself said, “the scariest part is getting started.”
Brett Buckner is a freelance writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.