Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how prolific a writer the legendary Stephen King is. Including seven novels written under a pen name (one of those being, rather bizarrely, the source material for mid-eighties Schwarzenegger actioner, The Running Man) the Maine author has published 56 novels in total. What’s equally impressive is the number of adaptations mined from his books. Over 60 titles now, including short stories, have made it to either cinema or TV.
That’s a phenomenal figure, and with the gigantic box office returns for chilling return of Pennywise the clown in the big-screen remake of IT, many other titles from his library is now being primed for the screen, both previously untapped stories or new interpretations of past adaptations (Pet Semetary and The Tommyknockers are amongst these).
When a huge assortment of an author’s work is brought to the screen it invariably results in a mixed bag when it comes to quality control, and that’s definitely the case with King’s offerings. There’s certainly a few classics in there, such as Carrie, The Shining, Misery, Stand By Me and The Shawshank Redemption (arguably The Green Mile belongs on that list, too). Middle-tier titles include Creepshow, The Mist, Pet Sematary, Dolores Claiborne and the aforementioned IT remake – a film which may climb up the ranks in time, particularly if part two is another winner.
There’s always the dregs of course, represented here in Dreamcatcher, The Lawnmower Man (a contentious King adaptation in all but name) and The Dark Tower. Those cheap, largely uninspired TV offerings – made from short stories and the weaker books from the King oeuvre – hover somewhere just above those aforementioned bottom of the barrel films.
Then there’s those features which failed to find much of an audience at the time, and left the critics less than impressed, yet remain entirely entertaining, flaws aside. Cat’s Eyes is certainly one of those. Made up of three tall tales – one created specifically for the film, the others adaptations of short stories from King’s Night Shift collection – this 1985 horror anthology is a fun little yarn in the Tales of the Unexpected mould.The first story, Quitters Inc. – a darkly comic cautionary tale of a man desperate to kick his smoking habit – is the best of the three and features a fully on-board turn by James Woods.
Silver Bullet – the adaptation of King’s illustrated novella Cycle of the Werewolf – is another underrated feature from the master of horror. This one is an almost Amblin’-like look at a sleepy small-town under siege from a vengeful lycanthrope. Some moments in the film may slide into unintentional hilarity (particularly a shoddily-shot werewolf nightmare sequence) but it’s largely an interesting stab at splicing a coming-of-age film with the macabre. Any film which casts the unhinged Gary Busey as a boozy but lovable and protective uncle is worth a watch.
Elsewhere, the recent Netflix adaptation of Gerald’s Game is very solid, with lead Carla Gugino delivering an award-worthy turn. Salem’s Lot is a superior TV adaptation which still features, for many, the most terrifying vampire scene ever committed to screen. And aside from the disturbing legal issue which have dogged the film for years, Bryan Singer manages to conjure up some extremely chilling and uncomfortable moments in his version of the King short, Apt Pupil, even if the film ultimately can’t quite match the horror of its subject matter.
The one adaptation which still hasn’t rightfully been giving its due is David Cronenberg’s deeply unsettling version of The Dead Zone. Featuring a haunting, unforgettable Christopher Walken, the director manages to do here what King is able to achieve in his very best genre work, namely combining the fantastical and ethereal with a real world frisson.