Stephen King adaptations seem to come in waves. After a quiet period, we get flooded with King movies just like the Overlook Hotel gets flooded with all that blood gushing out of the elevators.
This year, we’ve already had a remake of Pet Sematary and It Chapter Two. And, before the year ends, we’ll get a sequel to The Shining: The film is called Doctor Sleep and features Ewan McGregor.
Many of the King adaptations are certifiable classics, like the 1976 horror flick Carrie or The Shining from 1980. The 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption is especially a cult favorite, which many people consider the best movie of any kind.
Unfortunately, for every great King adaptation, there are quite a few that are complete busts. Inspired by Looper, we picked out a few.
‘Children of the Corn’ (1984)
We can all be thankful this movie introduced Linda Hamilton to a lot of people, even before she appeared in The Terminator in 1984. It was based on a short story in the collection Night Shift, about a road trip gone awry. We suppose there’s a certain nostalgia for this, given that the movie spawned no less than nine sequels. But come on — do people of a certain age really remember anything about it other than the fact that it was on cable a lot?
‘Maximum Overdrive’ (1986)
If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. That must have been King’s reaction when he saw a lot of movies based on his work that he didn’t like, so he decided to direct a movie himself about demon trucks. And it’s even dumber than that sounds.
Steven Spielberg got away with it in Duel because that was supremely crafted. Maximum Overdrive isn’t supremely anything positive, except maybe as a demonstration that cocaine is a heck of a drug.
‘The Lawnmower Man’ (1992)
These days, this movie is mostly remembered for its early CGI and very bad CGI at that. We laugh at it now because it looks so dated, but it didn’t look any good back in 1992 either.
At least the effects were more interesting than the story, about Pierce Brosnan performing virtual reality experiments on a mentally impaired groundskeeper played by Jeff Fahey. King sued to get his name taken off this — and won.
‘The Shining’ (1997)
King famously disavowed Stanley Kubrick’s revered 1980 movie, saying it bore little to no resemblance to the book, one of his most personal. Kubrick was always going to follow his own vision more than anyone else’s, so King took matters into his own hands years later, producing a miniseries. It was adapted by King himself and directed by Mick Garris, who had made the well-received The Stand. So how come everyone still remembers the Kubrick movie and forgets the miniseries? Drew Grant of the Observer wrote: “Sure, Kubrick took liberties, but … come on. Topiaries just aren’t that scary.”
This should have been so much better, with a cast including Thomas Jane, Damian Lewis, Timothy Olyphant, Jason Lee, and Morgan Freeman. It also had a quality director in Lawrence Kasdan, who had written Raiders of the Lost Ark and written and directed Body Heat. Unfortunately, Freeman is grossly miscast as an over-the-top bad guy, and the movie feels like it was written and edited in a blender.
It seemed like a good idea on paper: Retell the story but stick closer to the book than the 1976 movie. And, this time, a woman will direct the very female-centric story.
The director was Kimberly Pierce, who had made a big splash with the Oscar-winning Boys Don’t Cry. Unfortunately, this pallid remake only served to remind people just how effective the original movie was. To use a phrase from Roger Ebert: it knew the words, but not the music.