Stephen King’s name is synonymous with the horror genre. Ahead of the American author turning 70 on September 21, what better way to celebrate than a big screen adaptation of It, perhaps his scariest story?
The trailer for the upcoming adaptation of King’s epic novel about the evil clown Pennywise, played by Bill Skarsgard, received a world record-setting 190 million views in its first 24 hours online, according to the author’s official website – suggesting that the appetite for his brand of terror is as high as ever.
Many of King’s 54 novels have been turned into feature films – here are some of the most memorable adaptations over the years.
This was the book that changed King’s life at the age of 26, as he went from being a teacher to a best-selling author. The bloody tale of a bullied 16-year-old girl who uses her paranormal powers to cause devastation at her high school prom has become an unforgettable piece of cinema for countless viewers.
Carrie was first adapted for the big screen just two years after it was published in 1974. Directed by Brian De Palma, with a screenplay by Lawrence D Cohen, this is arguably King’s most successful adaptation – as well as being a box office hit, it received two Academy Award nominations, one for Sissy Spacek in the title role, and one for Piper Laurie as her abusive mother.
In 2002 came a television version on US channel NBC, before Chloe Moretz played the title role in a 2013 cinematic remake, with Julianne Moore appearing as Carrie’s mother. There have also been several musical productions of the novel worldwide.
Interestingly, considering how Carrie became such a crucial step in King’s writing career, he revealed in his book On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft that he threw away a first draft of the novel. However, his wife Tabitha took the pages out of the bin and encouraged him to finish it.
The Shawshank Redemption
Originally published in one of King’s collections, Different Seasons, back in 1982, the novella Rita Hayworth And The Shawshank Redemption was made into what is widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time.
Released in 1994, The Shawshank Redemption stars Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman in the tale of Andy Dufresne, who has been wrongly imprisoned for the murder of his wife. Over time, he forges alliances within the prison and makes plans for a life outside the concrete walls.
It’s been pointed out previously how the story shares several plot points with “God Sees the Truth, But Waits”, a nine-page short story by Russian writer Leo Tolstoy – at the centre of both, men are sent to prison for murders they didn’t commit.
Two other novellas in the Different Seasons collection were made into well-regarded films: Stand By Me, in 1986, and Apt Pupil, in 1998.
King is arguably best known for this horror masterpiece, which he said was inspired by a stay at a grand old hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, in late September 1974. King decided it was the “archetypical” setting for a ghost story.
He wrote on his website: “That night I dreamed of my three-year-old son running through the corridors, looking back over his shoulder, eyes wide, screaming. He was being chased by a fire-hose.
“I woke up with a tremendous jerk, sweating all over, within an inch of falling out of bed. I got up, lit a cigarette, sat in the chair looking out the window at the Rockies, and by the time the cigarette was done, I had the bones of the book firmly set in my mind.”
Jack Nicholson’s turn as the increasingly demented Jack Torrance in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation is renowned for being truly spine-chilling. The character moves into a creepy hotel with his family after he is hired as the winter caretaker, only to discover his young son Danny possesses “the shining”, an array of psychic abilities that allow him to see the hotel’s horrific past.
In 1987, King created the character of novelist Paul Sheldon, who wants to stop writing historical romances featuring heroine Misery Chastain and start publishing literary fiction. But his number one fan, Annie Wilkes, has different ideas after she rescues Sheldon from the scene of a car accident. She imprisons him while forcing him to write a book that brings Misery back to life.
The psychological thriller was made into a film three years later, and starred Kathy Bates as Wilkes in a critically-lauded performance which landed her the Academy Award for Best Actress.
Directed by Rob Reiner, the most gruesome part of the film is unquestionably the “hobbling” scene, which shows Wilkes breaking the ankles of Sheldon with a sledgehammer. It could have been worse, however – in King’s novel, she chops off his left foot with an axe.
The Dead Zone
King’s seventh novel, a foray into science fiction, concerns former schoolteacher Johnny Smith, who is injured in an accident and remains in a coma for nearly five years. When he wakes up, he discovers he can see people’s futures and pasts when touches them – leading to a disturbing vision after he shakes the hand of an ambitious and amoral politician. Throughout all of this, we question whether Smith’s gift is more of a blessing or a curse.
The book spawned a television series and a 1983 film adaptation directed by David Cronenberg, starring Christopher Walken as Smith. It perhaps feels more eerie, rather than terrifying, thanks to the suspenseful way the idea of the supernatural in every day life is brought to life.
The Green Mile
The Green Mile was first written by King in six paperback volumes – the first of which, published in 1996, was entitled The Two Dead Girls – before being republished as a single paperback novel. It reveals the plight of John Coffey, who has been sentenced to death for the rape and murder of two young girls. However, Paul Edgecomb, the ward superintendent, discovers Coffey is a friendly giant who has the power to heal.
The film adaptation includes an incredibly emotional performance by Tom Hanks as Edgecomb – a choice of actor which was said to have delighted King – and is reportedly the highest-grossing King movie. It hit an impressive $136.8 million in domestic ticket sales and $286.8 million worldwide.
Special effects, comic art and ghoulish creations were employed for this black comedy horror anthology film, which consists of five short stories from King. He had already written two of them, inspired by the EC comic books, but he wrote three especially for Creepshow, marking his screenwriting debut.
While each story features different characters, the film features prologue and epilogue scenes featuring a young boy named Billy, who was actually played by King’s son, Joe, on the big screen. Billy is yelled at by his father for reading a comic book – Creepshow – and his father later throws it in the bin, only for The Creep from the comic to visit the boy, leading to the five individual stories and a variety of scares.
King had a cameo as a minister in the 1989 film adaptation of his 1983 novel about an ancient Native American burial ground with sinister properties.
The book and film’s protagonist, doctor Louis Creed – played by Dale Midkiff in the film – has recently moved from Chicago with his family to a house in rural Maine, the US state where many of King’s books are set. The horror begins when Creed’s family cat is killed on the busy highway outside his home, and they lay it to rest in a cemetery for dogs and cats, where the burial ground is stumbled upon.
On his official website, King has detailed the real-life events that spurred on Pet Sematary. After his daughter’s cat was killed by a passing truck when they were living in Maine, he was faced with the task of burying the animal in the local pet cemetery – and then explaining to his daughter what had happened. On the third day after the burial, the idea for a novel came to him: what would happen if the cat were to return the next day, alive but fundamentally different?
After being adapted into a 1990 television miniseries featuring a memorable performance by Tim Curry as Pennywise the Clown, Warner Bros announced in 2009 that development of a new adaptation of Stephen King’s novel had started. It finally hits cinemas from September 8.
For those unfamiliar with the premise of the film, it features seven adults who battled an evil shape-shifting creature when they were children. The child-killing creature primarily appears in the form of a clown. The youngsters promise each other they will return to their home town if it ever reappears.
So, when children start disappearing again, they prepare to do battle with the monster once more – and the film looks every bit as terrifying as we’ve come to expect from the King of Horror.