Stephen King needs no introduction, he’s the most successful person to ever work in horror, from his 55+ novels (including 7 more under his pen name Richard Bachman) and even more adaptations for Film and TV, he is a true master of the genre. The Shining, Carrie, Misery, Christine, even The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and Stand By Me, his list of classics goes on… But I wanted to write about MY introduction to Stephen King, as its his work that essentially inspired me to fall in love with horror, and horror films, and as I begin work on a new feature film script (which you may be able to see in time for Christmas 2017 if all goes to plan) with heavy Stephen King influences, I’m re-exploring the root cause of how and why I fell into an obsession with this genre.
Let me start by saying at the age of 12 I could not have been more of a wimp when it came to scary movies! I remember closing my eyes or leaving the room when the adverts for The Grudge remake came on the telly (I watched it years later and was so bored I threw the whole DVD in the bin, its rare I’m that offended by a crap movie… I did it once more with the “film” SICKLE too). Anything remotely scary had an intense effect on me, in fact I was far more interested in Comedy and anything light and happy. I even remember bursting into tears when I watched the first 10 minutes of the film GODSEND with my Mum… too scary (its really not). And then there was THE RING, a genuinely creepy film for sure, but it was actually THE RING 2 that my friend made me watch, well, 10 minutes before I had to turn it off... We explored the special features instead, where I first saw the short film RINGS, which is really really creepy (as I recall, at least), and that was bloody IT! No more horror, no no no, too awful. Even walking down a road in broad daylight I’d be terrified the girl from The Ring would leap out of a bush and grab me!
Yet, as a mega Tim Burton fan from a very young age, with The Nightmare Before Christmas being my favourite film at the time, I had an ironic attraction to all things dark and sinister and gothic. So age 12 or 13, in ASDA browsing the DVD isle (Asda still does have a damn good DVD isle, but they were even bigger and better back then) I came across this awesome red DVD case and on it in big letters STEPHEN KING’S Rose Red. Good lord it looked like the most terrifying thing I had ever seen, but somehow it was merely rated 12... 12?!
A 12 couldn’t be that scary? So I soon went hunting for it in HMV (where it cost £19.99). Now I could gain the credit of saying I’d watched this terrifying-looking Stephen King movie, but only pay the price of 12-rated scares, that wouldn’t keep me awake all night thinking a girl would climb out of my TV...
I’d watched the trailer first of course, to check it wasn’t going to be too horrific. That’s something I’d always do, spend a lot of time flicking through trailers on Video Detective, which was introducing me to a whole world of horror. I vividly remember the trailers for A Nightmare On Elm Street, From Beyond, and Stephen King’s IT. When I saw the trailer for MISERY I said to my friends, I’m never ever watching that film! Just the look of it made me feel sick, the confined space, the bedridden protagonist… and now its most probably the main inspiration for my new script, right down to the snowbound location. . . But more on that next year!
Finally I settled down to watch the movie in my bedroom, on my little box TV with an in-built VHS player, where I had one of those big inflatable chairs to sit on and enjoy films. Rose Red is a 255 minute miniseries and although it had some scary parts, I A. Loved it and B. was slightly dissapointed it wasn’t scarier.
Over 255 minutes I grew accustomed to the lingering hallway shots and spooky music. I now needed to find another movie like this to watch, and the good thing about Stephen King stuff was I now knew it wasn’t that scary, not these TV miniseries anyway. I’m not too sure what I went for next, it was quite possibly Storm Of The Century, which is another mini-series by Rose Red director Craig R Baxley. This one was a 15 (yes, I was a very daring 13 year old!) but what the hell, Rose Red needed to be a little scarier, I was taking small steps towards nastier horror films. But again, it wasn’t scary enough!
I moved onto the next one on my Stephen King list, Salem’s Lot (the 2004 TV version) which finally was everything I wanted it to be. It was scary and violent and had an incredible story, but not too scary, just the right amount of scary, and I was getting a buzz from watching this chilling material, seeing if it would go too far or if i’d be OK to move onto the next one. Probably all sounds a bit pathetic to anyone who shoved in a copy of The Exorcist at age 8 and loved horror that way, but this was a safer way in…
The 2004 Salem’s Lot is actually pretty brilliant, if you’re a horror fan and haven’t seen it, I think its very underrated and is a good 180 minute go-to movie/show for a lazy sunday afternoon. When it came time to watch IT (yup, that one with the clown, and a new adaptation on the way), I was too scared. I was now watching all these scary movies with my friend Dan (and his terrified younger brother Connor, sorry Connor), so I didn’t have to face the scary stuff alone, and together we managed to watch the scarier ones. King’s directorial debut MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE still says its only rated 12 on Amazon, perfect I’ll watch that! But in fact the DVD is an 18, which is how I managed to smuggle in my first 18 rated film, though it is a very tame one…
Through watching these Stephen King movies I was branching out into other horror. I’d see who’d directed what and then seek out their films. Creepshow was by George A. Romero, so I’d find Day Of The Dead and Monkey Shines etc. Christine was by John Carpenter, my favourite horror director of them all! And, of course, I had a need to seek out every single Stephen King adaptation ever made; I was obessive like that.
I still don't have them all, and more keep coming out, but I seem to have reached an age where I'm going back and watching films like CARRIE, which I probably haven't seen in about 7 or 8 years, and remembering why I fell so deeply in love with horror in the first place. A good place to start when seeking inspiration for my new horror movie script... I've bought both NIGHT SHIFT and GERALD'S GAME (Stephen King books) as a start, the latter of which was regarded as "unfilmable" until it was recently filmed by Mike Flanagan (director of HUSH and the pretty disappointing OCULUS) which will certainly make for an interesting watch next year!
So what are your favourite Stephen King movies? Let me know! My Top 10 (Almost in order, I really don’t have a number 1) is listed below:
IT (1990, Tommy Lee Wallace)
The Shining (1980, Stanley Kubrick)
Carrie (1976, Brian De Palma)
Christine (1983, John Carpenter)
Misery (1990, Rob Reiner)
Salem’s Lot (2004, Mikael Salomon)
Creepshow (1982, George A. Romero)
Rose Red (2002, Craig R. Baxley)
Pet Sememtary (1989, Mary Lambert)
The Mist (2007, Frank Darabont)
Thanks for reading,