Directed by Daphné Baiwir (The Rebellious Olivia de Havilland), Stephen King on Screen examines not the literary work of Stephen King, one of the best-selling authors of the last century, but instead focuses on the extensive, never-dwindling big and small screen adaptations of his novels, novellas, and short scares! From Carrie (1976) and The Shining (1980), to Misery (1990) and Doctor Sleep (2019), directors including Brian De Palma, Stanley Kubrick, Rob Reiner, Mike Flanagan, and countless other creatives, have brought the King of Horror’s unforgettable stories to new audiences. Stephen King on Screen aims to be the ultimate guide to these visual nightmares; yet, with over 70 screen adaptations (excluding sequels) from across over 65 novels and novellas (including those published under his nom de plume, Richard Bachman), and over 200 short stories, Baiwir struggles to encapsulate almost five decades of King’s contemporary horror… instead delivering a master class in visual storytelling.
“Everybody who hasn’t read a Stephen King book has still seen a Stephen King movie.”
Bookended with a phantasmagoric opening/closing sequence that features Baiwir herself travelling into Maine – the frequent setting for many of King’s stories – to meet with “The Master,” keen eyes will discover a multitude of references to King’s most famous (and perhaps infamous) adaptations; from the obvious St. Bernard (Cujo) to the obscure coffee cup (Gotham Cafe). And that title sequence is so simple, yet so visually pleasing for the King/Kubrick aficionado; as an elevator door opens to reveal falling red balloons. From here on in, Stephen King on Screen follows a more conventional format; a gushing 105 minutes of talking head interviews, from the directors who were involved, beginning with the topic of Brian De Palma’s Carrie.
Mick Garris (Sleepwalkers), Franks Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption), Greg Nicotero (Creepshow), et al, highly praise the movie, with many claiming it to be their first introduction to King’s work. 1950s creature features and 1960s proto-slashers are briefly discussed by Tom Holland (The Langoliers) and John Harrison (Tales from the Darkside), and how, when King’s debut novel was first published in the 1970s, horror genre literature and filmmaking became less concerned about the monster, or the situation, and instead focused on how the characters were affected by what was happening around them. Taylor Hackford (Dolores Claiborne) explains:
“Stephen King writes human beings. And then he puts them in incredibly pressured, difficult, sometimes phantasmagorical situations.”
Characters are at the heart of King’s work, so Baiwir’s documentary spends much of its running time discussing the relatability of King’s Americana before it’s “ripped apart and sent to hell.” Many of the creatives featured, like Vincenzo Natali (In the Tall Grass), Mike Flanagan (Doctor Sleep) and Josh Boone (The Stand), discuss their own childhood; Tommy Lee Wallace’s It miniseries (1990) traumatising them, but equally inspiring them, or the connection they had with Rob Reiner’s coming-of-age drama Stand by Me (1986). Because there is a common misconception about Stephen King… he is not solely an author of the macabre! Indeed, Darabont’s infectious, in depth discussion of The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and The Green Mile (1999) is insightful and highlights King’s ability to pen affecting tales.
King’s intense dislike of acclaimed director Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is also discussed, with Garris recalling how he was tasked in 1997 to correct this perceived wrong by faithfully adapting King’s novel for television. Flanagan also discusses the challenge of adapting Doctor Sleep, the sequel to The Shining; acknowledging the importance of Kubrick’s movie. Elsewhere, the filmmakers wax lyrical regarding King’s Creepshow collaborations with George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead), the “hobbling” scene in Misery, Darabont’s bleak ending to The Mist (2007), and most importantly, Tabitha King’s inspiration and influence on King’s female characters. Stephen King on Screen is a celebration of the author’s impact on pop-culture, but it’s also a discussion about emotion; how King’s written work and their visual adaptations make us, as readers or an audience, feel emotionally. And for the filmmaker tasked with a King adaptation, they have to be bold! As Tod Williams (Cell) says:
“It’s all about what you don’t do…what you can’t do… So, I come to it as a reader…and I want to recreate the experience that the reader has; the emotional experience. Not the plot detail.”
Stephen King on Screen is available now on digital platforms, and on Blu-ray 18th September from Signature Entertainment.