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He still has IT: why Hollywood continues to love Stephen King

PUBLISHED: 15:05 08 September 2017 | UPDATED: 15:34 08 September 2017

The eagerly anticipated adaptation of IT, Stephen King's epic novel about the evil clown Pennywise arrives on the big screen. Photo: Warner Bros

The eagerly anticipated adaptation of IT, Stephen King's epic novel about the evil clown Pennywise arrives on the big screen. Photo: Warner Bros

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Numerous Stephen King stories have been re-imagined for the big screen. And the author turns 70 this month and the long-awaited adaptation of IT arrives in cinemas, Hollywood’s obsession with adptating his work shows no sign of slowing.

Horror master Stephen King who has seen many of his 54 novels and numerous short stories turned into feature films. Photo: PA/Shane Leonard Horror master Stephen King who has seen many of his 54 novels and numerous short stories turned into feature films. Photo: PA/Shane Leonard

Stephen King’s name is synonymous with the horror genre and his novels have long been a go-to source of material for Hollywood.

Many of King’s 54 novels and numerous short stories have been turned into feature films. They have been the source of some of truly memorable classics over the years — but there have been just as many truly terrible adaptations too.

And as the American author turns 70 this month, the obsession with turning his words into celluloid shows no sign of dimming.

The Shawshank Redemption starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. Photo: Columbia Pictures The Shawshank Redemption starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. Photo: Columbia Pictures

Earlier this summer we had The Dark Tower, based on his compelling series of fantasy novels seen through the eyes of a conflicted 11-year-old boy. Now this weekend the eagerly anticipated adaptation of IT, King’s epic novel about the evil clown Pennywise arrives on the big screen. It is a King tale that has been adapted before into a 1990 television miniseries featuring a memorable performance by Tim Curry as Pennywise the Clown, a role being played by Bill Skarsgard in this new version.

The ‘from a story by Stephen King’ obsession can be traced back to 1976 when Brian De Palma adapted Carrie, the book that had 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 become a box office hit, received two Academy Award nominations, one for Sissy Spacek in the title role, and one for Piper Laurie as her abusive mother.

It was the first of the good King film adaptations and it is notable that it is also one of his shortist novels. It is often said that the most successful screen transfers of his work come from his short stories, notably from his 1982 collection Different Seasons.

Jack Nicholson in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Photo: Warner Bros. Jack Nicholson in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Photo: Warner Bros.

It includes Stand By Me, the story of a group of boys who go to see a dead body, and Apt Pupil, the story of a high-school student who forms an unhealthy relationship with a former Nazi death-camp officer, played by Ian McKellen in Bryan Singer’s 1999 film.

Perhaps the most successful King film of also comes from that collection’s story Rita Hayworth And The Shawshank Redemption.

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. Though only an average success on release it has gone on to become a much loved classic.

Jeffrey DeMunn as Harry Terwilliger, Tom Hanks as Paul Edgecomb and Michael Clarke Duncan as John Coffey in The Green Mile. Photo: Warner Bros. Jeffrey DeMunn as Harry Terwilliger, Tom Hanks as Paul Edgecomb and Michael Clarke Duncan as John Coffey in The Green Mile. Photo: Warner Bros.

It was such a success that director Frank Darabont returned to King with The Green Mile, first written by King in six paperback volumes about a prison superintendent who discovers one of his charges is friendly giant who has the power to heal.

The film adaptation includes an incredibly emotional performance by Tom Hanks - a choice of actor which was said to have delighted King - and is reportedly the highest-grossing King movie, grossing $286.8 million worldwide.

Until The Green Mile another King screen classic, The Shining, is one that the author himself famously hates. Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation is renowned for being truly spine-chilling and for Jack Nicholson’s turn as the increasingly demented writer Jack Torrance, but King is on record with his dislike of it, saying its “like this great big gorgeous car with no engine in it.”

Sissy Spacek in Brian De Palma's adaptation of Carrie. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/United Artists Sissy Spacek in Brian De Palma's adaptation of Carrie. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/United Artists

Tough its lauded by many, the athour has repeatedly taken issue with what he sees as the film’s simplification of the characters, particularly the sympathetic character of Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall) who he has claimed is rendered “one of the most misogynistic characters ever put on film”.

King is more sympathic to the screen treatment of one of his most personal books Misery. In 1987, King created the character of novelist Paul Sheldon, who wants to stop writing historical romances to 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.

The psychological thriller, which references his own experiences in a car crash and with obsessive fans, was made into a film three years later, and starred Kathy Bates as Wilkes in a critically-lauded performance which landed her the Oscar for Best Actress.

River Phoenix and Wil Wheaton in Rob Reiner's film of Stand By Me. Photo: Columbia Pictures River Phoenix and Wil Wheaton in Rob Reiner's film of Stand By Me. Photo: Columbia Pictures

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.

There have been other successful King films that perhaps don’t get the attention they deserve. The Dead Zone, King’s seventh novel, a foray into science fiction, about a coma victim who discovers he can see people’s futures when touches them - leading to a disturbing vision after he shakes the hand of an amoral politician, was adapted by David Cronenberg, starring Christopher Walken.

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.

Kathy Bates and James Caan in Misery. Photo: Columbia Pictures Kathy Bates and James Caan in Misery. Photo: Columbia Pictures

At the other end of the spectrum is the 1989 film adaptation of his 1983 novel Pet Sematary about an ancient Native American burial ground with sinister properties. This is perhaps the most successful pure horror film based on a King novel — and the man himself even pops up in a cameo as a minister.

• IT is in cinemas now. Read our review HERE

HORROR SHOW – 6 SCARILY BAD STEPHEN KING FILMS

Maximum Overdrive — King himself directed this Razzie worst film winning tale of machines gone mad starring Emilio Estevez with an AC/DC soundtrack.

The Dark Half — Even late, great zombie director George A. Romero couldn’t breathe life into a film about a novelist terrorised by his own pen name.

Thinner — Published under King’s pen name, Richard Bachman, an overweight lawyer kills a gypsy woman and is cursed into losing weight.

Sleepwalkers — This story of incestuous cat monsters who have to steal the breath of virgins is only notable for having an original screenplay by King, rather than being an adaptation.

Needful Things — 1993 stinker about a nefarious shopkeeper (who may be Satan) the scariest thing about which is just how boring it is.

The Mangler — Texas Chain Saw Massacre director Tobe Hooper teamed up with Freddy Krueger himself Robert Englund for this terrible effort, amazingly there are two sequels.

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