September’s Filmmaker of the Month: Stephen King

Stephen King Stephen King (Photo EPA)

With IT: Chapter Two hitting theaters this month, we get a jump on Halloween a month early by exploring the many adaptations of horror’s biggest name.

Stephen King seems an odd choice for Filmmaker of the Month: after all, he’s only directed one film, and, well, that’s Maximum Overdrive (whose most notable quality is its batshit-crazy trailer, in which a be-flanneled King points bug-eyed at the camera and promises, “I’m gonna scare the hell out of you.

It ain’t great shakes otherwise, but it also cuts to the heart of adapting Stephen King’s works: sometimes, you gotta leave it in the hands of professionals.

Still, it’s hard to deny King’s influence on the horror genre on both a micro and macro scale; his skeletal fingers have touched virtually every corner of the mainstream horror sphere, to the point where the “King aesthetic” is a thing we can all recognize — rusty, ’50s Americana, ordinary people (often kids) dealing with unspeakable eldritch terrors, Maine, what have you. Apart from that, though, he’s just so damn prolific – he’s cranked out nearly a book a year on average since the mid-70s. Just as Pennywise or the ominous terrors of the Overlook Hotel seem omnipresent and unstoppable, so too does King’s literary output.

But, of course, we’re not here to discuss King’s solitary directorial effort (though we’ll get around to it, to be sure). Stephen King adaptations are virtually a subgenre unto themselves, many of the horror master’s most prominent works having been adapted multiple times over various mediums. (It’s IT: Chapter Two‘s upcoming release, after all, that partially prompts our selection this month, the second adaptation of King’s doorstop of a coming-of-age horror novel.)

The art of adaptation is a curious thing, with texts bending to the whims of culture, creators, and a host of other factors. Some artists feverishly honor the text, others take liberties. (In the case of Stanley Kubrick with The Shining or — shudder — The Lawnmower Man, some liberties don’t go over too well with the author himself.) But in the process of adaptation new insights come forth; Carrie becomes a terrifying treatise not just on the demonization of female bodies, but a commentary on the cinematic slasher thriller. Other works adapt the text faithfully, keeping the spirit while transferring its sentiment to a new medium (see: The Shawshank Redemption). Even when these works fail, it’s interesting to see where they went wrong, and what about the process of adaptation made it suffer so.

With this deep dive into King adaptations, from De Palma’s arch thriller Carrie to modern-day King adaptations in film (IT: Chapter Two) and television (Hulu’s Castle Rock), we hope to dig into the way stories from the same author can twist and change depending on who’s telling them. We may not scare the hell out of you (we hope), but we’ll hopefully come away with a better understanding of the author, his concerns, and what you gain or lose when you adapt a work to the screen. Keep an eye on this space; we’ll update it with our retrospective coverage as it arrives.

Read our Stephen King coverage here:

IT Chapter Two Review: Flailing Like a Hapless Clown
“Creepshow” Is Stephen King’s Love Letter to Horror Comics
Revenge of the Nerd: A Few Words on the Underrated “Christine”
Christopher Walken Sees Death in “The Dead Zone”
Fasten Your Seat Belts for “Maximum Overdrive”
How “Children of the Corn” Lost Itself in the Weeds
Pennywise Lives: Tim Curry’s Role in “IT” Floats On In Our Nightmares

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