Stephen King Properties Awaiting Adaptations: Bachman Books

Introduction

It recently occurred to me to consider the Stephen King works which are not yet  films and which may be most suited for adaptation. I will take this task on in separate posts.

The Running Man and Thinner already exist, so the books in this realm where Stephen once wrote under a pseudonym on rainy days would rank as follows in my estimation:

5. Rage

228162

Last year I acquired the original release of The Stand from 1978, that runs quite a few hundred pages shorter. With that I no longer have any literary white whales. The first one I had was Rage, and it took me a while. I didn’t acquire The Bachman Books when they were still readily available.

After much searching in the days before online shopping was easy, I just happened to see it on the shelf at my friend’s house. I freaked out. I needed to at least borrow it. He voluntarily gave it to me.

It remains the only King book I read in a day. Time and distance from being angered by feeling the need to pull it from print have given King a good perspective on the story independent of the controversy its caused. He discusses it in Guns, and I agree entirely with his take.

While I feel The Long Walk is just detached enough from reality to connect to modern audiences this one hits a little too close to home. It’s truly a wrenching, fascinating, and brilliant work. Sometimes we just can’t have nice things, or in this case nasty things that make you think.

4. Blaze

349473-_uy500_ss500_

This one  that would be a challenge in similar ways to Roadwork (below). However, with all the different interpretations of mental illness and voices in people’s head that exist in movies there are quite a few interesting ways to go about this one.

3. The Regulators

despereg

My impression of The Regulators may have been affected by the fact that I read it long after I did Desperation, which was my introduction to Stephen King and had me hooked as a Constant Reader from there.

I think the best way to make this idea work would be to translate the concept of the book’s companionship to the screen, which would entail a remake of Desperation and have the same cast play very different parts in the dueling films. It would be fascinating to watch, especially if you had the same creative team behind-the-scenes.

2. Roadwork

41pubqm5cal

While I had to use some analytical chops to grin and bear it as I placed a title that was not my absolute favorite in a subset as number one I will start lobbying for my favorite by saying: a story a solitary man who loses it as he refuses to accept a buyout so his house can be bulldozed to make way for a freeway is not a high concept. It’s an insular one, with a lot of inner monologue and flashes. That’s what I love about it and the challenge of it is intoxicating. In my informal independent study during film school I took upwards of 30 pages of notes on how exactly I would translate this story to the screen.

It was in that note-taking, and practice attempts with a tales by Lovecraft, King, and Lumley that I formed an adaptation style that aided me in writing and directing a Dollar Baby of Suffer the Little Children I was fortunate enough to be given the permission to work on.

So, yes, there is a soft spot that elevates this one, but if you haven’t discovered it yet you should.

1. The Long Walk

9014

I place The Long Walk first not because it’s my favorite Bachman title, but despite its violence, it’s the one I’m most surprised that has not been adapted. It’s an indie film budget’s dream. The concept is a simple dystopian premise that’s far more likely to be palatable to today’s audiences than it would’ve been in the 1980s.
Postscript

richardbachman

Kirby McCauley, King’s literary agent, posed as Richard Bachman for author pictures.

When Blaze was released in 2007 it was branded by King as a “trunk novel” meaning it was an old Bachman title he unearthed and edited for release, while still using the pen name. I hope there are more.

2265

When recently J.K. Rowling’s pen name of Robert Galbraith was outed it was kind of like Déjà Vu. I’ve read of how pissed Stephen was when Bachman was found out, and I empathized with Rowling as well. Though clearly the revelation that Rowling was Galbraith inevitably spiked the sales of the first book in Cormorant Strike series, and all subsequent releases – it’s clear there was a reason she felt the need to write under a pen name and now that freedom from name, fame, and expectation is gone from both of them. I admire her not giving it up and I hope Steve still knows what Richard’s up to.

61 Days of Halloween: Carrie (2013)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, as well as a list of previously featured films, go here.

Carrie (2013)

I’m well past the point of complaining about remakes based on principal alone, as a matter of fact, the same goes for sequels too. In part, the reason for that is that it’s sort of a myopic view of things. Throughout the whole of film history there have been series of films that refused to die as well as stories that either we (or the studios) have not grown tired of. Stephen King, as much of an institution as he is, is still with us such that it may seem that three adaptations in 39 years of the tale being in print is a bit much, especially when the writer is in question is not only alive but prolific.

However, as I said, some tales just have a way of sticking around (in the words of King himself “Sometimes They Come Back”). Therefore, invalidity cannot be assigned based on the existence of this third version alone. The second being a 2002 rendition that I needed to be reminded just recently was actually a thing that I’d forgotten about.

With regards to the text itself, I am not a huge, huge fan of the book. I like it fine. However, when Stephen King recounted that early on he was dissatisfied enough to throw out his manuscript and it was his wife’s salvaging it and belief in the story that had him stick with it; I was not surprised. And, of course, I’m glad she did see something there because the rest, as they say, is history. It’s just that from among his oeuvre it never stuck out as a favorite, and it makes me glad I didn’t read him chronologically for that may have had me go on to other things. Prior to continuing, I must preemptively state that much of my discussion of this film will read like comparative analysis and fanboy whining. However, I’m left with little recourse since the version created here reads so much like a copy of the first.

0451157443

I do, however, share King’s own high regard for Brian De Palma’s version of the film. It’s a tremendous cinematic treatment of the tale that’s masterfully directed, but moreover, a lot of that success is due to Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie’s portrayal as the mother and daughter (earning each an Academy Award nomination), whose relationship is scarier than anything supernatural that occurs in the book or film.

However, owing to the fact that film was released in 1976, and so much has occurred in the world, some things in the tale needed to change. Due to the supernatural element added to the tale, this was never a film that caused too much hullabaloo with regards to its depiction of violence in schools (this recent Variety opinion piece not withstanding). This was a book that though occasionally banned, was never cited as the impetus for violence as his brilliant Rage was (written under his nom de plume Richard Bachman). Keeping all that in mind, as well as all the horrific incidences of bullying and school violence in the intervening years since the original big studio release and this one, something had to be altered to make this truly effective to a modern day sensibility.

Now, that’s not to say Carrie had to be altered to a point of un-recognition, or be tasteless and tactless in rendition, but while the situation she’s put in (the infamous inciting incident) does engender sympathy it seems a mere drop in the ocean compared to the stories of real life occurrences. Granted there are two escalations of Carrie’s humiliation with regards to that incident, however, it feels it needs a bit more.

carrie_1976_1

The incongruous and dated feeling that her humiliation gets is not aided by many production choices. In aesthetic terms the film feels stuck in many regards. While there are cell phones and an upload of the video to the internet some of the costuming (Miss Collins, the gym teacher’s attire) as well as the automobiles (all seeming to be of an older vintage) that had the film feeling stuck between a modern 1970s-set remake and an update that underscores the relative timidity of Carrie’s initial torturing. If anything the backward nature of the White house house should have stood out in stark contrast to the rest of the town.

Much of the discussion regarding the film and whether it works or not has surrounded Chloë Grace Moretz. If you look at my site you’ll see that in her breakout year she won my Entertainer of the Year Award. Clearly, I am admirer of her work in general. And where her involvement in this film falls short has more to do with production than anything on her part. The first thing that must be acknowledged is that all actors are artists, and the inclination of anyone remaking something is to put their own stamp on it. So expecting Moretz to reproduce Sissy Spacek’s turn is folly for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that you’re not casting someone to imitate someone else but rather for what they bring to the part. Considering she does have a past with horror, and vast experience, Moretz makes about as much sense as anyone. Things that were lacking with regards to building her performance have to do with editing (when it’d be more effective to see the results of what she’s doing rather than her reaction to it) but more often it’s actually in hair and make up. And I mean that in all seriousness.

There is a sequence of edits when the coach is trying to build her up and in some editing slight-of-hand she’s tidied so the barely-hidden, beautiful girl she is. The fact is more work needed doing to make Moretz seem more like a Carrie White than a Sue Snell. Her hair and dress both needed frumping up. It came off a bit too much like the glasses-and-a-ponytail gag in Not Another Teen Movie.

316259

Yet the biggest flat-lining in the film is the rote repetition of the exact story beats almost exactly as they happened before save with more advanced but inconsistently rendered CG. The wrinkles were often good (the principal’s inability to say the word “period,” Maggie’s self-mutilation, Tommy playing lacrosse, etc.) but these are all small things and when so much of the film is precisely the same, but emotionally flatter; you need more. There are occasional moments of viscera at the beginning and end but far too much “meh.”

“They’re all going to laugh at you,” Miss White says. This version isn’t quite laughable, but I was not impressed this time around at all.

4/10

Horror Films and Stephen King (Part Six)

Stephen King has always been somewhat uncomfortable with the marketing of his name such that he created his alter-ego/pseudonym in large part to avoid the media’s scrutiny of his work. His name was Richard Bachman. “I’ve been asked several times if I did it because I was overpublishing the market as Stephen King. The answer is no. I didn’t think I was overpublishing the market …but my publishers did.” (Bachman, ix). 
 

Over-exposure is something that Hollywood has never been afraid of, especially when a gifted writer who people love to read comes along. In fact, the film which I examine in this paper Maximum Overdrive was recently re-made for TV and it was called Trucks. Many a time King has had little or no involvement with many of the films made from his work and in the past many people have had little or no regard for his actual text or for his input on the project, this has since changed.
 

“Sometimes I feel like Mickey Mouse in Fantasia. I knew enough to get things started, but once they started to march, things are never the same.” (Bachman, vii). Stephen King was taking the helm of Maximum Overdrive just after his pen name had been “outed.” In a way, this was a chance for King to take control of a project but even this was marketed and commercialized. King was the center of the theatrical trailer claiming that he was “Going to scare the hell out of you.” The one sheet also proclaimed the film a masterpiece before it was released. This marketing scheme was poorly thought up, while it’s hard to sell a horror film that’s not as scary as it’s supposed to be, it’s more difficult to sell a film when all the audience sees is the director saying how scary it is. One thing the trailer does seem to imply is that King was looking for someone to do his work justice up ‘til then no one had until Rob Reiner did later in Stand by Me.
 

Miscasting has been a hindrance in many King films. In reference to the protagonist in The Running Man King said “he’s about as far from the Arnold Schwarzenegger character in the movie you can get.” (Long, vii). This is a problem he faced in Maximum Overdrive was in choosing the wrong actors. Not many good actors do horror films when they’re already famous and it’s hard to make a successful horror film when the characters are so horribly miscast. When the audience knows something was a novel their critical faculties seem abnormally heightened and this makes every decision crucial.
    

His difficulties also came into play in reference to length. King is one who likes to slowly develop things and needs time. He once commented that “these days it seems everything wants to be a novel, and every novel wants to be approximately four thousand pages long.” (Nightmares, 4). With film being what it is today, and what it was starting to become in 1986, it’s no wonder that Maximum Overdrive feels like a sketch by Picasso, it lacked color. Sure, Picasso could do a lot with a pencil but to see his full genius he needed a larger surface. King likewise was confined by the need to be a 90 minute film, I sometimes get the feeling that just another half hour and it might have been a whole other film.

Hero Whipped: The Double Life of Archie Andrews

It’s about time to do one these again, as other ideas in the vain are coming to the fore, and I want this one focused and not as scatter-brained.

As you may or may not know, Archie Comics have been shaking things up over the past few years. The introduction of Kevin Keller, the first openly gay character in this comics universe, was a big step and perhaps the most significant of all such recent stories. I think many comics fans cut their teeth on the Archie tales, I know I did. What makes them a good stating place is that they’re usually humorous tales about the commonplace. That’s why Keller is significant, he’s been folded into a world that just accepts him.

Kevin Keller, however, was the second bold initiative from Archie recently. The first was the Life with Archie series that plays out two different realities: Archie marries Betty and Archie Marries Veronica. Each issues is double-sized in page count and magazine-sized in proportion at a standard comics rate, less if you subscribe like I do.

The stories, now several arcs deep, have always mirrored each other and it got me to thinking about the doppleganger phenomenon in certain realms of fiction. I haven’t had extensive experience with such phenomena with it but what it ultimately lead me to conclude is that this series could be great preparation for more involved and less direct, nonlinear storytelling modes kids may encounter as they grow older.

The first example that came to mind was the film The Double Life of Veronique. This film aside from having a signature and extremely memorable theme plays with the notion that we all have a double in rather dramatic and no frills kind of way. Here you also have slightly different interpretations of established characters, which is not only a staple of comics but occurs in other media too. One for instance would be Stephen King who, via his pseudonym Richard Bachman, treated his characters from Desperation almost like they were actors and recast and re-purposed them in The Regulators.

The story also has a soap opera like feel in the best sense of the word. I think of these as my stories; the tension is palpable and is delivered in drips and drabs. Each storyline and subplot is touched on just enough to keep you coming back for more. Each character’s plot runs about 2-3 pages per issues, thus they have about an issue (two counting both tales) per arc of their plot. Just enough to incrementally move things along.

Another thing the series does which is crucial to breeding comics readership and is applicable to certain films as well, is that it plays with the parallel dimension/multiverse concept in a stripped-down dramatic sense. The lack of grandiosity and superhero tropes introduces a fundamental of the medium in a much more conventional, comprehensible tale for the neophyte and rewards long-time readers with glimpses of old favorites and puts new spins on old tales.

It’s a series that can still relate to teens but what it’s doing is making strides to stay somewhat in step with the times, which I think many will admit it hadn’t until recently. The aesthetic benefits of laying a foundation of more complicated story structures and approaches can be easily understood is what is really exciting; and the pedagogical abilities of comics, even in fiction ought never be overlooked. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, comics essentially taught me Portuguese and organizations like Reading With Pictures know of this power too.

Not to say that Archie’s social forwardness combined with its pushing its own aesthetic boundaries while staying true to its characters and style isn’t exciting too; but it’s this added element and depth that this series has that separates it, and makes it a great gateway to comics, more involved narratives and is the best fodder for cinematic adaptation they’ve likely ever had.

It’s brilliant on so many levels.