Horror Films and Stephen King (Part Four)

The horror genre in film has attracted more than its fair share of crud-ass directors. Amazingly some of these people who lack in the fundamentals essential to filmmaking have managed to create scary films like David Keith’s The Curse, a modern day rendition of Lovecraft set in Tennessee, I dare you to watch it alone! Some, actually many, take a story that’s not all that bad and assemble a group of people who are just talent-less and waste a perfectly good premise, like in Richard Caesar’s The Calling. 

 
“The worst movie sends its own message, which is simply to say stay away from other movies done by these people; if you have seen one film by Wes Craven, for instance, it is safe enough, I think, to skip the others.” (Danse, 216). Contrary to King’s opinion people who begin their careers making junk as filmmakers can move on and make some damn good stuff. Case and point, Craig R. Baxley directed one of the most painful movies of all time Bad Day on the Block, better known as Under Pressure, in 1997 but quickly turned around to direct both Stephen King’s original mini-series (Storm of the Century and Rose Red).
 

And horror always seems to produce some of the worst films in the world, in America anyway, well, why? Stephen King puts it very astutely in his non-fiction examination of the genre “low-budget moviemakers are attracted to horror because it seems to be a genre which is easily exploited – an easy lay, like the sort of girl every guy wanted to date (at least once) in high school.” (Danse, 216).
    

Not only does the genre have to deal with low-budget moviemakers, which isn’t so bad, which the 90s have proven with the rise of the independents, but you also have to deal with rookie filmmakers working in what is likely the hardest genre to be effective in.
 

King approaches the horror genre in film with a very fair-minded and level-headed attitude. He understands that we’re not dealing with Shakespeare and every style has its standards. “I am no apologist for bad filmmaking but once you’ve spent twenty years going to horror movies looking for diamonds (or diamond chips) in the dreck of B-pics, you realize if you don’t keep your sense of humor you’re done for.” (Danse, 200). And one thing many people may not realize is that he is a very funny guy one of the few authors who doesn’t write humor who can make me laugh out loud. One of Maximum Overdrive’s “failings” is that it succeeds as being a comedy. There is some funny dialogue but the tone of the piece ended up being a little more lighthearted towards the middle and it feels totally unintentional.
 

“Once you’ve seen enough horror films you get a taste for really shitty movies.” (Danse, 200). This may be at the root of at least part of the problem with how Maximum Overdrive came out. While King understands the way horror works a more filmic approach was needed and is always needed when handling his tales. The concept of genre should be on the backburner. There were definitely attempts by King to try and build these characters through images but he may have run both out of time and cash to be completely successful.

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The Flip Side: Seeing the Movie Then Reading the Book

Asa Butterfield in Hugo (Paramount)

Recently I re-posted a series of articles I wrote on The Site That Shall Not Be Named (no it’s not the Dark Lord’s site) about how to divorce oneself from the source material when you’re watching an adaptation of a beloved book, comic, TV Show or what have you. If you want to read that series start here, otherwise bear with me.

In that series I really tackled a problem many face but mainly it pertained to books and their readers the most. To be more specific people who happened to have read the book prior to watching the film, which is a tough transition.

However, a twitter friend of mine and blogger in his own right, recently posted this intriguing entry:

People who follow me at all know I read a lot.

I read books now more than ever, used to read more newspapers and magazines.

But, I hear all the time, I want to see say “Hunger Games” but I need to read the book/books first. I personally prefer seeing the movie first.

Books are a totally different format, richer, longer, have subtext, a medium of words. Film is a medium of images and sounds, and quite a bit shorter at around 90-120 minutes. The average screenplay is 95-125 pages long, the average book is around 300 pages. It’s simply different.

For me a good example of this is Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo”. Although the book the “Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick is very cinematic, and the look is in the movie, Scorsese adds scenes, depth of character and a few other things I don’t see in the book. I did see “Hugo” before reading the book, and think if I read the book first I would have used my image of the book to cloud the movie and not loved the movie for what it did well but get trapped in comparisons.

An example of a book I did read first which clouded my judgment of the movie is “Jurassic Park.” I quite enjoyed Micheal Crichton’s novel, and I missed several scenes (especially the river scene) that were in the book in the movie. Although Spielberg does a good job with it, I find actually the monster movie “The Lost World” to be more fun. I think this is partially because my view of the book hurts the movie.

Another example for me from a recent movie is “The Hunger Games.” My wife has read through this series twice already, and I am still around 20% in the first book. I quite enjoyed the movie, and wonder if my judgment of the book would have clouded how I see the film.

Basically movies and books are entirely different mediums. If you try to make the movie just like the book you get boring movies like Chris Columbus’s Harry Potter 1 and 2, which although good and nowhere near as rich to me as Cuaron’s version that shares the vision of the book but doesn’t feel the need to get everything in Harry Potter 3 (still the best of the series to me.
What do you think?

The general points up there I agree with almost without exception. I wanted to quote the post mainly for context and also as shorthand to expound on my observations on this opposite phenomena I didn’t examine.

I completely agree with the assertion that one musn’t read the book before seeing the movie. The book is not Cliff’s Notes to the film. The film has to sink or swim on its own merits. With regards to The Hunger Games, I liked it but I knew innately that there was backstory and subtext from the book only being hinted at on screen, however, it didn’t ruin the film for me.

With regards to subtext allow me to make a minor semantical point: yes, many films are surface only but when you study them you learn to read them (I’m not being poetical, we say that) and seek the subtext. Some films are what they are; vapid or brilliant there’s not much else going on, those are few. There will be more forthcoming dialogue simply because the examples are ones I so closely relate to but I will transition, believe me.

Another thing that even I didn’t really examine in the prior series is that there really isn’t a direct correlation between pages in a book and a screenplay. One can make it, and I have, for a mathematical argument but truly the literal conversion of book to film can have so many more variables. A good example would be Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust. I stuck with it and finished it and liked, despite it being the most challenging read of my life. Such is the stream of consciousness and transition from reality to memory to fancy to dream that it makes it a very involving and exhaustive experience. Were you to take certain pages out of the book and transcribe them to screenplay form you could have so many changes of time and location that one novel page could be three to four screenplay pages. Again, if you’re a completist and being literal. A good film of the book would have some of those montages implied in the writing but not all of them.

Certain writing styles do imply montage as Eisenstein talks most about in the book of his I’m in the midst of and what can be done in a paragraph of prose may take a page or more in a screenplay depending on how you decide to exploit it cinematically. This is just further food for thought when thinking about taking something that’s purely text and turning it into visuals.

With regards to the example of Hugo above it’s amazing that we both reached virtually the same conclusion about the film having inverted reading schedules. I took The Invention of Hugo Cabret out of the library and devoured it because it was a quick read, liking the story much better than the presentation thereof and then though I knew Scorsese and Logan made certain changes I felt they enhanced the film and made it the best of 2011.

Sam Niell in Jurassic Park (Universal Pictures)

With regards to the Jurassic Park films, I actually tried to read the book and I failed to complete it despite needing to write a book report on it. That did not diminish my desire to see it or affect my view of it. I absolutely adored every second of it. Being a budding cinephile and a kid who at more than one point wanted to be a paleontologist it was, and will remain, one of the most exhilarating movie-watching experiences of my life. It’s magical. On the other hand, I didn’t try and read The Lost World, I disliked it a lot. How much? This much. I was pleased to learn in my Spielberg class that part of the reasoning behind his doing The Lost World was that Universal had been begging him for a sequel since 1982 and he would not hear of it being E.T.

Michael Gambon and Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Warner Bros.)

As for the Harry Potter films: I love them and I love the books. My love for both is separate but equal, to re-appropriate an old phrase. I always read them before I saw them but with the few production delays they had the gap between reading and viewing grew as the films moved on. My favorite is The Half-Blood Prince, it’s the apex of the story cinematically and in the books I feel so much of what was built in the series lead to that point. The Prisoner of Azkaban is great but like many of the films they stumble at the goal line, metaphorically speaking but that one just loses the ball entirely with the very last image and piece of voice over. Only part of the issue with the first two films is Columbus. The other part is that the books steadily grew in size through the course of the series. Slavishness to the novel was easy, and maybe a requisite to establish the franchise at the beginning. As the books grew slavishness became more difficult to accomplish, nearly impossible, thus the films truly came into their own as a separate but equal enterprise.

So having said all that in the interest of piggybacking and elaborating on points I previously made; What about seeing the movie first and then reading? I am very intrigued by the idea but I do not have much practice with it. I have a few candidates in mind to try it with but let’s see what case studies I have (Yes, we are quite literally discovering it together, hence why I wanted to write this post).

Jack Nicholson in The Shining (Warner Bros.)

The Shining

I decided to pick up a Stephen King book because I saw The Shining. I was just into High School and it was the first time I enjoyed being scared. I was averse to horror before then. I learned from King and went on to read many that he read. However, the film and the book are very different beasts. I had no problem with having a cast in my head, King even acknowledges that in a foreword or afterword of one of his books, but like I said it was different. I didn’t dislike it. I don’t disagree with King’s comments about Kubrick either, yet I still enjoy Kubrick’s riff on the story more than the book or the mini-series. Do I skew to the movie for having seen it first? Yes. However, then there’s The Hunger Games. I tried to read it as a library book. Hardly started. I then saw the movie still knowing next to nothing and would likely enjoy the book more.

Pet Sematary

Miko Hughes holding a copy of Pet Sematary

Here’s one where if you make me pick which one I like I’ll kick, scream and refuse. I love them both so, so much.

Storm of the Century

Colm Feore in Storm of the Century (ABC)

Ha, I’m such a cheater because this is a screenplay but regardless I may be in a minority but I really enjoyed it in both incarnations.

Hellraiser/The Hellbound Heart

Doug Bradley in Hellraiser (New World Pictures)

Clive Barker brings such imagination and originality to everything he does it’s hard to be disappointed but it is a somewhat different interpretation of the vision than the one he put on screen I find. Similarly, he’s working on a comics series of Hellraiser now, which is incredibly good.

The Exorcist

Linda Blair, Max Von Sydow and Jason Miller in The Exorcist (Warner Bros.)

With all apologies due William Peter Blatty the movie rips the book to shreds quality-wise. However, the reading experience was just fine.

Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption/The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption (Columbia Pictures)

It wasn’t a tainted reading experience in any way and it’s evidence of why Frank Darabont is Stephen King’s best adapter.

The Body/Stand by Me

Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Jerry O'Connell and Corey Feldman in Stand by Me (Columbia Pictures)

In a similar way to Stephen King’s reaction to Darabont’s The Mist he also loved this one because of a crucial change Rob Reiner made for the better. Reading it was fine, watching it more lively. In this case it might’ve tainted it in my mind from having seen it so much.

Apt Pupil

This story as written is outstanding. Yes, the cast remained the same but the story delves into the psychology of the situation in ways the film scarcely attempts. You should read it.

The Langoliers

The Langoliers (ABC)

Augmented by having seen it first in part because I love the mini-series up until the very end. It’s like King says, the story just falls into place so smoothly and that translates on to the page and the mini-series is great until one of the worst third act blunders, and effects shots ever.

Misery

Kathy Bates and James Caan in Misery (Columbia Pictures)

How can having Kathy Bates in your head not make it better?

Cycle of the Werewolf/Silver Bullet

The Cycle of the Werewolf (Signet/Berni Wrightson)

It’s a totally different beast entirely. It’s a short little book with Berni Wrightson working his magic illustrating it, giving you new images to focus on.

Creepshow

Creepshow (Berni Wrightson/Signet)

Quite frankly with the premise of Creepshow being tales in the style of old EC Comics how can it not be a good comic book, seriously?

Burning Secret

Burning Secret (Vestron Pictures)

I’m surprised I had forgotten this one. This tale is quite literally the perfect example of this list. I saw this film by chance on Netflix. I was rather intrigued by it and was curious to read the book. The book was rather short and a quick read. The adaptation is great because it develops cinematic subtext without using any of the inner-monologue inherent in the prose. What this does is create an air of mystery and a questioning of motives, at least to an extent, which never happens in the book. The strength of the book is that you get explicit detail about the thought processes of each character. In short, you get slightly different but very well-realized renditions of the tale. In each version the medium is exploited brilliantly.

These are likely the only examples I can be completely certain of. Having thought on them: Yes, the argument does have merit. It can be better and more enjoyable to watch and then read. This might mean that The Hunger Games and A Song of Fire and Ice are in my future.

5 Franchises That Should’ve Been

Some films that are made seem to be begging for more, in other incarnations of this topic people have tended to focus more on the tie-in and merchandising potential and less on story. In this list you will see five films I think were just begging to be continued, expanded upon and elaborated more greatly. What are some of your favorites?

5. The Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy

Mark McKinney and Dave Foley in Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy (Paramount)

Why this film received such a cold shoulder and is largely overlooked is beyond me. The Kids in the Hall probably could’ve made a slew of films with a colon and their troupe’s effort following it in the title. They could’ve become the 90s incarnation of Monty Python. This film is hugely overlooked and vastly underrated. The franchise here is not the Brain Candy concept but rather the troupe’s brand of comedy transposed onto the big screen. Perhaps in the economically affluent, blasé, Generation X 90s a droll, snide stab at pharmaceutical companies and anti-depressants was not the way to go but it is hilarious. If you haven’t yet checked out their one and only feature length film to date please do. They still do shows and have appearances in Canada and each member does individual projects but perhaps the harsher times will reawaken the need for KITH as a unit.

4. Explorers

River Phoenix, Ethan Hawke and Bobby Fite in Explorers (Paramount)

While many do like it and it’s fine by me but not great, Explorers seems like the kind of film that would be better after a second installment when characters are already established and you can go deeper. Kids who design and build their own space craft and use it to travel to outer space; if this concept was developed today it’s an absolute certainty that it would be intended to be a series. Keep in mind that the original starred both Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix before they really hit it big with any project so it could definitely been continued as a star-vehicle and could be one anew. It’s just a wonder they haven’t tried again…yet.

3. Flight of the Navigator

Joey Cramer in Flight of the Navigator (Disney)

Again I think era might’ve had something to do with this concept not being followed up. If Disney was making Flight of the Navigator today and made a cent of profit it certainly would become a series. I just think here the film opens up a whole can of worms that could be revisited, not that it necessarily should. In the film David played by Joey Cramer travels through space and thus time and comes back still looking twelve eight years later. There are just so many possibilities other complications this could cause and other planets to visit. This film may soon be off the list as a remake is in development and has been for some time.

2. Stephen King Projects

Colm Feore in Storm of the Century (Walt Disney Television)

OK, allow me to explain this selection. It’s basically a tie because one would be a film and the other could be a film following a mini-series and the mini-series, lost art form as that is, is kind of in a no man’s land in terms of film.

The first King property I’m surprised never turned into a series was Silver Bullet. It is without question one of the most accurate and best interpretations of a King book put on screen. Due in no small part to the fact that King wrote the script himself. It’s like Cycle of the Werewolf was plastered on celluloid. It’s great and considering some of the other werewolf films that were popular in the 80s it’s even more surprising. The possibility of a follow up to that tale is definitely a tantalizing idea to think about but King doesn’t have it on his docket.

The second would be a sequel of some kind to Storm of the Century, King’s first mini-series. Without giving anything away for those who haven’t seen it the ending is not open but rife with possibilities and considering that Linoge is one of his best villains, on par with Randal Flagg, and to see power transition from him to his protégé would be something.

1. The House by the Cemetery

Silvia Collatina in The House by the Cemetery (Anchor Bay)

One of Lucio Fulci’s best works and one that screamed to be continued more so than any of the Zombie films which are terribly overrated. The House by the Cemetery features a great villain a cruel, twisted doctor who is undead, practically immortal and of course can’t really be defeated not that much resistance has been put up against him. The ending of the film is open and you really are left to wonder what happens with Bob next. If an American had made it with better known actors it likely would’ve been a series one that would’ve gotten ridiculously long after a time but might’ve been enjoyable still reminiscent of the original Halloween cycle.