There is no denying that not all of Stephen King’s adaptations are great. The sheer volume of the films he has inspired would make that an impossible feat. However, the ones that are a success, either artistically or commercially, present common threads that go beyond their origins. In light of the recent release of It Chapter 2, it is important to remember just how high the bar is set for certain Stephen King’s adaptations, and how influential those movies can be. This article will not take into account how faithful the adaptations are, but rather the quality of the film as a completely separate piece of entertainment.
The ones that are identified as being horrors do not succeed in light of the quantity of the scares, but rather because of what the “monsters” represent. All of these movies tie the fantastical horror element to a real life threat, which most commonly has deep psychological ties.
Pennywise becomes a manifestation of the feeling of frustration and loneliness a pre-teen can feel through that period of their life.
In 2017’s It, directed by Andy Muschietti, the figure of Pennywise is certainly terrifying, thanks to Bill Skarsgård brilliant portrayal. However, his performance gains depth when analysing the way the town of Derry is characterized through its inhabitants. All of them, except for the core group of kids, seems to be unusually vile or, at the very least, sinister. This contributes to create a suffocating feeling of helplessness and inescapable misery in both the protagonists and the audience. Therefore, Pennywise becomes a manifestation of the feeling of frustration and loneliness a pre-teen can feel through that period of their life: the sensation of not being understood by people in their life, and therefore being left facing our greatest fears alone, is employed by the filmmakers to create scares that resonate with the viewer.
Another excellent entry for this list is Carrie (1976). The plot is simple, but effective: it evokes powerful emotions in an audience that is easily persuaded by the motivation of the protagonist. Similarly to It, the viciousness of the bullying turned up to extremes to accommodate the horror genre, while not losing the central theme: inadequacy, caused by one’s identity being suffocated by societal and family expectations. Sissy Spacek is able to deliver a compelling performance, culminating in the thrilling ending which, although satisfying, will leave a memorable impression of what trauma and abuse can do to a fragile person.
Many of Stephen King’s adaptations rely on their protagonists being alone in an adverse setting.
Misery is much more grounded than many films of this lists. It explores the effects of love, and how abusive and overpowering it can become. It can also be observed more specifically the psychological consequences of having a creative block, rendering one prisoner of their own demons: it can be quite isolating to not be able to give a voice to a creativity that demands to be shared.
Certainly the most important of these adaptations, The Shining combines iconic imagery and Kubrick’s masterful direction to create a subtly terrifying film. It would not be fair to present this movie by its premise: the greatest feature of this movie is how many different discussions and interpretations it continues to spark in its captivated audience. It is a film that can be appreciated on a number of levels, but will only get better upon revisit. It is similar to the other entries in that the fictional elements are connected to real life trauma. However, the connection is nebulous, uncertain, and layered. An example is the iconic scene of the man in the bear suit. While on a surface level it serves to provide an aura of disturbing mystery to the setting, it can also be pointed to for evidence of sexual abuse suffered by Danny. Many of Stephen King’s adaptations rely on their protagonists being alone in an adverse setting. The Shining mirrors this not only in its plot, but also in its tone: its cryptic nature evokes the feeling of being trapped in your nightmares, surrounded by familiar, yet unrecognizable figures.
While Stephen King adaptations are primarily perceived as being part of a horror genre, not all of these fit into that expectation. In fact, movies like The Green Mile and Shawshank Redemption are dramas. However, like many great adaptations of his books, they evoke visceral emotions with compelling story telling, and a cathartic conclusions.