There are tonnes of film and TV adaptations of Stephen King books, but lots are yet to make it to the screen. Travis Johnson lists five novels we’d kill to see adapted.
The Stephen King renaissance is in full swing – at least on our cinema and TV screens. It: Chapter 2 is heaving its considerable bulk into theatres as we speak, mean ol’ Church the cat from Pet Sematary is hissing at us in the rear view mirror, our DVRs hum and pulse with terrible tales of Castle Rock, and that nice boy Danny Torrance is waiting for us at AA (he never quite got over the death of his father).
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It’s good to be the King right now, but really it has been for a long time. Big Steve has been one of the world’s most successful authors since around novel #3 (Salem’s Lot, 1975, adapted twice already with a third on the way) and it didn’t take long for the film industry to start harvesting his prose, starting with Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1979) and ending with…
…well, in Derry, no one really dies.
The problem is that King is one of the most adapted writers ever published, and even his deep bench of short stories has been mostly plundered. Filmmakers are already re-adapting his stuff – Carrie, Pet Sematary, even It, with more to come. But there are corners of King’s deep stacks where the dust remains undisturbed (well, mostly – almost all of King’s stuff is in development somewhere) and it’s to these places we must venture, to possibly find a Stephen King movie we haven’t already seen. Such as…
Co-written with fellow horror grand master Peter Straub (whose 1979 page-turner Ghost Story, adapted in 1981, is overdue a remake), The Talisman is King’s other fantasy epic, sitting on the shelf alongside The Dark Tower series and The Stand.
Our hero is a young boy, Jack Sawyer, who sets off across America in search of the titular talisman, believing it will save his dying mother. His quest takes him into The Territories, a kind of alternate fantasy world where figures from our reality have “twinners”; Jack’s mother, for example, is the Territories’ dying Queen. Also, there are werewolves.
A surreal coming of age fantasy ala Labyrinth, The Company of Wolves, Bridge to Terabithia, and I Kill Giants, The Talisman has attracted plenty of interest as a potential film, but nobody has cracked it yet. No less a light than Steven Spielberg got Universal to buy the rights in perpetuity back in the day, and at the time of writing TV director Mike Barker (The Handmaid’s Tale, Outlander) and screenwriter Chris Sparling (Buried) are slated to transcribe the allegorical opus to the big screen. Will they succeed? Well, they can hardly do worse than The Dark Tower…
King’s other scary car book. John Carpenter gave us Christine back in 1983, but so far it seems like From a Buick 8 is an unlucky project, with original director George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead, Creepshow) and replacement helmer Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Mangler) both passing away before they could call action. Right now, horror director William Brent Bell (Wer, The Boy) is beavering away on a new production – hope his health insurance is paid up.
A kind of tall tale told of State Troopers to the son of one of their fallen fellow officers, From a Buick 8 is the years-long story of an abandoned car that seems to have come from “somewhere else.” A slow-burn creeper, the novel gradually builds a sense of the uncanny as strange events happen around the car, and eventually to the people exposed to its weird power. It’s not the most obvious choice for a film adaptation, but in careful, skilled hands it could make for a genuinely unsettling cinematic experience.
Every male wannabe filmmaker of a certain age has pondered how they would adapt this dystopian psychological thriller, and for good reason: its concept lends itself to cheap production, and its political allegory is a banger.
In a fascist future America, the annual tradition of The Long Walk (published under King’s Richard Bachman pseudonym) is a voluntary march in which 100 teenage boys walk south from the Maine/Canada border. If anyone falls below four miles an hour walking speed three times, they are shot. There are no breaks for any reason. Last man walking wins. Incredible psychological horror ensues.
Frequent King collaborators George A. Romero and Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) both tried to crack the book, to no avail. As of 2019, New Line Cinema has tapped Swedish director André Øvredal (Troll Hunter, The Autopsy of Jane Doe) to pick up the baton, but there’s no guessing as to whether he’ll make it over the finish line. Still, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
That time Stephen King wrote a fairy tale. In the Kingdom of Delain, young prince Peter is framed for the murder of good King Roland (sound familiar?) by the evil wizard Flagg (sound really familiar?) and imprisoned in a tall tower. While his younger brother Thomas is plopped on the throne with Flagg acting as Eminence Grise, Peter and his allies plot to bust him out of prison and restore order and justice to the land. There’s a little more to it than that, but the basic plot could be straight out of Grimm or Perrault.
This is, of course, King back on his Dark Tower/Midworld bulltwang again, putting his eternal villain Randall Flagg into a quasi-European medieval setting and letting him run around being reprehensible. It’s a good time and quite suitable for the young’uns, aside from one ill-judged and unnecessary dick joke. Thrice have we come close to seeing The Eyes of the Dragon on the screen: French outfit WAMC Entertainment tried to mount an animated film in the late ‘90s, while Syfy took a run at a TV film or series on 2012, to no avail. At the moment Hulu are kicking around the notion of a TV series once more, but no concrete word on if or when it’s likely to happen.
The Sun Dog (1990, in the collection Four Past Midnight)
And so, we return to Castle Rock once more for the story of 15 year old Kevin Develan, who receives a Sun Polaroid camera for his birthday. Thing is, no matter what he points it at, the picture is always of a huge, black dog, and with each shot it’s turning towards the camera and getting closer and closer…
The Sun Dog is King homaging old mate H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos – specifically, the dog in the camera is a riff on Frank Belknap Long’s extradimensional Hounds of Tindalos, who hunt their prey across time and space.
In this case it’s hunting both a kid in Castle Rock and recurring character “Pop” Merrill, local loan shark, junk shop owner, and uncle of “Ace” Merrill of Stand by Me/The Body fame. King sure loves his continuity. The story is straight-up unsettling, with King’s ability to make the familiar skin-crawlingly loathsome in full flight. It seems that no-one has ever taken a stab at filing this one, which is a shame – if you can’t make a movie out of “Cujo can teleport,” perhaps you’re in the wrong line of work.