Stephen King on the big screen; the good, the bad, and the totally shit
Last night I was laying in bed thinking about It.
Sadly, not the exciting kind of It that most guys my age spend their time in bed thinking about, but the Stephen King movie adaptation that came out a couple years back.
The sequel, It Chapter Two, releases September 6th and for a week or so the internet has been flooded with early reviews. About half these reviewers give the movie a pornhub worthy jerk off, while the other fifty percent basically describe it as a pile of steaming shit that someone tossed a couple of diamonds into(of which most critics seem to agree Bill Hader is the shiniest and largest).
Good or bad, I’m a huge Stephen King fan so these reviews were starting to get me excited. I love his short stories, novels, and I think the Dark Tower book series rivals award winners like Harry Potter and Game of Thrones. I was ready to rewatch It Chapter One and write a glowing Movie Monday review about how everyone should go see the second.
But then, at 12:15 on that fine Monday morning, I had “What alcoholics call a moment of clarity,” which caused me to turn It off and obliterated my hype for It Chapter Two with the force of a derailed train. What was this revelation you ask? What could cause a young Stephen King stan such as myself to cancel his It Chapter One rewatch in disillusionment and disgust? Well my friends, one simple, sad and unavoidable truth.
Stephen King’s works have been adapted into television or movies over 60 times. And 9 times out of 10, no matter which way you want to spin it, they just fucking suck.
Now, I know that sounds harsh, a judgy snap decision, but before I wrote this I had a lot of time to reconsider the above statement. I thought after sleeping on it for a night I would wake up with rekindled excitement for the upcoming movie, ready to write about my love for Stephen King adapted works new and old. But instead, I woke up fucking pissed. Here’s why.
You might think of Stephen King as just a horror, sci-fi and fantasy writer who pumps out stories for profit, but let me tell you friend to friend, that’s horseshit.
Now I know the man isn’t Shakespeare, but he can write and he’s never been afraid to take risks. Any schmuck can jot down a few fucked up lines and call it horror, but not everyone has the ability to make a story creep into your mind and live there, ready to surface every time you hear a noise in the dark. Stephen King does. He does it by making sure every aspect of his works and worlds are filled with incredible detail, that his characters are full and life like, that the plot is dynamic and surprising and most importantly by never being afraid to write what Stephen King wants to write. No matter how many times people tell him his stories are too fucked up or that he needs to tone it down, he still swims back to that disturbing place in the back of his brain to bring us a new, horrificly amazing mind fuck.
So then why would I say that the movies and shows based on his works are trash? Because for 30 plus years big studios have consistently taken these great books and turned them into weak, watered down shells of the original writing.
Everything I listed above, all the aspects that make King’s stories special, are stripped away before the work ever hits the screen.
The characters are often shallow and void of the interesting traits that make them unique in the novels, leaving them to just serve as a vehicle for the horror plot to be driven in. For example how Roland Deschain (played by Idris Elba) was robbed of the dense Arthurian/Western backstory that makes his character so captivating in The Dark Tower novels.
The settings, which in King’s novels are usually fantastically built worlds full of intricate detail and strange quirks are turned into colorless backdrops for the characters to just dick around in for 2 hours. It is guilty of this, taking the town of Derry, a setting that was half intricate sewer network and half quirky east coast town and turning it into any other generic American city.
But those aren’t the worst of the atrocities big studios have committed against King’s works. The worst is how they remove the controversial, the risky, the dark and most disturbing scenes that make his books more than just your run of the mill horror fiction. Like instead of Pennywise heading down to flavor town on all the people he captures they were all just chillin, completely alive, in the sewers? Snooze.
Without these captivatingly harsh details works like The Dark Tower, Carrie, 11.22.63, Under the Dome, Children of the Corn and of course It have been turned into movies that feel like half baked, PG-13, family friendly horror rather than the actual thing.
And yeah, yeah I know, The Shining is fucking awesome. But that makes all these other shitty adaptations even less excusable.
With The Shining, Stanley Kubrick proved it was possible to make an incredible Stephen King adaptation that was true to the novel. The setting of the Overlook Hotel was done impeccably, Jack Torrence’s descent into madness was captivating and as far as taking risks? I mean, the movie has a makeout scene with a rotting woman and a dude getting blown by a guy in an Alf-Bear costume, so I think that box is checked. And yet even with The Shining’s global success, no one has even attempted to make another adaptation like it.
But before this starts to sound like one of those “The book is always better than the movie” rants that every boner with a copy of Harry Potter under their bed spouts twice a month, let me end on a more positive note.
I’m still going to see It Chapter 2. I’ll probably enjoy it enough to give it a 7 or 8 and then move on with my life. Because what upsets me the most isn’t the bad adaptations themselves, it's what they could’ve been.
If Stephen King and big studios had worked together for the past 30 years to create well made, deep, dark movies instead of just tossing big dollars at lifeless pieces of shit we could have had a horror movie dynasty on our hands. A true Stephen King cinematic universe that might have rivalled the Harry Potter, Game of Thrones and Marvel series that we all love so much.
But I haven’t lost hope. Worthy Stephen King projects still do pop up now and again, like one of my favorite new series Castle Rock or the highly anticipated Dark Tower TV series(filming now) And who knows? Maybe It Chapter Two will be the masterpiece horror film that some are claiming it to be. I’m doubtful, but keep tuning into Movie Monday to find out.