Stephen King, the master of horror, has been publishing stories since 1967 and is still prolific to this day. Despite being active over several generations, his work is as important and popular now as it ever has been. His stories stand among the most adapted of any writer, so it’s no surprise that some titles have fallen into obscurity or are not remembered as a King story altogether. We know the classics like The Shawshank Redemption, Misery, The Shining and Stand by Me, but what are the best lesser known movies?
To celebrate the release of his scary new thriller CELL – in cinemas and on demand from 26th August – we take a look at the best lesser known Stephen King adaptations…
The Dead Zone (1983)
Directed by legendary horror filmmaker, David Cronenberg, The Dead Zone is one of the finest adaptations of a Stephen King novel to grace the silver screen. The story follows Johnny Smith, a young schoolteacher, who suffers a headache during a date with a colleague and decides to go home and rest. As he drives home through stormy weather, Johnny has a car accident that leaves him in a coma for five years. He awakens under the care of neurologist Dr.Weizak and soon discovers he now has the psychic ability to learn a person’s past, present and future through physical contact with them.
To say that this film has been completely forgotten is an exaggeration but it certainly isn’t as iconic as it deserves and has slipped past recent audiences. Not only a great film, it’s also one of King’s best novels, setting the tone for future work and being the first setting for his regularly used fictitious ‘Castle Rock’ town, featured again in The Dark Half, Cujo and Stand by Me. With David Cronenberg (The Fly, A History of Violence) at the helm and starring the brilliant Christopher Walken (The Deer Hunter) and Martin Sheen (Apocalypse Now), The Dead Zone is a must see, not only for Stephen King fans but all cinephiles.
This movie did for dogs what Jaws did for sharks. Donna Trenton (Dee Wallace, The Howling) is a frustrated housewife whose life is in turmoil after her husband Vic learns about her affair. When she begins having difficulties with her car, she visits the local repair shop run by Joe Camber and his family. Joe’s son, Brett, is a young boy whose only companion is a St. Bernard, named Cujo. Unfortunately, the dog is bitten by a bat with rabies and his behaviour begins to change. While the dog begins to succumb to the disease, Brett and his mother leave town with Joe left alone with the cantankerous canine. Donna and her son drive over for more repairs and also become trapped by the rabid beast.
Cujo is classic King, taking something banal and turning it into the stuff of nightmares. This is also a rare case of hoping someone kills the family pet. What helps make the film so chilling is the use of practical effects. During production they used five St. Bernards, a Rottweiler, a mechanical head, and a man in a dog costume. Using animals, as always, made for a number of problems during filming; namely the dogs needing to have their tails tied down because they would be constantly wagging due to their enjoyment of the filming process.
Cat’s Eye (1985)
Anthology feature Cat’s Eye begins with a cat being chased by a disheveled St. Bernard and nearly run over by a 1958 Plymouth Fury (clear Stephen King references you might guess). The cat hears the distress of a young girl but is simultaneously captured by an employee at Quitters, Inc., which leads to the appropriately titled first story, Quitters, Inc. This section centres on a man named Dick Morrison who enlists the help of an unconventional clinic to help him quit smoking. What seems like a harmless deal soon escalates and Dick finds himself and his family in serious danger. The second story, entitled The Ledge, follows a gambler who finds himself competing for his life with a crime boss (who previously acquired the titular cat) when he is asked to circumambulate the penthouse exterior. After the events of the second story, the cat escapes and makes its way to the child he heard at the start, which leads on to the final story, The General. Here we follow the cat who tries to protect his new owner from an evil presence, despite the parent’s reservations.
The three part horror was directed by Lewis Teague (The Jewel of the Nile, Cujo) and written for the screen by Stephen King himself. The film is particularly appealing to Stephen King fans due to the amalgamation of the authors earlier works (Quitters, Inc .&The Ledge) with references classic King tales, plus a new story (The General) written by King for the movie. That being said, you don’t have to be an expert on the author to enjoy this outing. The film blends horror, drama and comedy effortlessly, meaning there really is something for all moviegoers in this now somewhat rare curio. It’s worth noting that the film stars James Woods (Casino), Robert Hayes (Airplane!) and Drew Barrymore (Donnie Darko).