Because we can’t get enough bad Stephen King…
A few years back, I wrote for a site called Stale Popcorn. The site, as you might imagine, focused on the very worst cinema had to offer, be it current box office or just those typical Netflix bombs you sometimes find yourself getting sucked into on a lazy Sunday.
Point is, there is a lot of bad stuff out there. And, more specifically — to this post, at least — there is a lot of bad Stephen King stuff out there. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a huge King fan. I read Misery when I was 12, during an elementary school readathon. I’ve read dozens of books since, and I’m currently catching up on It before the reboot hits theaters this fall. It, for what it’s worth, looks like it’ll live up to the hype.
Which is a good thing, because it would be a shame to have two Stephen King films bomb at the box office in the same year. Yes, I’m referring to The Dark Tower, which should have been phenomenal, but instead holds a 16% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is the same rating Tom Cruise’s The Mummy has, and that should tell you everything you need to know about this sci-fi/horror/western mashup starring the way-too-good-for-this-script Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey.
Even still, The Dark Tower isn’t the worst King adaptation out there. Friends, there are others. And they are terrible. Some — like the original It — were made for TV. Unlike the original It, these films did not emotionally scar an entire generation. No one thinks back on 2002’s Rose Red and shudders with fear.
What comes next is reminiscent of that old site I was talking about… think of it as an editorial reboot. Because it’s important to remember just how bad Stephen King can get, so that we can truly appreciate the genius of his good stuff.
THE SHINING (1997)
If the movie The Shining ever comes up in conversation, and you immediately harken back to the 1980 film starring Jack Nicholson, then consider yourself lucky. If, however, the image of Wings alum Steven Weber, face bloodied and mallet in hand, pops up, well, then you’re unfortunate enough to be thinking of the 1997 made for TV remake. The reason behind this television debacle stems from King’s long-standing dissatisfaction with Kubrick’s original (why?), and although the ’97 version may be a closer adaptation of the source material, it completely lacks the artistry and talent of the original.
Maybe the ‘90s were just a terrible decade for King movies, because the majority of his derived works during those ten years are just f*cking awful. 1996’s Thinner certainly falls into this category, relying heavily on the bad guy being punished horror trope. The problem with this morality tale, however, is that there isn’t just one “bad guy”; pretty much everyone in this movie is wholly unlikable, making it hard to decide whose side the audience should actually be on. It’ll also make you never want to eat pie again, and that’s just shameful.
ROSE RED (2002)
Miniseries are hard. Trying to fill six hours with enough action to keep an audience interested is apparently impossible, when it comes to a Stephen King miniseries. Rose Red could have been alright, if not for the endless exposition, the aimless wandering, and the terrible overacting. Just kidding — there was no saving Rose Red in 2002, and there’s no point in trying to wade through its incredibly boring plot now.
What could possibly go wrong with a movie that centers on a couple of incestuous werecat energy vampires who feed on virgin women and whose ultimate nemesis is a regular ol’ house cat? The answer, surprisingly, is not a whole lot — at least until its second half. Sleepwalkers could have potentially been creepy and weird and on par with the likes of Pet Sematary, but instead it devolves into a laughable, campy train wreck that’s more ridiculously inappropriate than it is anywhere near frightening.
RIDING THE BULLET (2004)
Riding the Bullet suffers from the same adaptation problem that many of King’s works do: while his writing is vivid and nuanced, the condensed, screen-tailored versions of it tend toward clunky aimlessness, never quite painting the same picture as the one he puts on the page. It’s like having a fifth grader try to recreate a Van Gogh — the result might be recognizable in its attempt, but it will never come close to the original. So, while Riding the Bullet does manage to get its audience from point A to point B, that’s pretty much all it does. And by the end, all we’re left with is the nagging sense that we shouldn’t have taken this ride in the first place.