The films made from horror/suspense writer Stephen King’s novels and short stories cut a wide swath between classic and less- than-so. While Carrie, The Shining and Misery have secured his place in film history (as well as dramas The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and Stand By Me), King’s prose has seen many more cinematic misfires (something he can hardly help) than successes, though the successes were grand.
Subsequently, there are two lower categories of King’s uneven movie fare that deserve exploration—and on their own terms.
Grouped within the less-than-classic-yet-still-a-great-time King genre—that includes Salem’s Lot and Creepshow—David Cronenberg’s 1983 supernatural thriller The Dead Zone lays brilliant waste to its modern Anthony Michael Hall bastard offspring.
Starring Christopher Walken and Brooke Adams, Cronenberg crafts an intensely disturbing and fascinating tale of a man who awakens from a five-year coma to find himself not only crippled and single, but with the psychic power to foresee both events in the future and in the past whenever he touches another human being. Void of the jolty ADHD camera work so overwrought in today’s movies, Cronenberg relies on Hitchcockian surprises and shadows, and allows the actors to tell the stories in their own good time. While powerful in its day, The Dead Zone’s finale—involving a maniac president who starts WWIII—had seemed an antiquated relic of the ‘80s Cold War psyche over the last 15 years. Now, not so much. (Stacy Davies)
At the basement level of King’s warehouse of less-than-classic films, we find such forgivable tales as Cujo, Children of the Corn, and the totally unforgivable Drew Barrymore collection of Firestarter and Cat’s Eye. But the pinnacle creation from this underbelly of flops is a film that offers both fits of guffaws and tsks, as well as some hair-raising creepiness.
Pet Sematary is closer than its B-grade kin to being almost good. The premise—a young family of four move to a lovely old house in a college town that unfortunately sits alongside a high-traffic road, a pathway for big-rig drivers in a rush, and a crime scene for pets that are taken by surprise. Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne, a.k.a. Herman Munster) is the nosey friendly neighbor who brings peril to the clan: When Doc’s (Dale Midkiff) little girl’s cat is flattened by a semi, Jud introduces him to both the pet cemetery—and the ancient Indian burial ground that sits on the cliffs above it. Anything buried at the Indian site, Jud warns, will come back to you—but it won’t come back the same; the ground is sour, and the resurrected become soulless ghouls bent on murder and destruction.
While this unnerving tidbit would be enough to keep even most serial killers away, Doc decides it’s worth the risk and buries the cat. Of course, more tragedy befalls he and his wife Rachel (Denise Crosby), and Doc soon becomes addicted to digging graves. It’s all pretty stupid and illogical—but director Mary Lambert has imbued enough ridiculousness that it actually seems like the film’s intention is to be both retarded and scary. And scary it is. Not in that “you can’t sleep at night because there’s a zombie cat under your bed” way, but in that screeching at the screen and hiding your face way—and don’t think you’ll be able to rid your mind of some of these images so easily. (Stacy Davies)