With his dozens of novels and hundreds of short stories having sold more than 350 million copies worldwide, it’s no wonder that the master of horror’s work has been a mainstay inspiration for Hollywood since the release of Carrie in 1976. Though not all the adaptations produced are winners (Stephen King himself expressed disappointment at a few), some of Hollywood’s top filmmakers have taken stabs visualizing King’s particular brand, and the result has been more than a few cult favorites, and some stone-cold classics.
We here at Goomba Stomp polled our movie-loving staff to see which Stephen King movies were the cream of the bloody crop. The below list represents our picks for the absolute best, including some musts for genre fans and casual viewers alike!
The Best Stephen King Movies #19. Creepshow
Creepshow is insanely fun — possibly the most ‘fun’ Stephen King film, with two horror legends coming together (George A. Romero directed) along with Tom Savini and a plethora of notable actors. Presented in a highly stylized and well-constructed comic book fashion, the film weaves five separate tales of terror and comedy complete with B-movie effects, screen splashes reminiscent of actual comic books such as Tales From The Crypt, and that rather stacked cast. Creepshow even features King himself as a hick farmer who witnesses a meteor crash onto his land. The five tales differ in their mixture of terror and comedy, but they all fit together well, and have a distinctly ‘King short story’ feel about them.
Whether it’s a cranky old man coming back to life to craft himself a macabre cake, Leslie Nielsen as a particularly sadistic serial killer, or the iconic tale of the centuries-old crate and its hungry inhabitant, Creepshow keeps the viewer hooked around every corner. Anthologies can often be sunk due to lesser segments, but Creepshow never falls to this, with each section having its own impact on the greater product. A sequel was made with Michael Gornick in the director’s seat and King and Romero writing, as well as the man himself, Tom Savini, starring as The Creep. It’s also a stellar product, and as long as you don’t look further down the series’ than that, they nicely round out the franchise. (Shane Dover)
The Best Stephen King Movies #18. Dolores Claiborne
After King saw Kathy Bates’ brilliant portrayal of Annie Wilkes in Misery, a very different role for her began brewing in his head. With the Dolores Claiborne novel he envisioned the titular character as being portrayed by Bates, and sure enough, when the time came for the movie adaptation, she was first in line. A powerful film portraying the strength a broken woman can muster when confronted with murder allegations and a deeply painful history unfolding before her daughter’s eyes, King and director Taylor Hackford (along with the incredible acting from the cast) craft an iconic feminist film that pulls no punches.
Of course, Stephen King is notable for his amazing ability to weave terror into any situation or concept, but his mastery of drama, grief, and trauma is often overlooked. Dolores Claiborne features no supernatural elements, no hints of horror, and only one monster (Dolores’ scumbag husband). Between the book and the film there were quite a few changes — possibly the most notable being that Dolores had three children in the book, but in the film only a daughter — but the film shifted emotional weight in just the right areas. (Shane Dover)
The Best Stephen King Movies #17. Thinner
In 1985, Washington bookstore clerk Steve Brown somehow figured out that Richard Bachman, an author who had published several books — including The Running Man (1982) and Thinner (1984) — had a surprising number of similarities in writing style to Stephen King. As it turns out, he was on to something. Stephen King later admitted that the Richard Bachman books were indeed works of his own, released under a pseudonym to please the publishers who requested that he put out no more than one book per year. The Bachman books were eventually republished under Stephen King’s name, and not long after, both The Running Man and Thinner were adapted to the big screen.
This film adaptation of Thinner was directed by Tom Holland (Child’s Play) and stars Robert John Burke as an obese, corrupt lawyer who is cursed by a gypsy he accidentally runs over with his car. Thanks to the gypsy’s hex, Burke finds himself rapidly and uncontrollably losing weight — 40 pounds in two weeks. This would be good news, only it doesn’t seem like the weight loss will soon stop. Fearing for his life, he asks his friends in organized crime to help him track down the gypsy and force her to lift the curse. With every passing day, he draws closer to his own death, and with time running out, he grows ever thinner.
One of the better Stephen King-derived movies, Thinner is also one that not many people have seen, which is a shame because it’s actually quite good — that is if you’re looking for a twisted comedy rather than a tense thriller. If so, I recommend giving it a chance. Worst case, you’ll witness some good special effects and make-up, not to mention a kissing scene that will make your skin crawl. (Ricky D)
The Best Stephen King Movies #16. The Running Man
Directed by former Starsky and Hutch star Paul Michael Glaser, this post-apocalyptic science fiction yarn starring Arnold Schwarzenegger is without a doubt the most mainstream film to appear on this list. Much like The Hunger Games, The Running Man satirizes American entertainment, deriding everything from professional wrestling to reality TV and game shows. Loosely based on a novel by Richard Bachman (a pen name for Stephen King), the story is set in the totalitarian America of 2019, wherein convicted criminals are forced to take part as bait in a hideous TV manhunt called — yes — The Running Man. Schwarzenegger stars as Ben Richards, a cop framed for massacring riotous civilians during a protest who is later picked as a contestant for the show, where he must survive a gang of skillful assassins like Subzero (Prof. Toru Tanaka) and Captain Freedom (Jesse Ventura), each armed with unique weapons. Think American Gladiators mixed with WWE, Let’s Make a Deal, Max Headroom, and The Most Dangerous Game.
Admittedly, the commentary on America’s preoccupation with violence and game shows is heavy-handed, but what is most obvious is the set of double standards present. On one hand, the film has a plot that harshly criticizes a society that keeps the masses at peace with televised ultra-violence, while on the other, the filmmakers revel in the violence, showing little interest in exploring any intellectual commentary. Yes, The Running Man is brainless and somewhat dated, but it is still a must-see if only for the onscreen combo of Jim Brown and Schwarzenegger kicking ass. Also on display is Paula Abdul’s dance choreography, long before her days on American Idol. (Ricky D)
The Best Stephen King Movies #15. 1408
The best haunted houses — the ones that really have their act together — don’t just trap their victims in a spooky place and set loose the killer ghosts. They mess around a bit first, torturing their guest’s mind and exhausting their spirit. The demented hotel room at the center of 1408 is just such a seasoned pro, wringing the most out of its time with a despairing pulp writer in a way that gradually builds up to the movie’s eventual blazing finish. Of course, maybe it went a bit too far.
It’s impossible to praise 1408 as a good piece of genre filmmaking without first mentioning the performance achievement of John Cusack as Mike Enslin, a poltergeist-debunking author who ignores the warnings of the hotel’s manager in order to spend the night in its most famous (and deadly) unit so that he can pen another book mocking belief in the afterlife. The actor absolutely nails intellectual skepticism (Cusack has always been good at delivering the goods when it comes to quippy pragmatists), but he also expertly layers on an emotional cynicism — based on a tragic backstory involving the slow death of his daughter — that masterfully prevents Enslin from feeling like the guy spoiling everyone’s fun. This emotional element feeds well into what will have to happen next, and Cusack is more than up to the task of transitioning from cautiously curious, to irritated and paranoid, to outright terrified.
That nearly one-man show is backed up with exquisite visuals and staging by director Mikael Håfström, who finds variety within the small space by continuously managing to discover off-kilter angles that keep the vibe appropriately skewed. He also points his camera in ways that convey the watching presence of an unseen entity — one with a malevolent viewpoint — and great production design gives him details both big and small to focus on and warp, from mummified monsters and knife-wielding murderers to disturbingly banal paintings and sinister alarm clocks. The whole thing is pure pulp, but the top-notch craft makes for a wild evening of psychological scares. (Patrick Murphy)
The Best Stephen King Movies #14. Apt Pupil
One of Stephen King’s greatest strengths is his ability to connect with not just the horrors of the supernatural, but also the terrors of mankind and his nature. When high school student Todd Bowden makes the chilling discovery that a Nazi war criminal named Kurt Dussander is living in his neighborhood, he decides to blackmail the old man. Threatening Dussander with exposure, Bowden forces him to recount the gruesome details of his misdeeds, and even makes him relive his days of infamy in a purchased Nazi uniform.
What Todd doesn’t realize is that by awakening the monster hiding in Dussander, he may be putting himself — as well as the people of his neighborhood — in dire circumstances. With Dussander’s murderous inklings reemerging, and Todd tied to him inextricably, their dark bond becomes an uncontrollable force that could destroy them both. While Brad Renfro is serviceable in the role of Bowden, it is Ian McKellen’s chilling turn as the monster down the street that truly sells Apt Pupil. If you’ve ever seen McKellen as Magneto in the X-Men films, just take that and turn it up to eleven. Stellar performer that he is, McKellen starts and stops the film every time he is on-screen, and Apt Pupil is absolutely worth seeing for that reason alone.
Even if it isn’t among the best King adaptations, Apt Pupil is a genuinely affecting and utterly chilling experiment of a film, and its unconventional nature means you’ll never know what direction the story will go next. (Mike Worby)
The Best Stephen King Movies #13. Gerald’s Game
Stephen King’s 1992 psychological thriller Gerald’s Game was long considered to be unadaptable with its limited setting and primary focus on a single person who mostly drives the story through internal monologue. However, we didn’t have Mike Flanagan in 1992. Before he changed the game with his brilliant television adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House, he shocked horror fans with his tense and terrifying 2017 film Gerald’s Game.
The story focuses on married couples Jessie (Carla Gugino) and the eponymous Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) spending a weekend in a secluded cabin, hoping to rekindle their romance. After handcuffing Jessie to the bedposts and trying to act out a rape fantasy that she finds disturbing and begs to be put to an end, Gerald has a heart attack and drops dead, leaving Jessie all alone in the middle of nowhere, handcuffed to the bed. Now Jessie has to singlehandedly (or NO-handedly) escape while dealing with the grief of losing her husband, as well as managing the fear of dehydrating or being devoured by a hungry stray dog roaming around the cabin.
Mike Flanagan brings this survival story to life using brilliant methods, such as having Jessie hallucinate conversations not only with her dead husband, but with herself. These figures taunt her and reveal how she feels in her heart while she struggles to find ways to escape her restraints. As she delves deeper into her subconscious, she also has to finally face a trauma that has been plaguing her since childhood.
The story is a particularly stressful one because of how possible it is, and truly captures the fear of being naked and vulnerable, all while trying to race the clock to survive. Carla Gugino gives one of the best performances of her career (rivaled by her excellent depiction in The Haunting of Hill House) balancing vulnerability and resourceful resilience. This well-paced, well-acted thriller not only validates Mike Flanagan’s new standing as one of the best directors working today, but also reinforces the long-admired talent of author Stephen King. King’s books have been iconic in our culture for over four decades, and his ability to turn a simple story about a single woman alone in a room into something terrifying truly proves that he is the rightful King of Horror. (Sarah Truesdale)
The Best Stephen King Movies #12. Pet Sematary (1989)
When first writing Pet Sematary, Stephen King had originally deemed the story too terrifying — not only for its disturbing premise, but for its bleak outlook regarding mortality — and had considered not submitting it for publication. However, he had a contractual obligation with Doubleday, and sent it out anyway, thus publishing the novel that allegedly scared him the most out of all his iconic works. The novel was adapted in 1989, and directed by Mary Lambert.
The story follows Dr. Louis Creed, his wife, and their two kids moving from the big city to a quaint town in (of course) Maine. After being overworked with the hustle and bustle of city life, Louis believes that being in the country will cut his workload and give him time with his family. However, he almost instantly loses a patient after a grisly truck accident, and is haunted by the man’s ghost. Meanwhile, a lonely neighbor named Jud shows the Creeds the neighborhood pet cemetery, and after their cat is killed by a truck, Jud reveals that there is more to the cemetery than meets the eye.
At its core, the film is a simple depiction of the consequences of messing with the natural order of life and death. However, it also shows a very real look at the desperation of grief and the existential terror that comes with not only the inevitability of your own death, but the death of your loved ones. Louis Creed is shown as a pragmatic, skeptical man who relies on his belief in science and medicine when it comes to life, rather than any faith. When he suffers a tragic loss, all codes of ethics are abandoned in an attempt to save someone he loves.
The 1989 adaptation definitely suffers from over-the-top melodrama that you can’t help but snicker at. The dreamy music and slow motion have not aged well, to say the least. But while the 2019 film succeeded in stripping away any laughable corniness and taking itself more seriously, the 1989 film still has a certain charm to it that makes it more memorable. I’ll take Fred Gwynne’s over-the-top folksy Jud over John Lithgow’s reserved loner Jud any day. Most importantly, Pet Sematary has given horror fans one of the creepiest of the “creepy kid” genre. Watch out for your heels. (Sarah Truesdale)
The Best Stephen King Movies #11. Cujo
Take a long, cool drink of water before watching this one. Exploiting primal fears of the unpredictable ferocity of nature, Stephen King’s Cujo makes viewers sweat with tension as they helplessly watch the situation deteriorate for a mother and her young son. Trapped by a rabid St. Bernard in the dusty lot of a deadbeat (and dead) mechanic, the duo slowly wilts from the oppressive heat and constant fear of attack. It’s the kind of simple setup that often makes for effective thrillers, but audiences will likely take home more than just a few white-knuckle moments.
What sticks the most in Cujo (besides the titular dog’s mangy, blood-soaked fur) is buried deep within the bat-filled cavern of our instincts. The world we live in is beautiful, sure, with innocent bunnies hopping around a sunlit meadow, but it can also turn on a dime. Any random hole in the ground or overturned rock could contain something that bites, something that infects, something that kills; even that warming sunshine can betray us by dehydrating the body and melting the spirit. Cujo himself takes on the physical manifestation of this native danger, his slobbering chops and predatory stare a clear reminder that though civilization might beat back the nastier elements of nature, they find a way to keep coming.
So does Cujo the movie, which quickly transitions from playful to deadly, then turns up the heat degree by degree. It’s the tactile qualities that linger the most — the way this place and the people in it seem rotting from the inside out. Rusted junkers litter the abusive mechanic’s arid lot, beads of perspiration amass on Donna’s forehead as she bakes inside a Ford Pinto (perfect), while her son’s skin goes paler and paler as he risks heatstroke. All the while, Cujo grows bloodier and bloodier, barely resembling the happy-go-lucky pooch he started out as. By the end, he comes off more dead than living — a zombie pet with a slasher mentality that will stalk audiences in their nightmares long after his screen death. (Patrick Murphy)
The Best Stephen King Movies #10. The Green Mile
Though Stephen King is mainly known as a horror writer, he can also pen some surprisingly heartfelt stories of redemption, loss and longing. Along with Stand By Me and The Shawshank Redemption comes The Green Mile, one of King’s absolute best stories. It revolves around Paul Edgecomb, who works death row at a rural prison in the 1930s — a thankless job if ever there was one. He deals with killers, lowlifes, and fellow guards, all of whom cause him nothing but headaches. One day, in walks John Coffey. A towering giant of a man, John’s intimidating visage is only dulled by his gentle manner and kindly disposition. However, this dichotomy is just the beginning. When John shows himself to have mystical healing powers, Paul must decide whether he really believes that John is responsible for the deaths of two little girls in the area. With John’s execution date looming, Paul will have to work fast if he hopes to solve the mystery in time to save John’s life.
Directed by Frank Darabont, who brought us the newly minted American classic, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile is a story filled with heart and hope in the most dire of circumstances, and the prison setting of both films only connects them further. Though Tom Hanks was long established as a marquee star by this point, the stellar supporting cast, including Sam Rockwell, David Morse, Barry Pepper, James Cromwell, Patricia Clarkson, and a show-stopping turn from Michael Clarke Duncan, would all go on to gain further acting cache from the success of this project.
A stirring story of men at odds with their places and roles in the world, The Green Mile is a tragic tale of a failing system. Dotted as it is with hope, however, the audience never feels so overcome with sorrow that they can’t see the sun cresting over the hills of the night. (Mike Worby)
The Best Stephen King Movies #9. The Dead Zone
Possibly the film most embodying the mood, pacing, and underlying terror of a Stephen King novel. The Dead Zone — directed by David Cronenberg and starring Christopher Walken — takes a story of the supernatural and presents it in such an incredibly well-structured way that it feels more like a character drama than a spooky tale of psychic premonitions. Despite being a Cronenberg film, he stays his hand in regards to gore and body horror, and instead focuses on Walken’s amazing portrayal of the unfortunate Johnny Smith.
After being in a car accident, Johnny wakes up five years later out of a coma with his life upside down and the sudden ability to see past, present, and future relating to those he places his hand upon. The road to — as well as the ultimate event of — the ending of the film is incredibly well crafted, and King himself felt it completed the story perfectly. It’s certainly not an unheard of work, but the film seems to have disappeared behind the more impactful few at the top of King’s cinematic history. Despite that, it is certainly worth any King fan’s time, and even worth the time of any good sci-fi or horror lover, as The Dead Zone creates an ideal blend of intrigue, character, and foreboding darkness stirring beneath the surface of suburban life. (Shane Dover)
The Best Stephen King Movies #8. Christine
Based on the bestselling novel of the same name, Christine brings together two masters of horror: director John Carpenter, and of course, Stephen King. Unlike the other Stephen King novels that took years before they were adapted to the big screen, Christine premiered on December 9, 1983 — just eight months after the book was published. The fact that Christine was directed by John Carpenter no doubt adds to its cache, and it helped Christine find a loyal cult following despite the mixed critical reaction it has received over the years. Christine is by no stretch of the imagination the best Stephen King adaptation, but it sure deserves far more credit than some would give it.
The film stars Keith Gordon as a high school outcast who buys a beat-up red-and-white 1958 Plymouth Fury, and becomes obsessed with it. Little does he realize that the car is also obsessed with him. As the tagline reads, “She was born in Detroit… on an automobile assembly line. But she is no ordinary automobile.” John Carpenter, along with screenwriter Bill Phillips, understood that this is a story about so much more than a malevolent possessed automobile, and the film thankfully transcends the ‘killer car’ gimmick in lieu of a coming-of-age drama about high school, popularity, the distance that grows between old friends, and teenage bullies who get their comeuppance in the end — and then some.
Christine succeeds largely thanks to John Carpenter’s competent direction; the first hour is the director at his best, with beautifully arranged compositions, masterful use of light and shadows, and his trademark tracking shots. Aside from one or two outright shock sequences, the horror here is not especially graphic; like the best of Carpenter’s work, Christine coasts much more on mood, and relies on what the audience doesn’t see to instill fear. The scene where the titular car repairs herself is legendary, as is the climax in which she hunts down her victims in the pitch-black while set ablaze. (Ricky D)
The Best Stephen King Movies #7. The Mist
When the announcement came that Frank Darabont, who had previously directed two of the absolute best King adaptations with The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, would be taking on another King project, fans were thrilled with the prospect. However, The Mist could not be more different from Darabont’s previous adaptations.
While Shawshank and Green Mile are stories of haunted men struggling against their fates, The Mist is a far more overt horror tale. When a supernatural fog comes rolling into town, survivors gathered in a grocery store are forced to band together in order to battle the Lovecraftian terrors that have come with it. Massive tentacles, giant insects, and hulking, nameless beasts are just the beginning of the traumas visited upon these people. Meanwhile, a religious zealot may be the greatest threat of all, as she begins to assert control, demanding atonement in order to satiate the savage creatures.
As someone who has read over half of King’s substantial literary catalog, The Mist is a truly shocking surprise of a film. Though the source material has its moments, it’s an early King work, and not one of his best. However, Darabont’s treatment of The Mist is so impressive that it wowed even King himself. The heartlessly tragic ending, in particular, had King wishing that he would have gone there himself, if only he’d thought of it.
A frightful apocalyptic tale with a talented cast (including Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, and Toby Jones), The Mist is one of the all-time great King adaptations, and its brutal conclusion has to be seen to be believed. (Mike Worby)
The Best Stephen King Movies #6. Misery
Kathy Bates plays Annie, a middle-aged nurse who rescues her famous romantic novelist Paul Sheldon, after he drives his car off the edge of the road somewhere deep in the snowy mountains of Colorado. Annie takes the badly crippled man back to her home with the intention of nursing him back to help only while doing so, Paul admits that he’s sick of writing his Misery novels, a series of trashy best-sellers that Annie is obsessed with. As it happens, in his latest Misery installment Paul decides to finally kill the beloved titular heroine Misery Chastain. Unfortunately for Paul, his number one fan is also a psychopath, and when Annie hears the news, she straps Paul into the bed and makes him her prisoner until he agrees to abandon his manuscript — and rewrite the story so that it indulges her fangirl whims.
Director Rob Reiner had the daunting task of bringing to life this claustrophobic tale of bed-ridden captivity but with two standout performances from James Caan and Kathy Bates, Misery remains one of the best Stephen King adaptations to date. The film is also the only Stephen King adaptation to win an Academy Award, thanks to Kathy Bates who snagged the Oscar for her sadistic, albeit charismatic portrayal of homebody Wilkes.
Reiner is clearly more interested in the dark humour and humanity than the gory detail in King’s novel, but make no mistake about it, Misery is still a tough watch. As Paul and Annie attempt to outsmart each other, Misery shifts from being funny at times to downright terrifying, with disturbing bodily harm inflicted on James Caan by sweet old Kathy Bates – including the film’s most famous and most horrific scene which finds Wilkes hobbling a helpless Sheldon with a piece of wood and a sledgehammer. (Ricky D)
The Best Stephen King Movies #5. It (2017)
Take one of Stephen King’s most successful and talked-about books of all time — which was subsequently adapted into one of the most successful and talked-about mini-series of all time — and turn it into one of the most successful and talked-about horror films of all time. It’s no secret: It sells. After all, what horror fan can resist a vast epic about a devilish clown that torments and kills children?
King’s 1986 novel is admittedly flawed, with its clunky narrative structure, controversial sewer scene, and the occasional verbose rambling of a man clearly on a classic 80s coke binge. The 1990 miniseries adaptation (starring the always marvelous Tim Curry) is certainly not perfect either, with its unbearable melodrama and ridiculous climax. For the 2019 version, director Andy Muschietti made the smart decision to split the story into two parts, focusing only on the children in Part One. This choice makes for a compelling coming-of-age story revolving around a group of misfits called “The Losers Club” that band together to uncover the disappearance of multiple kids throughout their hometown of Derry, Maine.
It begins with a notorious scene involving a little boy named Georgie in a yellow raincoat chasing after his paper boat that fell in the sewer. There he meets Pennywise, a goofy-but-sinister clown set on luring the boy in. Pennywise (played by Bill Skarsgard) is undeniably creepy, with his flaming red tufts of hair and Juggalo makeup (though he doesn’t quite capture the corny approachability of Tim Curry), and Skarsgard gives new crazed villainy to the iconic character.
Where the film truly shines, however, is with the children. The Losers Club — consisting of Bill, Ben, Beverly, Richie, Stanley, Mike, and Eddie — exchange quips with excellent chemistry and childlike bravado, as well as vulnerability. They all have traumatic burdens and fears that are brought to light as Pennywise stalks them, but the kids also are forced to endure the horrors of real-life preteen problems such as bullies, overbearing parents, and typical hormonal insecurities. Thus, Part One of It manages to produce a chilling ghost story embedded in an endearing coming-of-age summer story. The performances are strong and the narrative structure is far more cohesive, making an excellent standalone film. Hopefully, Part Two is equally as compelling. (Sarah Truesdale)
The Best Stephen King Movies #4. Carrie (1976)
This classic horror movie, based on Stephen King’s first novel and about a pubescent girl with telekinetic powers, remains Brian De Palma’s best film. Sissy Spacek stars as Carrie White, a shy, mousy teenager who is the victim of both her evangelical mother, Margaret (Piper Laurie), and of her cruel high school classmates, who bully her constantly. Her mom shelters Carrie in a closed-off, claustrophobic household, due to her psychotic fear of sexuality and some twisted religious beliefs. She punishes the girl repeatedly, and prohibits her to develop friendships with other teens. As a result of ignorance and religious guilt, Carrie remains an outsider shunned by society, and the butt of practical jokes. When the school’s popular girl, Chris Hargenson (Nancy Allen), organizes a wicked prank at the school prom, Carrie lashes out in a horrifying manner, displaying her deadly special abilities in the film’s infamous climax. This landmark of cinematic horror gives us a terrifying look at high school cruelty. Many films have featured school bullies, but Carrie is one of the first to focus on the cruelty inflicted by teenage girls. This is Stephen King’s first book-to-film adaptation, and undoubtedly one of the best.
Both Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie received Academy Award nominations for their performances — a rarity in the horror genre. Sissy Spacek showcases her range of acting ability with her convincing portrayal of Carrie’s pain and longing for acceptance. Carrie would be less of a film without her talent and conviction; her performance is close to perfection, balancing the difficult task of playing both vulnerable and menacing. She was twenty-seven when the film was shot, but looks half her age, and her uncanny combination of maturity and innocence makes us like and fear her all at once. Meanwhile, Piper Laurie powers through the picture as the fiercely religious, sexually repressed, and unbalanced single mom. The talented supporting cast includes a young (and then-unknown) John Travolta, P.J. Soles, William Katt and Nancy Allen (later Mrs. De Palma) as the uber-bitch diva. (Ricky D)
The Best Stephen King Movies #3. The Shawshank Redemption
While effective in its portrayal of a more numbing, tragic horror (wrongful conviction will always be frightening) The Shawshank Redemption is more often than not celebrated instead for its heartfelt portrayal of rescue — not just from the bleak, stone walls that its lock inmates away from the world, but also from interior forces that would institutionalize one’s soul. The former is, of course, achieved through a harrowing, climactic journey through a river of shit, but the latter is accomplished via the film’s rich depictions of male friendship — the kind where much is left unsaid, yet a few simple words convey incalculable depths.
After all, though these guys do talk a lot, it isn’t often about feelings. The Shawshank Redemption shows the tedious ebb and flow of prison life, a rhythm interrupted by occasional bursts of ugliness or (to a much lesser extent) good fortune. The inmates simply accept the way that things are, as those forced into routine are often wont to do in order to survive, and so their conversations, for the most part, avoid anything that would remind them of the horrors of this kind of life. This could have resulted in character ambiguity that muddled audience perception of who these people really are, but the smart choice in keeping Red’s narration makes things crystal clear, contrasting tough guy exteriors with the human beings still found beneath. That additional insight turns out to be vital, and one of the best examples of film narration to be found, period.
It might be hard at first to view The Shawshank Redemption as an uplifting movie — after all, some horrific things happen, including beatings, rape, suicide, and outright murder — but director Frank Darabont smartly leans into this, oppressing audiences even further with ceaselessly grey and claustrophobic images, to the point that Andy’s escape coincides with our own. Still, while that moment of elation is powerful in its cleansing, the real victory is reuniting two old friends — brought together by a force stronger than the world that tried to crush it out of them. (Patrick Murphy)
The Best Stephen King Movies #2. The Shining
Though made by perhaps the greatest master of the cinematic craft, Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining may not have appeased the author himself, yet its legacy has only grown in the nearly three decades since its release. Centering on Jack Torrance, an alcoholic writer, and aspiring family man, The Shining follows him, along with his wife and son, as they agree to be live-in caretakers for the Overlook Hotel’s winter season. Unfortunately, the Overlook is not as empty as it seems. Brimming with ghosts, tortured spirits, awful phantasms, and some truly frightening psychic energy, the Overlook is a surging storm of the supernatural just waiting to claim its next batch of victims.
Complicating things further, Jack’s son, Danny, is psychically attuned to the Overlook, and may be the family’s only real chance at surviving the evils of the hotel. However, as Jack’s demons begin to come out to play, the worst threat of all may come from within the family itself.
The Shining isn’t just a well-written and chilling horror tale, however; it positively shines in every aspect of the film-making craft. From the sweeping, dizzying visuals to the surging orchestral score, to the wildly in-depth set arrangements, The Shining is pure horror bliss from start to finish — and that’s without even mentioning the iconic performances, particularly Jack Nicholson’s terrifyingly entertaining take on a man who is slowly unraveling under the pressures of family and the threat of danger.
Famously lambasted during its initial run (the film was even nominated for a Razzie), The Shining has spent thirty years climbing its way to the top of the horror heap — a well-deserved resting place for this transcendental masterpiece of a film. (Mike Worby)
The Best Stephen King Movies #1. Stand By Me
Stephen King may be a modern master of horror, but the greatest big-screen adaptation of the genre’s most popular purveyor is also the first non-horror King adaptation.
Stand By Me is the quintessential 1980s coming-of-age movie – set in Castle Rock, Oregon, over Labor Day weekend, 1959, as four twelve-year-old boys, go by foot on a trek to search for the body of a missing 12-year-old in the nearby woods of their small hometown. Unlike most coming-of-age tales, Stand By Me is one that transpires over a period of less than 48 hours as the four friends share one last moment of camaraderie and bonding, before they are pulled apart by class differences and teenage angst. It’s the last summer they spend together, but their adventure will forever change their lives.
This was the third film directed by Rob Reiner, his first of two Stephen King adaptations (the other being Misery), and it pretty much cemented his reputation as one of Hollywood’s best filmmakers. The film also made household names of actors Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell who all turn in fantastic performances.
Much like the classic Ben E. King song that it is named after, Stand By Me is one of those treasures that stands the test of time. It’s a film about the journey, not the destination and about what the characters discover along the way. Its themes are universal and like the best coming-of-age movies, watching Stand By Me makes you feel young again. (Ricky D)
Did we miss any of your favorites? Maybe there are one or two Cat’s Eye, Maximum Overdrive, or Lawnmower Man fans who are outraged right now? Let us know in the comments below!
‘Ford v Ferrari’ Drives Fast with Little Under the Hood
A classic Hollywood drama with fast cars and a stellar Christian Bale performance that feels great despite a lack of emotional substance.
Many directors always struggle with producers and other businessmen to retain their vision. What might work most for that vision may not be what focus tests and audiences have proven to enjoy, so the film gets reworked and reworked until it becomes a box office hit, and potentially retains a director’s intent. Ford v Ferrari doesn’t necessarily feel like that — this is a James Mangold film in many regards — but by the end of its story of vision and skill versus marketing and business agendas, Mangold’s latest wrestles with placing trust in an individual against an entire body of suits.
When Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) is approached by Ford Motors to create a car fast enough to beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (an annual racing event where drivers go all day and night around the same track), he is forced to fight tooth-and-nail to get the best driver for the job: Ken Miles (Christian Bale). Shelby’s fight is singular; he wants to win the Le Mans, and knows that Miles is the only one who can do it. Yet, Ford Motors is still a company with many eyes on them, and employing the hot-headed Miles as a driver could be disastrous. So begins a struggle for Shelby and Miles to have their desires met by a company looking at the bottom line. That struggle — one that underscores every decision made by the characters in the film — is what sits at the core of Ford v Ferrari, and keeps things interesting. Set that aside, however, and the film loses a lot of momentum.
Still, the racing will grip audiences throughout. The final Le Mans challenge runs for a decent portion of Ford v Ferrari and is engaging throughout, but there are several other races and practices where Mangold’s craftsmanship as a filmmaker shines bright. Miles sits in the driver’s seat of all of these moments, and Bale’s performance is never stronger than when his character has that need for speed. Miles is a passionate driver with pure intentions, and Bale gives him a lot of wit and heart in between huge swings of emotion. It’s a performance that stands tall but doesn’t distract, instead meshing extremely well with the action.
Meanwhile, the other performances are also solid. Matt Damon is very good in the role of Shelby, though his character is quite often reserved because he has to be. When you put him against Bale, however, it’s clear that Shelby pales to the race car driver’s fleshed-out character, as we follow the latter’s family, his rejections and successes, and his pure heart. In the backdrop is a wide array of supporting actors, including Caitriona Balfe as Mollie Miles, Josh Lucas as the thorn in Shelby’s side, Jon Bernthal playing a standard Jon Bernthal role, and Tracy Letts chewing up scenery whenever he can as Henry Ford II. Letts and Lucas in particular give great caricatured performances, planting Ford v Ferrari into a more standard Hollywood drama.
Largely that’s the problem: Ford v Ferrari is a technical achievement with some incredible craftsmanship and performances that just never feels as great at slow times as it does when it’s moving past 7000 RPMs. It has a need for speed, and the pacing shows that, but it also doesn’t really rise very high above what’s needed to please an audience. Mangold is great at deriving emotional substance out of a subject, but a lot of that in Ford v Ferrari is left on the shoulders of Bale’s performance. Instead, the film focuses heavily on the bureaucratic side of things, and how that hinders talented people from being who they are destined to be. While fun to watch, there isn’t much more that will have Ford v Ferrari lingering with audiences. Instead, this will be a movie that resonates with racing fans and those that struggle against restrictions, keeping general audience satisfied in their big Hollywood dramas for the time being.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on September 14 as part of our coverage of The Toronto International Film Festival.
History of ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ – the Movie that Made me a Movie Buff
Wes Craven intended Nightmare to be an exploration of surreal horror as opposed to just another stalk-and-slash horror movie, and not only did Nightmare offer a wildly imaginative, inspired concept, but it was a solid commercial genre entry for the dating crowd. Elm Street was New Line’s first genuine mainstream cinematic venture (after Alone In The Dark), and made the company a huge pile of money. The film was shot in 30 days at a cost of roughly $1.8 million, but it made back its figure and then some on opening weekend. New Line Cinema was saved from bankruptcy by the success of the film, and was jokingly nicknamed “the house that Freddy built.”
Perhaps the most influential horror film of the ’80s, Craven’s 1984 slasher about a quartet of high school kids terrorized in their dreams by a torched boogeyman in a fedora hat and dusty pullovers spawned countless sequels and even a TV series.
One great thing Nightmare offered, perhaps more than anything else, was a new horror star in Robert Englund. Englund based the physicality of Freddy on Klaus Kinski’s performance in Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979), making Freddy one of the most recognizable modern horror villains: vicious, but with a sense of humour as sharp as the blades on his gloves. The horribly barbequed man with the ragged slouch hat, dusty red-and-green striped sweater, and metal gloves with knives at the tip of each finger, had not yet become the ridiculous wisecracking clown of the sequels. Here he says very little, and when he does speak, his words are powerful for its brevity – and oh those infamous razor gloves scraping against metal is enough to send shivers down your spine.
The inspiration for the character of Freddy came from several sources in Wes Craven’s childhood. The name, Fred Krueger, came from a schoolmate of Craven who had bullied him for several years and Freddy’s appearance was inspired by a hobo lurking around Craven’s house, who Craven spotted from his bedroom window one night at the age of ten. But the basis of the film was inspired by several newspaper articles printed in the LA Times on a group of Khmer refugees, who were suffering disturbing nightmares, and refused to sleep – with the most extreme cases leading to actual death in the throes of horrific nightmares. Medical authorities called the phenomenon Asian Death Syndrome.
“I don’t know who he is, but he’s burned and he wears a weird hat and a red and green sweater, really dirty. And he uses these knives, like giant fingernails… “
This was the film that introduced the world to Freddy Krueger, a monster who exists in his victims’ dreams and preys on them in the vulnerability of sleep. The idea behind the glove was a practical one on Wes Craven’s part, as he wanted to give the character a unique weapon, but also something that could be made cheaply and wouldn’t be difficult to transport. The end result brings a macabre ghostly figure throughout – indeed, precisely what nightmares are made of.
In addition to offering the visceral thrills that are necessary in a genre entry, Craven’s screenplay works on several levels. Here the idea of sleep as the ultimate threat is ingenious and incredibly insidious. Craven masterfully disguises dreams as reality and vice versa, and the idea that injuries sustained in dreams also exist outside helps to further blur the already murky distinction between the two. The primary element that elevates A Nightmare on Elm Street above many other slasher films is that the storyline invites intellectual observation: At times, we’re aware that the characters are trapped in a dreamscape, but there are times when we are not, and there are occasions when we suspect they’re awake and they are actually asleep – as if the children are in a never-ending state of hypnagogia.
The ultimate revelation however is that Freddy is really the byproduct of parental vigilantism. The teenagers in the film are paying for the sins of their parents —and thus the brute is determined to exact revenge in using their children as his victims. Nightmare has been described as a reaction to the perceived innocence of American suburbs: parents in the film’s fictional suburb dispose of Krueger and hide any form of his existence in an attempt to build a safe environment for their children. There’s a clear generational divide in A Nightmare on Elm Street, with the children trying to stay awake both figuratively and literally and the parents continuing to ignore the situation, utterly avoiding taking responsibility for their hideous actions. They instead bury their memories of the crime they once commuted so deep down inside, it remains lodged in the far reaches of their brain, where we can also find their declarative memories. As a result, the sins-of-the-father biblical warning (in a slasher-movie setting) have allowed Krueger to amass incredible power in his nightmare world – power he uses to exact his revenge. More so, Freddy’s actions have been interpreted as symbolic of the often traumatic experiences of adolescence. Sexuality is ever present in Freudian images and is almost exclusively displayed in a threatening and mysterious context (i.e. Tina’s death visually evokes a rape, Freddy’s glove emerges between Nancy’s legs in the bath, a centipede crawls out of the mouth of one of the victims and finally a mattress swallows up Johnny Depp only to ejaculate him immediately after). The original script actually called for Krueger to be a child molester, rather than a child killer, but somehow the idea was lost in the process of shooting.
Craven claimed he wanted someone very “non-Hollywood” for the role of Nancy, and he believed Langenkamp met this quality. Depp was another unknown when he was cast; and initially never intending on auditioning. Instead he was only tagging along with friend Jackie Earle Haley (who went on to play Freddy in the 2010 remake), yet it was Depp who got the part of Glen instead. Nightmare was both the feature debut and breakthrough for Depp and a stepping stone to bigger things to come.
Nightmare is the story of the courage and resourcefulness of one extraordinary girl. At the age of 19, Langekamp portrays one of the most perfectly realized and well-expressed teenagers/heroines of the 1980s. The best slasher films all have realistic heroines, and Langenkamp ranks as close to the top as Janet Leigh or Jamie Lee Curtis. As Nancy, Heather Langenkamp is closer to Alien’s Sigourney Weaver than to Halloween’s Jamie Lee Curtis: quick-witted, adventurous and courageous, and willing to enter into Freddy’s realm even when she knows he has the upper glove. Nancy and Freddy are incredibly well-matched: during the climax, she even uses a few survivalist techniques to turn the tables on Freddy. Her character is one of the greatest “final girls” in the history of slasher films, and goes on to reappear throughout the franchise in the only two solid sequels (A Nightmare On Elm Street 3, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare).
Visually, A Nightmare on Elm Street is a real treat hovering somewhere between gothic, supernatural imagery and the typical 80’s slasher fare. Cinematographer Jacques Haitkin’s work here is innovative and atmospheric, capturing a malevolent mood with light and shadow, most notably in the surrealistic basement scenes set around the furnace. Like so many films of this genre, its artistic ingenuity is intensified with various bloody set-pieces and visual effects. A Nightmare on Elm Street boasts several impressively conceived and well executed dream/kill sequences. During production, over 500 gallons of fake blood were used for the special effects production. The special effects, most of which are low-tech, are surprisingly effective, and this was the first film to use a breakaway mirror.
Craven’s probing of the waking/dreaming barrier results in some memorable kill sequences. Tina’s (Amanda Wyss) death scene, which featured her trashing across the ceiling, was partly inspired by the movie Royal Wedding (1951), which was the first movie to use a rotating set. The set here slowly spun to allow her to roll into position, with a camera bolted to the wall and a cameraman strapped into a chair beside it, which turned in tandem with the room. It’s important to remember that this was a low budget film shot in 30 days. For the two shots where Rod (Jsu Garcia) and Tina reach out for one another, Tina is actually lying on the floor and Garcia is hanging upside down with his hair pasted to stay flat.
FX man Jim Doyle was responsible for designing and constructing the ingenious full-scale gyro rotating room which was again used for Johnny Depp’s kill. For the famous blood geyser sequence, the furniture, cameraman, director and actor were fixed in place, and the room would spin upside down, thus allowing the rigged room to appear right side up while thousands of gallons of fake blood would seem to gush, erupt and ejaculate from the bed. On the DVD commentary, Wes Craven remarks that the room spinning the wrong way was like a “Ferris Wheel from hell.” This scene was partly inspired by the elevator scene in The Shining. Particularly effective is the scene where Nancy is attacked by Krueger in her bathtub and pulled under the water into a pitch-black pool leading to a back alley chase where Freddy stalks her. To achieve this effect, the tub was put in a bathroom set that was built over a swimming pool. During this underwater sequence Heather Langenkamp was replaced with a stuntwoman. Also worth noting is the “melting staircase” as seen in Nancy’s dream, which was created using pancake mix and directed by Friday the 13th director Sean S. Cunningham (who is uncredited). Finally, the sequence in which Freddy is set on fire, shot in one long take (with several cameramen), featured one hell of an elaborate and dangerous stunt by stuntman Anthony Cecere (who won best stunt of the year for it).
Finally I just couldn’t end without mentioning Charles Bernstein’s spare score, the musical cues, synthesizers, creepy sound effects and the film’s unforgettable children’s rhyme – which is all perfect for the material – eerie but never overwhelming.
A Nightmare on Elm Street is tailor made for those who like their scares evened with thought-provoking ideas – something that is a rarity in this genre. Yes, there are plenty of shocks, but there’s something much more: a psychological fantasy thriller that tears away at the barrier of dreams and reality, making us think twice before settling in for a good night’s sleep. The film may be a bit rough around the edges for the new generation, and multiple viewings do tend to expose its low-budget origins, but Nightmare is still to this day dark and forbidding, chilling and incredibly unnerving – a near masterpiece of independent genre filmmaking.
35 Years Later: ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ is an Important, Dark Dream
It’s hard to believe that Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street is still relevant horror. Sure, it was a foundational film for its time, and spawned a massive-yet-under-performing franchise, but modern horror is almost an entirely different type of genre, and Craven’s nightmare can tend to feel a bit dated and powerless.
However, that doesn’t mean that A Nightmare on Elm Street isn’t important. At the time of its release, the entire slasher genre was slowly breathing it’s last, dying breath. Box office numbers were low, and studio interest was waning, primarily because of market saturation and media hysteria.
On the surface, Craven’s film seems like an average, schlocky horror flick. On sleepy Elm St., Boogeyman Freddy Krueger exacts his revenge on a group of young teenagers; by entering their dreams, the monster picks them off one-by-one in gruesome and suggestive fashion.
But there’s so much more to it than “bad guy chops up kiddies in their dreams.” Many years down the line, A Nightmare on Elm Street is still an important piece of cinema that opened doors for personality-driven slashers like Child’s Play and Scream. In doing so, Craven’s vision blends genres to bring new life to the psychological horror genre of the 80s.
Breaking the slasher formula
It’s no secret that A Nightmare on Elm Street is absolutely oozing sexual transgression, but it does so in interesting ways. Like many slasher films of the era, it plays upon the societal fears of promiscuity amongst the youth, and offers thrilling retribution for their actions. This is solidified very early in the film when Linda and Rod (the first to die) hook up during a sleepover and are punished by death at the hands of the dream killer.
But A Nightmare on Elm Street breaks from tradition to create something a little more frightening. Although Glen makes the mistake of advancing on Nancy, she turns him down. In fact, their relationship is a shining example of a caring and respectful teen couple. Contrary to the slasher formula, Glen is still brutally murdered by Freddy, even though he broke no boundaries, leaving Nancy alone as the chaste final girl.
It’s this fact that makes the film not about punishment for the transgressions of youth, but retribution for the actions of their parents. Sure, A Nightmare on Elm Street feels like a very slasher-esque and retains a lot of the genre’s hallmarks, but there are the darker elements of inherited sin and pedophilia that lurk underneath.
It’s this notion of the “something” the parents have “done” to their children that creates the film’s unique nightmarish quality. Either naïve, absent, or alcoholic, the parents open the door for a horror to steal the innocence of their youth. That, combined with Freddy’s overt sexual advances on Nancy, make for the darkest piece of all.
Adding a dash of fantasy
A crucial development by A Nightmare on Elm Street is its blending of the fantasy and slasher genres. While previous horror films tended to keep the narrative grounded in reality, Craven’s work uses fantastical imagery to provide an otherworldly quality.
While there had always been slight supernatural elements to genre staples like Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street uses dreams to open up new vistas for the genre and new dreamscapes to explore. This provided an entirely new playground for Craven to bend the laws of cinema and create interesting twists that keeps audiences guessing.
In doing so, Craven places a much heavier focus on using a special effects team to create inventive uses of set. While borrowing much of these images from sci-fi and fantasy films, the director still brings a greater usage of these stunts into a genre normally known for its portrayal of stark reality.
A little humor in horror
A Nightmare on Elm Street is also notable for its interesting use of comedy to punctuate the darker subject elements. Although not an overtly funny film, the sinister playfulness of Freddy’s character comes across as almost slapstick at times. While probably not intentional, it’s the cat-and-mouse game that Freddy plays with Nancy that is disgustingly humorous, and Englund’s movements and facial expressions somehow blend horror and farce together to disorient the audience.
It honestly feels like Craven may have taken some inspiration from a film that makes brief cameo in A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Evil Dead. While not intentionally funny, Raimi’s low-budget work married humor and the grotesque in interesting ways, and Campbell’s portrayal of Ash borrowed much from his comedic background.
It’s this new personality-infused villain that offered such a breath of fresh air to the genre at the time. By making Freddy a fleshed-out personality instead of a silent, hulking behemoth, Craven reached the psyche of audience in new ways. This personality-driven horror eventually became an important part of the genre in the late 80s, opening new avenues for writers to expand the slasher concept with characters like Chucky and Pennywise.
Future of the franchise
Unfortunately for Freddy’s personality, later entries into the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise have transformed his character from a cold-blooded killer into an murderous jester, offering goofy one-liners and wisecracks while butchering teenagers in ridiculous ways. It all started when Craven lost control of his character by turning down a sequel, and the horror icon began spiraling down from a nightmarish villain into a parody of the genre itself.
It’s interesting how the later films in the franchise actually make the original A Nightmare on Elm Street feel more comedic than intended. There is an almost diluting factor to Freddy’s character that has happened over time that makes him seem less like the stuff of nightmares and more like a Scary Movie stand-in.
That being said, the 2019 franchise reboot does a spectacular job of blending these two realms together, making Freddy back into a frightening force that occasionally still drops a horrifying one-liner here and there. By replacing Englund and taking a new direction, the film offers a glimpse of the gritty, realistic horror that the franchise still has the capacity to offer. Although Freddy might take breaks from stalking teens, the time is always ripe for another Nightmare on Elm Street film. There are still plenty of dark dreams on the horizon.
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