Synopsis: In 1976, Brian de Palma directed Carrie, the first novel by Stephen King. Since then, more than 50 directors have adapted the master of horror’s books in more than 80 films and series, making him the most adapted author alive. What’s so fascinating about him that filmmakers cannot stop adapting his works?
Stars: Frank Darabont, Mick Garris, Mike Flanagan, Tom Holland, Vincenzo Natali, Greg Nicotero, Mark L. Lester
Director: Daphné Baiwir
Running Length: 105 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: Though the first movie adapted from a novel by Stephen King came out four years before I was born, I was thankfully alive, awake, and alert for the heyday of the author’s books being turned into movies and television series. One of the most recognized names in literature and film, King has been scaring the pants off consumers for over five decades and is still going strong. His reach and influence in pop culture are well known. While his repertoire has been touched on as part of documentaries covering the overall horror genre or specific films, there hasn’t been a significant examination that gathers all of his movies into one ghoulish delight.
Enter Belgian documentarist Daphné Baiwir, who has taken on this task and delivered King on Screen, a solid, if unspectacular, look into the various projects that have sprung from King’s novels back to the original Carrie from 1976. Through interviews with several dozen filmmakers (all male) that have been behind the camera, viewers are taken through an abbreviated timeline that leans heavily on the expected titles (Christine, Misery, IT, The Shining), barely mentions some (Firestarter, Needful Things, Salem’s Lot, Silver Bullet) and skips over others (The Lawnmower Man, Graveyard Shift, Apt Pupil, Dreamcatcher) altogether.
There’s no doubt that the content of King’s works could have filled two or three documentaries, and maybe this would have been an ideal project for a multi-episode arc on a streaming service instead, where time is of little issue. I mean, if you are going to cover King, cover King. Leaving out movies, even the lesser known/regarded ones, puts them in some naughty corner that can make fans of those entries feel somewhat alienated. Of course, we all love Stand by Me, Pet Sematary, and Dolores Claiborne, but do we have to leave out discussions of The Tommyknockers and The Langoliers as a trade-off?
If Baiwir loses some points for content by the end of King on Screen, she’d already earned a hefty bonus off the bat with a positively delightful opening that is filled with so many King Easter Eggs that you’ll want to have your remote handy to pause/rewind to catch them all. Casting herself as a traveler bringing back a unique antique to a recognizable shop in a familiar (to King readers) town…scour every detail you see for callbacks to previous movies/books and pay attention to each of the townspeople you run into. They’re all linked to the King universe somehow. It’s an ingenious way to get the ball rolling, and while it has absolutely nothing to do with the interviews, playing more like a short fan-made King tribute, it’s a lot of fun.
Any King fan worth their salt will want to check out King on Screen. However, if you’re like me, who appreciates King’s full oeuvre, even the deep cuts, you’ll likely miss the titles that aren’t mentioned. Even so, hearing the various directors discuss their influences and how other filmmakers (some interviewed here) informed their approach to making a King adaptation is insightful. None of it is likely to be new information, but it makes for an easy watch that knows its target audience well.