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My buddy Sam was ahead of the curve. In middle school, most of the kids who wanted something creepy to read were into R.L. Stine. I was partial to John Bellairs. Not Sam, though. He wasn’t into those baby books. By sixth grade, he’d graduated to the real stuff. He always had a massive Stephen King tome tucked under his arm with his notepads and textbooks.
The movie version of The Lawnmower Man came out when I was eleven. It was heavily marketed as Stephen King’s The Lawnmower Man, so naturally I had to ask Sam about it. “I don’t know what the hell that is,” he said, his voice so thick with disgust you’d think somebody just cut one in his face. “The story is like ten pages long and there aren’t any computers in it. It’s about a guy with green pubic hair who eats squirrels. The movies looks really stupid.”
Sam, in his preteen wisdom, was right. The movie was a flop. It has a 35% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Stephen King is, without question, the most popular horror writer alive. His output is prolific and ripe for screen adaptation. Wikipedia lists no fewer than 69 film versions of his work. Some are true masterpieces; The Shawshank Redemption, the original Carrie, and most recently It come to mind. With that many flicks to his name, some are just bound to be stinkers. Here are a few smelly ones.
Children of the Corn
Children of the Corn really should be a good movie. It’s got a great setup, with a town run by a creepy cult of kids who have murdered all the adults. The short story is a master class in how to build absurd levels of tension in just a few pages. Something gets lost in the execution of the movie, though. Ooh, look at all this creepy corn waving in the wind! It’s so spooky!
My biggest complaint about the film is different than the typical lamentations about its lousy acting, cheesy cinematography, and outdated effects. I actually like the schlock of Reagan-era fake blood, doled out in sticky, slippery buckets. What annoys me is that they turned He Who Walks Behind the Rows into an actual, literal monster that manifests itself in physical ways. The ambiguous thing that probably didn’t exist in the story was better. I mean, if the monster was real, the kids were probably doing the right thing by killing their parents. It’s the idea that everyone died for an imaginary reason that’s so powerful.
Somebody liked this thing, though. It spawned ten sequels, which have been seen by almost that many people.
The Running Man
The Running Man is actually not a bad movie. It’s a fun, ‘80s sci-fi action movie starring everyone’s favorite fun, ‘80s sci-fi action guy, Arnold Schwarzeneggar. It also inspired the first dance I ever learned.
The thing is, it’s not really the Stephen King story it’s “based on”. It’s closer than The Lawnmower Man, which just had King’s name slapped on it, but they changed so much between page and screen. It’s a grim, violent future, but it’s not the story’s grim, violent future. It’s about a televised game of murderous cat-and-mouse, but it’s not the story’s televised game of murderous cat-and-mouse. It would have been just as faithful to film The Hunger Games and call it The Running Man. “I’ll be back” always sounds great coming from Arny’s mouth, though.
The Dark Tower
I’ve got to mention The Dark Tower, since it’s the latest Stephen King blunder. It also came out within months of It, which was incredible.
If you’ve been a fan for a while, there’s a decent chance you’ve been waiting decades for a Dark Tower adaptation. There’s an even bigger chance you were disappointed. I’m with you. This could have, should have been amazing. What the hell went wrong?
I tend to agree with King, who summed it up in an interview with Vulture: “The major challenge was to do a film based on a series of books that’s really long, about 3,000 pages. The other part of it was the decision to do a PG-13 feature adaptation of books that are extremely violent and deal with violent behavior in a fairly graphic way.” Let’s all hope the miniseries does it justice.
There are others I could mention. Thinner and Dreamcatcher sucked. 2016’s Cell was so bad, I’m not sure I know anyone who’s seen it. Who really cares, though? This is the same mind that gave us Misery, Stand By Me, and my all-time favorite monster movie, The Mist. You tell me King wrote it, and I’ll be checking it out.