Adapting Stephen King

I have never been a “the book is better than the movie” person. Sure, I think that sometimes an adaptation can really miss the mark of the book’s intent, or leave out one of my favorite plot points, but I hate comparing one medium to the other. Movies don’t have to remind us which characters are talking, or go into detail about a room’s furniture, or make it clear when one scene is over and a new one is beginning. I am not arguing that adaptations cannot or should not be critiqued, but I definitely do not cry when I find out one of my favorite books is being turned into a movie. I also collect horror movie novelizations, so I get very excited when one of my favorite movies is turned into a book, so why not feel the same excitement when it’s the other way around?

I grew up devouring the writings of Stephen King. Think of me as a slightly less meatball-like Langolier. I watched many of the films based on his writings before I read the source material. I love a good Stephen King adaptation, and there are many to see (not all good, but a lot to see nonetheless). King is a rather prolific author, thanks in no small part because of his published short stories. At first glance, if you look up a list of King adaptations you might be impressed by the amount, though many of the works have been adapted multiple times.

For instance, King wrote “Children of the Corn,” which was adapted—twice. Along with the two original story adaptations, there were sequels to the first original adaptation, which are not adaptions of King’s work, but rather extensions of an idea presented in an adaption of his work. (I swear I am not getting paid for each use of the word adaptation in this article.) “Children of the Corn” isn’t the only King story or novel that was adapted more than once. Carrie, The Shining, and now It are some of his works that were so nice they got adapted twice. The Mist is a novella that was adapted into a movie and now a television series.

As a fan of King, I am thrilled so much of his work has been filmed, and it seems like this year in particular King’s work is finding its way to cinemas and becoming series. I also think that instead of redoing some stories that have already had at least one adaptation, some of his other non-adapted works are just dying to be filmed. Other works have been adapted, but unlike films such as Shawshank Redemption or Stand by Me, only mega fans of King or horror often remember these adaptations. Here are some of the works I think deserve updated adaptations, and some of his un-adapted works I think should be considered before we get yet another version of, say, Carrie.

“The Boogeyman.” This short story appeared in King’s Night Shift collection. It’s a groovy little horror gem that isn’t often thrown around in conversations about the author. It has been adapted at least four times, perhaps most famously as part of a series of Night Shift adaptations in the 80s, but otherwise the adaptations are on the more obscure end of what is out there, and as far as I have found all of the adaptations are short films of no more than 30 minutes. Though it is a short story, I think the general idea is one that could realistically be stretched into at least a 90-minute film, not harming the original even if new scenarios, even new characters, get introduced.

“The Lawnmower Man.” The only true adaptation of this film I can find is a “Dollar Baby” short. Otherwise, the feature-length film called The Lawnmower Man should be the only other adaptation of King’s short story; however, aside from the name, one throwaway line, and the fact that there is a lawnmower, the similarities between the written work and the film are nonexistent. King actually won a lawsuit against the film, so now his name is not even associated with the movie. I’d say another adaptation is far overdue, though like the “Dollar Baby” version, keeping the story as a short film, or maybe a segment on an anthology show, might be the best option.  

“The Moving Finger.”  I am shocked that the only adaptation I can find of this short story is the episode from the show Monsters. “The Moving Finger” is one of my favorite short stories of King’s, and I think the idea sounds like an incredibly fun one. It’s another one that I think probably lends itself best to a shorter format, but I think it would be a great addition to an anthology show looking for a quirky story that still has horrific implications.

The Green Mile. I am somewhat breaking the rule I created here, but hear me out. Yes, The Green Mile was made into a feature-length film, one that was quite successful, even garnering a handful of Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. I quite liked that version, too, and thought some of the casting was fantastic. Yet, while I loved Michael Clarke Duncan as John Coffey, and I enjoy the existing adaptation enough to watch it at least once a year, I cannot help but think that now is a great time to consider going back to this story. The film is on the longer end of a King adaptation at just over three hours, which makes sense because The Green Mile was first written as a serialized novel. While the overall idea of the trials and tribulations of a group of prisoners and guards is the key element in each of the serialized tales, a more specific story is usually the focal point of each book. With streaming sites distributing their own shows and movies, a serialized version on a site like Netflix is too intriguing of a thought for me not to suggest it here.

On Writing. I love a good biopic. What could work really well about adapting King’s true story is that it would appeal to a wide audience, not just King/horror fans. It has many elements that fans of biopics crave but that I won’t list here because somehow I feel that pointing those things out cheapens King’s story. I can think of only two potential issues when adapting this memoir. The first is that it would definitely need a different title. That’s an easy fix and one that would likely have happened anyway. The other is that the book is only a partial memoir. After the first half, the remainder of the book is a primer for writers, detailing things like a writer’s “toolbox,” the importance of editing, and how to rein in description. I still think that’s a minor issue, though, as there is enough of King’s life in the first half to make a compelling film, and that is without the addendum of King’s horrific accident included in newer editions.

Danse Macabre. This book changed my life. While I cannot remember a time where I wasn’t obsessed with horror fiction in any format, I hadn’t thought about the genre in a deep or significant way. Up until I was in junior high, horror movies, shows, and stories were simply my go-to forms of entertainment. Danse Macabre opened my eyes to a completely new way of looking at the genre, while also introducing me to films and books I might not have otherwise learned about. A documentary based off this book would likely be amazing.

Insomnia. A doozy of a book, Insomnia could be a complicated one to adapt without leaving out key plot points, and it might not work like 11/22/63 did in a mini-series format. Still, it is a good King book, yet it is one I don’t think gets talked about as much as some of his other novels. What could make now the right time for a filmed version of this story is that it contains a number of connections to King’s Dark Tower world.

Doctor Sleep. Much has been said about King’s disdain for Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (though it seems like more people talk about King’s take on the adaptation than King himself actually discusses it), so it might work if King could have a hand in bringing the story’s sequel to the big screen. There would have to be some important decisions to consider if doing so, though. First, King was writing a sequel to his novel, not a sequel to the Kubrick film. In Doctor Sleep, the audience learns what happened to Hallorann after The Overlook Hotel’s fiery explosion. In Kubrick’s version, Hallorann died at the hotel and there was no destruction of the building. Details like that might have to be addressed, or the filmmakers could just tell viewers to suck it up and deal with any “inconsistencies” presented in the Doctor Sleep adaptation because of its differences from events in the Kubrick film. The other hurdle might be all the times, whether meshing with the Kubrick version, or King’s novel, or the mini-series of The Shining, or not, as there are still plenty of references to Danny’s past at The Overlook in Doctor Sleep. Should some elements receive explication that fans of the source material would find unnecessary and cumbersome? Despite the potential issues, there are many ideas in Doctor Sleep that would easily translate to a contemporary horror film, making the effort of addressing those issues worth the results.

With the numerous King adaptations on the horizon, there’s a chance that many of these stories are already in the works for their own updates. Until then, I plan on remaining one of King’s faithful “Constant Readers”—and watchers!

Bethany Rose