King On Screen (2023) Movie Review – An entryway into the cinematic world of Stephen King

An entryway into the cinematic world of Stephen King

My first introduction to Stephen King was way back in the early 1980s when, as a young kid, my parents let me stay up late to watch Salem’s Lot, Tobe Hooper’s televised adaptation of King’s 1975 vampire novel.

I’m not sure why my parents let me watch something so terrifying at my tender young age though they probably regretted their decision soon after. There’s a point in Salem’s Lot when Barlow, the head vampire, suddenly appears on screen without any prior warning of his presence. The jump-scare moment of his leering face, with its glowing yellow eyes, blood-red lips, and set of pointy fangs, remained in my head for weeks afterward as I had recurring nightmares of this bald-headed monster chasing me. Needless to say, I didn’t get a lot of sleep as a consequence of his grotesque exterior and neither did my parents who had to calm me down after I experienced night terrors!

I never watched another Stephen King adaptation for quite a while after that, or any other horror movie or TV show. But as a teenager, I remembered the chills I experienced when watching the Salem’s Lot miniseries, and feeling a lot braver, I picked up the original novel. I devoured it (but not like a vampire) and moved on to other books King had written, including Pet Sematary, IT, and Misery. At this point in my life, I was hooked by his terrifying fiction and I have been reading the author’s works ever since.

I’m not the only person who was introduced to Stephen King via a screen adaptation. The movies and TV shows that have carried his name have also been the entryway for other people into the famed novelist’s dark world of horror, including those directors who later adapted his work for the screen. Some of these filmmakers are featured in Daphné Baiwir’s new documentary, King On Screen, which is currently available to rent or buy online.

Baiwir doesn’t spend a lot of time discussing the author’s written works. As the title of the doc suggests, her primary focus is the movie and TV shows that have been adapted from his novels. As such, this isn’t the place to come to for a deep delve into King’s psyche to see what makes him tick. Rather, it’s a whistlestop tour through some of the better-known screen adaptations of King’s books with interviews with some of the people who made them.

As there are over 80 movies and shows based on King’s works, there isn’t room to cover every title here, unfortunately. And the majority of those that are discussed are only given the briefest of mentions, such as The Dead Zone, Firestarter, Christine, and Carrie. There is still fun to be had watching clips of these classic horror movies but it’s a shame that we don’t get to learn more about the making of them.

A small number of movies do get a lot of screen time, however. The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption, and The Shining (which King famously hated) are discussed in more detail and there is some great behind-the-scenes footage from these movies that I had never seen before.

There is a clip of Stanley Kubrick berating Shelley Duval for not following his demanding instructions on the set of The Shining, for example. And there is a lovely moment on the set of The Green Mile when its director Frank Darabont gifts Stephen King a ghoulish-looking birthday cake on the day he visited the production. King even gets into one of the electric chairs and pretends to get fried!

It’s Darabont that gets the most to say in this doc, which isn’t surprising considering he directed The Mist and The Shawshank Redemption, as well as The Green Mile. Another director with a lot of screen time is Mick Garris, who has probably adapted more Stephen King novels than anybody else. His best work is the 1994 TV adaptation of The Stand but he also directed adaptations of Bag Of Bones, Quicksilver Highway, and Sleepwalkers, among others.

We also hear from Tom Holland (not the one you’re thinking of), who directed Thinner, as well as Tod Williams (Cell), Fraser C. Heston (Needful Things), Mark L. Lester (Firestarter), Scott Hicks (Hearts In Atlantis), Andy Muschietti (IT) and other directors who talk about their movies and their reasons for wanting to bring a Stephen King novel to the screen.

These interviews are very fascinating but there are some notable omissions. Brian De Palma (Carrie), Rob Reiner (Misery), and John Carpenter (Christine) are just some of the directors who are noticeably absent.

Stephen King doesn’t give a new interview either. The documentary does feature archival footage of the author talking about his works but I wish he had been given the opportunity to shed light on his current feelings about the adaptations of his novels and short stories.

The documentary is bookended with scenes of a woman walking through a spooky town littered with King easter eggs. You’ll notice references to Creepshow, In The Tall Grass, and Cujo, among others. These scenes aren’t particularly interesting or well-acted and the documentary would have been better without them. They take up too much time – time in which more of King’s works could have been discussed – so I don’t know why Baiwir included them, other than to please fans who probably found them as cringe-worthy as I did.

If these scenes had been omitted and if the running time was another 30 minutes longer, more could have been said about the screen adaptations of King’s novels. We could have had a deeper discussion surrounding the adaptations that failed to please the author’s fans  – The Running Man, The Lawnmower Man –  and more time to delve into the best of King on screen, such as Stand By Me, Carrie, and Salem’s Lot, the traumatizing miniseries that was my introduction to King’s works which barely gets a mention here.

As such, the documentary is less satisfying than it should have been. However, it’s still worth a watch, especially for King’s ‘constant readers,’ who will be happy to see clips from the screen adaptations and the directors who were drawn to his works.

A sequel would be a good idea or even a TV series that delves deeper into each adaptation, but for now, this is a fairly enjoyable introduction into King’s world through the lens of those who have given many of us nightmares over the years.

 

Read More: 

10 Best Stephen King Books

Upcoming Stephen King Adaptations

10 Best Stephen King Movie Adaptations

10 Best Stephen King TV Adaptations

10 Books by Other Authors If You Love Reading Stephen King |

 


Feel free to check out more of our movie reviews here!

  • Verdict - 7/10
    7/10
7/10

Leave a comment