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This Weekend's Film Festival Celebrates Good Stephen King Films

With 1408 arriving on DVD this week, I decided to build This Weekend's Film Festival on flicks based on Stephen King stories. As Roger Ebert once said, you could easily make up a film festival with good King films and one with bad ones as well. I thought it was better to make one filled with good King adaptations. I avoided the obvious King films like THE SHINING and CARRIE and the non-horror films such as SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and STAND BY ME. It's a lineup of solid King films that you might not think of right away.

Kicking off the lineup is actually one of the better King TV mini-series. He wrote the script directly for TV, which was adapted into a prequel novel by Ridley Pearson under the pseudonym Joyce Reardon, the lead character in the two-part miniseries. In the production, Reardon brings together a group of psychics to awake a dormant haunted house. With a total running time of over four hours, the film has the luxury of time to flesh out its large cast and slowly develop the scares. With so many Asian ghost stories being remade these days, ROSE RED shows how cool creepy imagery doesn't replace pristine pacing when it comes to sending shivers up your spine. King's story nicely parallels the decline of Reardon with the awakening of the young autistic girl Annie Wheaton. The film's tone reminded me of the horror classic, THE HAUNTING. It's a long one to start off the Festival, but it's an underrated one as well. Like I said in my original review, "this one is a worthy addition to the Stephen King mini-series ranks along with IT and THE STAND."

The Saturday films are the most well known King adaptations in the lineup. First off is THE DEAD ZONE. The story of precog Johnny Smith, who uses his abilities to stop crimes, has recently been transformed into a TV series starring Anthony Michael Hall. However, before the hit USA Network series, Christopher Walken wonderfully brought the character to life for the big screen in David Cronenberg's 1983 version. What makes this story of a person who can predict the future so special is that it makes it feel real. King deals with the pros and cons of having such an ability. When Johnny sees something really horrific, what is his moral obligation to try and stop it from happening, even if no one believes him and the solution leads to him possibly sacrificing himself for the greater good? This solid thriller is one of those Stephen King stories that walk the line between drama and horror/fantasy much like THE GREEN MILE. Check out my original review to learn more about the film. I have this feeling that you knew I was going to say that.

With this novel Stephen King created a new term for a wild rabid dog. CUJO is a simple story, but holds much deeper emotional weight underneath. A giant rabid dog terrorizes a mother and son stuck in their inoperable car. Even more than director Lewis Teague menacing direction, the first act is key to seeing the fullness of what the tale is trying to convey. Marital issues, boredom and the bogeyman are less scary when confronted by a real danger. Moreover, it's the nature of the "monster" that also adds to the fear the audience feels. I said in my original review, "like JAWS, it’s what we don’t see that is so scary." It can also be said that a rabid St. Bernard or a giant Great White are scarier than any unstoppable killing machine like Freddy or Jason, because they tap into relatable fears. CUJO has a raw feel that makes us believe in what is happening, which makes us all the more frightened.

The final two films of this week's lineup have one major element in common. Both SECRET WINDOW and 1408 have writers as the central character. It's a common thread that King uses in many of his stories. In SECRET WINDOW, Johnny Depp wonderfully plays successful writer Mort Rainey. Despite his professional success, his private life is falling apart. Making matters worse, John Shooter, played eerily by John Turturro, comes knocking on Mort's door claiming that he stole one of his stories. With Shooter seemingly lurking around every corner, Mort's near crippling depression turns to paranoia. King has often dealt with writers struggling with mental illness. One could make a festival lineup of those stories too. As I said in my original review, "for the King canon of films, this one falls on the good side unlike so many, which have skidded off the road into clichés and cheese."

Now we come to the film that inspired this lineup. As I said in my original review, 1408 "is one of the better horror adaptations of [King's] work in some time." I also said, "this film brings us into the torment of its character, which is a chilling experience… and much scarier than a few boo moments and gore would ever be." The story puts us into the personal hell of Mike Enslin (played perfectly by John Cusack), a writer who pens travel guides of haunted houses. He doesn't believe in the supernatural. He laments the loss of his young daughter, the break up of his marriage and his failed attempt at being a novelist. When he gets challenged to stay in room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel in New York City, he cannot walk away. However, once he enters, he cannot leave. The ghosts of the past occupants, as well as his own demons, will endlessly plague him. At one point, when we feel the story is going for a cliché ending, things twist back on themselves, only adding to the emotional flaying Enslin receives.

King is a popular writer who works in a greatly maligned genre. But with all his best work, he taps into real human emotions, fears. His characters drive his tales not cheap scares or gore. With this lineup, I hope you get a good sense of this fact. There is always more going on then you might think. So head to the rental store, update the Netflix queue or check for TV listings and enjoy.

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Rick DeMott
Animation World Network
Creator of Rick's Flicks Picks