Although post-80s Stephen King novels and movie adaptations failed to mesmerize me like the material being released when he was at the top of his game, I’ve decided to go back and check out a bunch of the adaptations in my collection from the 90s going forward, starting with these three.
NEEDFUL THINGS (1993)
Needful Things is based on a Stephen King novel from the dwindling days of his great period (1991) and is a nice reminder that he used to write engrossing stories about small towns turned upside down by a supernatural invader. That feel is perfectly captured here, and it’s very reminiscent of Salem’s Lot (helps that Bonnie Bedelia is back in a starring role again).
However, I feel that this is just one of those stories that doesn’t quite translate from fiction to film. It comes across as intentionally campy very often.
Max Von Sydow—somehow looking like he’s 80 twenty years after he looked like he was 80 in The Exorcist—is a highlight as an owner of a new shop in town who grants people their greatest wishes with a catch. In exchange for getting what you want, you don’t have to pay money. Instead, you have to do something awful to someone else. However, each “customer” doesn’t realize they are stirring up clashes between other people by doing so.
For instance, a young boy who wants a particular baseball card must throw apples at some woman’s house. This woman happens to be feuding with another woman, so she immediately assumes her enemy did it and seeks revenge. You can imagine how quickly a domino effect starts, causing absolute chaos in town, that escalates to violence and murder before you know it.
With the movie running 2 hours long, it becomes repetitive, and quite honestly, the only fun conflict that was energetic and fun was an over-the-top knife/cleaver fight between the two feuding women. By the end of the film, when there’s looting and destruction running rampant on the streets of the town and Ed Harris, playing the sheriff, tries to calm everyone down, the hubby and I were chuckling.
APT PUPIL (1998)
Apt Pupil is from Different Seasons, King’s collection of four novellas, which was one of the first of his books I read back in the summer of 83 when I was just 14. It deeply disturbed me and had me mesmerized all at once. The teen boy in the story was about my age and going through a lot of the same changes I was…and yet he was the complete opposite of me in his cold, calculating, manipulating, vile ways of getting his sick desires satisfied (I’m upfront about it).
While the film adaptation doesn’t quite delve into the psyche of the boy the way the novel did, nor into the mind of the old man he discovers was once a Nazi and blackmails into telling him of all the atrocities he committed, I feel it definitely captures the overall tone of the traumatic tale. It also sticks close to the major details of the book until the quite different ending.
However, while watching the film, I was getting the same kind of icky vibes I got the first time I watched Clownhouse…the feeling that young boys were being presented on screen in almost sexual ways. And dammit, just as that film turned out to be directed by the pedophile who also directed Jeepers Creepers, this one is directed by Bryan Singer, who has also been accused of molesting underage boys, including some from the locker room shower scene of this movie. Blech.
With that knowledge, this film reads just like Jeepers Creepers…almost as if the director’s “villain” is echoing his improper attraction to young men. The teen boy in this story begins spending all his time at the home of the lonely old man (played by Ian McKellen). They form a bizarre bond. The boy brings out dormant desires in the old man (killing people) and the old man in turn awakens the same desires in the boy. It’s just all so…blech. And yet that disgust perfectly encapsulates the entire point of the story, which makes it work so well even though the characters’ mental states aren’t dissected as much as they are in the book.
And just like the Creeper only focused on young men as victims, highlighting a male/male preying situation, this film taps into the same issue. Not only is there the main boy and old man bonding, but the old man brings home a bum who offers to give him sex for food and drink and maybe some money, the young man can’t perform when he is about to get a blowjob from a girl, and in the end he blackmails his counselor, played by David Schwimmer, using a pedophilia accusation as leverage.
The story behind the scenes definitely makes this even more icky than the already heinous concept of a young man wanting to hear all the fucked up details about how Nazis treated their victims.
Dreamcatcher is such a messy novel (in more ways than one), and the movie seems to try to clean it up a bit, but it turns out to be a mess of its own. However, it’s an all-male cast, including the likes of Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, and Timothy Olyphant, so it earns a spot on the sausage fest scares page.
This is the story infamous for featuring “shit weasels”, at least in the book. The movie doesn’t refer to them that way and drastically limits the amount of time they are the focus . In fact, there is only one major shit weasel scene, and it gets the horror ball rolling in a different direction.
The focus is on a group of guy friends that go to a cabin in the woods. They propose a toast to a mentally challenged friend they’ve known for years, which leads to several very Stephen King flashbacks about how they saved him from bullies and scored psychic powers in return.
Pretty soon, one of the guys comes upon a very sick man in the snow and brings him back to the cabin. Out plops the shit weasel. Cool, icky weasel, that’s for sure.
So little time is spent on the guys in the cabin before the military is introduced. Blah. Ruined. Morgan Freeman is a crazy military leader that wants to contain what he knows is an alien invasion.
In the meantime, the men fight more weasels, a big alien is unleashed that possesses one of the guys (presented in a very confusing fashion), and eventually there’s a mission to stop the alien from dumping a dog hosting a weasel into a water reserve to ruin life as we know it, which leads to a cool final boss battle. It’s also a reminder that Stephen King’s work has never shied away from doing awful things to animals—including dogs and a cat in these three films.