Greetings, Glancers! As you’ve no doubt witnessed over the last few years, uber-author and all round good guy Stephen King has been in the midst of a cinematic resurgence. While not the extended universe I was hoping for, we have been treated to a tonne of movies and series based on novels, shorts, and napkin scribbles by the master of horror. Since the release of Carrie in the late 70s, there has been roughly, roughly, fifty eight billion adaptations of his work and neither he, nor those who wish to put his work on the screen, are showing signs of slowing down. Which is terrific for me because he has been my favourite writer for most of my life, great for you because you get to read my lists on the subject, and wonderful for everyone because we are treated to some fun and frightening viewing experiences.
I’ll be writing two posts on King adaptations – this one is purely for movies, and the next one will be for TV shows and mini-series. Within minutes of me posting them, they will probably be out of date as another 10 adaptations will have been made. Here we go then – my favourite Stephen King movies – released on the big screen, straight to video, or through streaming services. I’m going with alphabetical order because I can’t be arsed ranking these. Get busy readin’, or get busy dyin’!
I was originally going to include thirteen movies here – with The Dead Zone and The Green Mile making up the numbers. I cut those two, which left me with Eleven. I decided to cut Carrie over Apt Pupil, because everyone picks Carrie. I love Carrie, as well as the other two I cut, but I feel like Apt Pupil deserves more recognition. The film should have been a hit at release, considering it was Bryan Singer’s follow-up to Who Is Keyser Soze The Movie, but it didn’t land. Now, when it should be getting re-evaluated, the accusations against Bryan Singer have ensured that most people are keeping at a distance from the film. It’s that rare King adaptation which doesn’t feature any supernatural activity. What it does have, is an interest in the heart of evil as young Brad Renfro becomes obsessed with the brutality of World War II and strikes up a relationship with an elderly man in his neighbourhood who he believes to be a Nazi. The short is one of King’s darkest, most riveting reads and the film feeds off this malevolent energy thanks to Singer’s sure hand and two superlative, committed performances from Ian McKellen and the late, great Brad Renfro. Like the best of Horror, it’s an uncomfortable watch.
I covered Creepshow recently in my TTT George Romero movies, so go check that out. Great movie, great anthology.
One of my favourite books, and with the 90s mini-series being a firm favourite, the hype for a big screen It was real. The movie went through a few incarnations before Muschetti came on and finished Chapter One. I’m including Chapters One and Two together as it really is two halves of the same story. Both films are similar enough that you could watch the whole thing in one numb-arsed sitting, even though most fans and critics seem to prefer the first chapter. I’m old enough to remember the same arguments going one when the mini-series first came out – that the kids section was better. In all honesty love them both and would happily have watched four more hours. Sure the de-aging effects are dicey, the CG is at times a let down, Mike is reduced to a quivering weirdo as an adult, and it does feel somewhat repetitive, but I found the charm and banter between the adults just as endearing as the kids. In essence, it’s a scary and efficient horror story featuring a near perfect villain which preys on kids and which adults can’t see. Skarsgard is a great Pennywise – the performances all around are excellent – but it gets the most important pieces of the source material correct – the tone and that sense of binding, unbreakable friendship.
The only King adaptation to win an Oscar – not overly strange if you consider his shlock, but very strange when you consider his ‘more literary’ pieces. When a talented director and cast takes a King text and treats it with reverence, it will strike gold. Misery is a prime example of this and it could so easily have become just another crazy white woman movie. With Rob Reiner on an incredible run, he takes two seasoned performers and allows the film to be almost entirely by their command. The game of wits becomes a game of cat and mouse until the tables are eventually flipped. Bates and Caan have rarely been better and Reiner doesn’t shy away from some good old fashioned, ankle-snapping violence. It has no business being as good as this.
Hands down King’s most devastating and horrifying work, thanks to personal experience it’s not one I would recommend reading while pregnant or with a young child. We all know ‘dead is better’ and we know the film does have a certain reliance on gore and grisly effects, but there are numerous chilling moments and an honestly unnerving performance from young Miko Hughes. What could be worse than losing a child? Pet Sematary delves deep into this question and poses several horrible answers.
Stand By Me
Reiner’s first effort is many fans’ personal favourite. Like It, it features that Band Of Outsiders vibe which is always appealing and a nostalgic quality which reminds us of our own youthful adventures, loves, fears, and mistakes, and how time has a way of glossing over the cracks yet leaving a bittersweet taste of regret. We get older, we change, and we sometimes forget, but once in a while something makes us remember a time we can’t quite return to. It’s so much more than the tale of four friends on a trek to see a dead body – while The Body is not exactly a Maguffin – it’s more about the journey, the relationships, and what the discovery of that body represents to each of them. It’s about growing up, losing innocence, remembering, and it all plays through the eyes of a great cast – Corey Feldman, Kiefer Sutherland, Richard Dreyfuss, Jerry O’Connell, Will Wheaton, River Phoenix, John Cusack.
Another ensemble, this time dealing with a more direct and present horror. The Mist is one horror, the creatures of varying sizes and types in the mist are another, and the opposing voices in the store they hold up in is another. Another successful film based on a short, the film follows primarily a father and son shopping after a storm when a sudden all encompassing Mist swarms over their town. The store is packed with workers and other townsfolk, and eventually the military, and once the monsters show up and begin attacking and killing, it seems to some that the end is nigh. And when push comes to shove, it turns out they’re right. It’s a great ensemble piece at times let down by the effects, but in terms of efficiently telling a story about society’s breakdown against a horrific backdrop, and an ending which has gone in film lore, it’s one of the best.
The Running Man
They’ve been trying to get a remake of The Running Man up and, ahem, running for decades now. I say remake, but in most cases it sounds like they want to make a film more akin to the source material. Because make no mistake, The Running Man is more of an Arnie movie than a Stephen King movie. Still, he wrote the original and however loose of an adaptation this is, it still is. You can call it silly or smart, it certainly ticks boxes in both categories, but in the end it’s one the better end of the scale of Arnie mowing down bad guys and quipping. There are some bizarre casting choices and some legit great performances – I only wish we could send a few celebs onto this show for real.
The Shawshank Redemption
What else needs to be said about The Shawshank Redemption? It’s already frequently named as one of the best films ever, and it’s one of those rare instances where almost everyone agrees that it’s great. It is.
You know it, I know it. Say what you like about the differences between book and movie – we all know King’s comments on Kubrick’s work over the years. I look at them as the separate things they are – both men are legends and both deserve to do whatever the hell they like when creating. It’s one of my favourite King books, it’s one of my favourite King movies, and both are classics in their respective mediums. I remember the first time I saw this, I was babysitting for some kids a few houses down the road. Free fridge, free house, the dark, and The Shining, and a creepy walk home around Midnight as I pondered over what I’d just seen and what might be creeping up behind me.
Let us know in the comments what your favourite Stephen King movies are, and stay tuned for my favourite Stephen King TV and Mini-Series adaptations!
One of my favourite books, I enjoyed Chapter 1, and this sequel will focus on the adult version of the kids from Chapter 1, thirty years later. The first one was quite funny, though lighter on scares than most wanted, it’ll be interesting to see how that balance works out this time around.
I don’t watch the show, I don’t do period costume dramas, I can’t stand monarchy or titled stuff, and Maggie Smith pisses me off. I’ll never see this.
Spies In Disguise
Another Blue Sky Studios animation – they’ve been successful but I cant say I’ve ever been interested in any of them. This one has Will Smith as a Man In Black or Inspector Gadget or something.
If it’s not Banana Yoshimoto, I’m not interested. It’s another Melissa McCarthy movie, but wait! It’s a serious one this time, also starring Elizabeth Moss and Tiffany Hadish. Seems similar to Widows – wives of criminals take over from where the husbands left off. I’d be more keen with a different cast and I’m not a big fan of Irish crime movies anyway.
I’m always concerned when you give your movie or book or album a name like that. It’s just begging for lazy critics to use it in a damning review, right?
I’ve no idea, there seems to be a tonne of different movies and shows called The Hunt coming out this year.
The Art Of Racing In The Rain
I enjoyed the book when it was released and always wondered how it could be translated to film given that it’s through the eyes of a dog. Decent cast, not a director I’m interested in.
If it ain’t a Twin Peaks spin off, I ain’t interested. It’s not, but it is a Judy Garland, one of the first stories of a child star’s torrid transition to adulthood. Plus she’s one of the most famous movie stars of all time. I’m not a massive Garland fan and these types of films tend to hit the same notes, pander to the Awards too much, but do offer good performances. On the casting side, Renee Zellweger would have been one of my last picks for this, but the more I think about it there definitely is a visual similarity. Recent Biopics really go all in on making the actor look as close to the real life counterpart as possible, so Renee’s resemblance will help. I like Rufus Sewell, but overall it doesn’t look like the sort of cast to make a huge splash. The Director is used to exactly this sort of thing – it just so happens that it’s not my sort of thing.
Which films are you looking forward to? Let us know in the comments!
*As most of you know, the trailer dropped for The Dark Tower yesterday and it’s… good? I think? Anyway, this seems like the perfect time to publish this post and get dem clicks, boy!
Greetings, Glancers! As most of the people who visit and comments on my humble page are movie fans and avid readers, I’m willing to bet a fair few of you are Constant Readers – Stephen King fans. Therefore I’m sure many of you will be aware of the many King works heading to screens big and small in the coming months and years. In my ‘last Dark Tower’ post a couple of years ago we knew that the series was finally being made but had no clue who was going to be involved. At the time of writing (started on 30th March 2017) we know that Idris Elba and Matthew McConnaghy will be fighting for Mid-World and more before the year is out. Viral sites have already been set up, the first official poster has been revealed, a pre-effects trailer has been leaked, and a lucky few have seen some final footage (including Uncle Stevie himself). Beyond that, the trailer for the new It movie has just dropped and a couple of months back King and JJ Abrams also gave us a teaser for a new TV show called Castle Rock which seems to focus on the many famous characters and stories which King has created over his life (something I predicted in my previous post). Neither of these works seem to tie in to The Dark Tower movie, but we might get lucky and get a few connections.
All this got me thinking about something I touched on in my last post – the wish for King’s major works (not just DT related) to be released in a similar way to how Marvel was doing things – with at least one major movie and TV show coming out each year until we were all sick of it. These are the things I dwell on when I can’t sleep and if I don’t write them I won’t sleep again, so I’m expanding on that premise for this post. Here is a suggested timeline for most of King’s books and how they should have tied together Marvel style – as always, there will be SPOILERS so tread carefully, especially for those who have not yet completed The Dark Tower series. Please note that I’m not going to cover everything here – that would take an age and this is already destined to be a long, rambling post. Almost every story King has written connects to others in some way so a few standalone TV series a la Castle Rock, Haven, Nightmares & Dreamscapes could fill in those blanks – hitting a variety of short stories while also connecting to the wider world of Derry, Castle Rock, Jerusalem’s Lot, and along the beam. Use your imagination.
We may as well start at the beginning (end?) of the Tower journey. The movie would obviously serve as an introduction to Roland’s quest as well as touching upon the critical ideas of the multiverse. The only problem I see here is that maybe you would want to start the whole franchise with a more well known story – The Stand, The Shining, or Salem’s Lot. Meh, put enough effort into the advertising and you’d be fine.
Best Suited As A: Movie
It isn’t a huge book and most of the major themes and plot elements could easily be covered in a two hour movie.
Major Crossovers/Cameos: The Dark Tower series, everything.
The Gunslinger obviously ties in with the rest of the Tower series but I don’t think this book specifically has characters or scenarios which link to books outside The Dark Tower. The most problematic piece of the puzzle is the aging of Jake Chambers – these movies are going to be years apart, yet Jake should only age a few months/couple of years over the course of the whole saga.
Sure we’ve already had two version of it already but at least now we can make it part of the expanded universe and set up for the Doctor Sleep sequel. The story is strong enough and has enough history to pull in the crowds. The only problem is that Kubrick’s movie is so damn iconic that any updated version would be compared, probably in an ill light.
Best Suited As A: Movie
Take the Kubrick style and visuals, yet follow the book’s plot more closely like the mini-series, but make it scary! And make it about a boy, a father, and a mother – not just about jack going crazy.
Major Crossovers/Cameos: Doctor Sleep, IT
The Shining has a sequel, Doctor Sleep, which is set around 30 years after. Naturally this causes a problem with casting for any ‘surviving’ characters who appear in both works. For Danny you would clearly need a new actor, but Dick Hallorann, Wendy, and Jack could all appear in the sequel with the same actor in each role. Hallorann is referenced in IT so why not have him cameo there. In the same vein, Hallorann could easily reference the events of IT in The Shining depends on how the time setting works. According to the books, Hallorann saved the life of Mike Hanlon’s dad meaning Mike would be born later and help bring down Pennywise. The childhood section of It could be set either before or after the events of The Shining with Dick referencing one while appearing in the other – a throwaway line about adults not being able to see monsters or little kids being able to see things which grownups cannot would go a long way for all us geeks.
We may as will move to this one now. The teaser trailer looks promising, so I’ll be in the Cinema checking that out in a few months.
Best Suited As A: Mini-Series
IT is huge. Sure they could strip away a lot of the frills and get down to the central story of ‘bad creature kills kids every thirty years in small town – only kids can see It and decide to fight back’ but that would be missing out on a lot of the lore, and the world King created. This would be an opportunity to begin tying together the various other worlds and stories. An eight hour mini series would be best, hell, even run that out to ten. Ten single hour episodes or four two hour shots would do nicely.
Major Crossovers/Cameos: The Dark Tower. 11/22/63. The Shining. Dreamcatcher. The Tommyknockers. Insomnia.
IT. Pennywise. A creature millions of years old which can seemingly travel between universes, IT is referenced in many other King books – more confusingly, creatures which share a lot of IT’s powers and trademarks show up elsewhere. The Dark Tower references could be confusing at this point so it would be better splitting the mini-series into two distinct parts – wait for the DT series to catch up a little before the second part of IT is released. Then all the allusions to Maturin and Turtles can be shown, subtly, and would make sense. For crossovers and cameos, the timing could be problematic given that King sets certain stories in a specific time – It features Derry in the 50s and 80s. That’s not a problem in itself as it would be easy to move each period forward a few decades to bring the story up to date for modern audiences. If you move it up to date though, you lose potential crossovers – in 11/22/63 for example Jake goes back to 1958 and meets Bev and Ritchie who discuss ‘The Clown’. We can’t really have Jake going to a different point in time. Having said that, we don’t always have to follow King so closely and the filmmakers can through in their own cameos and crossovers which don’t occur in the books. Between the release of the Childhood part of IT and the Adult part, drop some references in the other movies and shows which suggest Pennywise returning – news reports of missing kids in Derry, good old graffiti etc.
The Dead Zone
A good time to introduce Castle Rock to viewers, and a story which is ripe for retelling given the current political and social climate we find ourselves in. I haven’t watched a single episode of the TV series, but I do like the Cronenberg movie.
Best Suited As A: Movie
I’ve never felt that The Dead Zone was a good fit for the big screen, but with the right director this could be a potent and intelligent thriller, if not a commercial hit.
Major Crossovers/Cameos: Cujo. Needful Things. The Body. The Dark Half.
This is where things get difficult. People have always stated that King’s novels, especially the more horrific ones, don’t translate well to screen. That’s why I think the idea of the Castle Rock TV show(or something similar) is excellent – you can dip in and dip out of each story as the characters and events crossover. It’s difficult to see any of the above tie-ins to The Dead Zone working as standalone movies in today’s market, but even more so in imagining them as individual series. So I’ll leave it up to you – create a new show which links many of the novels and shorts related to Castle Rock together, or go for the movie option. Either way, if The Dead Zone is a movie, then we still have obvious crossovers – Sheriff Bannerman is a key player in TDZ and would still be Sheriff by the time Cujo emerged from the rabbit hole. Depending on when you set The Body (Stand By Me) Bannerman could be there as a younger actor, with the same actor in current time, or even replaced by Alan Pangborn. By the time later Castle Rock stories roll around, the references to TDZ would be minor, though certain foreshadowing of the later works could be added in TDZ – Pangborn as a younger cop, the town in need of a trinket’s shop, reports of rabid dogs, a local writer by the name of Thad Beaumont becoming successful etc.
The Drawing Of The Three
We never want to stray too far from the DT series so you want to make sure the release of each entry is not more than two years apart. Here the journey truly gets underway as we meet Detta and Eddie and learn about travelling between worlds.
Best Suited As A: Movie
Another epic, this one almost needs to be divided into two parts – how much can you really cover in a two hour movie while also getting to know the new characters? You could push it to three like LOTR but you’d need to confident in getting bums into cinema seats. Lets assume it’s going to be a major success and push for a longer run time – sorted.
Major Crossovers/Cameos: DT series, The Eyes Of The Dragon
Now that we have a few other films and shows under our belt, it’s time to really play with the multiverse. New York is important in the DT canon and in The Drawing of The Three we find out how doors between worlds work. In addition to New York, why not have a door to Derry – even one which takes us to the past so that Roland can briefly encounter some of our other characters/places? This might be too convoluted though – it might be easier for Eddie or Susannah/Odetta/Detta allude to events in movies we have already seen or some yet to be released. The main crossover is with The Eyes of The Dragon as Roland refers to Dennis, Thomas, and Flagg. There should probably be a scene – possibly post credits – which shows our good friend Flagg going through a door leading to a world investigating the first outbreaks of a superflu.
The Eyes Of The Dragon
A story which occurs in roughly the same place and time as the main DT series, this one was aimed at a younger audience but with the movie it could bridge the gap between adults and younger viewers being introduced to the whole King multiverse.
Best Suited As A: Movie
I don’t see enough interest in this to work as a TV series or even mini-series. If you go mini-series it would have to be only 2-3 parts and kept cheap. Go for the movie and you can expand upon the character of Flagg, the setting of In-World, and even give a more concrete ending.
Major Crossovers/Cameos: DT series
That concrete ending could of course link up to the events of Roland’s youth, with Flagg being defeated and angry and fleeing to Gilead for his next adventure – how about a scene with him seeing a baby Roland, or taking on the name Marten Broadcloak, or meeting with The Crimson King and discussing future plans?
This is as good a time as any to unleash the biggie. King’s biggest novel, we get to watch the destruction of the world in the ultimate battle between Good and Evil.
Best Suited As A: Mini Series
Like the Mick Garris version – one of my favourite movies/shows ever, this needs to be told over a period of several hours. There are so many characters and the scope is so huge that a single movie just doesn’t work.
Major Crossovers/Cameos: DT Series, Night Surf.
We learn more about Flagg here, but we need to be careful to focus on this being a standalone story. The actor playing Flagg is the same, but in each world he appears in he needs to adapt to the times, the customs, and fashions so his appearance in the ‘real world’ should be different from how he looks elsewhere – King sees him as a modern Texas cowboy, almost as if he is mocking Roland’s more antiquated look. Aside from Flagg, I would keep references to The Dark Tower to a minimum – the destruction of Earth is really just a little fun bit on the side for Flagg. There is of course evidence in the books that Flagg doesn’t always ‘remember’ the things he has done and places he has visited, suggesting that moving between worlds can be detrimental to one’s sanity. Then again, Flagg is ancient so it is same to assume he has been the architect of the downfall of many civilizations and people never mentioned in any King story. Another aspect to be careful about is cementing the understanding that the world of The Stand is not the same as the world of It or other works. How this is done could prove difficult – a simple solution of course may be Flagg enquiring about Derry or Castle Rock only to be told by a confused cohort that no such town exists in Maine. Maybe he’s friends with Leland Gault and finds out that he doesn’t exist on this level of The Tower and could remark as such with a throwaway line.
We should have some connection though – the obvious one being Night Surf. There are a lot of side stories in The Stand – characters who lived and died – no great loss. Night Surf is a standalone short set in the same world and time of The Stand and is interesting enough to include as part of the mini-series. We could change things up so that one of our characters from The Stand was present during the events of Night Surf before making it to Vegas or Hemingford Home. Actually, Hemingford Home crops (ha) up in Children of The Corn and ‘He Who Walks Behind The Rows’ is basically Flagg so we could have a potential crossover there… yeah, that’s a fantastic idea, lets go with that. So, either we have a Children of The Corn movie and brings some actors over from it to The Stand or vice versa, or we skip that movie and have some creepy kids joining Flagg in Vegas with them calling him ‘He Who Walks Behind The Rows’ or Flagg discussing how they took over a small town after the disease landed and killed any adults who passed through.
Wizard And Glass/DT Series
The book which fills in a lot of blanks in Roland’s past. And what is this – I’m releasing it before I’m releasing The Waste Lands? Madness!
Best Suited As A: TV Series
We have another choice – either allow this to be another movie – in which case it should come after The Waste Lands – or as a dedicated mini series which goes beyond the events told in the novel. The series should focus on Roland as an infant with Flagg, Farson, more history on Gunslingers, and take us through his childhood – events mentioned in The Gunslinger, events mentioned in the comics, through his relationship with Susan and the story of Wizard And Glass, as well as killing his own mother and on to Jericho Hill (where of course he lifts the Horn Of Eld). You know what – lets go all the way and throw in The Wind Through The Keyhole too. Given the amount of material to work with, I feel like this deserves to be a dedicated series, not a mere mini series. A full season of 12, or 16, or 22 episodes. Hell break it up into two seasons if you must. The series shows us how Roland came to be the man he is, what set him on his journey, we meet Cuthbert and his original Ka-tet, and we can finish on him as an adult setting out on the beam. And yes, we should also include The Little Sisters Of Eluria. That of course sets us up nicely with the introduction of vampires… For the sake of chronology, what the series should not show is the wraparound story of the actual novel – the conclusion of the Blaine story and the meeting of Flagg in The Emerald City – let’s save those for elsewhere.
Right, any more in a single post and I would be taking the piss. I think this is going to need a Part 2. Stick around for that and leave your thoughts and imaginings for a King Multiverse in the comments!
John Ritter may be famous for being an accomplished TV and film actor and comedian, but most who knew him remember him as being a good, grounded, humble man. Appearing in countless TV series and films, winning an Emmy, A Golden Globe, and many more nominations, he was also an accomplished voice actor, is will be remembered fondly for his performances as a father figure and straight guy placed in over the top, ridiculous comic scenarios. Personally, I will always remember him in two of my favourite movies of all time – as Ben Healy in Problem Child, and as Ben Hanscom in It, and of course for his memorable performance as Ted in Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
Feel free to leave your thoughts and memories of Ritter in the comments section below.
Just a note that this post may contain minor spoilers for anyone has not yet read or completed the Dark Tower series. I won’t be going into in-depth detail on characters or plots, but some of my points will veer into minor spoiler territory.
If you’re a movie fan or a Stephen King fan, then I’m sure you’ll have heard the recent news that Sony and MRC have acquired the rights to Kings epic fantasy Western series. Most of us who have been following King for a while will no doubt be aware of the many similar pieces of news which have been published over the years. Only last year it seemed like it was finally going to happen, with Ron Howard putting himself forward as Director, Akiva Goldsmith writing a draft script, and they put together a plan almost as ambitious as the series itself – multiple movies and an accompanying TV series to ensure the screen adaptation remained as faithful as possible to what Sai King put on paper. For most fans it seemed like a dream come true, with daily discussions on hopes and fears being posted on forums and blogs, and over time various A-list actors began being attached to the series. But it all fell apart.
It’s hardly surprising. Aside from the sheer scope of the series, and the budgets that would be involved, there are many factors involved in creating this project. Sure, some lazy company could make a couple of movies loosely based on a gunslinger chasing a man in black through a desert, and through various worlds in search of The Dark Tower, but what would be the point? Every fan has a will they/won’t they/can they/should they relationship with the series. King fans are a ravenous, faithful bunch, and even such heralded adaptations as The Stand, The Shawshank Redemption, and Stand By Me have their detractors. For some The Dark Tower is the Holy Grail, and many fans are waiting for an adaptation to fall foul of dubious script decisions, removals and/or additions of plot points. When considering ‘will they’ or ‘won’t they’, to me it seems like the answer is an inevitable yes.
Almost everything King has written has made it to screen in some shape or form, with The Dark Tower being the ever more conspicuous gap. Even though King’s films are not always profitable, even though they are rarely both critically and commercially well received, it has never stopped people making and releasing them. Hollywood is so out of ideas that it will turn to what it knows best – big names, remakes, and sequels. In horror there is no bigger name than King, and already many of his previous screen adaptations are being remade. The flip side of this point is that Hollywood hates to take a gamble, and The Dark Tower could end up being a costly flop. Possibly the idea of movies could be abandoned altogether, and the series as a whole could be translated to the small screen instead. Shows such as Under The Dome and Haven appear to be doing well, and Game Of Thrones has proven that the viewer is willing to follow a complex fantasy series with a massive cast of characters – as long as it’s done right, and with quality. TV is in a different place than in previous decades, pulling in the finest writers and actors and budgets – get the right people involved and the rest should follow naturally.
That takes me to ‘can they’? This may be the most complex question. What approach do you take, how do you get a cast and crew to commit to something so huge – it’s a series that will take up a considerable chunk of an actor/director/writer’s life, and there are iconic characters which are sure to stick with an actor for the rest of their life and beyond. Where do you draw the line between what is considered for a movie, and what for TV? What happens if the first movie is a flop? How do you adequately explain Roland’s determination to get to the Tower, how do you cover all of the important imagery which permeates each story? How do you convey The Tower as the apex of all worlds without showing those worlds, and their tie-in stories and characters? How do you film an insane, riddle-loving bullet train racing through a Wasteland towards its own destruction? How do you deal with the meta nature of the last few books? How do you film sex in A Speaking Demon ring… what the hell is a Speaking Demon ring? Every few pages of each book there will be something problematic for even the greatest writer and director. The simple answer is that the best writers and directors simply make things work. Like magicians or silver-tongued liars, they can convince us of anything… but it will never be easy. Can they do it? Ultimately, yes. I have no doubt that a dedicated group could make this a seminal moment in Televison and Film history; I have no doubt that a respectful company could craft something entertaining. However, I am fully aware that it could be a resounding disaster.
And so my final question, and the most vague and subjective of the bunch – should they do it? I’m not a snob. As I sit writing this on my Kindle, I have a bottle of Estrella to my left, and a plate of half-eaten cottage pie to my right. My point is that I’m just a normal fanboy. King has been a massive influence of my life in many ways, a constant nightly whisper in my ear, and a source of entertainment and inspiration since my childhood. I’ve been reading King since I was 10, possibly younger, although I was a late comer to The Dark Tower, tackling it (ironically) for the first time when I was 19. There are snobs though… movie snobs, critical snobs, and alas, even King snobs. Most of the time I know that those guys will never be pleased, so there’s little point in even considering them. It’s us Constant Readers that are the biggest concern. I’m a member of several online King and Dark Tower fan groups, and there is rarely a standard consensus on even the simplest issue concerning The Dark Tower and a possible screen outing, from casting choices to favourite book or character. Once again though, the simplest answer is that it will be impossible to please everyone all of the time. Hell, we even criticise King for certain moments in the series, so what chance will a movie have? Therefore, the best option is to respectfully ignore such opinions and just go make it. Most of us want to see it, many of us will be disappointed no matter how great it is, but there’s that chance, that hope that it could be something brilliant.
As for me, anyone who knows me knows I often speak in highly hyperbolic ways – I feel The Dark Tower is the single greatest piece of art of the 20th Century. The books have been written over the span of decades, and they relate to almost all of the output of the most prolific and important writer of the last hundred years or so. I want to see this series being made, and of course I want to see it be good, and successful. To finish up I’m going to unleash my inner fanboy and explain what I would love to see for the series. I’m not going to mention casting choices, though I do think underused actors such as Ben Foster, Josh Zuckerman, Michael Shannon, and Michael Pitt should be considered. What I would love the most is if the series branched out to encompass the major tie in novels and short stories. Similar to what Marvel has been doing with The Avengers, SHIELD, Thor, Captain America etc etc – they have created a massive living breathing world with familiar cast members crossing over from one film to the next. Every year there is at least one blockbuster related to the overall series, and although each acts as a standalone, there are clear ties to other films and characters which both serve the world, serve the plot, and act as fan service as the nerds recognise some otherwise throwaway comment which relates to some event in a previous or upcoming moment. This is what I would love to see with King’s work – films with ties to The Dark Tower being made as standalones, but like the books, having enough connections to The Dark Tower itself. Actors passing over, character names and imagery dropped, things as minor as a painting of Roland and the Tower in The Mist, up to the true tie ins such as Salem’s Lot, Hearts In Atlantis, Insomnia etc. One of the most important lines in the series is ‘There are other worlds than these’, and what better way to hype up the importance of the quest for The Tower, by having all of these other films and characters directly reference it?
Below I’ll list the books I’d love to see being linked to The Dark Tower series as per the books, but note that I’m aware many of the below are already in the works and the rights to each will cause obvious conflicts. I haven’t read everything yet by King, so there may be some tie-ins I’ve missed. Let me know in the comments what your hopes and fears for the series are, and what you would love to see on screen. Do you have any preferred actors for Roland and his Ka-Tet? Which directors are worthy of the series and could give a movie their own unique vision?
Salem’s Lot: This has seen a couple of mini-series (and a sequel) already, but the world loves vampires, right? The obvious tie-in is Father Callahan, a figure only briefly seen in Tobe Hooper’s adaptation, but given more weight in the Rob Lowe version. A mini series on Salem’s Lot would be cool, given that it deals with the total destruction of the town, and we could also see the wraparound short story prequel and sequel (Jerusalem’s Lot and One For The Road) filmed for added depth. Could we tie in Little Sister Of Eluria here too?
The Stand: The original mini-series is one of my favourite shows/movies ever, even with Molly Ringwold. Although a movie is already in the works, given that it deals with Mr Flagg himself, it’s a chance to have a major actor crossover and explanation of the many beams and levels leading to The Tower. An excellent story on its own, we would get to learn more about Flagg, including the fact that he just won’t go away.
The Talisman/Black House/Sequel: Although King and Straub have dropped hints of a third Jack novel, it hasn’t been written yet. Fans have been crying out for an adaptation for years now, and the first two books alone would make for a stellar movie or TV series. Once again, there are many connections which would answer questions posed in The Dark Tower, but each book stands alone brilliantly.
It: Again, an existing mini-series that I hold dear to my heart, and one which is getting the remake treatment. We could use this opportunity to go into a little more detail about Beams, Guardians, and the fear/emotion sucking demons which inhabit the many worlds.
The Eyes Of The Dragon: Well, why not. It’s been a while since we’ve had a decent child/teen oriented fantasy story which is equally suitable for adults. I’d love to see this being handled in the same way as many of the 80s classics by masters such as Richard Donner, Stephen Spielberg, and Joe Dante. It’s Flagg again, and we may meet a few familiar faces along the way.
Insomnia: A terrific book, but one that doesn’t exactly have the dollar sign written all over it. Then again, if it was handled in the style of Cocoon, but with King’s darkness thrown in, it could be a sleeper hit. There’s a whole world of older actors out there, many of which would relish some of the roles encountered in these pages. There is of course the large tie-in of Patrick Danville and The Crimson King himself which would shock and impress those who haven’t read the books.
Desperation/The Regulators: Desperation has seen the screen treatment already, and The Regulators is ripe for social commentary given a lot of the suburban fear and paranoia swirling around the world at the moment. These have the potential for good movies on their own merits, and from a connection perspective we can have the villains using certain words/langauge from Roland’s world, although this would be more difficult to recognise on screen than on paper.
Hearts In Atlantis: The screen adaptation was fine, but left much of the violence and Tower related stuff out. Once again we have a fairly major character crossover, and there’s the potential of confusing matters by having the same actor who plays Jake starring as Bobby from Hearts.
Everything’s Eventual: Aside from Eluria, which should be covered in the main series somewhere, we could have the title story too due to another character crossover. Due to the short length, Dinky’s story could be incorporated into another film as a sub plot.
Cell: Although light in direct connections, there could easily be inserted references and hints that the evil force involved could be siding with The Crimson King.
Under The Dome: Not many connections again, but as this show is already up and running, and going in its own direction from the novel, they could easily drop some Tower references.
Apologies for the lengthy post – hopefully Tower Junkies will find something useful or even entertaining here. Just before I leave, as I was writing the connections, it struck me that a standalone TV series could be created -not as a specific series for one of the DT books, but a unique series based on the tie-in novels, and possibly featuring the main DT players. This could be a Hammer’s House Of Horrors style show with a self-contained episode each time which links to DT or one of the stories above, or have a more serialized approach like SHIELD with both currently existing King stories and characters as above making appearances, but also newly written unique stories – an ongoing struggle against Low Men, vampires, demons, the Crimson King and featuring the recruiting of important Breakers, warriors, and some of the many many lesser characters of the DT books and their connected stories. A man can dream…
The Birds: Hitchcock’s thriller may not pack the punch that it used to but thanks some great ideas, strong performances, and inspired set pieces it can still work for an early Halloween viewing. Classic Halloween Scene: Tippi Hedren goes into the attic when every person watching knows she shouldn’t.
Black Christmas: The film generally believed to have started the slasher genre was fairly well critically received and features a host of well-known actors facing down a serial killer with a knife. It’s an interesting alternative to Halloween and one which follows similar lines, although the killer isn’t a superman behemoth. Not as scary today thanks to everything which has come since, but still something other than the usual fare. Classic Halloween Scene: Any of the phone calls, or the ending- who dunnit!?
Braindead: If you’re tired of watching The Evil Dead every year, why not go Down Under for an equally fun alternative. Before Peter Jackson took off his shoes and began prancing around The Shire he enjoyed putting zombie babies into blenders and running people over with lawn-mowers. If you want laughs, vomit inducing and filled scenes of orgy, cheesy music and acting, and more blood than has been spilled in New Zealand’s history, then Braindead (also known as Dead Alive) is for you. Classic Halloween Scene: We enter sitcom mode as Lionel tries host a perfectly normal social event while his dead/dying/zombifying mother attempts to eat her own ear.
Basket Case: Another 80s cult classic now, particularly potent if your sick of Evil Dead, The Thing, and Repo Man. Basket Case has a similar vibe and wonderfully shlocky effects that you just don’t see anymore. It was low-budget but successful enough to get 2 sequels. This tale of brotherly love deserves a viewing at Halloween. Classic Halloween Scene: When Belial visits Sharon for a mouth gift.
Cat People: This old timey hit is stool highly regarded by critics as one of the few horror movies which genuine artistic merit. But what do they know, we want to see blood and freaks, right? Basically telling us that foreigners and sex are evil, and that sex with foreigners is just about the worst thing you coul inflict upon yourself, this has an innate ability to make the flesh crawl. Classic Halloween Scene: The Swimming Pool
Carnival Of Souls: A glorious mix of sphincter tightening music, terrifying ideas and scenes (which were an influence on Romero and Lynch), and low-budget desire. This has more invention than many of the bigger films of the era and has only recently garnered some cult recognition. Classic Halloween Scene: The Man’s reflection.
Cube: Before Saw came Cube, a low-budget movie which spawned a host of sequels and centered on the idea of a maniacal genius who tortures a group of seemingly unrelated people with a host of insane devices. This never got the recognition it deserved, both as a precursor, but also as an excellent film. The fact that these people wake up trapped with no reason and no knowledge of how to escape (and soon no shoes) makes for effectively scary viewing in a Kafka-esque fashion. Classic Halloween Scene: The first death- we now know that everyone else is dire straits and death could come at any second.
Curse Of The Demon: A British, non Hammer film from the mid 20th Century. Not exactly a rarity, but rare in that it’s very good. Satanic weirdos, posh weirdos, witchcraft, prophecy, and enough quotes and imagery to make up an Iron Maiden album. Glorious black and white, eerie soundtrack, and potential madness lurking in the shadows. Classic Halloween Scene: Jumping through a window has never had as much impact.
Dead Of Night: An even Earlier British horror and notable both for being one of the first horror anthologies and for being kick ass. A mad ventriloquist sets the tone and is the archetypal version of the story. Ghost golfers, haunted mirrors, and even a festive Christmas tale all add up to a film for the whole family to huddle round the fire to. Classic Halloween Scene: When everything comes together.
Dead And Buried: A twisting video nasty with shocks, surprises, and some unexpected spins on the zombie sub genre. We deal with a number of violent murders (graphically shown) in a small town, mob justice, and Robert Englund. One that has slipped from the radar and should be brought kicking ad screaming into the modern living room. Classic Halloween Scene: A photographer meets a grisly end in the opening moments.
The Eyes Of Laura Mars: Probably the finest US Giallo film, this forgotten 1970s Carpenter penned thriller is full of twists and cheats, but it is the source material which get under the skin- a photographer whose violent images seem to lead to her witnessing the brutal slayings of people she knows. It’s a B-Movie idea but one which is played straight thanks to a tight script, great casting, and a clever director. It’s definitely a product of the 70s but if you can get your hands on it is sure to raise both nostalgic giggles and the hairs on your neck. Classic Halloween scene: When we see that the killer has come for Laura.
The Hitcher: One of the great underrated cult hits from the 80s, The Hitcher has scares, thrills, ambiguities, excellent pacing acting, and writing and some of the best car stunts ever filmed. Aside from the possible supernatural undertones this is a realistic tale of what could happen if you decide to be a good Samaritan on a dark, wet night. Rutger Hauer is the man here, commanding every scene he is in, but ably backed up by Leigh and Howell. There are gripping moments and that great hallmark of horror where you put yourself in the shaking boots of the tortured characters and ask what you would do, or wonder why the hell those on-screen are doing what they do. Classic Halloween Scene: The entire truck-girlfriend-snap scene is a wonderfully tense, brilliantly acted few minutes.
Henry; Portrait Of A Serial Killer: From one portrait of a maniac to another, but this time there are no stunts, no supernatural elements, no love, no humour, and certainly no happy endings. Henry is a serial killer, rapist, and well, that’s all you need to know. Any time you think there is a glimmer of humanity, it is ripped away by another cruel scene. McNaughton’s directing is assured, Rooker gives supreme portrayal, and the whole thing is so bleak, grim, and dirty that it will not make pleasant viewing- one to show for those ‘friends’ you don’t want to see again. Classic Halloween Scene: Although the entire film will leave you feeling dirty and ill, it’s that ‘pack your suitcase’ ending which really sticks in the memory.
Halloween V: Myers, Loomis, and Harris return after the shock ending of the previous film this is as direct a sequel as you’ll find in this series so could be considered as a double feature for your party. Ostensibly it’s the same old Michael vs teens with some sort of main girl chase plot thrown in, but thanks the performance of the young Harris, this is again raised above par. Yes there are plenty of kills to keep your group happy and just for a change we get another shock ending. We also interestingly, though perhaps pointlessly get further background for why Michael is the way he is which in itself provides some interesting discussion but at the end of the night this is 80s standard stabbing fare of higher quality than most.
The Hunger: Bowie is always scary on-screen, so that is reason enough to include any of his movies on an alternative horror movie marathon. The Hunger though is exclusively in the horror genre, but at the bottom is a sensual love story between a couple of aging vampires and a mortal sleep doctor. Like all good romance stories there is betrayal, hatred, sexual tension, and reliance. As Tony Scott’s first film it is highly stylized but lacks some finesse in the plot. Few vampire films have looked so good though, and few are so raw in their violent, honest depictions. Classic Halloween Scene: The Opening scene sets the tone of love, death, murder mingling together as we see how the couple stalk their prey.
The Innocents: Henry James’s The Turn Of The Screw is one of the most filmed novels of horror fiction, if not directly, then many elements of his story have been adapted. The Innocents is a fairly faithful re-telling of the story and one of the most successful. It may lack the punch which a modern audience is looking for, but if you like your horror filled with long corridors, big old houses, dark corners, and freaky children then this is for you. Thanks to a good lead performance from Kerr and an unsettling soundtrack, this still has its moments. Classic Halloween Scare: When we see the face of the antagonist appearing in the window- a stunt used in many films since but rarely bettered.
In The Mouth Of Madness: The nineties were not a great time for Carpenter- the undisputed Master of 70s and 80s horror seemed to hit a slump both critically and commercially. Never big with the critics, his fans deserted him as it appeared he was making more and more lackluster films- sequels, remakes, comedies. In The Mouth Of Madness is the best of his output this decade. Classic Halloween Scene: On the bus, look around when you wake up…
IT: It’s a long one, but a good one. If you plan to watch a movie a day rather than packing several into one party, then IT is a good choice, ideal for breaking up over a couple of days. Superbly acted by both young and adult casts and packed with some revolting moments which have stood the test of time so far, IT is the story of an evil force living in an all American town which rises up every 30 years to gorge on children. Our story focuses on a band of outcast kids who are being tormented by this creature which adults can’t see, and rather than waiting to be picked off they decide to go after it and destroy it. The story shows us in wonderfully nostalgic detail how the friends met and became a powerful group to face this evil, and how 30 years later when the disappearances start happening again, they reform to return home and finish what they started. Say what you will about that ending, but everything else here is a joy, from the music to the acting, to the adapted screenplay. This remains one of the best King adaptations. Classic Halloween Scene: Out of many, lets go for the rain-soaked opener with Georgie- once seen, never forgotten.
Jigoku: A visual feast, and one of the most extreme and well realised visions of Hell ever filmed. This isn’t the easiest to watch but is brimming with ideas and offers an opposing view to most Asian horror movies of today. Classic Halloween Scene: Any of the technicolour visions of hell are still nausiating and nightmare inducing.
Kwaidan: Another Japanese classic, this one ranking amongst the most highly regarded. The modern slow burning Asian horror movie pretty much stems from here, we have drawn out shots packed with tension, ghosts, long-haired freaks, and tonnes of foreboding. No horror marathon should be complete without an anthology tale. If you like J-Horror this should be top of the list. Classic Halloween Scene: All of the Snow Woman segment.
Land Of The Dead: Romero returns to the genre he invented and perfected with a big budget, all action zombie jamboree. The zombies have already seemingly overrun the world, while a group of survivors scratch out an existence in Pittsburgh. The rich live the high life whilst the poor live like rats on the streets, with some embarking outside the city on scavenger hunts. It’s a Rich vs Poor tale, but all the while the zombies are watching and learning. Good effects, good action, good gore, and a decent alternative to Romero’s earlier classics: Classic Halloween Scene: The Zombies coming out of the water and heading for the city is a cracker- you know someone’s about to have their intestinal cavity evacuated.
Misery: Yet another Stephen King tale, this one relying more on suspense and drama than gore and psychic weirdos. Almost like a Play, most of the action takes place between two characters in a couple of rooms although thanks to those actors, that story, and a strong director at the helm much of the horror is as immediate as a car crash. You know the story- writer gets hurt and is ‘rescued’ by biggest fan who just happens to be a murderous psychopath. It has held up well and neither the scares nor the plot have lost any of their power. Classic Halloween Scene: Its gots to be the sledgehammer scene.
Maniac Cop: This was always one which scared and intrigued me as a child- simply by looking at the VHS cover in my local store. Something about the name, the cover, the tagline, and the raft of sequels around it scared several bejeebuses out of me. I regard it more as an interesting twist on the action genre now but it’s still a nice one to pull out every so often as alternative Bruce film. Classic Halloween Scene: Maniac Cop pulls another victim through a window, 80s unstoppable killer style.
Phantasm: A series obsessed with death begins with the 1979 original featuring a young musicians investigations into a tonne of local deaths which leads him to the unsung horror icon The Tall Man. And his balls. Coscarelli’s film is inventive with its story, visuals, and gore, but it is the blending of fantasy and reality which makes us doubt what we see as real. Classic Halloween Scene: Entering the Mausoleum
Repulsion: The second Deneuve film on the list is arguably her finest moment as she plays a paranoid woman whose haunted memories and current paranoid delusions lead to withdrawal and murder. In career defining moments from Deneuve and Polanski, Replusion is the finest example of the psychological horror sub genre whose dream sequences are alarming and whose death scenes are still shocking. Classic Halloween Scene: The hand corridor.
Return Of The Living Dead: Another classic 80s mish mash featuring zombies, scares, laughs, punks, and BRAAAIIINNSS. Taking a more lighthearted approach, O’Bannon’s film follows most of the Romero rules but makes this a largely teen affair with the emphasis on fun. A big hit in the 80s the impact has been lessened by the many sequels. As horror comedies go though, this is at the top of the list. Classic Halloween Scene: A rainy graveyard, a girl, zombies.
Ring 2: A very good sequel although it does get bogged down with some science and explanation. With more jump scares than the first and another fingernail pulling finale, this sequel does justice to the original and expands on the mythology in often confusing ways. It’s great to see bit players in the first film take centre stage and even better to see most of the original cast make returns. The film largely focuses on Yoichi, the son of our heroes in the first film and his apparent psychic abilities. It seems his life is starting to mirror that of Sadako’s, and that the malevolent spirit has her eyes/mind set on him. Some great scares make this powerful viewing. Classic Halloween Scene: A traitorous journalist gets what’s coming to him.
Rosemary’s Baby: A good one for mum and dad to watch before bed, especially if either mum or dad has been ‘away’ recently more often than they usually are. What could they be doing? Working late? Out with friends? Having an affair? No, the most likely answer is that they’ve joined a Satanic cult and are harvesting your ovaries for the purpose of bringing about hell on earth. Watching this now there are actually some very funny moments- the more I think about it, the more I think Polanski did these on purpose. Polanski knows all about cults and their deadly seductive power- here they are portrayed as benevolent, wealthy, influential, and unavoidable, setting in motion that great cliché that ‘everybody’s in on it’. Farrow gives an unsteady performance which only begins to shine in the second half of the movie, while Cassavetes is his usually rampant, joking self. The old people next door are exactly as they should be. The dread, paranoia, and unease builds to the climax which starts off as unsettling, booms at the crib, and then becomes steadily more ridiculous. Thankfully the score helps to keep things grounded and nasty. Classic Halloween Scare: When Rosemary sees her baby for the first time. It’s all in the eyes.
The Ugly: Nothing says Halloween like murderous freaks butchering their way through an asylum. New Zealand continues its impressive horror output with this 1997 outing, which offers thrills both visceral and psychological. With lots of chat and lots of black blood, it’s an interesting alternative to throw out there to the more open-minded audience. Classic Halloween Scene: A few uncertain moments where Simon considers killing but doesn’t, but the best scene is likely when he is stalking his victim in a bathroom.
Zombie Flesh Eaters: Well, why not? If you can’t have some eye-gouging, zombie-chomping fun at Halloween, then you may as well be dead. This not-sequel to Dawn Of The Dead is a vastly inferior film, but still vastly enjoyable, and has enough gore, bad-acting, and boobs to yank guffaws from every drunken Halloween guest. And we even get the voodoo explanation for the outbreak, as well as seeing the various stages of zombiefication. Classic Halloween Scene: Any of the lovely kills of course, or the nicely dark ending, or of course the ever-popular splinter-to-eye scene. But for the sheer novelty of it, you have to appreciate the zombie versus shark scene.
Drag Me To Hell: Raimi returns to the genre where he first made his name, giving the fans an old-fashioned dose of scares, guts, and laughs. We see cultures collide as uppidy young Americans clash with decrepid old gypsy types, and a young woman has to contend with the fact that a curse on her head is growing more powerful, frightening, and deadly by the day. If she can’t lift the curse in a few days she will be dragged to hell. There are nice performances here but rather than the all out raucous joy of the Evil Dead series this is at times more camp, something which I cannot abide. There is an over-abundance of things going in or coming out of mouths, but the effects are wonderfully slimy and the sounds are booming enough to keep you on edge. It is the sudden bursts of energy which make this effective, all the while in the background that clock is steadily ticking down to the end. Classic Halloween Scene: Girl fight in a parking lot.
Halloween isn’t just for murderers, psychos, and drunk frat boys, you know- I believe that children deserve to have some spooky fun too- you don’t want to scar them, no, but kids love to be scared, and I’m sure you love being the strong reassuring parent too.
This list of 31 movies was created so that you can split the fun over the entire month (alternatively you could wait until closer to the day and have a few marathon sessions) and let yourself tremble ever so slightly in the supposed safety of your own home. And kids- just be sure that mum and dad have locked the doors and windows, and that they’ve checked under your bed and in your closet for… anything. After all, better they get chopped to pieces and eaten than you, right? Just remember, Mum and Dad are old, forgetful, and possibly drunk, so maybe you should check the doors yourself. And keep your toys and dolls close, because if and when the time comes they may be your only friends and your greatest protection against the dread armies of the night which are gunning for you and only you. Maybe sneak that baseball bat, hockey stick, or golf club into bed too- I’m not saying you’ll need it, but I’d rather be swinging that than a pillow.
Don’t worry, movies can’t hurt you- if anything they will prepare you for any real horrors you may be unlucky enough to encounter. So watch them closely, and listen as if your life depended on it. You never know when your fears will come in handy. Maybe tonight…
These don’t have to be watched in any particular order, but some would suit the big day (or night) better than others. Enjoy.
Abbot And Costello Meet Frankenstein: The first of several meetings with Universal’s monsters, I’ve included this because vampires exist more prominently on this list (plus all manner of creatures pop up here anyway). With a host of stars and a surprisingly smart script, this is obviously played for laughs but should act as a good introduction to the world of classic monster features. There are a few moments which younger kids should find entertainingly scary, and it’s short and fast enough to stop them from becoming restltess. Classic Halloween Scene: When Dracula rises in the House of Horrors.
Arachnophobia: Everyone’s afraid of spiders, right? If not, then you’re an idiot (spiders cause at least 14 million human deaths each year- need source…) and should watch this film to remind yourself of how deadly they can be. We follow the adventures of a deadly spider from Venuzuela to a small American town where it mates with a local and have thousands of evil babies. Amongst this we have a new family arriving in the town in classic The Birds style. Jeff Daniels plays the new doctor and he has to deal with some prejudice from the locals, but he soon finds himself investigating a string of mysterious deaths. This has just enough scares to unsettle the kids but enough laughs to keep the mood light- a good introduction to horror. Classic Halloween Scene: When the Doctor sees a dark shape on his bedroom wall.
Beetlejuice: More of an offbeat comedy this, but with enough surreal and disturbing moments to warrant its selection. Tim Burton’s film is a triumph of plot, ideas, visuals, acting, and comedy. An excellent all-star cast give some of the best performances of their career, while the ideas surrounding the afterlife are fresh and innovative. Kids will get kicks from both the gruesome jokes and some of the darker scenes. Classic Halloween Scene: Beetlejuice becomes a snake.
The Changling: This one seems to have been a rite of passage for some kids, but it is one which passed me by when I was young. I only saw it for the first time after my teens had disappeared behind me, and maybe some of the scares were lost on me. Watching from the perpective of a child though, the big house, the dark rooms and sounds, and that wheelchair on the stairs could be terrifying and make the youngster a bit more apprehensive about spending a few hours alone at night in their own home. Classic Halloween Scene: When we climb into the attic.
Casper: A lighter one for the younger kids, this at least deals with the ideas of ghosts, the afterlife, good vs evil, haunted houses, and is filled with good performances and action for the whole family to enjoy. Classic Halloween Scene: When Casper’s family show up for the first time.
Corpse Bride: Another lighter one, and another eye-fest from Burton. This has all the hallmarks of a Disney classic- the enchanting and enchanted characters, the weird and wonderful worlds, the struggle between an innocent goodie, and an ogre like baddie, though most of those conventions are turned on their heads. Burton gives it a grim Victorian feel where everything is dark and dank, and even above the shadows there are things which creep and crawl lurking around every corner. Classic Halloween Scene: When Victor first gets taken down to the land of the dead.
Dracula (30s): A classic to chill the bones of all comers, this still has the ability to… worry those who haven’t seen it before. A film that’s almost a hundred years old- how could that possibly be scary? Well, there’s a reason why this is still considered the best version. Classic Halloween Scene: When Harker first meets The Count.
Edward Scissorhands: There isn’t much horror here, but there are some ideas which are more usually found in horror- the crazy scientist, the old castle, the misunderstood outcast, the tyranny of normal people. Most of all though it is a love story but one which even you’re most manly son will enjoy thanks to Depp’s superlative lead. Classic Halloween Scene: When our friendly jock pushes Edward too far.
Frankenstein: This would act as a good partner with Dracula for an old school horror night. If the kids haven’t been scarred enough by The Count, then torment them with visions of lumbering giants who just want to live and be loved, and crazy scientists who just want to scream. Whale’s campy film has plenty of iconic moments and shocks and even though the film is roughly 400 years old, it should still have enough power to make the younglings tremble. Classic Halloween Scene: I wonder if this child can swim- another good example to call upon when telling your children why they shouldn’t talk to strangers.
Fright Night: This vampire flick has plenty of laughs and scares for ages 9-14 and can be enjoyed by all ages, especially those were around in the 80s. This will stir your child’s imagination with thoughts of what that funny new neighbour really gets up to by himself at night, and will have them questioning how they would react if a vampire was stalking his neighbourhood. Classic Halloween Scene: Evil Ed in a red wig, that’s scary, right?
Ghostbusters: Who ya gonna call? Mummy probably after being scared senseless by the opening scene in the library. This has just the right amount of scares for kids, balanced nicely by humour which all ages will appreciate. While the kids dream of hunting down monsters with their proton packs, dads can dream of being Bill Murray. Classic Halloween Scene: Rick Moranis being chased by the devil dog.
The Haunting: One of the best haunted house movies of all time, the atmosphere, the sounds, and the scares should be more than enough to keep your brood enthralled and make them forget they are watching a ‘black and white’. The film follows the standard ‘spend a night in a haunted house’ formula as two men and two women, each with their own reasons for staying, are put to a variety of supernatural tests. Classic Halloween Scene: Waking up to all that banging, booming, noise.
Hocus Pocus: This one is Halloween through and through, depicting all the things you’re kids will likely be getting up to- trick or treating, dressing up, trying not to be abducted by witches. Parker, Najimy, and Midler are eerily convincing as a trio of wicked sisters, whilst the younger actors are more than their match. Watch this with a few episodes of Eerie Indiana and remember that Omri Katz kicked ass before he vanished, possibly into a parallel evil milk man dimension. Classic Halloween Scene: When it looks like our heroes may be boiled in broth.
Jaws: You should be familiar with the film- chances are you saw it quite young, and you turned out mostly ok, didn’t you? The gift of childhood will mean that any bad effects will be overlooked thanks to the fantastic action on screen. Just be aware that your kid may not want to take a bath ever again. Classic Halloween Scene: A young boy shows America just how much blood he has, and how far into the air he can spew it with the help of a little fish.
Lady In White: Frank LaLoggia’s underrated gem is a treasure trove of drama, heart, nostalgia and asks the audience some important questions about race and morality, but more importantly is that it has some terrific tension filled scenes. When a boy is trapped in his school locker room by bullies he inadvertantly witnesses what seems to be the re-enactment of a young girl’s murder, via the spirit world. Moments later a man enters and catches the boy. He loses consiousness. The rest of the film sees the police trying to find a serial killer, while our hero is haunted by the event and by the ghost of an old woman- it seems he must find the killer too. This one also has an effective Halloween setting and an authentic 60s feel. Thanks to some great acting the scenes of horror still hold up today. Add this one to your list if you can find it. Classic Halloween Scene: The Lady In White coming down the stairs.
Poltergeist: Possibly the most famous of all the haunted house movies, Spielberg’s teaming with Hooper is a riotous success. Scares typical of Hooper, laughs and vision typical of Spielberg, we see a family brought to their knees by a house which doesn’t want them. Indian burial grounds, evil trees, loony psychics, clowns, freaky children, parallel worlds- it’s all here. There are some gory moments and the tension is turned up pretty high, so be on hand in case it is all too much for some of the kids. Classic Halloween Scene: Looking in the mirror, sometimes you just want to pull off your face and start over.
Q- The Winged Serpent: What says Halloween more than a giant, flying prehistoric Mayan dinosaur God? Not a lot. Marvel as Michael Moriarty and Shaft race around New York trying to prevent the beast from carrying off any more unwary sunbathers. Unfortunately their plan doesn’t involve resurrecting King Kong and having a ‘Giant Off’ but nevertheless this is a decent romp which the kids will enjoy for the big monster and the few moments of blood and terror. Don’t worry mum and dad, there isn’t much blood on show. Classic Halloween Scene: Any of the camera sweeps over the Manhattan skyline as I wonder what terrors are coming down for us.
Sleepy Hollow: This one is decidedly dark and if it wasn’t for Depp’s fun performance as Ichobod Crane which lightens the mood quite a bit, then I wouldn’t have included this for kids. All the Burton hallmarks are there- miniatures, gloom, pale faced oddities and so on. There are be-headings, but these are not shocking, and the sight of Walken as the headless horseman would be, I imagine, quite nerve-wracking for your bambinos- just what you want. Things don’t go too far though, plus there’s a love story thrown in, and though it looks and feels quite dark, there isn’t anything terrifying or brutal. Classic Halloween Scene: Any time Christopher Walken opens his mouth.
Village Of The Damned: Don’t bother with Carpenter’s version- not even Luke Skywalker and Superman could save that from being a disaster of Glee proportions. The original has all the ominous dread you could wish for, and as the film ends and the children turn slowly, in unison, to look at you with their eyes, you’ll wish you made them watch The Human Centipede instead. Classic Halloween Scene: When the kids decide to show off their power by making a man crash his car, and his brother shoot himself.
The Witches: Roald Dahl’s wonderful story is brought to the big screen with giant helpings of Angelica Huston and Mr Bean. A young boy is staying at a hotel with his family when he accidentally uncovers a massive group of witches who are plotting to turn children into mice. Can he stop them in time? There are some nicely gruesome effects here and thankfully the entire cast are excellent. Dahl’s storys are eternal and have that elusive quality of being enchanting to children and highly entertaining for adults. Classic Halloween Scene: When the witches first uncover themselves.
Monsters Inc: One of the first Pixar mega hits, this should please the wholy family with stunning animation, stellar voice cast, entertaining story, and homages to classic horror moments. I think we all wondered at some point in our younger days about what may be lurking in the closet or under the bed, and this film shows a delightful alternative to what we may have imagined. Classic Halloween Scene: I guess some of the monsters may look quite scary for younger kids.
Gremlins: Growing up in the 80s, this was a staple of both Halloween and Christmas. It has that small town America, nostalgic tone which movies nowadays just don’t have. Maybe things were more innocent back then. Although, when you think that this film depicts cuteness becoming evil when rules are not obeyed, animals being blown apart in microwaves, an old woman being fired out of her home via her roof , and assorted other nasties, it seems amazing nowadays that this was seen as a kids movie back then. If a kids movie now doesn’t feature singing, dancing, every token character imaginable, and at least one ridiculous romance, then it isn’t a kids movie. In my opinion, if there isn’t violence and minor atrocities then it isn’t a kids movie. Classic Halloween Scene: The Christmas tree.
Tremors: As entertaining now as it was then, and with effects which have held up surprisingly well, Tremors is like a cheesy 50s monster movie, but with modern humour and sentiment. It is pretty gross at times, and there is some swearing, but the blood and guts is mostly coming from the monsters while your kids will be too entranced by the plot and action to pick up on the cussin’. Maybe. Set in a desert wreck somewhere in the US, Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward and assorted other inhabitants must battle their way to safety and survival whilst being hunted down by giant subterranian worm monsters. This takes a simple, well worn idea, and packs every moment with wit and invention to make it seem incredibly fresh and fun. There are some scary moments, but mostly this is a fun trip which will live long in the memory. Classic Halloween Scene: The old couple think their car will keep them safe…
The Frighteners: Peter ‘Barefoot’ Jackson makes the leap from New Zealand zombie weirdness to Hollywood ghosty madness, a few years before taking the final step to Mordor. This is a sometimes confused film, but has more hits than misses and should entertain young and old alike with the satire and scares. There aren’t many scares and the film relies on Michael J Fox and some snazzy effects, but that shouldn’t stop everyone from having a good time watching it. Classic Halloween Scene: The opening moments seem to suggest a scarier tone than what actually follows, but there are still some tense parts.
Critters: A more direct horror film than Gremlins, but still one with more moments of laughter than screams, Critters is to Gremlins what Twin Peaks is to Dallas. A group of evil, furry monsters land on earth to breed and eat- humans seem like a tasty target. Luckily for humanity, a couple of bounty hunters are not far behind. Classic Halloween Scene: Don’t these people learn? If your power goes off, you never go off by yourself to the barn/kitchen/basement.
The Watcher In The Woods: Ahh, Lynne Holly Johnson- she could walk through my woods any day. Whatever that means. Disney go for scares here, and perhaps they went a little too far because this sank without a trace upon release. The story follows a family moving to an old mansion owned by a creepy Bette Davis. Soon the daughters begin to notice and encounter some strange and frightening behaviour. This was a difficult shoot as there were disputes over how intense the scenes of horror should be, and indeed the film was pulled from theatres and some new endings were filmed. Check them all out on DVD. Classic Halloween Scene: Standing beside a pond is a terrible place to be hypnotized.
Monster House: The scary version of Monsters Inc. This may be an animated kids film, but be aware that some parts may be too intense for younger viewers. A young boy and his friend investigate their creepy neighbour’s house after the neighbour suffers a heart attack. It seems that the house has some dark secrets. Naturally this has plenty of funny, witty moments, and the animation is perfectly suited to the Halloween nature of the story. Classic Halloween Scene: When we see the house ‘come to life’ for the first time, and chow down on a toy.
IT: I remember the first time I saw this- i must have been 9 or 10, possibly 11. Just the right age to be exposed to this. Naturally you should know if you’re child could handle this or any other horror film. This one will give them nightmares, but if watched with friends then they can fight through their fears together and come out the other side stronger. Again it’s a good one to watch over a number of days. If they wake up screaming that a clown is after them you may feel that they shouldn’t see Part 2. But then they won’t have any closure- there’s nothing worse than never knowing how the nightmare ends. Classic Halloween Scene: Out of many, lets go for the rain-soaked opener with Georgie- once seen, never forgotten.
The Lost Boys: A great one for the younger teens to watch, before they get too self conscious and laugh about the hair and clothes. This was the epitome of cool at the time, and it still has that fleeting 80s air of cool which not even the passing of decades can shrug off. Yeah we can laugh, but Feldman, Patrick ,and Sutherland have never been better. Vampires are at once romanticized and demonized. We see how seductive the life (or death) style is- sleep all day, party all night- but also the cost of losing yourself, your family, your soul. This has plenty of twists, memorable scenes, humour, action, and one liners, and while it isn’t bloody it does have a high level of fear inducing moments. Classic Halloween Scene: When Sutherland and his team head for Michael’s house as soon as sun sets for a final battle.
The Hole: Joe Dante goes back to doing what he does best- family oriented horror adventures and does a good job of recalling his best work. A young family move to a new town, new home, and the teenage son falls for the girl next door- so far, so Dante. Upon finding a seemingly bottomless pit in their basement, the group investigate and a tonne of strange and scary events start happening to them. Dante has always known how to get the best out of a young cast and how to turn an interesting script into something fully entertaining. Most people missed this on the big screen, but there’s no excuse in DVD land. Classic Halloween Scene: The creepy TV eye.
Return To Oz: Vastly superior to the original in every way (don’t hurt me), Return To Oz is pretty horrific, portraying Oz as it should be- an unending nightmare. If your young son or daughter was sucked off to a magic parallel world of witches and wonder, chances are they’d spend the first few hours shrieking in horror and the next few sitting under a tree holding their knees in a foetus position and rocking backwards and forwards. If the tree didn’t eat them, they would eventually get up and explore. The film follows Dorothy who has, for all intents and purposes, gone crazy after her adventures in Oz (naturally) and has been sent to a hospital by her family. It turns out the hospital is more like an asylum, and after some terrifying moments, Dorothy flees, only to wake up once more in Oz- though the Emerald City has been destroyed and her friends have been turned to stone. Dorothy begins her quest to find out what has gone wrong. Featuring men with wheels for limbs, headless witches, hell, man eating rock monsters, and any other number of nightmares, this is either a wonderful movie, or the spawn of Satan. Classic Halloween Scene: Dorothy trying to sneak around the corridor of heads.
Feel free to leave any comments and suggestions- are any of these films clearly not suitable for kids, or have I missed any which you would show at this time of year? Which films spooked you as a kid?
As a fan of the more extreme side of cinema, I ask you to join me, as I explore the history of Cinema's most extreme movies with all the sex, violence and symbolism intact. I'm here to reflect on the extreme movies that have come and gone to see what they mean, see what makes them so extreme, and of course, see if they're any good.