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DVD Tuesday: Stephen King Horror

POSTED:

DVD TO THE RESCUE: THE MIST

When The Mist opened last year I wasn't much impressed. The version of the movie on the Two-Disc Special Edition DVD is way better and I'll tell you why. Disc 2 presents the movie in black-and-white, the way director Frank Darabont originally intended it, like a 1950s horror flick. Listen to Darabont's intro on the disc and you'll learn that studio beancounters freaked out over the idea that the blood would not run red. Have these idiots never seen The Thing (1951) or Them! (1954) or Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)?

The big fear was that gore in black-and-white would keep audiences away. Hell, audiences didn't come anyway (a $28 million worldwide gross qualifies as crumbs even on a paltry $17 million budget).

So what went wrong with The Mist? Some of the effects are truly tacky — those tentacles crushed by a garage door early on are Halloween plastic (loved the flying insects, though). Darabont's major screw up is the way he overstuffs a tight and terrifying Stephen King short story with an excess of political and spiritual allegory. Thomas Jane and his young son have to take on the creatures lurking in the mist and something worse, a bunch of crazy locals stuck in the store with them, the looniest being Marcia Gay Harden as a religious fanatic. At 127 minutes (at least a half hour too long — Them! came in at a trim 94 minutes), the movie drags its ass. But the ending works like like gangbusters. Even now, I'll never tell. Darabont says he extrapolated the final scene, not in the story, out of a single King sentence. And King couldn't be happier. It's a potent shocker.

All of which got me thinking about other King short stories that became movies. Not the novels, we'll save that for another blog. Darabont himself had previously directed and adapted two King stories, the solid The Green Mile and the sensational Shawshank Redemption. For me, Shawshank and Stand By Me rank highest among the movies made from King's short fiction. Among the worst is Maximum Overdrive, which King directed himself from his short story, "Trucks," from the 1978 collection Night Shift. And curses on Apt Pupil and Hearts of Atlantis. Even Johnny Depp couldn't save Secret Window. Director Mikael Hafstrom did twisty things with 1408, the 37-page story from King's 2002 collection Everything's Eventual. There is much to like in Creepshow and the first Children of the Corn (damn the six sequels). Your nominees, please, for best and worst movies adapted from a short story by Stephen King.

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Peter Travers

Rolling Stone senior writer Peter Travers has reviewed movies for the magazine for more than 20 years. Send your comments and questions to him here.

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