70. “Gramma” from The Twilight Zone (1986)
Here’s one for the history books: On Valentine’s Day 1986, “Gramma” entered The Twilight Zone canon. Yes, King managed to slip into the revival of Rod Serling’s iconic television series, but so did Barret Oliver, who trades in his attic retreat, The Never-Ending Story, and “MOON CHILD!” for Castle Rock, the Necronomicon, and a Cthulhu chanting “Gramma!” Originally published in Weirdbook magazine and later recollected for Skeleton Crew, this story follows a young boy left behind to care of his dying grandma, who may or may not be a witch! Told mostly through voiceovers, something Oliver killed in The Never-Ending Story, one would think we’re in safe hands. However, director Brad Mayford rushes through a script that hemorrhages too much story in too little time. Harlan Ellison, who is responsible for Strange Wine, one of King’s favorite horror novels, does a poor job adapting this eerie tale, but one wonders what could have been with a little more time to flesh this monster out.
69. “The Moving Finger” from Monsters (1991)
The great Tom Noonan, of all people, stars in this adaptation of the memorable Nightmares & Dreamscapes short story that finds an everyday man grappling with the horrifically long finger poking out of his bathroom sink. This goofy, schlocky adaptation aired as the final episode of the early ‘90s anthology horror series Monsters and Noonan’s excessive mugging is outdone only by the short’s Looney Tunes score, which would sound a lot better underscoring the adventures of Elmer Fudd than this would-be horror tale. Sure, the tone is jaunty, but without an adequate peek into the mind of Noonan’s character it’s impossible to grasp the stakes or underlying horror of the actual situation. One watch and you’ll be happy to flush this one from your mind.
68. Children of the Corn (1984)
While Stephen King adaptations really didn’t lean into prestige territory until the ‘90s (outside of The Shining, that is, but King still hates that one), Christine, Carrie, and The Dead Zone were certainly top shelf affairs. Children Of The Corn, meanwhile, is a gleefully low-rent King adaption—from Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, no less—which is fitting for a short story that premiered in Penthouse magazine. Featuring creepy kids and creepier religious imagery, Corn is an effective piece of schlock that provides a few good jump scares and a wonderfully over the top opening with the kids disposing of the adults in a variety of ways, including a deli style meat slicer.
King’s Consensus: “My feeling for most of these things is like a guy who sends his daughter off to college. You hope she’ll do well. You hope that she won’t fall in with the wrong people. You hope she won’t be raped at a fraternity party, which is really close to what happened to Children of the Corn, in a metaphoric sense.” —USA Today, May 1995
67. Graveyard Shift (1990)
1990 gave us three Stephen King adaptations, and while Misery walked away with an Oscar, only one gave us a gigantic rat. That would be Graveyard Shift, which, despite being released by Paramount, feels less like a major studio release and more like a Full Moon production. The simple tale concerns a team of workers tasked with cleaning out the basement of a textile mill, and removing the kingdom of rats that have taken over. And if an abundance of average-size rodents weren’t enough to get your skin crawling, there’s the queen, who’s not pleased with the presence of the exterminators—including Brad Dourif, whose chewing more scenery than the rats. Misery may get the accolades, but Graveyard Shift is infinitely more fun, with its combination of factory-town melodrama and quality Jawsploitation.
King’s Consensus: “I spent that day knocking out a story called ‘Graveyard Shift.’ I remember being very happy and very absorbed – having the time of my life, in fact. The story was gruesome, fast and fun. (It later became a film which was gruesome and fast, but unfortunately not much fun.)” –Introduction in a 1999 reprinting of Carrie
66. Under the Dome TV Series (2013-2015)
King’s 2009 novel, Under the Dome, is a pulpy genre affair with a capital G. It’s a ridiculous, asinine premise — the idea that a magical dome encapsulates a small Maine town — that’s about as on-the-nose as a high schooler making a metaphor about ant farms and the tiers of social class. But, King flipped the medium to his advantage, finding a nice line between humor and horror, and the lengthy book was a total page turner, thriving with addicting heroes and villains that you wanted to see win or lose. The CBS series, however, failed to capture that magic, lacking any self-awareness and doubling down on the kind of cheap drama that the network continues to sell for a dime a dozen today. To his credit, Dean Norris actually offers an OK turn as “Big Jim” Rennie, but it’s hard to thrive in a bubble of mediocrity, and that’s sadly all you’ll find under this dome.
65. Mercy (2014)
There are two reasons that Blumhouse’s Mercy, an adaptation of the short story “Gramma”, ranks higher on our list than the Twilight Zone episode also made from that story. One: The movie has Shirley Knight in it, and even when she’s just OK she’s still good. Two: It’s occasionally very pretty to look at. But, please, if you must view one of the two, make it the other one. It’s shorter. There’s not enough meat in “Gramma” to fill a feature film, making this thing an overlong, paralyzingly dull “horror” movie without so much as a single jump scare to be found. Watch if, and only if, you can’t get enough of Carl from The Walking Dead.
64. Rose Red (2002)
Rose Red is so weird. King’s spin on classic haunted house tales like The Haunting of Hill House and Hell House tells the story of a group of people with psychic powers who spend the night in a notoriously haunted mansion. It features some great talent—burgeoning stars Matt Ross, Melanie Lynskey, and Jimmi Simpson, most notably—but the narrative is a goddamn mess. It literally seems at times like there’s missing scenes or reshoots that were never quite finished; the fate of Kevin Tighe’s Victor is so vague it’ll make you think you must’ve missed something (note: you didn’t). It also features the worst King cameo of all time, where he shows up as a goofy, winking pizza man in a scene that completely shatters what little hint of horror the film had cultivated up to that point.
63. Children of the Corn (2009)
Donald P. Borchers was a producer for the original Children of the Corn and, rightfully so, didn’t think it was a successful adaptation. So he set out to write and direct something that would be more faithful to King’s short story. To his credit, he mostly succeeds in this goal. But the film still makes the same fatal flaw of showing what led the children of Gatlin to kill all of the adults before the opening credits even roll. That kind of ruins the mystery. Since we’ve already figured everything out as an audience, there’s no suspense in watching bickering couple Burt and Vicky trying to do the same thing. That only makes the film’s other flaws — awkward performances from the child actors, a gratuitous sex scene, and costumes that look lifted from a community-theatre production of Oklahoma! — even more glaring. It would be nice to see a filmmaker adapt Children of the Corn with King’s original conceit in mind: the reader discovering what happened in Gatlin at the same time as the characters.
King’s Consensus: None. Although the filmmakers sent him the script in hopes of him being involved, his lawyers sent back a letter saying he wanted nothing to do with the new adaptation.
62. Maximum Overdrive (1986)
King took a stab at directing and failed. No time for jokes here. Maximum Overdrive is a relic from a time when video stores were in vogue. Great cover: Emilio Estevez with a gun and Green Goblin semi. Lil’ Justin is in. Older Justin is not. With fresh pairs of eyes and nostalgia washed away we’re left with a movie overloaded with AC/DC, bad direction, illogical storytelling, and the longest 98 minutes of your life. King’s short story “Trucks” is a good short story that has proven to be impossible to adapt into a full-length feature. I do like the first 10 minutes, but the rest? I’m hailing the next semi, evil or not, and getting out of dodge!
King’s Consensus: “The problem with that film is that I was coked out of my mind all through its production, and I really didn’t know what I was doing.” —Hollywood’s Stephen King, 2003
61. Carrie (2013)
The only good thing about Kimberly Peirce’s 2013 remake of Brian De Palma’s 1976 classic is that it’s directed by a woman. It’s a story about women: Carrie, Margaret, Sue, and Chris are all spirited, frustrated, and broken in their own ways, so why not see what someone as talented as Peirce could bring to the material? Unfortunately, she doesn’t bring much. The result is shiny, superficial, and boring, and the casting of Chloë Grace Moretz as the titular character counts among its most fatal of flaws. Moretz is a fine actress, but nobody would mistake her for an outcast, no matter how much you give her the She’s All That treatment. The biggest problem, however? That it uses the material as a revenge narrative. It’s as if we’re supposed to be cheering for Carrie, to celebrate and cheer for this mass slaughter. Horrifying in all the wrong ways.
King’s Consensus: “I’ve heard rumblings about a Carrie remake, as I have about The Stand and It. Who knows if it will happen? The real question is why, when the original was so good? I mean, not Casablanca, or anything, but a really good horror-suspense film, much better than the book. Piper Laurie really got her teeth into the bad-mom thing.” –Entertainment Weekly, May 2011