Stephen King on Screen

The BFI are known for their film and TV seasons, changing with the actual seasons, sometimes in connection with a major release or prominent anniversary. Genres have been explored; filmmakers and actors of note too have had their time to shine across the screens of the institute. It is a rare occasion to have an author celebrated at the BFI, especially a best selling internationally acclaimed author known for his novel that most famously depict creatures, people and places of nightmares. Known fondly as the ‘Master of Macabre’, Stephen King has published 54 books and written 200 short stories and is the most adapted author (excluding Shakespeare of course). With the latter fact, it makes sense that King is given his own season and not a more fitting time with the release of the new version of It in cinemas, based on the book that the World Clown Association blame for ruining their reputation.

The season began, not with a bang or a scream, but a very entertaining, fantastically detailed and obsessively researched talk by BFI Cult Programmer Michael Blyth, who guided the audience through every single adaptation of King’s work from the big budget movies to the ‘dollar babies’. Blyth enthusiastically took the audience through each year, sharing details of the good, the bad and the really ugly adaptations that have graced the big screen, small screen and the TV screen, illustrated with images, posters, truly beautifully gruesome VHS cover art with clips and trailers from films that just had to be seen with the perfect audience. Blyth even unearthed little known adaptations from around the world, including the Indian adaptation of short story Quitters, Inc. and shared the terrifying and awful-looking The Mangler trailer and the story behind the early 90s thriller The Lawnmower Man which has actually nothing to do with King. The filmmakers that King had worked with across the years (and almost worked with) were intriguing, especially those who had made a ‘Dollar Baby’. Director Frank Darabont was one of the first to be part of the scheme, where King had allowed a select group of aspiring filmmakers to adapt his work into a short film and all they had pay him was $1. With the running joke of about there being a Children of the Corn sequel being released every other year, the talk ended on the trailer for the film Stephen King directed himself, Maximum Overdrive, a perfect end and intro to the season.

Brian De Palma’s adaptation of King’s Carrie is a cult classic. It has received the trashy sequel, the TV adaptation, a 2013 remake and even a failed musical treatment, but nothing really stands up to the King approved original film about a teenage girl with supernatural abilities.

Carrie White is bullied by her peers at school, excluded from social events, and treated like an outcast. Her mother is a disturbed, scarily religious woman who treats her daughter cruelly. When an act of kindness is met with a terrible prank, Carrie takes her revenge, causing death and mayhem.

The film never really delves deeper into why Carrie was bullied in the first place. She does seem to wear old-fashioned looking clothing and acts timid, her mother is definitely part of the problem, knocking door to door trying to force her neighbours to join in with her beliefs and see from her strict suffocating perspective. Despite her fear of her mother, Carrie does question her mother about why she wasn’t told certain things and tries to stand up to her. Carrie really only finds her strength when she begins to accept her own powers, even though they are still new. Although, from her startled desperate expression, covered in blood, it still seems that Carrie is equally aware but scared about how much power she has. Her break down in the bath, when she returns home is her realisation about her actions and what she is really capable of. Her unintentional crucifixion of her mother in the kitchen also seems a shock to her as well as the audience. Carrie is still learning how to use her powers and is sadly never given the opportunity to be her true free self. In this respect, Carrie may be marketed as a classic horror but it is more of a tragedy, and a brilliant piece of cinematic history.

STEPHEN KING ON SCREEN runs at BFI Southbank from 1 Sept – 3 Oct