Stephen King: Debating The King of Horror’s 1980s Film Adaptations


What’s the best 1980’s Stephen King film adaptation? There are plenty of options to choose from, and 1428 Elm’s own Billy Cripps and Joey Click are here to debate which one should be considered the best. Read on…

Billy Cripps

Since 1974, Stephen King has been the undisputed ‘King of Horror’. He threw his the manuscript of Carrie in the trash, but luckily for us, his wife Tabitha fished it out and made him send it into a publisher. Carrie was King’s first published novel. It was widely popular among horror enthusiasts, thus, 2 years later, Carrie was developed for a movie adaptation. The movie brought King’s work to an even wider audience, and the rest is history.

In the 1980s, the popularity of Stephen King sky-rocketed. With more novels and stories came more movie adaptations. My favorite Stephen King movie of this decade is definitely Pet Sematary.

Official Choice: Pet Sematary (1989)

The Creeds are a typical American family: all-American mother Rachel, father Louis and two children, 5-year-old Ellie and 2-year-old Gage. The Creeds move to the small town of Ludlow, Maine, due to Louis getting a job as a doctor at the local university. Upon arrival at their new home, Gage is almost run down in the road by a passing oil tanker truck. He is saved by the kind elderly neighbor, Jud Crandall. Louis and Jud form a fast friendship. Louis looks at Jud as a father figure.

“A Pet Isn’t Just For Life” -Tagline

Louis thought his new job would be easy. He thought the most he would be dealing with was a flu outbreak or the occasional STD. Little does he know his little Norman Rockwell family life is about to be turned upside down. A young student named Victor Paschow is hit by a car. Paschow is more or less dead on arrival, but he has a cryptic warning for Louis.

Later while Rachel and the children are away, Louis gets a call from Jud. It seems Ellie’s cat Winston Churchill (Church for short) was run over in the road. Louis confirms the death of Church, bringing Jud to a decision to tell Louis a dark secret about a place not far from the local ‘Pet Sematary’ in the woods behind the Creed home (spelled that way due to the kids who took charge of its upkeep). He thinks he is doing a good thing, returning the favor from when Louis helped his wife.

"“Sometimes dead is better.” ~Jud Crandall"

Beyond the normal ‘Pet Sematary’ is an ancient Native American burial ground that is said to bring the dead back to life. Jud takes Louis there to bury Church. To Louis’ surprise, Church soon comes back, though he’s not the cat he used to be. He’s more aggressive, and stinks of the ground he was buried in.

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Soon the unthinkable happens. Little Gage is hit by one of the oil trucks. Louis sends the grieving Ellie and Rachel back to her parents, while he hatches a plan to dig up Gage’s body and rebury him in the MicMac burial ground, because it worked so well with Church right?

Unfortunately Gage comes back even worse than Church. Gage kills Jud, and his mother Rachel who returned without Louis’ knowledge. Louis then must then make the most difficult decision of his life. He must kill his child and Church again, but he stupidly buries Rachel in the MicMac burial ground. The movie ends on a cliff hanger as the reanimated Rachel comes home to Louis.

Pet Sematary is equal parts frightening and heart-breaking. Who among us hasn’t thought they’d do anything to bring a loved one back, though as Jud says, “Sometimes, dead is better.” Pet Sematary spawned one less than stellar sequel that was rife with stupidity, but the original Pet Sematary is a classic tale of grief, loss, and morality.

Joey Click

If you’re a remotely sentient human being, the name Stephen King undoubtedly conjures up many memories. Whether you’ve experienced one of the iconic author’s novels, a film adaptation, a television series or special mini-series (IT isn’t a movie but an amazing mini-series directed by Halloween III: Season of the Witch’s Tommy Lee Wallace) you’re bound to be connected to one of the author’s many twisted tales.

Official Choice: The Shining (1980)

Beginning with Brian DePalma 1976 high school-horror classic Carrie, King’s work has been adapted to film more times than Michael Jordan took the Bulls to the NBA Playoffs. While each decade has had its own enticing entries, as well as its debilitating debacles, there’s nothing like the 80s when it comes to the cinematic tales of Stephen King. Among them, nothing is quite like Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 masterpiece The Shining.

“He Came As The Caretaker, But This Hotel Had Its Own Guardians – Who’d Been There A Long Time” -Tagline

Sure, I could have picked so many more that I love with the passion of a protective parent looking after their crazy children. I adore David Cronenberg’s stellar 1983 The Dead Zone (starring Christopher Walken), Rob Reiner’s amazing 1986 Stand By Me (starring Wil Wheaton and based off the 1982 short story The Body) and John Carpenter’s 1983 Christine (starring Keith Gordon), but the one that reigns over all is Kubrick’s tale of hotel fever and the horrors of ideal typing hands.

Why do I love the 1980 film so much, Fright Fans?

The film is immaculately directed, which is not surprising given the captain of The Overlook’s cinematic of the ship if you will. Kubrick is one of the most brilliant minds in the history of film and his hand is stamped on every frame. The iconic elevator shot, the frosty maze sequence (in the thick of the film’s climax), the Jack/Wendy fight, and the lady in the tube moment is just a pinch of the filmmaking power that the New York-born filmmaker was bringing to the table.

The Shining is also brilliantly acted. Jack Nicholson, who is a three-time Oscar winner, turns in one of horror’s most accomplished performances playing struggling writer Jack Torrance. The way the legendary actor approaches Jack’s motivations and subtlety, while most would call is extremely unsubtle, is amazing and beautiful to behold every time I watch the horror classic. Shelley Duvall is also simply superb as ole Jackie boy’s wife, Wendy Torrance. She’s clearly oppressed and the product of years of an abusive relationship. Her performance is often overshadowed by Nicholson’s, which is sad, because Duvall’s acting in The Shining is extremely layered. In fact, Kubrick infamously put Duvall through the ringer and often made her do so many takes, David Fincher would freak.

The script is also amazing. The film builds beautifully to its third act, has a long second act (which should always be the longest in any story), and scares the wits out of its audience with its scary scenarios and “what’s truly terrifying” take on life.

"“All Work And No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy.” – Jack Torrance"

Ironically, its entirely difficult to even call The Shining an adaptation due to how different the film is to King’s book. In actuality, the two artists famously feuded after King turned in the original draft for the screenplay and Kubrick scrapped it altogether. King reportedly didn’t take kind to the filmmaker’s insistence on keeping King away from the filmed version of the property. Kubrick, instead, adapted the novel himself and changed a lot of what was in King’s book. The result is a different tale, not entirely but still true, and changes a lot of the character’s motivations and the climax has been changed. I, for one, enjoy both pieces of art and love the story of how King’s 1977 novel made it to the big screen.

In all, The Shining is a stellar film- one which was almost universally bashed upon release- and that gets better with each passing day. Don’t forget to book your stay at The Overlook hotel, it wont be vacant for long.

Don’t forget to comment below with your favorite 80s King film and join 1428 next time as our staff discusses the best King inspired film of the 1990s, only on Diabolical Debates.

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