This article was originally published on showwatcher.com on April 26, 2012.
Stephen King is as closely associated with motion pictures as he is with publishing, thanks to huge hits based on his books such as Carrie, The Shining, Stand By Me, Misery, and The Shawshank Redemption, among many others. King himself has written screenplays for films like Creepshow, Pet Sematary, Cat’s Eye, and Sleepwalkers, plus creating two TV series and writing three mini-series. Of course, so many of his stories have been adapted into movies that quite a few have been done badly–Graveyard Shift and the various Children of the Corn flicks come to mind. Stephen King himself is to blame for Maximum Overdrive, having both written and directed that fiasco.
With a plethora of film and television productions originating from King’s imagination, it’s easy to think that his publishing catalog has been bled dry. However, there are nearly 30 of his novels that have yet to be adapted in any form. That does not even count his short stories and novellas that have been published in nine collections. His literary work could literally keep the movie industry in business for years. Some of his short fiction would not translate into film due to subject matter or simply the length of the story (The Lawnmower Man is a good example of this, despite the attempts by the filmmakers), but quite a few would make fantastic features. Here are ten short stories or novellas written by Stephen King that should be adapted as motion pictures.
I Am the Doorway
For those people who still think Stephen King only writes horror (despite The Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me, Dolores Claiborne and The Dark Tower series), it would surprise you to know that he has wandered into the realms of science fiction, fantasy, and character-based drama. His work often mixes a variety of genres, and “I Am the Doorway” is one of them, combining science fiction and horror. It tells the story of an astronaut who returns to Earth only to find eyeballs erupting on his fingertips. These eyeballs act as “doorways” for aliens to see our world, though terrifyingly distorting the images. The aliens take control of the astronaut and cause him to go on a murder spree against his will. He must fight against the unearthly forces at work inside himself. This would make a taut, suspenseful science fiction thriller unlike anything else seen in the theaters.
The Man Who Loved Flowers
Night Shift, 1978; originally published in Gallery, August 1977
“The Man Who Loved Flowers” is Stephen King’s take on a psychotic serial killer, though that turns out to be the twist at the end of the short story. A man seemingly in love purchases flowers for his girlfriend, but it turns out that he meets random women who he thinks is his beloved Norma and kills them when he realizes that they aren’t her. The real Norma had died ten years previously, and grief drove him insane. As a movie, this could play out much like Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy, where the murderer is a regular, nice guy in normal situations, but something triggers his psychosis that causes him to kill. We follow detectives trying to solve the series of murders. The only clue is the flowers left by the bodies, which eventually leads the detectives to discover the truth. Can they find the killer before he locates another Norma?
Another excellent science fiction story, “The Jaunt” is set in the future where teleportation to Mars is as common as traveling via airlines. There are actually two parallel plot lines: the first about a family preparing for their jaunt; the second an extended flashback sequence involving the inventor of the teleporter, as told by the father of the family. It turns out that one must be unconscious when being “Jaunted” to avert insanity or death. The scientist who developed the technology first discovered “the Jaunt effect” among mice he used for early tests, then later on a prisoner who volunteered in exchanged for parole–who lived long enough to indicate that the dimension they must travel through exists in a much longer time period than we experience. In movie form, the futuristic family scenes would serve as the backdrop to the true story, that of the development of technology that has the potential to go very wrong but in a different manner than was developed in The Fly.
Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut
Skeleton Crew, 1985; originally published in Redbook magazine, May 1984
Another type of science fiction travel, through worm holes, is explored in “Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut,” where a man learns that the eponymous character has discovered ways to drive distances that are seemingly impossible. She compares her shortcuts to folding two points on a map together. The man explores these shortcuts, finding himself in a world where monstrous animals live among trees that attack, and anyone who travels these routes seem to grow younger. A movie version could use this story as a starting point and go further into exploring what exactly lies in these strange lands and why the worm holes exist in the first place–as well as what threat they may pose to our world.
Skeleton Crew, 1985; originally published as “Do the Dead Sing?” in Yankee, 1981
Stephen King often writes books that prominently feature woman–Carrie, Misery, Dolores Claiborne, Gerald’s Game, Rose Madder, and Lisey’s Game to name a few. “The Reach” is no exception, except for the fact that the female protagonist is 95 years old. She has lived on Goat Island her entire life, but as cancer eats away at her, she begins seeing the ghosts of loved ones like her husband, who urges her to cross the reach to the mainland. She heads out in a blizzard, where she is surrounded by family and friends escorting her to her final destination. While this is a ghost story, the ghosts are not presented in a horrific manner but in a rather sentimental one. Like Dolores Claiborne, if this is expanded into a feature length, the main character’s past can be explored in a mature manner and the true horrors of life–devastating illnesses, growing old alone and lonely, and the reality of death–can be explored using the ghosts as a supernatural framing device.
The House on Maple Street
Nightmares & Dreamscapes, 1993
Like many of King’s stories, “The House on Maple Street” uses the supernatural to deal with real-life issues, whether it’s racism, religious mania, abortion, spousal abuse, or bullying. In this case, it’s child abuse. The four Bradbury children featured in the story live with an abusive stepfather, but find a way to get rid of him when their house begins to change. Something replaces the building materials with metal, turning their home into a giant machine that counts down to some calamity. This premise could easily become an entertaining film that kids would relate to, something that is rare with Stephen King films. A sense of awe would turn into dread, and finally to victory as the kids use their bizarre situation to escape an even worse, real-world one.
The novella “Everything’s Eventual,” which was featured in the collection of the same name, joins King stories such as Carrie, The Dead Zone, and Firestarter where the main character has a psychic power that does miraculous things, but has potentially disastrous consequences. In this case, a 19-year-old high school dropout has the ability to psychically brainwash people through his drawings. He uses this gift to cause his overbearing boss to commit suicide, after which he is recruited by a secretive organization to assassinate people by emailing them his illustrations. However, when he learns the truth about one of his targets, guilt over his actions take over and he comes to understand that his employers are evil. He plots an escape. The movie can be similar to adaptations of Philip K. Dick stories where you have a person embroiled in a science fiction conspiracy far more complicated that he is prepared to face and must take down the bad guys using his wits and skills.
The Things They Left Behind
The events of September 11, 2001 have etched themselves in our public consciousness. Stephen King’s way of dealing with his feelings about those terrible events was to write “The Things They Left Behind,” which deals with a man who worked in the World Trade Center, but took the day off that fateful day. He deals with survivor guilt, and then the supernatural intervenes–items belonging to his dead co-workers appear in his apartment. In order for him to heal, he must track down the immediate family of the dead owners of these objects and pass the things along to them. While this may sound sentimental and somewhat similar to the saccharin Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, remember that this is done in Stephen King style with true horrors being depicted. Of course, a movie with this subject matter must be handled sensitively, and if the right tone of reality and fantasy is met, this could be an emotional experience along the lines of The Shawshank Redemption.
Full Dark, No Stars, 2010
Novellas lend themselves best to film because of their length as the plot neither needs to be condensed nor embellished. “1922” is a good example of this. Set in the title year, a farmer convinces his 14-year-old son to help murder his wife, who wants to sell the farm to a slaughterhouse and move to the city. They successfully convince the sheriff that the woman deserted them, but life is anything but happy. The farmer becomes convinced that his dead wife is now haunting him due to an infestation of vicious rats. Understandably, his son grows emotionally unstable and ultimately runs off with his girlfriend for a life of crime that ends tragically. The farmer spirals into a life of desperation and possible insanity as he perceives the rats stalking him from town to town. This is pure Stephen King using imaginative horror to give characters who make bad choices a fitting end. The human drama alone could make a poignant film, but with the layer of the questionable sanity of the protagonist and the visions he sees would bring this film into terror territory.
Full Dark, No Stars, 2010
In the novella “Big Driver,” King forgoes the supernatural for realistic scares, again exploring the nature of a serial killer. This is another story that features a strong female lead, a mystery writer who succumbs to events right out of one of her own books. After a public appearance, she takes a shortcut that leads through the middle of nowhere–and right into a trap. She finds herself at the mercy of a large truck driver who at first seems helpful, but then beats her and leaves her for dead among the bodies of previous victims. After escaping, the writer plays detective and tracks down her would-be murderer, only to find a larger plot than she ever anticipated involving a very twisted family. This violent Hitchcockian thriller is full of twists that the audience cannot anticipate, and would keep them on the edge of their seats.
As a footnote, Stephen King offers the rights to certain short stories to amateur and student filmmakers for a buck as part of his Dollar Babies program. Currently, four of the stories listed in this article (“I Am the Doorway,” “The Man Who Loved Flowers,” “The Reach,” and “The Things They Left Behind”) are available. The contract for Dollar Babies prohibits the filmmakers from making a profit off these films, and distribution is limited to film festivals and demo reels.
© 2012 Jamie Helton