Eric Vespe and Scott Wampler dive deep into the movie versions of the author's tales.

By Clark Collis
September 15, 2020 at 08:19 PM EDT
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On each episode of the Kingcast podcast, pop culture writers Scott Wampler and Eric Vespe discuss a different adaptation of Stephen King's work with help from a guest.

"Scott said, 'We should have it be not just about the books but about the adaptations,'" explains Vespe. "We hoped that we could get a lot of these people that we’ve met and become friendly with over the years to join up and luckily some of them have."

Since the podcast premiered this spring, the pair's guests have included actors Kumail Nanjiani, Thomas Jane, and Elijah Wood; directors Karyn Kusama, Mike Flanagan, and Scott Derrickson; and writer Seth Grahame-Smith, among others.

"The key is, we’re allowing the guest to decide what adaptation they want to talk about," says Wampler. "It's revealed all these personal connections that people have with the material. Elijah Wood came on and did Misery, and he hadn’t actually read Misery, but he’d seen the movie. He was able to talk about his experience with fandom through the prism of Misery. That was a fascinating thing to hear. We have a guest [this week] who is a person who had a very personal connection with 'Salem's Lot. They grew up in a small town where it turned out their cub scout leader was a serial killer. I was like, 'Well, f--- yeah, we want to hear about that!'"

A new episode of Kingcast is released on Wednesday. Wampler and Vespe lead us through their own ten favorite Stephen King adaptations, below.

10. Cujo (1983)/Gerald’s Game (2017)

SCOTT WAMPLER: We’re cheating right off the bat, but Cujo and Gerald’s Game have something in common. Both of those stories work really well as novels but they are tricky to port over to the big screen. In both cases, you had directors who more than rose to the challenge. We recently revisited Cujo and I was reminded all over again how excellent that movie really is. Gerald’s Game, it’s somewhat along the same lines. Mike Flanagan didn’t have to deal with a Saint Bernard but he did take a novel that absolutely should not have worked onscreen and he invested it with all this life. It’s the best possible version of that. I would also like to go on the record for Doctor Sleep. Mike Flanagan is the miracle worker of Stephen King adaptations. He can do anything.

9. It (2017)

ERIC VESPE: It is my favorite Stephen King novel and I thought they pulled off something pretty incredible with the movie. Just in terms of seeing King done on a grand scale, I think it more than earned its place. Andy Muschietti did a great job with it. It looks amazing. The designs are great. It’s a very scary movie; it’s a very funny movie. He captured a lot of what I love about the book.

8. The Dead Zone (1983)

VESPE: This was a title I kind of forced on Scott. I said we can’t make a top 10 list and not have The Dead Zone in there. It is one of the early examples of a great King story that’s not super crazy with the supernatural. David Cronenberg shot the hell out of it. It looks great. It’s a good character study. It’s memorable. Walken’s great in it. I just love it.

7. Pet Sematary (1983)

WAMPLER: This is like The Dead Zone in that it’s a rock solid adaptation. It ports over everything you need from the novel, it commits to the darkness of the material, and it follows that through to the ending. It’s also notable for having a female director (Mary Lambert), which is extremely uncommon in the world of Stephen King adaptations.

6. The Mist (2007)

WAMPLER: The Mist commits to the bit. The Mist has bigger balls than virtually any other movie you can name. It’s an all-timer horror ending. King himself said, had he thought of that ending he would have written it. The Weinstein Company said they were prepared to offer (Frank) Darabont double that budget if he would just change the ending and he didn’t. He wanted to keep his vision. And god bless him because he pulled it off and it hits like an uppercut.

5. Misery (1990)

VESPE: Misery is another one that people take for granted. This is Rob Reiner at the height of his powers. He makes something that is both really disturbing and also really funny. I think he hits the perfect tone with that movie. It also has one of the most iconic performances in any Stephen King adaptation with Kathy Bates’s Annie Wilkes.

4. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

WAMPLER: I think it’s a tremendous loss that Frank Darabont is not actively making more Stephen King movies right now. Shawshank is a classic.

VESPE: It’s also the one that legitimized King in a way. Stand by Me obviously is another film that’s a more dramatic title. But you can talk to people now and they still don’t know that Stephen King had anything to do with Stand by Me. People know that Stephen King was the guy that wrote Shawshank.

3. Carrie (1976)

VESPE: It’s arguably the most important film on this list. King has said he wouldn’t have become the blockbuster author that he is, the household name, without the success of Carrie. The number of sales of the novel before the film came out was minuscule and the number of sales after the movie came out was through the roof. And for sure, Brian De Palma made an iconic movie. I mean, even people who haven’t seen the movie, they would know any reference you made to dumping a bucket of blood on someone.

2. Stand By Me (1986)

WAMPLER: We explored this in the episode we did with Leigh Whannell — it doesn’t really matter what decade you grew up in, you recognize the friendships in that movie, they’re universal. Virtually every friend group has those archetypes. I think Rob Reiner shares a humanist touch with Stephen King that comes through and it’s the secret weapon for his adaptations.

1. The Shining (1980)

VESPE: We had a little conversation about this because there are two kinds of lists you can make. Do we approach this as best adaptations or best movies? Because there is an argument to be made that The Shining isn’t the best Stephen King adaptation, because it doesn’t follow a lot of things that King wrote about in The Shining, a lot of the themes he was exploring in The Shining. But it is unquestionably an incredible film. So, I think that even though we may get yelled at by some hardcore Stephen King readers for picking this as the number one Stephen King movie, I don’t think it’s really arguable in terms of the longevity of the film, the impact on pop culture, on cinema itself.

WAMPLER: It’s Kubrick plus King, right? If this movie did not exist, this is a movie that we would daydream about existing. It’s impossibly important to the horror genre. An entire generation watched this on sleepovers and were scared witless and now claim allegiance to King and Kubrick. I wish Stephen King enjoyed that movie as much as I do, but I understand that it’s probably a lot more personal to him than it is to me.

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