‘Salem’s Lot (2004)

Directed by Mikael Salomon
A Mark M. Wolper Production
in Association with Warner Bros. Television

Had I been aware this existed? I didn’t think so, but one scene convinced me I’d at least read about it somewhere before, and I have the sneaking suspicion it must have been a commentary by S. King himself. (I cannot confirm this.) Whatever the case, when I chanced upon it a few days prior to its viewing, a quick scan of its synopsis led me to think it would be nigh unwatchable, but that turned out to be far from the truth. Actually, one could argue the amendments made to the source text actually improve things, since it becomes a little bit less of a blatant rewrite of Dracula in this iteration. Hampered a bit by the need to be palatable enough to serve a basic-cable television audience, and also by the curious handling of the Barlow character, the three-hour runtime felt appropriate. Bringing the story into a more contemporary setting didn’t hurt, either, although I would argue it didn’t resemble “Maine” in the least … were it not for the fact I’ve never been to Maine, so how would I know.

Why Did I Watch This MOvie?

As I’ve never posted a review of Tobe Hooper’s CBS-TV version of this story, I had planned to rewatch that, but at a certain point in the proceedings I became aware of this one and switched allegiances.


Should You Watch This Movie?

I’ll say this, it wasn’t the easiest thing to find.


Highlight and Low Point

The casting is sometimes questionable. Rob Lowe’s a pretty good Ben Mears, but Donald Sutherland’s Straker may require a period of adjustment and Rutger Hauer’s Barlow is just odd. The intro and outro present a quandary.

Rating From Outer Space: C+

The Night Flier aka Stephen King’s The Night Flier (1997)

directed by Mark Pavia
New Amsterdam Entertainment™ Incorporated/Stardust International Ltd./Medusa Film S.p.A

Based on an S. King short story I hadn’t read – it’s in Nightmares & Dreamscapes, the titles of which mainly don’t ring a bell, with the exception of “You Know They Got a Hell of a Band,” which I recall detesting – this archetypal B movie was financed by European concerns and tells a tale of Richard Dees and the tabloid “Inside View,” both names I will go ahead and presume you recall from The Dead Zone, by which I mean the novel, not the dreadful film adaptation directed by David Cronenberg and starring Christopher Walken. The titular “flier” – and why the heck isn’t it “flyer,” anyway? – is a vampire airman going by the meta name “Dwight Renfield.” That’s it, that’s the story. With oh-so-subtle parallels drawn to the journalistic pursuit of. Some form of the twist ending you will likely foresee.

why did i watch this movie?

I wasn’t feeling the two pictures that formerly had been slated, possibly as a result of having just watched all nine “Episodes” of the Skywalker Saga triple trilogy, but I WAS in the mood for something based on the timeless works of S. King. The Under the Dome series wasn’t doing it for me and I had yet to discover the three seasons of Mr. Mercedes, so I went with this.


should you watch this movie?

If you’re an I’m-fine-sticking-with-basic-cable-and-terrestrial-channels type, go for it.

highlight and low point

The climactic scenes are pretty gratifying, especially given how ridiculous the vampire looks when finally we see its face. Some subsequent action even manages to atone for that. The rest is pretty standard low-budget middle-of-the-road mild
horror. It’s more of a character study, really …
which, you know, S. King.

rating from outer space: b−

The Mangler (1995)

directed by tobe hooper
distant horizon/filmex (pty) ltd/allied film productions

You’d THINK that a story about a bloodthirsty industrial laundry machine – Box Office Mojo: “A laundry-folding machine has been possessed by a demon, causing it to develop homicidal tendencies” – would be a premise stupid enough to satisfy most people, but Tobe Hooper apparently wasn’t most people, as it seems it wasn’t stupid enough for him. No, he must have decided – having cowritten the damn thing – that the presentation would have to be dumbed down in order to make an inexcusably brain-dead travesty of a feature. It’s a chore merely to make it past the first couple minutes, which I attest having had to try more than once. Everything looks abysmally fake, most of the acting is atrocious, the embellishments to the plotline of S. King’s originating short story are idiotic, and holy contrivance, Robert Englund’s character. He – it – they … stammering, reduced to, me. Bleah.

why did i watch this movie?

Besides my S. King obsessiveness, I had just finished Hooper’s Funhouse and fumbled my way into the realization that he directed (and cowrote) this crap.

should you watch this movie?

Plenty of terrible adaptations of S. King material are out there, just waiting for you. (Thinner, for example – I couldn’t make it through that one the first time I tried, either.)

highlight and low point

Look, the story itself (which you can read in the Night Shift collection) ends with the industrial speed-ironer wrenching itself from its moorings and stalking humanity, and I’ll grant that would be a difficult occurrence to film. That being said, the animated Mangler at this picture’s apogee is deliriously spurious. The filmic resemblance to portions of Graveyard Shift (story also from aforementioned source) do not lend this production any additional credibility.

rating from outer space: 0

Doctor Sleep (2019)

directed by mike flanagan
intrepid pictures/vertigo entertainment

As a no-longer-practicing alcoholic, I found a lot of S. King‘s The Shining sequel Doctor Sleep all too grimly realistic, even if I felt the underlying tale of the “psychic vampires” who sustain themselves by torturing children to death – no, really, that’s the impetus of the plot – to be kinda, you know … dumb. But I guess if you’re going to revisit Danny Torrance and his psychic abilities, you may as well retcon your story to broach lucrative sequel territory. All right, that’s unfair, and I know it; the novel was way better than I expected it to be, even with its jaw-dropping deus ex machina. Flanagan’s adaptation actually handles the ending a lot better, and likewise is much more enjoyable than I thought it would be – as I felt it was going to be kinda, you know … dumb. Never getting particularly scary, this film’s paltry ROI makes it a box-office failure, especially glaring when compared to the likes of the recent Pet Sematary and, especially, IT TOO. Which is kinda … you know.

why did i watch this movie?

After all those 13th flicks and a detour into Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood, what the hell.

should you watch this movie?

It – sorry, this production – would’ve worked just as well as a Television Event.

highlight and low point

The atmospherics are pretty good and the FX aren’t half bad, and a crucial segment contains an effectively startling moment or two … but as usual, condensing the Kingly sprawl into even a lengthy picture (150 minutes, in this case) tends to lessen some of the impact. To wit: the reason grown-up Danny’s abilities contribute the eponym is largely ignored. The use of stand-ins for Nicholson and Shelley Duvall amused me.

rating from outer space: C+

IT Chapter Two (2019)

directed by andy muschietti
new line cinema/vertigo entertainment/katzsmith productions/rideback

You may know that this picture hit theaters right about the time S. King’s latest bestselling novel, The Institute, hit bookstore shelves. I had been unaware of the new book until basically its release day, when I read it immediately. (Naturally.) And despite the fact that it lifts its basic premise almost entirely from season one of Stranger Things (and sure, that premise isn’t dissimilar to the one King presented in Firestarter, but he has been enjoying revisiting old themes of late), it’s a pretty good read. King slacks off a bit in the latter half, where character development gets a much shorter shrift than he ever would’ve cottoned to in his prime, and the ending wraps up a little too neatly, especially for a guy whose tendency to punt the ending is lampooned in the latest movie based on one of his works. (This one, that is.) But it’s better than The Outsider, and it’s better than Sleeping Beauties, and it’s better than the Bill Hodges trilogy, and it’s better than The Revival, and it’s less ridiculous than Dr. Sleep and  … well, it’s not better than Joyland.

As for this flick, it’s nearly three (3!) hours long.

why did i watch this movie?

I’d seen the first installment.

should you watch this movie?

First ask yourself what you stand to gain from that choice. Then do something else instead.

highlight and low point

A partial list of drawbacks hampering this production includes overreliance on lousy CGI, jump scares, and emoting, and the alterations to the source text don’t help anything. The unbearably tedious and hackneyed ending is also tremendously anticlimactic, which is, uh, ironic(?), given the script’s aforementioned allusions to the terrible endings of “Bill’s” movies.

rating from outer space: F

the sign says it all

Pet Sematary (2019)

directed by kevin KÖlsch & Dennis widmyer
di bonaventura pictures

To its credit, here are some things this unbidden remake of an unloved movie doesn’t contain:

Song-and-dance routines
Postmodernism
Dragons
Folksy narration
Superheroes
A blaring “modern rock” soundtrack
Auto-Tune

That it also lacks any explanation for its existence is unimportant, since isn’t that the linchpin of the plot? The … CEMETERY PLOT? (creepy laugh)

Seriously, I have no idea why someone filmed “STEPHEN KING’S TERRIFYING NOVEL” again or why they made some of the choices they made in revising key elements (and some trivial ones as well, which is just odd). The exposition is rushed, the backstory truncated, and the voiceovers ridiculous. But credit where it’s due: once the dead little girl shows up, she’s really spooky. Altogether, however, it kinda feels as though someone had the idea for the final quarter of this flick, only to realize they’d have to adapt it to the existing framework. Is it “better” than the first go-round, probably. Is that any sort of quality claim, well …

No.

why did i watch this movie?

I had no intention of seeing this, but its schlock-ridden FINAL TRAILER defeated me. (Had I known its helmsmen also made 2014’s Starry Eyes, I woulda been interested much earlier. And greatly disappointed.)

should you watch this movie?

Hundreds of movies have yet to be made from heretofore unfilmed S. King output, and pix made from presumably original stories also abound.

highlight and low point

This flick is almost completely worthless until the dead little girl comes home. Then it’s not that bad, especially when she hints at an unimagined diabolical secret. The last scene is also pretty twisted. But extraneous distractions abound, some amateur touches provoke laughter instead of frisson, and the penultimate scene is largely shameful.

rating from outer space: D+

A Return to Salem’s Lot (1987)

directed by larry cohen
larco Productions/420 demons

As this picture began to unspool, I didn’t know if I’d be able to stand it, because once we reach the town of Jerusalem’s Lot, the production quality (acting, costumes, props, makeup) takes a severe nosedive – and it was iffy from the get-go. I persevered, however, and was amply rewarded by general weirdness. (I also greatly enjoyed the credit “Based on characters created by Stephen King,” as the only way in which that is true is if one considers the town of “Salem’s Lot” itself to be a character.) Okay, look, in terms of actual credibility, this flick is nowheresville; it plays more like a made-for-TV movie than the 1978 Tobe Hooper-directed Salem’s Lot CBS “miniseries” and is chock-full of several stripes of bad acting that run the gamut from half-baked to hammy. Throw in a Nazi hunter to save the day, and you’ve got everything you always wanted in a fear, and less! This is where sequencing can be important: after watching Scarecrows, this flick wound up being highly enjoyable.

why did i watch this movie?

As acknowledged, I am a bit of an S. King obsessive, so I’ve wanted to investigate this one for quite a while, especially after having viewed Cohen’s Special Effects.

should you watch this movie?

It depends on how SERIOUSLY you take “Salem’s Lot” to be a “gripping masterwork of horror,” or whatever people consider King’s (or Hooper’s) Dracula redux to be, because this is a tongue-in-cheek treatment of the (purported) source material.

highlight and low point

The last time I watched a vampire flick I learned how to revive a bloodsucker; this time I found out a mortal can impregnate one and that its ashy remains may spontaneously combust. This is the terrifying leader of the hemovores:

rating from outer space: D

House on Haunted Hill (1959)

directed by william castle
william castle productions

The second horror feature from prolific B-movie factor-turned-producer Wm. Castle, this flick may well serve as the template for Scooby-Doo’s many eerie mysteries. It’s also a clear precursor of Clue. Not only is at least one line lifted nearly verbatim nearly 30 years later in that farce, the House in question harbors secret passages, guns and ropes, people who have “never met,” the whole nine yards. Vincent Price may not be quite as over-the-top as Tim Curry, but nobody else acts as poorly as Lee Ving, either, so call that a wash. Anyway, this film concerns a group of people who have to survive the night in a HAUNTED HOUSE for some sort of payoff, a now-familiar setup. Released the same year as the publication of the Shirley Jackson story “The Haunting of Hill House,” House on Haunted Hill predated The Haunting – which was based on the story – by four years, which isn’t confusing at all. Truth be told, this picture was a lot better than I expected it to be, even with its red … herrings and some impossibly goofy scenarios and characters. It holds a few legitimate frights, too, and more than enough implausible moments to satisfy anybody.

looks a bit different than in the poster, this house

why did i watch this movie?

I was informed I had to make up for the Vincent Price gap in my viewing, and I’ve been intrigued by Castle’s huckstering since reading S. King’s Danse Macabre in, like, 1983. PLUS, it’s a song by the Didjits from their worst album.

should you watch this movie?

At 75 minutes, it won’t take up much of your time – and you can watch the whole shebang on its Wikipedia page.

highlight and low point

The basement of the house contains an easily accessible pit filled with acid – perfect for dissolving bodies – which seems farfetched.

rating from outer space: b−

Cell (2016)

directed by tod williams
the genre company/benaroya pictures

When the novel upon which this film is based was first published, I was in one of my periodic phases where I was not interested in reading any more goddamn Stephen King novels, besides which I thought it sounded pretty stupid, given that it seemed a little late to be ruminating on mobile phones. (And paradoxically proved to have been early enough to make a more prescient statement than it did!) Then a similarly King-obsessed friend managed to goad me into catching up on his more recent works – Under the Dome and Duma Key, in case you’re wondering – and I was screwed. Cell the novel is not of the more admirable S. King, and neither is this adaptation worthwhile, despite – or because of – the author’s work on the screenplay. John Cusack takes the lead role, Sam Jackson shows up for a paycheck, and the ending is completely different from the book’s, and appalling. It’s also one of the movie’s only effective scenes, and made me wonder yet again why the best-selling author seemingly doesn’t have an editor. Or at least one who can talk him out of his poorer ideas.

why did i watch this movie?

I couldn’t help myself, the way it’s difficult not to look at the burning auto wreck as you drive past it.

should you watch this movie?

I bet it would be good for spurring a healthy debate about how or why actors appear in certain roles and/or movies.

highlight and low point

This flick feels really lazy, as though nobody in it or involved with it really gave much of a tin shit. So the ending stands out – because although it’s also lousy, for those familiar with the source text it’s at least pretty jarring.

rating from outer space: d

IT (2017)

directed by andy muschietti
new line cinema

I … have read over 60 Stephen King books – which is to say, most of them. IT is one of my favorites, so I am perhaps biased in my abjuration of this werewolf picture. But what makes the book work is the relationships of the “Losers’ Club” kids – with each other, and with the adult world – and we get almost no sense of that in this retelling. Instead, we’ve got a bunch of kids who decide to hang out together for some reason and, moreover, to confront the hideous monster killing children in their town. Their enemies, meanwhile, are even less well-drawn, so further impetus for much of the action is lost. The climactic scenes inside the monster’s lair are well-envisioned, and a few of the individual vignettes are effective. But the best scene was spoiled by being included in the trailer, and I feel like a sucker for having bought into it. I’m still gonna see Part II, of course.

why did i watch this movie?

The trailer made it look as though someone finally had figured out how to film an S. King adaptation effectively – especially the concept of splitting it into two halves.

should you watch this movie?

‘Twas a runaway smash hit, and continues to receive overwhelmingly positive word-of-mouth, so what do I know.

highlight and low point

The foreign screener I watched rendered the title, literally, as “The.” Besides that, the film did a good job of ratcheting up the tension until the Losers’ decision to enter the sewers in search of their evil quarry. Again, however, the depictions of the kids had little depth, and a few of the alterations and additions to their exploits and backstories were peculiar, to say the least.

rating from outer space: C