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Cujo (left) and Carrie will make your blood run cold this winter.
KINGDOM OF FEAR: STEPHEN KING ON SCREEN at TIFF Cinema theque (350 King West) from Saturday (January 18) to April 5. See Indie & Rep Film. tiff.net.
There was a time when Stephen King movies came out every six weeks or so, as producers harvested the author's rich, pulpy novels for one project after another. Some were great, some were terrible. And some of each are playing down at the Lightbox on Saturday nights this winter.
Running weekly at 10 pm through April 5, Kingdom Of Fear: Stephen King On Screen - curated by Twitch's Todd Brown - is by no means a complete retrospective, leaving out key King adaptations like David Cronenberg's austere take on The Dead Zone, Mary Lambert's grim version of Pet Sematary and Fraser C. Heston's goony but strangely compelling Needful Things. (Yes, TIFF did just screen The Dead Zone in its Cronenberg retrospective, but its absence here still feels weird.)
Kingdom Of Fear lines up the movies people think of when they think of Stephen King movies: Brian De Palma's Carrie (March 8), Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (March 15), Frank Darabont's The Shawshank Redemption (February 8), Rob Reiner's Stand By Me (February 15) and Misery (March 1).
There are the movies that have their moments but don't quite feel right, like John Carpenter's slick Christine (February 1), which is crippled by the removal of King's multiple points of view and by a key misunderstanding of the source of the story's malevolence. And despite Ian McKellen's terrific performance as a Nazi war criminal discovered by a budding sociopath (Brad Renfro), Bryan Singer's Apt Pupil (April 5) isn't brave enough to follow through on its premise. These films are intriguing, but they just don't satisfy.
No late-night King festival would be complete without the author's own cinematic efforts. Released in 1982, Creepshow (March 22) was his first project explicitly written for the screen. It's an anthology created in tribute to the gory glories of EC Comics, whose pages had fuelled Little Steve's imagination.
Framed and lit to look like a cheap comic, Creepshow tells four stories in which bad people - played by Ed Harris, Leslie Nielsen and E.G. Marshall among others - get their gruesome comeuppance, and a fifth in which a hayseed farmer (King himself) pokes a meteor he really, really shouldn't. It's all directed with great enthusiasm by King's good buddy George A. Romero, with spectacular monster effects by Tom Savini, the director's collaborator on Dawn Of The Dead.
There's also King's own gleefully stupid Maximum Overdrive (February 22), which he wrote and directed for producer Dino De Laurentiis in 1986. It's terrible, though not as terrible as Firestarter, Mark L. Lester's dull-ass 1984 film of King's expansive book about a pyrokinetic child (played by a clearly confused Drew Barrymore) whose wild talent makes her the target of a demented government assassin (George C. Scott, in a role he never should have been offered). I don't understand why it's in here, and why Brown chose to kick off the series with it on Saturday (January 18).
On the other hand, I'm really glad to see Lewis Teague's ferocious 1983 adaptation of Cujo pop up the following week (January 25); it's a great exploitation picture, a straight-up siege thriller about a woman (Dee Wallace) and her young son (Danny Pintauro) trapped in a stalled Pinto by a rabid St. Bernard. Teague's use of negative space is amazing, always leaving just enough room in the frame for the beast to burst into view. Being trapped in a theatre with it is a very, very different experience from watching it at home.
Frank Darabont's adaptation of The Mist (March 29) tries for the same mercilessness and initially works. The first hour nails the slow-burn panic of King's novella about a handful of Mainers trapped in a supermarket by an inexplicable invasion of monstrous beasts, with Thomas Jane and Andre Braugher nicely matched as neighbours whose antagonism explodes under pressure and Marcia Gay Harden doing a great job of underplaying the religious mania of her villainous character.
But then there's Darabont's awful ending, which betrays King's themes and basically sells out the whole movie. I know some people liked it, but they're wrong.