“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.”– Stephen King
Stephen King, the ‘King’ of horror, has written numerous stories and novels and boasts of the most number of book-to-film adaptations in comparison to any other living author. Directors are currently obsessed with adapting King’s novels and short stories into full-length feature films. Whether it is a remake of the original or a fresh new perspective, these films have marked the continuance of a “Stephen King renaissance” and, while he is supportive of filmmakers adapting his work, he has never been shy to heavily criticise them as well.
Horror, as a genre, is widely popular among kids and adults alike. The fear of the unknown sends an adrenaline rush which serves a different kind of high. It is even better when King’s nuanced craftsmanship plays on our psychological senses, provoking and scaring the reader at the same time. What’s better than watching the horror unfold on-screen and scare us tenfold?
While Stephen King was not particularly a fan of Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining, it arguably remains one of his best adaptations to date with the psychotic Jack Torrance growing increasingly insane, trying to kill his family by brandishing an axe, while chanting “redrum”. Despite its success, King was never fond of the movie due to the changes that Kubrick made. He said: “I think The Shining is a beautiful film and it looks terrific and as I’ve said before, it’s like a big, beautiful Cadillac with no engine inside it. In that sense, when it opened, a lot of the reviews weren’t very favourable and I was one of those reviewers. I kept my mouth shut at the time, but I didn’t care for it much… I feel the same because the character of Jack Torrance has no arc in that movie. Absolutely no arc at all. When we first see Jack Nicholson, he’s in the office of Mr. Ullman, the manager of the hotel, and you know, then, he’s crazy as a shit house rat. All he does is get crazier. In the book, he’s a guy who’s struggling with his sanity and finally loses it. To me, that’s a tragedy. In the movie, there’s no tragedy because there’s no real change. The other real difference is at the end of my book the hotel blows up and at the end of Kubrick’s movie the hotel freezes. That’s a difference.”
While we have seen some other excellent King adaptations including Carrie, The Misery, Cujo, 1922, In the Tall Grass, The Mist, It, Pet Sematary, Doctor Sleep and more, one cannot get enough of this prolific author’s work. While fans wait excitedly for Scott Beck and Bryan Woods’ upcoming adaptation of King’s The Boogeyman as well as other stories that are in production, we decided to go through the maestro’s expansive works to find out select some of the best short stories. Most of them have been adapted into TV episodes but never into feature-length films which seems like a waste of King’s genius.
Here are 10 brilliant Stephen King short stories that need to be made into films. And remember, we said it first!
10 Stephen King adaptations that need to happen:
10. Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut (Skeleton Crew, 1985)
Homer narrates a strange tale to his friend David about a certain Mrs. Todd who has an unhealthy obsession with taking shortcuts. Strangely enough, her shortcuts make her travel fewer miles which is technically impossible to achieve. However, as Homer gets coerced into taking one of her special shortcuts, he experiences unusual incidents which lead to the murky ending of the story.
It is fascinating to think of the possible ways in which a filmmaker could employ jumpscares and animation in these shortcuts. King refers to his other works, especially his novel The Talisman, where he spoke about inter-dimensional travel that reduces the time of journey in the real world.
9. In the Deathroom (Everything’s Eventual, 2002)
Captured by members of a South American authoritarian government, Fletcher, an ex-reporter at The New York Times, realises that despite their promises, he will not be let out alive from the interrogation regarding a communist insurgency. To save himself, Fletcher hatches a plan, which is surprisingly successful; the ending is ambiguous yet hopeful. It would be interesting to see what a filmmaker might make of the story, whether they will end the film on a similar note, or add darker subplots to it.
As Stephen King himself said in a note with the story in this collection, “This is a slightly Kafka-esque story about an interrogation room in the South American version of Hell. In such stories, the fellow being interrogated usually ends up spilling everything and then being killed (or losing his mind). I wanted to write one with a happier ending, however unreal that might be. And here it is.”
8. Autopsy Room Four (Everything’s Eventual, 2002)
The protagonist Howard Cottrell, bitten by a Peruvian boomslang, has attained a death-like paralysis and wakes up in the autopsy room and he tries to communicate his consciousness to the doctors. Based on Louis Pollock’s Breakdown, the protagonist even explicitly mentions the adaptation of the story. The ending is sardonically funny when the audience is informed of his selective arousal to rubber gloves.
Bizarre and funny, it would heighten the fear of premature burial and be autopsied alive. As King himself mentions, “At some point, I think every writer of scary stories has to tackle the subject of premature burial, if only because it seems to be such a pervasive fear.”
7. The Cat From Hell (Just After Sunset, 2008)
A professional hitman is offered $12,000 to assassinate a cat which is quite different from his usual targets. He scoffs in disbelief when the employer says that the cat is the “feline emissary of revenge” who is here to avenge the deaths of the thousands of its compatriots tortured and killed by the employer’s company under the pretext of research. While Halston thinks its an easy job, he quickly realises the sinister nature of the cat which is quite different from his assumptions.
Cats are popular in the realm of witchcraft and are often considered omens. It would be intriguing to see a director make a feature film out of this story; it does not seem too crazy of an idea as a bizarre french film Rubber has already been made where a tyre comes to life and embarks on a quest for bloodlust. If a tyre can embark on a murderous rampage, why can’t a cat? This film would definitely be more watchable and engrossing than the recent Cats film.
6. Obits (The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, 2015)
Michael ‘Mike’ Anderson is a budding journalist at the satirical website Neon Circus where he is in charge of the “speaking ill of the dead” column which features irreverent obituaries about deceased celebrities. Mike decides to write an obituary about his boss to vent his frustration when she refuses to increment his salary which results in her sudden death. Vested with the power to kill anyone by just writing an obituary, Mike soon realises that he has stepped in murky waters where the consequences are far more sinister than what he bargained for.
Stephen King was inspired by a horror film I Bury the Living, which he watched as a child. Mike’s powers are quite similar to Yagami’s in Death Note once he finds the black notebook that can kill anyone. Although Yagami uses the notebook to try and rid the world of felons, King’s story is absurd and darkly comical. It would be interesting to watch a film adaptation that would successfully combine the vivid imagery and humour while demonstrating the clever narrative style that is unique to King’s craft. (This story begins at 4:56:17)
5. I Know What You Need (Night Shift, 1978)
Voodoo and black magic are all quite eerie and sinister concepts that are best left untouched. In this short story, Stephen King presents a chilling narrative, where a social outcast Ed Hammer Jr., obsessed with the popular Elizabeth Rogan, uses his paranormal abilities to influence her emotions and fall in love with him. Once Elizabeth realises this, she no longer empathises with him and crushes the voodoo doll, and with that his hopes of winning her over.
Initially, Ed evokes pity and sympathy due to his pathetic condition and sad childhood. However, as the plot progresses, his murderous, cowardly and selfish side emerges that disgusts us. While reading this story, I could not help but think of how Penn Badgley (who is popular for playing the creepy, self-serving Joe Goldberg in Netflix’s You) would serve as a perfect Ed hammer Jr. whose selfish motives blind him and refuse to allow him to look beyond. The story can be manipulated in several interesting ways and would make an excellent feature film adaptation.
4. Home Delivery (Nightmares & Dreamscapes, 1989)
Called a “quintessential King”, the short story’s protagonist Maddie Pace is a young and timid woman who has been recently widowed and is pregnant with her late husband’s child. However, after bizarre and ravenous aliens, shaped like seething worms, attack the world, a zombie plague spreads which threatens to destroy the civilization as a whole as the dead start coming back to life as reanimated corpses. It is a story of survival amidst some bizarre, gut-wrenching scenarios.
A wacky story, it could be made into a funny Lynchian adaptation. While director Elio Quiroga tried adapting a Spanish animated short film, it failed to be a perfect balance between humour and horror as the former outweighed the latter. Although it ended up winning the “Best Short” under the International Fantasy Film Award category, it would be interesting to see a director adapting it into a full-length feature film, retaining King’s quirks, and toying with the grim yet hopeful ending.
3. Last Rung on the Ladder (Night Shift, 1978)
The story revolves around the regret and guilt on the part of the protagonist Larry after he is informed of his sister Kitty’s death. Despite being inseparable as young kids, they gradually grew distant with age. With ruined marriages and failed career resulting in her to work as a sex worker, Kitty’s life turned into a series of unfortunate events till she finally plunged to her death.
The anguish of a brother at losing his once-beloved-now-estranged sister can be brought out beautifully in a feature-length film. King, who can masterfully and seamlessly depict human suffering and despair, presents a heart-rendering story. When Larry confesses, “To me, my sister was a girl with pigtails, still without breasts”, one cannot help but feel sorry for the poor lad. Sibling love is a common theme in King’s works (In the Tall Grass), but here, it adopts a pitiful tone.
2. Strawberry Spring (Night Shift, 1978)
Set in the fictional New Sharon College at New England, the short story focuses on a serial killer named ‘Springheel Jack’ who takes advantage of the thick foggy cover during strawberry springs i.e. “false” springs to murder students. This sends a wave of terror and panic among the students as well as the officials when the police are not able to nab suspects. The same occurrence takes place eight years later and the story further heightens the psychological suspense and the atmospheric horror.
This short story would make a brilliant film adaptation as it begs for gloomy atmospheric cinematography with an omnipresent foggy aesthetic which serves as a perfect cover for Srpingheel Jack. Reminiscent of Jack the Ripper, King’s story is engrossing with a “complex killer” and teases the anxious reader with the heightened psychological suspense.
1. The Jaunt (Skeleton Crew, 1985)
Set in a post-apocalyptic 24th-century world, humans have developed the technology for instantaneous teleportation called ‘The Jaunt’ which allows them to travel across planets leading to the colonisation of Mars. However, while “jaunting”, the humans need to rendered unconscious; if not, they shall either die or be left insane to die a painful death. While Mark Oates prepares his family for the jaunting by recounting the history of the technology, he omits certain details. That said, the journey is not smooth and pleasurable and leaves Mark shocked by the time they reach Mars.
An extraordinary blend of science fiction and horror, the story ends on an ominous note which also warns against the consequences of rapid technological progress. The premise which begins on a relatively lighter note keeps getting more sinister as the story progresses. The morbid curiosity regarding staying conscious during the jaunting process is detrimental yet intriguing. It would serve as an excellent film adaptation as the bleak ending can be twisted in various forms. King used the word “jaunting” to pay homage to Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination.