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Tuesday, July 3, 2007 05:00 pm

King horror

The first two are the best feature-film adaptations

Untitled Document The haunted-hotel-room thriller 1408 is the latest release from the cottage industry known as Stephen King. Aren’t most of his stories set in cottages? King has churned out enough books and stories to keep Hollywood busy for another century. The Internet Movie Database already lists 107 adaptations of his work, with varying degrees of quality. Complaints about the movie versions are often dismissed with “you should read the book,” but a movie must stand on its own, completely independent of its source material.
1408 is nothing substantial, but it is better than most King adaptations. John Cusack stars as an investigator of paranormal activities who checks into the world’s deadliest hotel room. Knowing that 56 people have died there doesn’t deter him. The suspense that builds throughout the first two-thirds is eventually overwhelmed by special effects. The film’s greatest failing is resorting to that tired old cliché of preying on a past tragedy to weaken the protagonist’s resolve. Cusack’s deadpan charm ultimately saves the day, however.
The best feature films adapted from King works remain the first two, Carrie (1976) and The Shining (1980), and it has been downhill ever since. King publicly denounced Stanley Kubrick’s take on the latter and then proceeded to show the world how it should be done with Maximum Overdrive (1986). He has been less crabby since making the worst film adaptation of his work to date. Horror is his specialty, but King does occasionally branch out. With the prison dramas The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and The Green Mile (1999) he frightened audiences with drippy sentiment, and the result is more acclaim than they deserve. According to the Internet Movie Database, Shawshank is the second greatest movie ever made. It doesn’t get any scarier than that. Dreamcatcher (2003) couldn’t be more different from The Green Mile, but both rely on the same plot device: A saintly simpleton with special powers is befriended by four equally saintly protectors. The major difference is, in Dreamcatcher the device is dumped into one of the most monumentally stupid movies ever made by talented people. Riding the Bullet offers no expectations, and it turns out to be a pleasant surprise. A college student, circa 1969, learns of his mother’s stroke and experiences a nightmarish journey hitchhiking home. The constant shifting between the real and the imagined keeps the audience off balance. The one reality with King is, if one or a few of the movies turn out bad there are always several more on the horizon.
New on DVD this Tuesday (July 10): The Astronaut Farmer, The Last Mimzy, 
and After the Wedding.
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