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‘Under The Dome': New Stephen King Series Premieres Tonight
A review of the horror master’s 5 best—and worst—film & TV adaptations
Every wonder what it would be like living in a snow globe? Maybe it would be nice—until you realized you couldn’t escape. That’s the premise of Under The Dome, a new series in which a giant bubble covers a Maine town. Once the invisible dome drops, citizens must fight for survival amid pollution problems, lack of oxygen, and food shortages. The show, which premieres tonight on CBS, has been adapted from the Stephen King novel of the same title. It’s already generating a lot buzz—and a lot of skepticism—thanks to the constant hit-or-miss King adaptations over the years. We hope for the best, but we lovingly (and horrifically) remember the best and worst of King onscreen from Christine and Cujo to The Mist and 1408.
Best Stephen King Adaptations
Rob Reiner’s adaptation is steeped in suspense, dark humor, and strong performances as a famous writer of romance novels (James Caan) is held captive after being "rescued" by his #1 fan (Kathy Bates). Playing crazy Annie Wilkes earned the relatively unknown Bates an Oscar—and it's easy to see why. She veers between (s)mothering and menace. Then there's the infamous hobbling scene. (Not for the squeamish.)
The first Stephen King adaptation is also one of the finest. Sissy Spacek plays a mousy high school girl who has telekinetic powers, and when her classmates play a particularly cruel prank on her, all hell breaks loose. Featuring John Travolta in an early role and Piper Laurie in a terrifying turn as Carrie’s overly religious mother, this Brian DePalma chiller is chock full of pig blood, split-screen kill sequences, a crucifixion with kitchen utensils, and the mortifying “Plug it up!” shower sequence.
3. The Shining
Stephen King once said Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining was one of his least favorite adaptations of his work, yet later in his book Danse Macabre King admitted that after additional viewings it is now a personal favorite and a major contribution to the horror genre. Wherever you fall in this debate, The Shining still has the ability to scare, and it spotlights one of Jack Nicholson’s most memorable performances. Heeeeeeere’s Johnny!
2. Stand By Me
One of King’s non-horror ventures, this coming-of-age tale follows a group of boys as they search for a dead body. Strong performances by Wil Weaton, Jerry O’Connell, Corey Feldman, and the late River Phoenix, all unknowns at the time, give this emotional, heartfelt drama its punch.
1. The Shawshank Redemption
Initially a box office failure despite numerous Academy Award nominations and favorable critical reviews, the prison drama has become a fan favorite. Telling the harrowing story of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) and his friendship with his fellow inmate Red (Morgan Freeman), this Frank Darabont (The Green Mile, The Mist) film explores more than just a prison break—it examines the essence of human spirit.
Honorable Mentions: Salem's Lot (1979), The Dead Zone (1983), The Green Mile (1999)
Worst Stephen King Adaptations
5. The Mangler
Horror regular Robert Englund (Freddy Kruger in A Nightmare on Elm Street) trades in the deadly gloves for a giant killer laundry machine in this dreadful film from Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre).
4. Bag of Bones
This 2011 miniseries about a writer (Pierce Brosnan) who returns to Maine after his wife’s death and suffers from haunting nightmares while aiding a young widow in a custody battle against her child’s wealthy grandfather is a lackluster thriller that teeters on the absurd.
3. Graveyard Shift
A textile mill is plagued by strange employee deaths during the graveyard shift. Giant killer rats? They aren’t the only giant problem with this film. It's so bad it makes trashy Night of the Lepus, a movie about giant killer bunnies, look like a masterpiece of the killer critter subgenre.
A lot of people wanted this to be good. Directed by Lawrence Kasdan (Silverado, The Big Chill) and featuring a star-studded cast that includes Morgan Freeman and Thomas Jane, what could possibly go wrong with a big budget film about aliens? Everything.
1. Maximum Overdrive
Remember that Simpsons episode where Homer gets a job as a truck driver and falls asleep at the wheel only to discover just as his truck is about to veer off a cliff, that the vehicles can drive themselves? In the case of Maximum Overdrive, the only movie Stephen King directed, trucks hold people hostage at a truck stop and run them down as they try to escape. Nominated for two Razzie Awards (Only two? It was robbed!) for Worst Director and Worst Actor (Emilio Estevez) one can only wish that someone had cut the breaks on this production and let it crash. If you want to see a good road rage movie, check out Steven Spielberg’s Duel.