Having just done a list of the ten best films either written by or based on material by Stephen King, I thought it would be fun to compile a list of his ten worst films. Sadly this list was all too easy to compile, as there are a number of terrible films based on King’s work out there. Thankfully I don’t put these lists in a preferential order because it would be awfully difficult to try and decide which films are worse then the others. There are a few here that aren’t quite as bad as some of the bottom of the barrel ones, but on the whole they are all stinkers that must be avoided at all costs.
With the films listed I simply had no room for a few others that don’t appear but are equally worth avoiding. “Apt Pupil” and “Sleepwalkers” do not make the list and, worst of all, is “Lawnmower Man,” which is not included on this list simply because it is an in name only film that is not based in the least on King’s creepy short story. So bad was that film that King sued (successfully) to have his name taken off the credits.
Here is my list of Stephen King’s ten worst films in alphabetical order.
CAT’S EYE (1985) – Another anthology film with three stories, two based on stories King wrote earlier and one original with a cat as the link to each story. The film opens with an amusing bit where the cat is let loose and is almost attacked by a St. Bernard that looks suspiciously like Cujo and is almost run over by a 1958 Plymouth, likely named Christine. We then get into the first story starring James Woods as a man who goes to a company to help him quit smoking and the drastic measures the company will take to make sure he does quit. Alan King co-stars as the menacing head of the company in this delicious black comedy that on its own might have made for a terrific film. We want more when it ends and want it much more after suffering through the next two stories. Story two stars Robert (Airplane) Hays as a man having an affair with a sadistic businessman’s wife. He is brought to the businessman who makes the helpless young man climb out onto the ledge of the high rise they are in and will be allowed to live if he can walk all the way around the building. It’s a good premise that goes absolutely nowhere with predictable clichés and no thrills whatsoever. The last, and worst, story stars Drew Barrymore as a little girl who is terrorized by a gremlin that no one else believes exist. This story is given the most screen time and it drags on and on to a pointless and unnecessary conclusion. If only they had stuck with that first story.
CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984) – One of the worst of the Stephen King adaptations is this dreary, violent pile of garbage about a small town taken over by its young inhabitants. When a young couple come to town they are too stupid to realize something is up until it’s too late so, naturally, they fail to get out of town before mayhem ensues. This is a sickening film that opens with a diner full of patrons being slaughtered by the young kids – and it only gets worse from there. Amazingly there have been six sequels made for video up to this point though King has had no part of them.
CUJO (1983) – As a book, “Cujo” made for an intense little thriller. Why anyone thought the sight of a beautiful St. Bernard being first bitten by a bat and then rapidly deteriorating from rabies was entertainment is beyond me. The basic story finds a mother (Dee Wallace) and her son trapped in a car by the snot-spitting dog. The formula wears thin after 30 minutes and there is still a full hour to go. Reading a bag of Puppy Chow would bring more entertainment then wasting your time with this.
THE DARK HALF (1993) – George A. Romero teamed up with King again to adapt one of the Richard Bachman books and proved that a sub par Bachman book is going to make a sub par Romero movie. Timothy Hutton stars as a writer who writes other books more successfully under a pseudonym and decides to kill off the fake author. Unfortunately the fake author comes to life to cause havoc and prevent the “startling” revelation. It’s even dumber then it sounds with the usually reliable Hutton looking silly in the gore make-up. This was not Romero’s best hour.
DREAMCATCHER (2003) – Director Lawrence (The Big Chill; Body Heat; Grand Canyon) proves that if you try to adapt a bad novel chances are great it will make a bad movie. And this is a doozy of a bad movie. Four friends make their annual trek to the woods for a hunting weekend and soon encounter a stranger they will wish they never encountered. Soon bad things start happening and the audience is first bewildered and then laughing. And that’s before the Army enters the scene with Morgan Freeman in charge. This is easily one of the worst major motion pictures, with a good cast and top director, ever made.
FIRESTARTER (1984) – Another of King’s good books turned into a lousy movie with Drew Barrymore as a young girl with the power to start fires with her mind, who is taken from her father (who has the same ability) by a government agency for their own personal use of her. If you like the sight of Drew squinting her eyes (a LOT), bricks catching fire and stuntmen running around on fire (with their protective suits clearly visible) then this is the movie for you. Such talent as George C. Scott, Martin Sheen, David Keith, Art Carney and Moses Gunn look lost in this mess that includes a lovely moment where assassin Scott describes in detail how he plans to kill little Barrymore. Nice movie huh?
GRAVEYARD SHIFT (1990) – This is a laughably bad horror film about a rat infested mill whose workers start to disappear and the grisly deaths that ensue. This sounds just like the kind of dinnertime entertainment people cry out for, right? Not only is it ponderous and stupid but it contains special effects so fake looking I assure you that anyone could do better in their basement. I believe I have devoted much too much time to this junk so I shall press on to….
THE MANGLER (1995) – This is one of the most disappointing of the bad films because of the teaming of King with horror director Tobe (Texas Chainsaw Massacre; Poltergeist) Hooper. Robert (Freddy Krueger) Englund stars as the psychotic owner of an industrial laundry plant where the machines start killing the workers. If you read that last line again it won’t change. Just imagine trying to believe it while watching it. The film has plenty of gore but no suspense or thrills and the veteran Hooper incompetently directs it.
MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (1986) – King, sick of how his material was being treated for the big screen, decided to give directing a try by adapting his short story Trucks. Unfortunately King didn’t do any better with his story of a group of people trapped in a truck stop after machines come to life and a group of trucks terrorize them. The film is filled with some nauseating violence including a particularly sick death by lawnmower and pop machine but the film takes itself much too seriously and goes nowhere. Another demerit goes to the headache inducing musical score by AC/DC.
PET SEMATARY (1989) – One of King’s best books (I had to put it down on more then one occasion because of fright) is turned into one of his worst movies. A couple moves into a new house that is adjacent to a pet cemetery with secrets that only the crusty old neighbor (Fred Gwynne) knows. The secret? Bury your pet there and they will come back to life that very night. One day the couple’s young son ventures out to the front of the house where the parent’s have apparently forgotten trucks roar by every few minutes and what do you think happens? This is a particularly sick film with a scene so disgusting (at the son’s funeral) that I truly thought it was a dream sequence and I waited for the obligatory shot of someone waking up. Once that happened the movie lost me for good and it only gets worse when the son returns and isn’t exactly the cute little tyke he once was. Let’s not forget about the final scene that is so sickening audiences were leaving before the credits. It’s a shame because then they got to miss out on the “classic” title tune by The Ramones. How about this line from the song – I don’t want to be buried in the pet cemetary. I don’t want to live my life again. Apparently the Academy had its share of Best Songs that year and overlooked this one. The topper? This film was such a hit that an even worse sequel (done without King) was made three years later. Suddenly this film didn’t look so bad.