Return of the King: How The Master of Horror Is Taking Over Your Summer
The Seasons Don’t Fear The Reaper…
There’s an entire generation of people, likely afraid of clowns, not due to coulrophobia, but thanks to Tim Curry’s terrifying portrayal of Pennywise in a made for TV movie. There are literally millions of people, waiting with eager anticipation for a movie and TV crossover event about a cowboy, traveling through time, space and alternate dimensions to stop an existential evil from destroying the universe. There’s also a smaller set of people who are reading this and wondering when i’ll mention the Netflix original about the naked woman tied to a bed, trying to fight back a demon. For the uninitiated, those are all works by Stephen King, and all of them will have an adaptation dropping at some point this summer. I’d like to call this a resurgence of an all-time great to the public eye, but King never really goes anywhere. He’s releases a novel pretty much twice a year, each of which a guaranteed best seller regardless of its critical reception. He’s ubiquitous in regards to american horror/fantasy and can make even the most mundane of things pure nightmare fuel. So what confluence of events have caused the glut of King material to drop all at once? Surprisingly, nostalgia, development hell, and the need for everything to be a shared universe have turned this into the Summer of Stephen.
The first component here has more to do with us than King himself. While somewhat waning, the term “known property”, used by studio execs to excuse their reliance on remakes and reboots, has been turned into commodified nostalgia. Revamping our fondest childhood memories to cash in on Gen Xers and MIllennials that now have enough disposable income to throw at anything that can remind us of Nick in the Afternoon or Fox Kids on a Saturday. The Power Rangers movie may not have been the success Lions Gate had hoped, but it got our attention. Everything that is old is new again, which is why a slew of King’s earlier adaptations a ripe for the old twenty year upgrade. You won’t find many people clamoring for a remake to Stephen King’s IT, which originally ran on TV in 1990. Tim Curry IS Pennywise to millions of people. The Loser’s Club is made up of then “it” TV stars, more recognizable now as the characters they played in that film than anything they did afterward, except for Seth Green of course. I’m not saying the original movie is perfect by any stretch. It’s very much a product of its time and limitations. Not exactly like they could depict a pre-teen being sucked dry be leeches on broadcast TV back in 1990. Let alone the sexually overt scenes. Yet, it made for a decent watch at the time, and the key performance was so transcendent that Pennywise is often placed in the pantheon of great horror icons right next to Vorhees, Kruger and Myers. Our nostalgia may may stop us from accepting certain properties being revisited *cough* Ghostbusters *cough*, but it out curiosity will bring us to the table at the very least. No matter how long the initial process takes.
Which brings us to development hell. IT had its own issues, most notably losing its initial director, Cary Fukunaga, after creative differences with the studio. That was back in 2015. The movie more or less went along undeterred, but it’s hard to say what could have been if the Fukunaga’s original vision had come to light. The script that’s floating around paints an eerie, visceral picture, and while I like what i’m seeing so far, I still very much want to see that movie. The Dark Tower, another Stephen King story that has long been in some form of development or another is finally getting its first theatrical release in August. Based on a seven book series that sprawls three decades, and at times actually features King as a character within the story itself, has been considered unadaptable. Which is why, just a few years ago, it was rumoured to be a movie/TV crossover event, and attached to Ron Howard. But who would take on such a task? How do you develop a TV show around a movie, that may or may not be dead on arrival. Let us not forget, book one of The Dark Tower, The Gunslinger, takes place mostly in the desert and on a mine cart. You don’t see much of that in the trailer for The Dark Tower, why, because, that story is better left on the pages of a Stephen King novel.
Still, a movie had to be made. The property had grown too large in the public conscience. Every year that passed, is another year for new fans to latch on to the story. At which point, an already difficult adaptation becomes an impossible one. While i’m still very much looking forward to seeing Roland and the Ka-tet’s story play out on whichever screens they appear, i’ve made peace with the fact that the books I read in my dorm room, poolside, and parks, will be a shade different than the one starring Edris Elba. There still may be a TV connection, but The Dark Tower appears to be a self contained story of the “just in case” variety.
That won’t leave you without a connected universe to sink your teeth into. The Dark Tower is itself, a connected universe story. Long time fans have made a game out of finding some of the less obvious threads and easter eggs sprinkled throughout the seven books (proper). Entire characters from other well know King works become key players a several points on the path of The Beam, while larger events from stories like The Stand and even Cujo paint the world. It becomes a Pepe Silva conspiracy theory after a while. Not content to have Sony possible squander this arduous of a task, King teamed up with JJ Abrams and his Bad Robot crew to create Castle Rock, a HULU exclusive based entirely on the town that so frequently features ghoulies, baddies and all around evil. Many of the characters mentioned in the trailer aren’t actually from Castle Rock, but with so many of King’s stories taking places in sleepy New England towns, it’s not hard to do some relocation to make this one work.
Stephen King isn’t going anywhere. At least when it comes to his presence in pop culture. He’s long been fast and loose with allowing adaptations of his work, mostly because he views them as completely separate from their source material at this point. WHen a movie like Cell is released to VOD and barely makes a blip on the radar, despite being a 1408 reunion for Samuel L. Jackson and John Cusack, King isn’t losing any sleep, mostly because for every one of those, there’s an Under the Dome that somehow squeezes three seasons out of a fairly thin, overall premise. Not the story though. That book weighs as much as a third grader.
Including the three major properties mentioned above, there are at least four more set to release between now and 2018, all based on the works of Stephen King. It may seem like a hot summer, but the man is an ever looming presence. Providing film studios and TV networks a wealth of gold mined from our own fears and perversions.