Tuesday, August 08, 2023

King on Screen, the Documentary

Zane Grey and Simenon saw more of their books adapted for film and television, but Stephen King is still way up there. He might even have more if you include the “dollar babies,” short film adaptations of his short stories, whose dramatic rights King automatically grants to accredited film students for a mere buck. None of the dollar babies are covered in this documentary, but maybe they should have. Of course, there are no shortage of big commercial releases to discuss in Daphne Baiwir’s King on Screen, which releases Friday in theaters.

It is a little awkward discussing Stephen King movies, since the author so notoriously hates Stanley Kubrick’s
The Shining, which remains the Citizen Kane of King films. However, Baiwir’s talking heads do a nice job addressing the Kubrick film, the subsequent mini-series remake, and the 2019 sequel. According to the director, Mike Flanagan, he did his best to “Parent Trap” the look of the Kubrick film with the plot and tone of King’s novels.

The other titan of King cinema would be Brian de Palma’s
Carrie, but the director’s absence is unfortunate. Unlike other movie docs like Sharksploitation, King on Screen has no time for the usual suspects of on-camera commentating critics, which is probably just as well. However, the participating voices are almost only directors. Horror fans are always happy to hear from Mick Garris, Tom Holland, Tom McLouglin, and Creepshow series showrunner (and frequent director) Greg Nicotero, but an appearance by Kathy Bates (obviously the star of Misery, as well as Dolores Claiborne and the original The Stand) or Matt Frewer, who holds the record with five King appearances, might have added an interesting perspective.

Most of Baiwir’s experts do their best to rehab many of the mid-1980s misfires, but the doc ignores King’s infamous directorial debut,
Maximum Overdrive. Even weirder, the recent remake of The Stand probably gets more screentime than the good one from 1994. However, the two It’s probably get equal time.

King on Screen
does a pretty good job with most of the big stuff (except maybe Tobe Hooper’s Salem’s Lot, which definitely deserves more attention), but it never really inspires viewers to seek out any obscurities. It is an easily watchable survey, framed by a bafflingly eccentric dramatic wrap-around. King fans will dig it, but it will not travel very far beyond them. Recommended for the faithful, King on Screen releases Friday (8/11) in theaters.