American punk-rockers ‘The Ramones’ in their hit single sang, “I don’t want to be buried in a pet sematary, I don’t want to live my life again”, as a tip of the hat to Stephen King‘s 1983 horror novel. King’s ‘Pet Sematary’ has since its publication, been widely read, and adapted twice into films over the last three decades. Initial development of the idea for the novel began in 1978, when King returned to his alma mater, the University of Maine at Orono, to teach for a year as a gesture of gratitude for the education he had received there.
While at Maine, King’s family rented a house on a busy road in Orington which had claimed the lives of a number of local pets as road-kills. In order to give these pets a decent burial, the neighborhood children had created a pet cemetery in a field near King’s home. After completing the novel, King thought he had gone overboard with the subject matter, and discarded the idea of having it published particularly since both his wife Tabitha and fellow novelist, friend Peter Straub agreed that the novel was too dark and unenjoyable. The book was finally submitted to ‘Doubleday’ publishers when King needed a final book to meet his contract guidelines, at the suggestion of his wife. Eventual success of the novel led King to reflect on how both Americans and British readers liked it even though “it just spirals down into darkness. It seems to be saying that nothing works and nothing is worth it, and I don’t really believe that.” King has even gone on record to state that of all the novels he has written, ‘Pet Sematary’ scares him the most!
Based on King’s seminal novel, the 2019 film ‘Pet Sematary’ is its second cinematic adaptation, after the 1989 Mary Lambert film of the same name. Starring Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz and John Lithgow, the recent adaptation rated fresh on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes. The website’s critical consensus reads, “Sometimes remade is better”, a clear reference to the film’s promotional tagline– “Sometimes dead is better”.
The plot of ‘Pet Sematary’ revolves around the family of protagonist Louis Creed, as they move to a remote woodland house on the outskirts of Ludlow, Maine. A central premise of the story is derived out of the existence of a pet cemetery (misspelled as sematary) which serves as the burial ground for the neighborhood pets and can apparently bring back the dead buried in it. The element of horror in the film/novel unravels itself for the first time, when Creed’s daughter Elle buries her dead cat Church in the cemetery only to find it alive again. Church, who is notably more aggressive and undomesticated now, serves as the first supernatural instance in the story, leading to a horrific tale with the dichotomy of death and life as its narrative premise. In the forthcoming list, I have tried to concisely single out films sharing similar plot devices and/or factual context.
10. The Mist (2007)
Frank Darabont has become synonymous to Stephen King due to his several widely acclaimed adaptations of King’s novels for the silver screen. Beginning famously in 1994 with the adaptation of King’s novella ‘Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemtion’ into the seminal movie ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ which currently holds the coveted number one spot on IMdB’s list top 250 films of all time, Darabont has since directed two more follow ups in the same space– ‘The Green Mile’ and more recently, ‘The Mist’. Featuring an ensemble cast including Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Samuel Witwer, and Toby Jones, the plot of ‘The Mist’ revolves around members of the small town of Bridgton, Maine who, after a severe thunderstorm causes power failure in the town the night before, meet the following day in a supermarket, to pick up their regular supplies. In their struggle for survival, they must work their way around a supernatural mist that envelops the town and seemingly conceals vicious, Lovecraftian (from the celebrated horror writer H.P. Lovecraft) monsters. In spite of its on-the-surface standpoint as a monster movie, ‘The Mist’ delves deep into the human condition exploring the lengths to which an ordinary individual can be driven to, whist in the presence of extraordinary circumstances.
9. Misery (1990)
Another noteworthy film adaptation of Stephen King’s works, ‘Misery’ is an American psychological horror film by Hollywood regular Rob Reiner, starring James Caan, Kathy Bates, Lauren Bacall, Richard Farnsworth, and Frances Sternhangen. Bates in her Academy Award winning portrayal of the psychopathic fan Annie Wilkes, holds famed novelist Paul Sheldon (played by James Caan) captive, and forces him to write her stories. The unorthodox, uncanny dynamic between Sheldon and his “number one fan” Annie Wilkes makes for a bone-chilling, edge-of-the-seat viewing experience for audiences. In-spite of lacking a supernatural premise as opposed to most other entries into the list, ‘Misery’ hits the same spots of fear, unpredictability, and consequential anxiety. A must-watch for Stephen King enthusiasts.
8. Being John Malkovich (1999)
‘Being John Malkovich’ is the only inspired entry to this list. While, there might be several other films which with regards to their plots and narrative structures may emulate ‘Pet Sematary’ more closely, ‘Being John Malkovich’ brings a sense of essential ‘Otherness’ into this list which otherwise primarily focuses on the horror element in films. The celebrated screenplay-wright Charlie Kauffman, and equally acclaimed director Spike Jonze make their respective feature film debuts in this film starring John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, John Malkovich and Charlie Sheen. Structured as a fantasy, comedy-drama film, ‘Being John Malkovich’ seamlessly incorporates elements of Magic Realism to tell a one of a kind story about a portal which leads to the mind of the real life Hollywood actor John Malkovich. Released by ‘USA films’, the film was nominated in three major categories at the 72nd Academy Awards: Best Director for Jonze, Best Original screenplay for Kauffman, and Best Supporting Actress for Keener.
7. Poltergeist (1982)
Written and produced by Steven Spielberg, ‘Poltergeist’ is a 1982, American supernatural horror film directed by Tobe Hooper of ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ fame, and starring JoBeth Williams, Craig. T. Nelson, Heather O’ Rourke, and Beatrice Straight. ‘Poltergeist’ includes typical horror films plot devices to tell a chilling supernatural tale set in the planned community of Cuesta Vede in suburban California. Upon its time of release, ‘Poltergeist’ became a major commercial success, eventually becoming the 8th highest grossing film of 1982, and has since been regularly included in lists of best or most influential Amercian horror films. “A surprisingly yet successfully restrained lesson in how to haunt a house”, acording to Variety, ‘Poltergeist’ is your perfect weekend horror ride!
6. It (2017)
One of the better film adaptations of Stephen King, ‘It’ works well both as a horror, and as a coming of age film. Directed by the acclaimed Argentinian horror film director Andy Muschietti, the film is set in the summer of 1989 and tells the story of seven children in the fictional town of Derry, Maine, who are terrorized by the eponymous being, only to face their own personal demons in the process. Swedish actor Bill Skarsdgard does a fantastic job, playing the horrific Pennywise, the Dancing Clown, proving to be instrumental in furthering the horror structure of the film. The film received positive critical reception at its time of release and has led to a sequel titled ‘It: Chapter Two’, slated for a September release, later this year.
5. The Omen (1976)
A mammoth cinematic milestone in the genre of horror, ‘The Omen’ tells the story of a young child named Damien, who is adopted by American Ambassador Robert Thorn (played by Gregory Peck), unbeknownst to his wife, when their own newborn son mysteriously dies at the hospital. Damien, who is the Antichrist, is thus enabled to grow with wealth and power in an influential family. Soon enough the family becomes plagued by ominous deaths and sinister mishappenings. Like ‘Pet Sematary’, animals play an integral part in accentuating the film’s horror and becomes integral in the treatment of the film. Since its release in 1976 to widespread commercial and critical success, ‘The Omen’ has assumed a position as an iconic horror film and laid the foundation of the widely viewed ‘Omen’ franchise.
4. Halloween (1978)
As far as slasher films go, ‘Halloween’ will always be the original. Directed and scored by the maverick John Carpenter, the film tells the goosebumps-enabling story of serial killer Michael Myers as he stalks and kills teenage babysitters on Halloween night, fifteen years after he murdered his sister, Judith Myers. Set in the sleepy town of Haddonfield, Illinois, the plot of the film revolves around psychiatrist Samuel Loomis’ search for escaped mental patient Michael Myers to stop his rampage, before the carnage intensifies. ‘Halloween’ has spawned a massive film franchise comprising several films which helped construct an extensive backstory for its antagonist Michael Myers, video games, comic book series and a novelization. In 2006, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
3. The Exorcist (1973)
What can I possibly write about this film, which hasn’t already been written?! Adapted by William Peter Blatty from his eponymous 1971 novel, and directed by William Friedkin, ‘The Exorcist’ is the single most influential American film of the horror genre. The sinister treatment of the film clubbed with the aggressively horrific subject matter and visuals has led to the legendary status of the film. Reportedly, upon its time of release in the United States, ambulances waited outside cinema halls due to several miscarriages and heart attacks that were being triggered by the film’s horrific content. Following the demonic possession of the 12-year-old Regan, and her mother’s attempts to win her back through exorcism, the plot served as the prototype for several horror movie structures that have spawned later. ‘The Exorcist’ is the very first horror film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.
2. The Birds (1963)
Produced and directed by the ‘Master of Suspense’ himself, ‘The Birds’ is American horror-thriller film loosely based the 1952 story of the same name by Daphne Du Marrier. As far as villainous animals go in cinema, there hasn’t been a more hard-hitting representation than ‘The Birds’. Starring Rod Taylor, and Hithcock regular Tippi Hedren, the film focuses on a series of sudden, unexplained violent bird attacks on the people of Bodega Bay, California over the course of a few days. Nature’s wrath has never been better represented on celluloid. Among the central themes explored in ‘The Birds’ are those of love and violence; a film which can be seen as an ode to the many facets of female sexuality and by extension, nature itself. In 2016, the film was selected for preservation by the United States Library of Congress in its National Film Registry.
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1. The Shining (1980)
“Here’s Johnny!”. It should come as no surprise that ‘The Shining’ tops this list. Directed by none other than master American filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, ‘The Shining’ is the single best cinematic adaptation of Stephen King. Packing a powerhouse performance by the legendary Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance, an aspiring writer and recovering alcoholic who accepts the position as the off-season caretaker of the isolated Overlook Hotel, this horror film can be equally seen as an intensive study of human psychopathy and consequential aggression. Ironically, Stephen King didn’t like Kubrick’s adaptation upon its time of release due to transgressions and creative liberties employed in the film. Widely recognized by both audiences and critics to be one of the greatest and most influential horror movies ever made, ‘The Shining’ was deemed by the United States Library of Congress to be “culturally historically or aesthetically significant” in 2018.
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