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‘King on Screen’ (review)

Like most Stephen King fans, I am obsessed with the man.

I mean, his writing is pure pop culture with a healthy glug of the sociopolitical, covered in a heaping mound of horror, all making you feel uneasy on every emotional and psychological level (which, for this time period, feels strangely personal).

That is why, for a lot of fans, reading one of his books or watching an adaptation of his on the screen, is basically comfort food.

Sure, everything is horrible and the world is falling apart and we are all gonna die in the worst ways possible, but maybe, just maybe, some of us can make it out of here with our humanity intact. Which is really, when you get right down to it, the lesson of every King story and why horror (and his brand of horror specifically) connects with us viscerally.

Being such a huge fan, I was excited to watch the new documentary King on Screen by Daphné Baiwir (Deauville and the American dream).

Unfortunately it didn’t really hit me the way I hoped.

More of a casual conversation with various writers and directors who have adapted King’s works for film and television, than a substantial deep dive into his place as a horror movie icon, King on Screen listlessly meanders from adaptation to adaptation and director to director without any real coherent thread, which is fine if you don’t mind a kind of “free-for-all” feel to the narrative. I recommend that before you watch you think of yourself as attending a dinner party, helping make the documentary feels as if everyone is swapping stories around the table, rather than a more structured timeline of King’s film and television works. If you’re looking for something academic or deeply nerdy, this may not be your cup of tea.

However, regardless of the doc’s odd tonality, the conversations with the directors themselves (Mick Garris, Frank Darabont, Mike Flanagan, Taylor Hackford just to name a few) are all engaging, and it’s very obvious that everyone holds King in high esteem. There is a truly genuine love and respect for King and his storytelling ability that inspires a lot of these directors, and each of them not only sought out King’s approval for the job they did, they also looked to him as a kind of silent collaborator who hovered over their entire shoots (something that a lot of writers don’t ever get to experience when their work is being adapted to the screen).

Regrettably, even though I enjoyed listening to the directors talk about their work with King, the biggest issue with King on Screen is that nothing new is learned through these conversations that you couldn’t find online through other interviews with the directors, or as “Bonus Features” on their movies and/or TV miniseries. So if you’re already a weirdo with a penchant to go down an uber-fan rabbit hole, a lot of the information in the documentary feels familiar.

Another notable criticism I have is that there’s some pretty blatant gloss overs of his original “written for the screen” gems like: Storm of the Century, Rose Red, and Kingdom Hospital (all directed by Craig R. Baxley) and no mention of his X-Files episode Chinga at all, which seems a bit odd considering these stories have become favorites of his fan base. An original King story is an event, and one that was solely spun to be a miniseries (or, in the case of Kingdom Hospital, an original inspired by Lars von Trier’s own absurdist miniseries The Kingdom) is worthy of some serious inspection/dissection, and it’s a shame that there was no in-depth look into them. You’d think a show like Kingdom Hospital, which literally has a scene depicting the horrific accident that nearly killed King, would garner more than a passing mention. The fact that more time isn’t given to these specific series/episodes seems like a real slip.

It is also worth mentioning that there’s an oddly weird beginning to the documentary that didn’t really work, although I give Baiwir points for trying something different. I’m not going to go into details, because there are some fun easter eggs within the first 7 minutes and I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, but the overall feel of this part is just, well, kind of off-putting and jarring because it doesn’t lead into the actual documentary in a way that makes sense. The same goes for the last minute of the doc before the credits roll, as it reverts back to these opening scenes. I get that Baiwir was going for a Creepshow/Tales From the Darkside vibe, but it just doesn’t fit well with this format. If it were just a fun little short film celebrating King’s style, it would’ve be fine, but tacked onto the documentary, it’s just an awkward inclusion.

I can’t recommend King on Screen for anyone other than a casual fan or someone who doesn’t mind hearing stories from a group of directors that they may have already heard before. Again, the stories are interesting, so it isn’t a waste of time, but there’s nothing new here and the mood of the doc is a bit wonky.

If you really want to learn more about his adaptations, there’s better sources around (Including King’s own book, Stephen King Goes to the Movies) that will be more informative. If you’re looking for something that passes the time, however, and has some good directors talking about Stephen King, then King on Screen might be your jam.


*  *  *  *  *
Produced by Christopher Dean McAffee, Jonathan Trichet, Daphné Baiwir
Directed by Daphné Baiwir
Starring Frank Darabont, Mick Garris, Mike Flanagan, Tom Holland, Vincenzo Natali,
Greg Nicotero, Mark L. Lester, Dee Wallace, Tim Curry, James Caan

King on Screen arrives in theaters today and available
On Demand and Blu-ray on September 8th.


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