April 07 reprint!
Wow, this is going to be hard for two reasons. On one hand I'll find it tough to rank my very favorite Stephen King movies because the ones I love ... I really love. On the other hand there's been a whole LOT of rotten King flicks churned out over the years -- and I actually like some of those, too! But as a lifelong King kook I think I'm able to separate the wheat from the chaff -- even if, yes it's true, I actually sort of enjoyed Tobe Hooper's The Mangler. (It's just so enjoyably stupid!) So with that I bring you my own personal picks for the best Stephen King adaptations yet (not counting TV shows, mini-series or short films).
Christine (1983) -- Yes, the book is better and sure, a few important things were monkeyed with on the way from page to screen, but there's so much I do like about John Carpenter's adaptation that it makes the speed bumps a lot easier to handle. From the filmmaker's creepy score to an excellent lead performance by Keith Gordon, the flick's just got an admirably bad-ass attitude. Stripped down to its essence, Christine is not much more than another "geek fights back" revenge-centric horror flick, but Carpenter makes the movie his own with a solid production design, a few excellent set pieces and a pace that moves at an appreciable clip. Plus that car is just so damn cool.
Pet Sematary (1989) -- Just about every hardcore horror geek I know holds Pet Sematary in pretty high regard, and just one visit with this bleak and unflinching piece of pulp horror will explain why. It's a remarkably grim and unapologetic tale of dead cats, cute kids and a patch of land that, well, it resurrects dead tissue is what it does. And if you've read even one "back from the dead" story, then you know they never end well. (Pet Sematary, both the book and the movie, packs one doozy of a dark denouement.) OK, so maybe Dale Midkiff and Denise Crosby aren't exactly the rock-solid thespians you'd want for a screenplay this devilishly mean-spirited, but the pair do what they can, plus they've got good ol' Fred Gwynne supplying background color by the bucketful. (And don't forget about poor sickly Zelda! Yuck.)
Carrie (1976) -- The very first (and arguably one of the very best) of the Stephen King movies, Carrie hit the screens courtesy of a young Brian De Palma, and the director pulled out a big bag of Hitchcockian tricks to bring the story to the silver screen. It's about a socially bankrupt young girl who tries to cobble together a normal social life ... much to the chagrin of some snotty she-bullies and a resoundingly devout lunatic of a mother. Some might say the flick takes a long while to get where it's going, but between the prom night finale and the graveside stinger, Carrie more than delivers its share of grisly goods. Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie make it watchable all by themselves, but De Palma is the real star here. (OK, De Palma and a young, evil John Travolta.)