Review

Review

Book Review: 'Stephen King Films FAQ' by Scott Von Doviak

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Writing about Stephen King movies is always an interesting – if daunting – prospect. If one wanted to be a stickler about things, there are really only a few actual “Stephen King films”: from Creepshow to A Good Marriage, they’re listed under "Screenplays" on the “also by Stephen King” page at the front of most of the man’s books. But that’s limiting. Since Brian DePalma adapted Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie, for the big screen in 1976, the Stephen King Movie has been a genre unto itself, encompassing myriad directors, writers, mediums, and styles, all tied together by the fact that Stephen King wrote something that served as inspiration. Where the publishing history of Stephen King is fairly straightforward (with a few hiccups), the movie history is chaotic, because making movies is more complicated than making books. Deals are made, then broken. Screenplays are written and discarded. Budgets are cut, bizarre sequels and remakes are greenlit, and sometimes people make movies about low-budget virtual reality and tell people it’s based on a Stephen King story. It’s a hell of a thing to encapsulate, and author Scott Von Doviak has given a hell of a go, with his book Stephen King Films FAQ.
 
SK_Films_FAQVon Doviak, a contributing writer for the popular pop culture review site The A.V. Club (he’s written most of the Under the Dome critiques, among many others) is not exactly treading new ground. As early as 1986, Dr. Michael R. Collings had produced The Films of Stephen King, followed quickly by Horsting’s Stephen King at the Movies, Connor’s Stephen King Goes to Hollywood, and Lloyd’s The Films of Stephen King. Later work on the subject tackled multiple angles: the glossy Creepshows, by Stephen Jones, focused on overviews and movie posters. King expert Tony Magistrale took his usual in-depth academic approach with Hollywood’s Stephen King. As recently as last year, Hans-Åke Lilja, Brian Freeman, and I published the interactive Stephen King Illustrated Movie Trivia Book. There aren’t as many books on King movies as on King books, but there seem to be plenty. The first question, then, is a book like Stephen King Films FAQ even necessary?
 
The answer is a resounding yes, and here’s why: this book is compulsively readable. It is extremely difficult to put down. A.V. Club writers each have his or her own individual style, but seem to hew to a sort of “house aesthetic”: rarely dull, knowledgeable without going too deep, and just long enough and just compelling enough to spend an hour first reading the article and arguing about the article in the comments. Von Doviak has brought this style to Stephen King Films FAQ, and expanded on it without losing the absorbing nature of the writing. We start early, with an overview of the horror movie before Stephen King began publishing (Universal creature features, Roger Corman, and Hammer Pictures all get some attention), then launch right into Carrie, Salem’s Lot, and beyond. Von Doviak’s approach is different than most writers on the subject, choosing to tell the story of Stephen King on film as a narrative, attempting (and largely succeeding) in tying all the disparate elements of King moviemaking into something logical and serialized. Following any aspect of King’s career is more difficult than one might imagine, due to both the sheer mass of work and the weird side roads King has (and his adapters have) taken, but Von Doviak makes it read easy.
 
Part of that is, of course, the fact that this book was written with the internet reader in mind. The chapters are short, and Von Doviak doesn’t do a lot of in-depth film analysis. In addition, there are often “Deep Cuts” at the end of chapters (bullet-pointed trivia about the movies discussed) and “Bloodlines” sidebars (movies related to the subject at hand; “Five Movies About Obsessed Fans,” in the chapter on Misery, for example, or “Five Great Prison Escape Movies” in the Shawshank section), which read a little like the “Gateways to Geekery” articles on The A.V. Club. Von Doviak subjects himself to an overnight Children of the Corn marathon and lives to tell about it (and, let’s get personal: I did something similar researching the Movie Trivia Guide, and I know from experience that it is a soul-draining exercise). The concluding “Oddities and Ephemera” section revels in listing: we get a list of Stephen King’s film appearances, an awards section, and an “Ultimate Stephen King Movie Soundtrack” – the type of thing Stephen King fans used to trade at conventions and now share on Spotify.
 
Problems? Not many. While a book like this is going to have some factual inaccuracies, some seem glaring: King never published The Bachman Books without Rage (they were released as separate books when Rage went out of print), King left Doubleday in 1978, and in Christine, the novel version of Roland LeBay didn’t kill himself inside Christine. Some of Von Doviak’s opinions on the movies and books are arguable: calling the film Misery “light entertainment” seems dismissive, as does his belief that the finale of The Dark Half (the book) is “hocus-pocus.” He also seems to have a problem with sentimentality, particularly with Stand By Me and the “egregious sanitization” of Cell Block E in The Green Mile. On the other hand, for someone who reveres Kubrick’s version of The Shining as much as Von Doviak seems to, he presents a remarkably fair take on King and Mick Garris’s miniseries version. At base, Von Doviak is one of those reviewers who might present a review readers find unfair, but because it’s so well written, you’ll want to debate rather than close the book.
 
The motto of the FAQ series – which focuses on film and pop culture like Star Trek, Saturday Night Live, and plenty more – is “All That’s Left To Know.” A book like Stephen King Films FAQ makes a good argument: for all its accessibility, it feels remarkably comprehensive. It might actually be the best book written on Stephen King movies. New King readers interested in the films will find an easily digestible take on the subject. Long-time fans will discover new information on movies they already know and love (or love to hate). Cineastes will be fascinated by the culture clash of highbrow films and low-budget trash. Any study that includes both Dolores Claiborne and The Mangler 2 is worth a glance; Von Doviak makes it worth a read.   
 

Kevin Quigley is an author whose website, CharnelHouseSK.com, is one of the leading online sources for Stephen King news, reviews, and information. He has written several books on Stephen King for Cemetery Dance Publications, including Chart of Darkness, Blood In Your Ears, and Stephen King Limited, and co-wrote the recently released Stephen King Illustrated Movie Trivia Book. His first novel, I’m On Fire, is forthcoming. Find his books at cemeterydance.com

 

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