In 1976, Brian de Palma directed the major motion picture and pig’s blood gorefest Carrie, which was adapted from the first novel by Stephen King. Since then, more than fifty filmmakers have adapted the Master of Horror’s books, resulting in over eighty films and series, with more to come. This crowns King as the most adapted living author in the world.
There have been a few documentaries on King that focus on film, the most notable one being Room 237 (alluding to the haunted hotel room in The Shining). Stanley Kubrick’s Jack Nicholson-led The Shining has been divisive among fans—King himself, and many purists who prefer the novel, do not care for the lauded 1980 feature, decrying its deviation from the source material.
That sentiment is carried through to King On Screen with a good number of the interviewees stating that they didn’t like the 1980 film (Mick Garris, who directed a more faithful account as a TV miniseries in 1997, is interviewed at length) making it seem that fidelity to the source material and deference to King should be held above art and freedom of interpretation. In fact, when Mike Flanagan talks about adapting Doctor Sleep, King’s recent sequel to The Shining, he says that if the almighty author “didn’t like anything, I wasn’t going to do it.” What’s more, Kubrick’s character is called into question and condemned, which isn’t the case with any of the other filmmakers—that feels unfair and out of place here. While too close to the subject to be truly objective, Garris (pictured below) is one of the more balanced interviewees on the sticky subject.
Directors, Artists, and Actors Interviewed: Mick Garris (“The Stand,” Riding the Bullet, and seven others), Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile), Mike Flanagan (“Midnight Mass,” Doctor Sleep), Tom Holland (The Langoliers), Vincenzo Natali (In the Tall Grass), Tommy McLaughlin (Sometimes They Come Back), Greg Nicotero (“Creepshow”), Mark L. Lester (Firestarter), Taylor Hackford (Dolores Claiborne), Dee Wallace (Cujo), Tim Curry (”IT”), James Caan (Misery), and many more.
Conspicuously Absent: Mary Lambert (Pet Sematary; she was not only the first female director to tackle King’s work but also the record-holder for the highest-grossing horror film directed by a woman), Kimberly Peirce (the only other female to direct a King-based feature with her version of Carrie in 2013), Brian de Palma (Carrie), David Cronenberg (The Dead Zone), and, oh, and Stephen King himself. (The latter is forgivable, considering the fact he’s probably bombarded with such requests on a daily basis and hasn’t been in the best of sorts since a devastating accident in 1999); but I would have settled for his sons, Joe Hill and/or Owen King, who are both horror authors.)
Despite the fact there are few women in front of the camera, King On Screen is helmed by Daphné Baiwir, who is a former actor turned auteur—not to mention an uber-fan of Stephen King’s work in all formats. She has tackled an awful lot here and sometimes the doc drags a bit because of the sheer weightiness of its subject but overall, Baiwir has made an educational and entertaining love letter to the King of Horror. King On Screen is partially crowd-funded through King devotees, and the love really shows (right from the start, as a matter of fact, with a short scripted film that’s full of horror-nerdy Easter eggs).
The interviewees are all fans on some level as well, and they tell poignant stories of how they first discovered the bestselling author and how he shaped their formative years. Josh Boone (The Stand, 2020) shares a story about his teen years when his disapproving religious parents burned his King novels; he wrote to the author and was graciously sent signed replacements in return.
Aside from the Stanley Kubrick slam, King On Screen is not a critical look at the author’s onscreen oeuvres—but it’s not meant to be. It’s by fans for fans, as plays as such. (Note the irony in the screenshot used for the official trailer!)
Darkstar Pictures will release the horror documentary King On Screen in Theaters on August 11, 2023, and On Demand and Blu-Ray on September 8, 2023.