Thursday, February 11, 2016

1984 in Film: Stephen King Double Feature

by Melissa Uhrin
All together now: 1984 was a terrific year for movies!

Coincidentally, 1984 was also (ish) the beginning of when Stephen King's works had begun their journey into a new medium. With over 45 of his novels, novellas and short stories adapted for film audiences (I purposely did not count the sequels aside from Creepshow 2, as many were not directly linked to King, nor did I count any of the television series, as I had previously touched on those), the translation of his works has been (for the most part) quite successful. Enough parentheses already! On to the goods!

The early eighties were chock-full of Stephen King's scares, and as each story speaks to us differently as individuals, we will all have our favourites and those we avoid. In 1984 he had two adaptations released (hot on the heels of three from '83: The Dead Zone, Cujo and Christine), one of which I love and one of which I am FINALLY growing to love.

One of my first tastes of Stephen King was when I picked up his novel Firestarter as an early teen. Picked it up and didn't put it down until it was complete. On repeat. (I have an addictive personality, is that obvious to anyone else?) It's a simple tale of government drug testing experiments, two of the trial's participants developing telekinesis, falling in love, creating a beautiful little girl who has her own special ability, pyrokinesis, the government officials deciding they want that ability for themselves, a nation-wide manhunt ensues and it all culminates in fiery hell. BAM. Can you not see why I was hooked? And as a huge HUGE fan of the book, the film adaptation is right up my alley.
Now before I even begin to get carried away and Chris Farley the crap out of the story, I will get to the film itself. It was released on May 11, 1984, filmed on a budget of $15,000,000 and brought in a whopping $15,100,000. (Yes, only one of the numbers are different). Huh. While I am happy it broke even, I am quite surprised that it did only just that. Maybe it's because I was only 3 when it was released and couldn't help to bring up the numbers?

The movie stars Drew Barrymore (who read the book as a child and declared to her mom that she was indeed Charlie McGee!), David Keith as her father Andy, Heather Locklear in brief flashbacks as her mom (side note: I LOVE that they didn't dwell on the backstory of how they fell in love; it was obviously implied, they created a child and we are back in the here and now), and a fantastic George C. Scott as the dick pedophile that befriends Charlie.

The film was directed by Mark L. Lester (Commando and Showdown in Little Tokyo), and in a recent-ish interview with Dread Central, he confirmed that the film was originally set to be directed by John Carpenter, but after the script had been written, did not stay true to the book, and the budget for that version of the film did not excite the studio. (According to Carpenter, he was removed in the wake of the critical reviews of The Thing). So it was brought to Lester instead, who along with Stanley Mann, rewrote the script directly in keeping with the book and BAM, Firestarter as we know it. He also spoke of this film being the most challenging that he had ever worked on. Practical effects will do that, and this film is incredibly full of them, right down to the actual fireballs and on-fire people. THAT's why I love love love this movie. EVERYTHING was made and that adds so much.
On that note, let's slide our way into the other Stephen King adaptation that was released in 1984, Children of the Corn. (The original film, not one of the dozen remakes). The movie is based on King's short story of the same name that was original published in the March 1977 issue of Penthouse (teehee boobies!), and later collected in his 1978 release Night Shift.

Now I struggled with and almost scrapped this whole piece due to my non-love of the film. I have watched it a solid dozen times, three to four times over the past few years, and have never really come around on it. How it spawned EIGHT fucking sequels and has such a huge cult following was beyond me. However, on this last viewing a couple days ago, I FINALLY found some love for it. One thing you have to give me is determination. PIECE BACK ON!

The film was released on March 9th, 1984, was filmed on an estimated $800,000 budget and brought in a whopping $14,600,000. Directed by Fritz Kiersch and written for the screen by George Goldsmith, the film strays from the draft screenplay that Stephen King had originally written for the film (focusing on character and backstory) and Goldsmith's action and violence was favoured instead. It stars Peter Horton (my recognition of him was from Amazon Women on the Moon) and Linda Hamilton (do I even need to type the words: Sarah Connor?) and we should all know the story: a childless couple end up in a small town, the town has been taken over by a cult of asshole children that answer to an evil entity “He Who Walks Between The Rows” and bloody murder ensues.
What finally swayed me (to the dark side?) was the FUN I had watching it this time. Linda Hamilton in her opening singing/dancing scene, the horrible yet widely fun digital effects (cartoony at times), and remembering that while the film strays from the story (**SPOILERS**for some reason they opted for a cheerful Disney ending as opposed to the “everyone-must-die-so-the-corn-is-happy” ending), this is but an interpretation of a story I love. And when I want the version where everyone is mutilated I will just open my copy of Night Shift.

And that was Stephen King in good ol' 1984!

Our once a year mass gathering is just about upon us, where we collectively come together to explode the twitter in our celebration of just a few of the best of the best from 1984.




  1. I'll have to see Firestarter again. I loved the book, and thought the movie was "fine." I do remember George C. Scott creeped me the hell out.

    I can't say I love the film Children of the Corn, but that's mostly because the short story is one of my favorite things ever. It helps that I first read it while my parents were driving me through Nebraska - that was a looooooong trip. Of course, compared to the sequels the original is great (it's certainly watchable).

  2. I have never seen either of these movies in their entirety but I have a memory of coming out into the living room late one night when I was 4 or 5 (I think just to remind my parents they were not truly free and never would be again) and seeing CotC on the tv - I remember torches and some thing under the ground chasing them - and knowing it was a bit above my fear threshold. You've kinda made me want to see that and definitely made me want to watch Firestarter - that sounds fun and I e come to really appreciate George C. Scott - he's seriously a pedophile in the movie?

  3. GSC def gives off skeevy vibes in the movie. In the book it's even more disturbing--his interest in Charlie is because he's obsessed with death and he thinks looking into the eyes of a child, especially one with "the power of the gods," as she dies will explain death to him. IOW he wants to kill her when the Shop no longer needs her. I can't remember if that's in the movie or not.