After the success of It: Chapter One, Hollywood is no doubt scrambling to remake as many Stephen King properties as humanly possible right now. But part of the reason this movie worked the way it did was that the original It wasn’t a movie; it was a network TV miniseries, which is a totally different medium than film, especially when it comes to dealing with horror material.
No one really wants remakes of any classic film based on King novels (see: Carrie), because most of them were already done perfectly the first time out. But remaking a miniseries that was originally created with network TV budgetary and content constraints? That’s a whole different story. Here’s an example of some older Stephen King TV adaptations that are ripe for the big screen/bigger budget It treatment:
Salem’s Lot (1979)
Based on King’s second novel from 1975, the late Tobe Hooper directed this 1979 miniseries, which was one of the very first Stephen King projects to make it to any screen, a few years after Carrie hit movies theaters. Salem’s Lot is the saga of an author returning to his small Maine town, which has been overrun with vampires. The miniseries was spread out over two nights on CBS and made quite a sensation when it came out. For the most part, it still holds up.
Still, the limitations of budget and television censorship kept them from going as far as they could have for the mini-series. A second mini-series was produced for TNT in 2004 starring Rob Lowe, and that one had some very cool vampiric moments, but dropped the ball in several other ways.
The original miniseries has several iconic components that could be reinterpreted with a proper budget, like the makeup provided for the vampire lord Barlow that is actually still really striking and scary to this day, and the scenes of the floating vampire child outside the window–also still creepy as hell.
The Stand (1994)
The Stand is another one of King’s earliest novels, a post-apocalyptic 800-page epic that ranks as a favorite of most hardcore King fans. It was originally made into a six-hour network miniseries for ABC back in 1994, starring Gary Sinise and former ’80s teen stars Molly Ringwald and Rob Lowe.
While the miniseries was actually really good for its time, the original novel was just too complicated and, well, R-rated for ’90s network TV to fully do it justice. It would be perfect as premium cable series spread out over a couple of seasons, but could also work being spread out over two (maybe even three!) films, with a full commitment from a studio to do it right. In other words, don’t Dark Tower it. Do this one right, or don’t do it at all.
The Tommyknockers (1993)
Stephen King actually hates this book he wrote in 1987. (Hey, it’s hard to follow up back to back masterpieces like It and Misery). Nevertheless, the miniseries that came as a result of it was actually pretty entertaining. Another King story about a small town in Maine–Stephen King is the perfect example of the idiom “write what you know”–this sci-fi story has the townspeople affected by a mysterious object buried in the nearby woods.
Somehow, though, this middling King book turned into a pretty darn good two-part miniseries back in 1993, starring Jimmy Smits and future CSI star Marg Helgenberger. This particular miniseries could easily be re-adapted into a perfectly decent film, and unlike a lot of the other miniseries, could be made better by being a relatively brief one-and-done movie. No need to stretch this one out over two films or more.
The Langoliers (1995)
For whatever reason, I have a soft spot for the 1995 miniseries The Langoliers, based on the novella from King’s 1990 four-part anthology book Four Past Midnight. Directed by Tom Holland, who directed the original Fright Night and Child’s Play movies, the premise behind this one centers on a group of 10 people on a late night flight who awaken up mid-air to find everyone else on their plane has vanished, including the pilots. This is a solid premise for a less-than-two-hour film, and really never needed to a be a two-part mini-series (the original mini has a lot of padding). The Langoliers is definitely a case for shorter being better.
Which old school Stephen King television mini-series would you like to see get another shot via the big screen? Be sure to let us know your choices down below in the comments.
Images: Warner Brothers, New Line Cinema, Vidmark Entertainment, ABC