If you search for Stephen King on Netflix you’ll find a pretty good list of film adaptations. I’ve seen most King adaptations – from the sublime (The Shawshank Redemption, The Shining, It) to the ridiculous (Maximum Overdrive) – but over the past year I added unseen titles to my watchlist and never get around to watching them. Perhaps it was recently watching the superb It, or perhaps it was the dreadful weather yesterday, that made me knuckle down and get them watched. Anyway, whatever the cause, here’s my thoughts on three of these films currently available on Netflix. I’m not sponsored by them, by the way, more’s the pity…

Sometimes They Come Back is a 1991 TV movie based on a short story by King. As such, it features quite a few cuts to black (to originally allow for adverts) and more irritatingly a lot of flashback sequences that essentially repeat the same content to remind the TV audience (who are always assumed to be dumber than cinema goers for some reason) what’s going on.

What’s going on is that a teacher, Jim Norman (Tim Matheson) travels back to the town where he grew up to take up a new teaching position. He brings his wife (Brooke Adams – a Stephen King film wife if ever there was) and young son with him along with a camper van load of memories of his older brother who was killed by some yobs in a train tunnel 27 years previously. The yobs got their just desserts as their car, which was parked across the tracks in the tunnel, got hit by a train and blew up with them in it.

But as the title would suggest these yobs come back from the grave to terrorise the teacher, kill some of his pupils and work toward a not very well explained climax back in the tunnel. The theme of story is one of mourning, letting the past go and moving on with life. Of the three (or four – see later) films I watched, this was the worst. The plot and the acting being the worst points. Also because the budget was tight the special effects are not very special. I also got the impression that someone had been watching The Lost Boys a little too much. The film also suffered from that strange situation in a lot of American movies where older actors are playing school kids.

I remember seeing posters for the film, which got a video release, around Loughborough when I was a student and thinking it looked a bit lame. The most horrific thing about this film was learning that it had spawned a sequel, called, wait for it… Sometimes They Come Back Again. Christ.

Gerald’s Game was a great novel but I wondered how well it was going to come across in the Netflix film adaptation. The answer is not so bad, although I think they tacked a little too much onto the end of the film once Gerald’s wife has escaped her predicament and didn’t build up the claustrophobia enough.

The set up is typical King. A married couple (with no kid this time) travel to a deserted lake house to take a few days away to rekindle their ailing relationship. For Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) this involves taking some viagra, handcuffing Jessie his wife (Carla Gugino) to the bed and then living out a rape fantasy. His wife isn’t so keen as you might imagine and during the ensuing argument it get’s so heated that Gerald keels over and dies. Trouble is that the cuffs are the real deal, not some fluffy Anne Summers jobs, the bed posts are reinforced, and the house is in the middle of nowhere. Problem. Oh also there’s a stray dog that has wandered in looking for something to eat. Gerald refers to it as Cujo which is a nice touch.

What then plays out is Jessie’s descent into madness where she relives her experiences of childhood abuse and realises she never really recovered from the experience in her adult life. Oh yeah and there’s this creepy tall-man type dude who appears at night, and the voices in her head – manifested on screen by the actors being in the room with her. The film for the main part is pretty true to the book as far as I can recall – even including reference to Dolores Claiborne (from the novel with the same name) standing over the well during the solar eclipse and the fact that “we all serve the beam” – a reference to King’s Dark Tower series.

The most well-written passage in the book is also very well played out in the movie. This is the point where Jessie cuts into her hand and forces it through the handcuff. King likens what happens to pulling the skin off a chicken drumstick and with the help of some excellent effects this is played out in all it’s sickening glory on screen. When I read the book as a teenager I felt like puking and the image stayed in my head for weeks. When I saw it on screen it had a similar effect. Bravo. KFC anyone?

The underlying theme is again one of overcoming past traumas and moving on from bad situations, which Jessie most certainly does.

1922 is another atmospheric Netflix production but is a slightly different beast; there’s no childhood traumas to be gotten over in this one and it’s a father-son period piece based on a King novella. A struggling farmer kills his wife with the help of his son and throws her body down a well, Claiborn style.

Watching the film, I realised that I might have channelled some of the tale into my short story ‘The Voice’ which is supposedly written by a character in The Sun and the Rainfall, which has a Stephen King vibe and the idea of a well on an old American farmstead very much front and centre. However Cthulu isn’t in 1922 and there’s no incest. I did rather throw the kitchen sink at it.

Thomas Jane (The Punisher, Deep Blue Sea) is very very good as the farmer. I may be over-egging it some, but his performance for me was rather like a quiet version of Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood without the milkshake. As you can imagine the murder of the wife is a catalyst for all sorts of mental unravelling and rather than a tall-man and starving dog we get the ghost of the dead wife and a host of rats causing trouble. This is great gothic horror without the lame cliches inherent in the likes of America Horror Story.

As a little extra, I also watched The Rage: Carrie 2. There’s a couple of Carrie films on Netflix which I wrote about here, and I’ve had The Rage stored up for a rainy day since then. It isn’t directly based on Stephen King’s work, but it is a sequel to the original 1976 Sissy Spacek film, so I include it here as a bonus.

The Rage is okay in places. It looks quite dated in its style feeling more mid-90s than it’s 1999 release date. Rachel (Emily Bergl) is a loner teenager living with foster parents after her mother is taken away to Arkham Asylum (no really, Batman fans!). Rachel where’s weird clothes, listens to Garbage and has posters of Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails in her bedroom to make sure we know she’s different from the airheads and jocks at her school. She fights to keep a lid on her telekinetic abilities and to fit in.

Sound familiar? Well it is pretty much a remake of the original in the guise of a sequel. Rachel is actually Carrie’s half-sister although born some twenty years later. A teacher at the school was tampon throwing Sue Snell (Amy Irving) and she’s trying to make amends for her past by helping Rachel. She gets a harpoon through here head in the grand finale by way of thanks. The massacre at the end of the film is symbolic of the massacre of the original source material and features some pretty laughable special effects.

When does the new season of Stranger Things start?

Photo by Jongsun Lee on Unsplash