- Rated PG
- Buy the DVD
e touched upon it in our DVD review of “Nightmares and Dreamscapes,” the recent mini-series that adapted eight stories from Stephen King’s short story collection of the same name, but it’s worth stating again: adaptations of the man’s work to film – be it theatrical or for television – don’t exactly have the best track record. Now that you know this, if you should ever be presented with the knowledge that four such adaptations have been collected and put into a box set, one hopes that you’ll tread as carefully as we are with “The Stephen King Collection.”
In the case of this particular collection, the four films included are “Pet Sematary,” “The Dead Zone,” “Graveyard Shift,” and “Silver Bullet.” Even the most optimistic film critic would be hard pressed to claim that more than one of these inclusions is a legitimate horror classic, and even the lone exception – “The Dead Zone” – likely only made the cut because its profile has been raised tremendously thanks to its having spun off a successful TV series on the USA Network.
Well, alright, maybe I’m being too cynical about “The Dead Zone” appearing here, given that it’s reportedly King’s favorite of all the adaptations of his work. Director David Cronenberg made a conscious effort to tone down his unique (to put it mildly) sensibilities to make a relatively commercial horror film. The two biggest reasons the film works are Christopher Walken’s performance as Johnny Smith, a man who wakes up from a five-year coma with the ability to glimpse visions of the future, and Cronenberg’s decision to film these visions in such a way that it appears that Smith is actually a part of the future events he’s witnessing.
Even though director Mary Lambert doesn’t successfully translate all the horror contained in “Pet Sematary,” the reason the film is nonetheless a must-see can be summed up in two words: Fred Gwynne. For decades, Gwynne was stuck in everyone’s memories as Herman Munster, but in his twilight years, he scored several plum film roles, both in comedies (“My Cousin Vinny”) and dramas (“Fatal Attraction”). The role he absolutely owned, however, was Jud Crandall; love or hate the film version of “Pet Sematary,” if you go back and read the book, it’s Gwynne’s face you see when you read Crandall’s lines. Shame the same couldn’t be said for Dale Midkiff, whose performance as Dr. Louis Creed was so unmemorable that I had to check the credits to find out what his name was. The film certainly has its share of terrifying moments, but when it’s all said and done, the viewers familiar with the original source material will say, “That really should’ve been scarier.” And they’re right.
“Silver Bullet” and “Graveyard Shift” are adaptations of a King novella and short story, respectively, and they’re both textbook examples of why one really shouldn’t try to stretch out an hour or less worth of material into a 90-minute film, especially if their casts are going to be filled with grade-B – maybe even grade-C – actors. King’s werewolf tale, “Silver Bullet” (adapted from “Cycle of the Werewolf”), stars Corey Haim and Gary Busey, so your expectations start low and stay there, but Everett McGill (Ed Hurley from “Twin Peaks”) turns in a nice and creepy performance as Rev. Lowe, the lycanthropy-suffering pastor. “Graveyard Shift,” meanwhile, only has a single actor of note: Brad Dourif, who plays an exterminator out to rid a textile mill of the giant, bloodthirsty rats that reside in it. Mind you, he’s awesome in the flick, but everyone else is faceless, and it’s basically just a big, dumb monster movie which is more gory than scary. It may well be the single worst Stephen King adaptation ever to make it into theatrical release, but that’s a debate I don’t care enough about winning to even get into.
Film buffs will probably only want to buy the special edition of “The Dead Zone” by itself. Hell, even Stephen King fans will probably be better served by buying that and the special edition of “Pet Sematary” separately rather than investing in this entire set; both “Silver Bullet” and “Graveyard Shift” have already been out on DVD, and there’s nothing new added to them to make them worth buying again.
The Stephen King Collection DVD Review:
As noted above, there’s nothing special about “Silver Bullet” or “Graveyard Shift,” and that includes the features on their DVDs, which are nonexistent; that the former is featureless is particularly strange, since a 2001 release of the film on DVD included an audio commentary by director Daniel Attias. You’d think someone could’ve hunted that down and included it here. “The Dead Zone” includes four different featurettes about the film, with new interviews with Cronenberg as well as actress Brooke Adams. (No sign of Walken, though, unfortunately.) Although Cronenberg doesn’t provide an audio commentary for “The Dead Zone,” Lambert offers one on “Pet Sematary”; that DVD also includes three new featurettes.