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Flashback Five – The Best Movies of Stephen King

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With dozens of movies based on his work, novelist Stephen King’s imprint on Hollywood is greater than most writers and directors. He’s known mostly for scaring the living daylights out of readers and viewers, but King’s work has been adapted into more than just some of the greatest horror movies of all time, including The Shawshank Redemption, nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, and the Tom Hanks tearjerker The Green Mile. Though, of course, King’s bread and butter is the horror flick. So turn on a light, lock all the doors, and maybe even get ready to cry (and not out of fear): these are Stephen King’s best movies.

1. The Shining (1980)
Oddly, King doesn’t love this adaptation, but everyone else in the world does. The Shining stands the test of time: the movie’s blood-gushing elevator, creepy twins, and hedge-maze race are some of the most memorably terrifying onscreen moments, period. And that’s to say nothing of Jack Nicholson’s virtuoso manic, ax-wielding performance, one of the best of all time. While The Shining doesn’t pack the conventional thrills of most horror movies — moving at a measured pace and slowly tightening its intensity like a vise grip — the movie climaxes in a truly unforgettable third act.

2. Misery (1990)
A self-described No.1 fan takes her favorite author hostage: welcome to Stephen King’s nightmare. Fantastic premise aside, Misery‘s success rests on a marvelous pair of performances by the flick’s leads, Kathy Bates and James Caan. Bates’s Oscar-winning turn as Annie Wilkes — hilarious and horrifying — succeeds in turning an outlandish killer into a realistic nightmare. And an uncharacteristically restrained Caan is in perfect form as best-selling author Paul Sheldon, grinding his teeth and telling Bates everything she wants to hear while planning his revenge.

3. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
This is the flick that made people say, “Wait, Stephen King wrote this?” Yes, he did. Really. And while this prison epic contains plenty of horrors — rape, sadistic guards, and, you know, having your freedom taken away for years at a time — it’s really an excuse for something a bit more mushy: male bonding. The friendship between two convicts, played by Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins, is one of the great bromances of all time. Little seen in its theatrical release, The Shawshank Redemption became a classic on video — with nary a mention of ghosts, psychics, or vampires.

4. The Dead Zone (1983)
Christopher Walken and director David Cronenberg are both weird as hell, so it was only a matter of time before they joined forces. As with Cronenberg’s Fly, this fast-paced adaptation resists the clichés of its genre. When Walken’s teacher emerges from a coma to discover he can see and change the future, it seems more authentic than inconceivable. Rather than play the supernatural premise with a wink and a nudge, the movie takes the idea — and the moral implications — seriously. Exceeding expectations at every turn, The Dead Zone is actually an emotionally affecting flick.

5. Carrie (1976)
King has always had a sure hand when it comes to depicting the cruelty of youth. Brian De Palma’s stylish take on King’s debut novel of teenage hell is one of his bloodiest films — though it’s mostly cow blood. Sissy Spacek stars as Carrie, an unsuspecting nerd who takes her revenge on the cool kids with a little help from her, yes, powers of telekinesis. The truth comes out in a high-school prom whose theme seems to be the apocalypse. Who can forget the ending scene, and who can help but sympathize with tormented Carrie, even as she’s carrying out a bloody revenge?

Honorable Mentions

1. Stand by Me (1986): The wistful coming-of-age story may not seem like King’s M.O. — until you factor in the corpse, the projectile-vomiting revenge scenario, the crotch leeches, and Kiefer Sutherland’s teenage psycho.

2. Pet Sematary (1989): King said the book was too scary to release. Maybe that was marketing, but King’s twist on the zombie mythos packs power by preying on the worst fears of parents.

3. Cat’s Eye (1985): Featuring three terrifying tales tied together by a tabby, Cat’s Eye sure is weird. But it somehow works — especially the segment featuring a young Drew Barrymore battling a goblin living in her bedroom wall.

4. Sleepwalkers (1992): With soul-eating monsters who look like you and me, Sleepwalkers succeeds at being a fun popcorn flick in the style of a fifties horror movie.

5. Maximum Overdrive (1986): For pure kitsch value, Maximum Overdrive is essential. The premise is that machines come alive and wreak havoc. The soundtrack is by AC/DC. And the title improbably ends up as a line of dialogue delivered straight at the camera.

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Catch The Shining and Pet Sematary during AMC’s Crazy About Stephen King movie marathon, starting Sat., Oct. 9, at 12:30PM | 11:30C.

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