Doctor Gash's Tip of the Scalpel: A Tribute to Stephen King Part 2
"My name is Anne Wilkes. And I am..." "I know," he said. "You're my number-one fan." "Yes," she said, smiling. "That's just what I am."
How many times had Stephen King heard that from his millions of number-one fans before he finally turned the obsessive love of his Constant Readers into the subject of one of his most memorable, horrific and claustrophobic works, Misery? Before taking a short break to honor Debbie Rochon and The Blair Witch Project with Tips of the Scalpel for Indie Horror Month, we brought you Stephen King, Part 1. Now we're back to continue the story with Doctor Gash's Tip of the Scalpel: Stephen King, Part 2: The 80's.
The start of King's career was prolific, beginning with Carrie, Salem's Lot and The Shining, but the incredible amount of legendary horror that King produced throughout his life is simply mind-boggling. King created nearly two-dozen stories that would go on to be feature films or mini-series in the 80's alone. And he kicked off the decade with a bang. In 1980, King brought us Firestarter the book about young Charlie McGee who's rage, when gone unchecked, had explosively dangerous results. The star-studded film (which we're quite sure was the only on-screen collaboration between Drew Barrymore and Art Carney) followed in 1984. But King was just getting started.
King returned with in 1981 with Cujo where he again showed his mastery of trapping his characters into inescapable situations and watching them struggle. King's book and the 1983 film featuring Dee Wallace, single-handedly did for dogs what Jaws did for sharks and even now, more than 30 years later, it's common to hear a vicious dog referred to as Cujo.
King released The Running Man in 1982 under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. The story would be re-released later in The Bachman Books and made into a film starring not one, but two future United States governors, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura (so difficult not to slip "The Body" in there…but he was a governor). One can only speculate how much, if any, inspiration Suzanne Collins drew from The Running Man for her uber-hit The Hunger Games books, but one does have to acknowledge the similarities. And I do think Ventura would have made an excellent Heymitch Abernathy.
All that is wonderful, but the years of 1982-83 were the most impressive of the decade. In '82, King released The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, the first book in what would become a truly epic tale…but we're going to put that story on the back burner for now. We'll revisit The Dark Tower and The Stand in Tip of the Scalpel: Stephen King Part 3: The Epics. What we do want to highlight is an incredible collection called Different Seasons. This one set of four stories contains three tales that would go on to be incredible films. Spawning from Different Seasons was The Body, the story that would go on to become Stand By Me, the film which King calls his first successful translation to film of any of his works, in 1986.
Also contained in Different Seasons are Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, which would go on to become a beloved film, truncating title. And the dark Nazi war criminal themed story, Apt Pupil, which became a powerful movie featuring Ian McKellen and Brad Renfro.
This incredible list goes on and on…and eventually one must ask if King's continuing success was simply due to his past successes. But just looking at the books makes it clear that King continued to pump out incredible work as the decade went on. In 1983, all he did was deliver Christine, Pet Sematery and Cycle of the Werewolf which would go on to be the film Silver Bullet in 1985. Christine would also hit the big screen in 1983 while Pet Semetary came out of Hollywood in 1989.
Other stories that would go on to become feature films were Thinner and The Dark Half. The short stories The Mist and The Raft from the Skeleton Crew collection would eventually hit the big screen with The Raft adapted into a segment for Creepshow 2 and The Mist would become a third collaboration between King and Frank Darabont (previously creating The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption together). Darabont would bring several actors from The Mist, Jeffrey DuMunn, Laurie Holden and Melissa McBride, on to a little television show he would create three years later in 2010 called The Walking Dead. And we mustn't forget the coulrophobic's worst nightmare, Pennywise the Clown from King's 1986 book It, which became adapted into a television mini-series.
The last story we must discuss is the one that brought us the quote that began the article. Stephen King released Misery in 1987. In this tale he absolutely perfected the claustrophobic theme he used so masterfully in earlier stories like The Shining and Cujo and would revisit in future works like Gerald's Game. Misery had to be considered one of King's most effective novels, and that was even before the film came along in 1990. Kathy Bates would win the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role as Annie Wilkes. But as impressive as an Academy Award is, Misery is most memorable for having one of the most cringe-worthy scenes in the history of horror. That's right, the hobbling of Paul Sheldon.
For those who don't remember (which should read, for those that haven't seen the film, because if you saw Misery, you remember). This was the scene where Annie put a block of wood between Paul Sheldon's ankles then smashed his foot with a sledge-hammer, completely destroying the bones in his foot and legs. I can safely say that there is not a person in their right mind that can watch that scene without curling their toes and cringing. Yikes! In King's book, Annie actually used an axe and removed a foot, but something about seeing that ankle bend onscreen as it did seemed even worse.
The sheer volume of work Stephen King has done in the name of horror is amazing, and the 80's was an excellent time for his productivity. But fear not King fans, there is one more chapter in the Scalpel tribute to this master of the macabre. But for now, we will again say thank you, and give a Doctor Gash Tip of the Scalpel to the 1980's work of the great Stephen King.
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