© Paramount Pictures
Best/Worst of Stephen King (cont'd)
And now, the worst:
5. "Silver Bullet" (1985)
Daniel Attias; written by Stephen King, from the
novel by Stephen King.
Something is killing the residents of Tarker's
Mill in brutal fashion. What could it be? Well, we know right away it's a
werewolf, and the kids in the picture, Corey Haim as an invalid, and Megan Follows as his older sister, know fairly
quickly it's a werewolf. But will anyone believe them? Yes, it's one of
those movies. Oh no, the werewolf knows who I am, and I'm an invalid,
and he's already tried to kill me twice, and I suspect he'll attack me during
the next full moon (this werewolf can attack at any time, by the way, not
just during full moons), but what can I do? I'm just a kid and no one will
believe me. Even though half the town has sorta seen the werewolf. So I'll just
hole up in this house with my sister and drunk uncle, who still doesn't
believe me, and wait for the werewolf to come. But we've got one silver
bullet in one gun, which my drunk uncle waves around. We'll be fine. Don't you
Who helps: Young Corey Haim is good, and Gary Busey is always our first choice for a drunk,
good ol' boy-type uncle.
Who hurts: Mostly King's script,
which makes no sense. The werewolf kills his second victim by climbing a trellis
and jumping into her bedroom. The next thing you know there's a curfew: Don't
leave your house after 5 p.m.! Um ... how is this supposed to make us
Bullies: Guy at a bar who starts a vigilante
Evil truck or incompetent sheriff?: Sheriff
Joe Haller can't do anything to stop the werewolf or the vigilante mob.
Quote: "I think he's going to come after me. But I think
he's going to wait until the moon is full."
4. "Graveyard Shift" (1990)
Directed by Ralph S. Singleton; written by John Esposito, from the short story by Stephen
No great plot holes here. Just a stupid, unpleasant movie about
stupid, unpleasant people saying stupid, cliché-ridden lines in a sweaty Maine
textile mill overrun with rats. None of the actors are good or good-looking or
well-known. There's no gratuitous nudity or sex or sensuality. And the
creepiness factor (all those scuttling rats) is mitigated halfway through when
the rats suddenly disappear in favor of one giant, shadowy (but less creepy)
rat. The final insult? The "song" over the end credits just samples lines from
the film, including a man screaming, "No more! No more! AAAAHHHH!"
Who helps: Brad Dourif distracts us for a while, but then his
overacting gets obnoxious.
Who hurts: Pretty much everyone.
Bullies: The textile mill foreman, Warwick, with the
thick-as-molasses Maine accent ("Show's ovah!"). A couple of rubes in the town
Evil truck or incompetent sheriff?: Neither.
Quote: "Wouldn't mind his boots restin' under mah
3. "Pet Sematary" (1989)
Directed by Mary Lambert; written by Stephen King, from the novel
by Stephen King.
Hi, I'm Jud Crandall. When a neighborhood cat is killed,
I lead the cat's owner, Louis Creed, to an Indian burial ground and tell him to
bury the cat there. Here's what I don't tell him: That as a result, the cat will
come back to life, and this time it will be evil. Why do I do this? Am I evil?
No. Am I befuddled? No, I'm fairly sharp for someone from Maine. I guess I'm
just an idiot. But I get mine in the end.
Hi, I'm Louis Creed. What do I
do after my daughter's cat comes back from the dead? Do I kill this evil
abomination? No, I let my daughter play with it. And when my 2-year-old son is
killed, and despite warnings from a nice ghost with a bleeding head wound,
I decide to bring my boy back to life, too. But, whoops, he turns out evil
(didn't see that coming), and he cuts up my neighbor and wife with a scalpel.
Then he tries to kill me -- flying through the air and gnawing at my neck -- but
I manage to kill him instead. Ah well. Lesson learned, right? Not really. I
immediately carry my dead wife to the Indian burial ground to resurrect her. I
guess I'm just an idiot. But I get mine in the end.
helps: Fred Gwynne does a fine job but winds up with a
toddler feasting on his neck. "The Munsters" was Shakespeare in comparison.
hurts: Denise Crosby. Darling, you left "Star Trek" for this?
really. Just the dead.
Evil truck or incompetent sheriff?:
Trucks run over a teacher, a cat, and a toddler. They scare everyone. Changing
the speed limit in town might help but it'd probably ruin the sequel.
King cameo: The minister during the toddler's funeral. It
may be his best performance -- brief and understated.
"Daddy, now I want to play with yewwwwww."
Directed by Mick Garris; written by Stephen King directly for the
OK, so you're a sleepwalker, a shapeshifter who feeds off the
energy of virginal human females while being vulnerable to the scratch of a
cat, and you and your sexy Mom arrive in a sleepy Indiana town after
narrowly escaping capture in Maine. Lying low makes sense. So what do you do? In
school you write, and read aloud, a story about sleepwalkers: a mother
and son, as a matter of fact, who flee from town to town. When a fat teacher
searches into your background, you kill him. Immediately afterward you go
joyriding around town, so now the cops are after you. And one of the cops just
happens, just happens, to patrol with a kitty cat in his front seat.
The epigraph at the beginning of "Sleepwalkers" attempts to play
off the vampire legend, but there's a big reason vampires work on the big
screen: Drinking blood, fear of daylight -- it's all cool. The reason
sleepwalkers don't? A bunch of housecats attacking someone looks really, really
stupid. Oh, and Madchen Amick is still a virgin? In your
Who helps: Brian Krause, Madchen Amick and Alice Krige don't stink.
hurts: King's original screenplay is riddled with as many holes as
Beatty and Dunaway at the end of "Bonnie and Clyde." Also a gaggle of directors -- Joe Dante, John Landis, Clive Barker and Tobe Hooper -- decide to show up in bit parts. To
lend support? To divert our attention? Because they're directors and they don't
know a bad script when they read one?
sleepwalkers; a fat teacher.
Evil truck or incompetent
sheriff?: The Indiana police department looks as dumb here as the
Chicago police in "The Fugitive." Our favorite moment: two cops converge on the
sleepwalkers' home, see no one, and immediately holster their guns. Umm
... upstairs, guys?
King cameo: The cemetery caretaker.
Not good. But not as bad as Jordy Verrill in "Creepshow."
Quote: "He was ... (sob)
... He was very charming."
1. "Maximum Overdrive" (1986)
Directed by Stephen
King; written by Stephen King, from the short story, "Trucks," by Stephen
It's got it all: Bad acting, bad dialogue, unpleasant characters,
plot holes you can drive Christine through, and a tone-deaf director who
apparently learned scene-to-scene continuity from Ed Wood. And has any leading man ever made so
many wrong decisions? Emilio Estevez urges his boss not to shoot a rocket
grenade at the evil machines, even though this would help their situation.
He joyfully turns on the pumps when the trucks want gas, even though this
hurts their situation. His plan is to sail to an island that has no machines.
But ... speedboats? Airplanes? Apparently Emilio doesn't think of these.
Apparently neither does anyone else because the plan works. Or so we're told in
And how about that afterword? We spend 90 minutes watching
a group of rubes battle trucks in a truckstop, and as they sail off into the
sunset we're told that two days later a UFO is shot down and everything was
fine. The End. UFO? Hello?
King has admitted he was addicted to alcohol
and cocaine back then, so maybe "Maximum Overdrive" can still be put to
use, as the greatest anti-drug message ever filmed. A fried egg? No, kids,
this is your brain on drugs.
Pat Hingle is a professional, as always, and Yeardley Smith (the voice of Lisa Simpson) provides
Shelley Winters-like comic relief.
hurts: Emilio Estevez and Laura Harrington, our romantic leads. But it's King's
movie, he does it all here, and he does it all
Bullies: Pat Hingle.
Evil truck or
incompetent sheriff?: All evil trucks all the time. One even grins.
King cameo: Man at Cashpoint. Says the first line in the
film: "Honeybuns, this machine just called me an asshole!" Ninety-seven
excruciating minutes later we agree with the machine.
"What gets me is the stupidity."