In early January, Stephen King wrote a story of few lines on his official Twitter account. It was a joke poking fun at the zombie genre and the start of a simple premise. Immediately, the tweet went viral and many of the comments insisted that it was the first horror story of the year. It is the most recent demonstration that interest in the writer’s works remains current.
Especially, for a whole new generation of readers, who consider their way of narrating essential to understand the genre. Each of his stories have an element in common: translating the supernatural to a small stratum. It is no longer about demons or battles for the souls of wounded children. The landscape of the mystery is the strip of a garden that leads to a cemetery for pets, built by children. To the room of a redheaded teenager, who can move objects with the power of death. To the fan of a writer who wields a greatsword to fracture ankles.
For Stephen King it is important that what causes fear can be found in the least expected places. Which turns most of his novels into gloomy reinventions of normality.
Especially those that have been taken to the cinema. With a number of adaptations that exceed three hundred, he managed to build a style to be analyzed for its most notorious aspects. From his descriptions of deceptively peaceful settings, including idyllic towns in rural North America, to his flawed characters, full of nuances and flaws. Stephen King’s vision of horror manages to create an atmosphere that relates to ambiguity.
Who is good or bad in a story in which the one who raises the gun is a drunken father? What happens when a man touches his nurse’s hands and can she predict his future? He doesn’t seem so big, like the monsters that destroy cities or the ghosts that must be conjured up by exorcisms. In the author’s world, what is scary is not obvious or immediately explainable. Something that allows his approaches to always be fresh.
Fear manifests itself inside the house
In misery, directed by Rob Reiner, the monster is not a wraith or a creature with dangerous jaws. Is Annie, a woman that the actress Kathy Bates endows almost with kindness during the first sequences. In the same way as in the book on which it is based, what can frighten the character is not what associates him with extraordinary situations. After all, she is a nurse who strives to take care of her patient. It is the first thing the writer describes and from there he takes the story to an unexpected place.
The story delves into how cruelty is hidden in a common house and in a woman, who could be anyone. When Paul (James Cann) understands the kind of violence his caretaker is capable of, the sense of horror of the premise is fully revealed. Even a figure that passed for harmless can be the embodiment of evil.
For Stephen King, this type of scenario – the normal faced with a fateful or evil act – is central. He also used it in the novel Carriemade into a film by Brian De Palma, in which the title character is a teenager who is bullied at school. A circumstance that both the writer and the director describe in detail. But little by little, the book and the feature film indicate that the character has inexplicable abilities.
In addition, that he is capable of using them and that he will, if he loses control over his emotions. What begins as an exploration of pain, isolation and exclusion quickly turns into a bloody argument. Even more, when Carrie suffers a public humiliation that will end up pushing her to commit all kinds of violent acts.
Stephen King: the writer who explores the darkness of the human mind
Stephen King meditates on chilling situations that can be found everywhere. That, in reality, supernatural events are just another aspect of the physical and believable. Even when he leaves similar places, the reflection of the author’s work remains the same. In the novel and also in the movie cujonarrates, through a dog infected with rabies, the siege of a family and the home invasion. There is no group of thugs, assassins or creatures from the underworld. Only a Saint Bernard going through all the stages of a deadly infection.
In fact, in the classic Christine Directed by John Carpenter, the supernatural scenes are a long time coming. As in the book on which it is based, the script devotes special time and attention to its characters. Above all, delve into the bullying suffered by Arnie (Keith Gordon), the driver of the haunted car, and the way in which this situation will condition his behavior. Terror is hidden in plain sight in a beat-up car, in a teenager’s obsession with fixing it, and the atrocities the latter may commit for revenge.
When horror coexists with everyday life
During the first twenty minutes of the hour of the vampire (1979) directed by Tobe Hooper, no bloodthirsty creature appears. Instead, the adaptation of the book Salem’s Lot Mystery, spends a fair amount of footage introducing the titular town. Its streets and avenues, the tension that confronts the neighbors and the places that surround the place.
The adaptation tries to show that it is an ordinary town, a rural enclave that is no different from so many others. Perhaps that, at the moment when the first attack occurs, is so disturbing and violent. Suddenly, the sensation of the subversion of normality is the main element of the plot.
Something that is accentuated as the plot becomes more cruel. Most of the undead are neighbors, friends and relatives of the main characters. A particularity that gives a creepy and almost philosophical background to the film version. Would you be able to kill those you love and spare them an eternal life of torment?
The future turned into a threat
In Dead zone by David Cronenberg, the script uses the collective fears of the decade to set its stage, an idea that it takes directly from the original text. In both accounts, Johnny (Christopher Walken) is able to see into the future. What starts out as brief and unimportant predictions, turns into a vision of the apocalypse. The possibility of a president capable of unleashing a nuclear offensive that leads to a world cataclysm becomes a threat. To such an extent, so that the main character ends up sacrificing his life to avoid it.
In the book It’s, the series of events that will lead to confronting a monster that feeds on fear, begins with a suicide. Stephen King describes over twenty pages the suffering that torments him. What is repeated in the tape directed by Andrés Muschietti. Although it is not the same setting, both focus on the desolation of the loss that death brings about. Something that allows his works that reach cinema and television to explore the finitude of life and the nature of intimate fears.
The oldest concern reaches the literary world
For Stephen King, death is a recurring element in his stories. Not only to instill concern, but at the same time, to question how our culture reacts to loss and desolation. Animal Graveyard, one of the writer’s most popular novels, delves into the premise about the loss of a loved one as the door to the supernatural. “What would you do to bring back the ones you love?” wonders Jud Crandall, one of the central figures in the plot.
Interestingly, it is the same line that is repeated in the film adaptations. The first, released in 1992, showed the death of a child as the trigger for a catastrophic circumstance. But first, just like in the original material, it all starts with the death of the family pet. The same thing happens in 2019. Both of them reflect on the conception of a supernatural event that gradually increases in danger and violence. That, from small home scenes that become more brutal as the narrative progresses.
The glow, perhaps the most personal story of Stephen King, tells, first of all, a tense job interview. Jack Torrance needs to get a job that will allow him to resume his work as a writer and get away from drinking, which, paradoxically, will push him into supernatural realms. Stanley Kubrick’s celebrated performance also questions the character’s (played by Jack Nicholson) urge to cope with failure, but recounts his progressive slide into madness. Despite the differences, in both, it is about the element that drives the horror. Jack is a victim of his suffering and what will happen will be a spiral of domestic abuse turned into something dark. Apparently common situations, which end up linking with the paranormal.
Stephen King and everyday fear
In the preface to his book the threshold of night, the writer, author of several of the great successes of today’s horror films, sums up, perhaps by accident, the secret of his success. “There is no need to fear the darkness so much, as what is hidden in it when we are not looking.” In other words, what happens when life shows its darkest and most denigrating spaces.
A particular premise that leads to fear as part of everyday life and its connection with what is assumed is reality. The point that makes his narrations enduring.
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