In honor of horror novelist Stephen King’s birthday, I spent some time putting together the best non-supernatural stories that he had written. Some completely underrated, some that are obvious, and some that will surprise you. So starting with…
5. Apt Pupil
The story of a boy (Brad Renfro) who finds out that his old neighbor (Ian McKellen) is a Nazi war criminal and blackmails him into telling him stories of the atrocities that he committed which begins to affect the boy.
This is one of those “tough to watch” films in that the horrible shit discussed is rooted in such a real life evil. You see this boy decend into evil, while the Nazi begins to take delight in the influence that he has over him. The ending of the film (changed from the novella) speaks volumes about the corruption of the human soul, and the reaction of the character played by David Schwimmer (yes, that guy) is the devastating reaction that any decent human being would have. True monsters can be human sometimes.
4. Secret Window
The story about a writer (Johnny Depp) getting over a divorce, trying to write a novel to get over his troubles. But one day he is greeted at the door by a stranger (John Turturro) who claims that the man stole his story.
Here’s a movie that was sadly overshadowed by its somewhat predictable ending, but the journey leading up to it is nothing short of compelling. Depp gives one of those now rare performances where he is subtle, and calm. The backstory of how he ended up getting divorced is heartbreaking, and the discovery of all that stays with you. Especially once you realize what the title truly means.
3. Dolores Claiborne
An old woman dies under the care of housekeeper Dolores Claiborne (Kathy Bates), leading her to be the prime suspect in her alleged murder. When her daughter Selena (Jennifer Jason Leigh) comes back into town, the truth starts to rear its ugly head.
If there is one movie on this list that more people need to see, it’s this one. Jesus Christ, is everything on point in this film, from the acting to the writing to the direction, just everything. But I do have to warn you folks, that the truth revealed is ugly as fuck. I mean, Stephen King doesn’t fuck around here. It made me uncomfortable, but it made me see things in an entirely different light, and that good and evil are not so black and white.
2. Stand By Me
A dramatic tale of a writer reminiscing about the one summer where he and his three friends went on a trek into the woods to find the dead body of a boy their age.
Yes, Stephen King wrote this one. This has been hailed as the ultimate coming of age movie, and they’re not wrong. Everything in the movie feels so true, so genuine, like a long ago memory. This is the prime example of King’s focus on characters over plot. It feels like you’re hanging out with these kids. The sad thing is the movie gets more difficult to watch as you get older; it’s a beautifully bittersweet reminder of those carefree summers.
1. The Shawshank Redemption
The now classic story of prison inmates Red (Morgan Freeman) and Andy (Tim Robbins) and the bond they form over the years at Shawshank Penitentiary.
Maybe along with Stand By Me, nothing gets a more shocked reaction that this was written by Stephen King. The movie is just a drama; no creatures or superpowers in the mix, just the story of trying to live in prison. To me, there is no better life affirming film than this one. Hell I’m getting teary eyed as I’m writing this. I think back to this movie, and I think of the characters as my friends. Sorry, just thinking about the ending. The happiest ending that you’ll ever see in film, and the one movie that proves beyond all measure that hope is the best of things. I can never recommend a movie highly enough.
So there you have it, some movies that prove that Stephen King is not just about the supernatural. The man is a master storyteller, and these flicks are some of the best movies ever made. Give yourself a treat, and watch them.