‘CARRIE’ — Brian De Palma’s film version of Stephen King’s first published novel is a masterpiece that stands on its own – both deeply unsettling and one of the more compassionate horror flicks you’ll ever see. Could we even call it horror? Before it gets there, the movie goes through everything else: coming-of-age story, family drama, high school movie, social allegory, and vigilante thriller. As the shy, repressed teenager tormented by her fellow students on one side and her deranged, Bible-quoting mother on the other, Sissy Spacek is appropriately haunted and anxious – her intense performance has the quality of an exposed nerve. We feel for this girl and understand the impossibility of escaping the emotional prison that she lives in. Meanwhile, De Palma’s stylisation is both lush and forbidding: His swooping camera moves and sly editing tricks mix sentimentality and suspense, so that, much like Carrie herself, we never quite know where any given situation is headed. And the film sustains its tense, hesitant tone for so long that by the time the climactic prom night massacre arrives – resulting in one of the great shock-and-awe set pieces of all time – even those of us who’ve seen the movies a dozen times are on the edge of our seats. The best-selling author’s literary debut got the inaugural cinema du King film it deserved. ‘MISERY’ — given that the writer takes defiant pride in penning books for fans and not critics, it’s more than a little ironic that his one Oscar-winning movie is about a reader who loves an author way too much. Kathy Bates took home the Best Actress prize for her alternately funny and terrifying performance as a rural nurse who saves the life of her favourite novelist, then forces him to write a novel that indulges her fangirl whims. Rob Reiner not only captures the original’s comic and waking-nightmare elements; he also gave the world a film that ended up predicting the increasingly toxic artist/audience relationship that’s developed in the age of the Internet. And that “hobbling” scene? ‘THE DEAD ZONE’ — David Cronenberg is the man who made “body horror” a thing; Stephen King’s tales of terror derive much of their power from down-to-earth Americana. An odd couple, to be sure. But the Canadian auteur brings out the best in the story of a New England schoolteacher who awakens from a five-year coma with the ability to see the future of anyone he touches. Co-starring Martin Sheen as a blustery, right wing politician rising to power via blue-collar populism and ready to trigger World War III – imagine that! ‘STAND BY ME’ — he’s a modern master of horror-lit – and yet two of the strongest big-screen adaptations of the genre’s most popular purveyor don’t even try to be scary. Just like ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, the plot of this coming-of-age classic originated in King’s eclectic 1982 collection Different Seasons, and eschews vampires, killer dogs, and haunted hotels in favour of a low-key, personal story about four small-town boys in the late 1950s, played by stars-to-be River Phoenix, Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell. As the kids take a dangerous hike to go look at a dead body, they share one last moment of camaraderie and bonding, before they get pulled apart by class differences and teenage angst. Rob Reiner gives it just the right touch of wistfulness and wonder, as well as somehow bringing the story’s anecdotal centrepiece – a pie-eating contest that ends in copious vomiting – to the screen with all its technicolour grossness intact. ‘THE SHINING’ — it’s easily a ringer for both the Top Two Haunted Hotel Movies and the Top Three Man-Being-Fellated-By-A-Gent-In-A-Bear-Costume Movies Ever Made. Why, you may ask, is The Shining not the #1 choice on this list? Because if you’re talking about adaptations of King’s work, Stanley Kubrick’s glorious, grandiose ghost story gets docked points for often feeling like a semi-superficial skim over the source material – the equivalent of merely passing a bottle of vermouth over a dry martini rather than pouring any in. The author has long gone on record as hating Kubrick’s take; as recently as 2014, he was still lamenting Jack Nicholson’s crazy-from-the-get-go performance and the film’s hermetic vibe: “The book is hot, and the movie is cold.” Whether you think the film improves on the novel is a matter of opinion and anyone who wants fidelity can check out the 1997 miniseries, topiary animals and all. But seen through the lens of “Stephen King movies,” it’s an interesting interpretation of the book’s familial dysfunction and writer’s block en extremis, and thus not a top-of-the-heap choice. Published in Daily Times, September 2nd 2017.