It’s officially October, which means that spooky movie season is finally upon us. No October would be complete, either, without the release of a new Stephen King adaptation. Fortunately, Netflix’s adaptation of Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, which is based on King’s novella of the same name, is set to fill that annual spot this year.
As all horror fans will know, almost no author’s work has been adapted into as many films and TV shows over the years as Stephen King’s. However, while a great number of the King adaptations that Hollywood has released have received acclaim and widespread attention, many of them have also been forgotten or lost to time.
With that in mind, here are five underrated Stephen King movies that are worth seeking out this Halloween season.
The Dead Zone (1983)
It might not be the best movie that David Cronenberg ever made, nor is it the best Stephen King adaptation that Hollywood has produced, but The Dead Zone is far better than its lackluster reputation would have you believe. Anchored by a deeply committed, surprisingly vulnerable lead performance from Christopher Walken, this underrated 1983 gem is a quietly unnerving, deeply engaging psychological thriller. Its third act is particularly memorable, thanks to Martin Sheen’s scene-stealing performance as a slimy politician that catches the attention of Walken’s part-time vigilante.
Needful Things (1993)
Based on King’s 1991 novel of the same name, Needful Things is an imperfect but fun horror film. It features a number of hallmarks of King’s work, including his fascination with American small towns and the ways in which evil’s corruptive influence can spread, as well as two pitch-perfect performances from Ed Harris as a well-meaning sheriff and Max von Sydow as an antique shop owner whose interests are far more sinister than they initially appear.
In other words, while Needful Things certainly isn’t one of Hollywood’s best Stephen King adaptations, it still deserves another moment in the spotlight.
Apt Pupil (1998)
Apt Pupil is one of the weirder and more underrated Stephen King adaptations that Hollywood has ever made. Based on one of the author’s novellas, this 1998 thriller explores the toxic relationship that grows between a teenage boy and a former Nazi war commandant who lives in secret in his neighborhood. Ian McKellen gives a truly frightening performance as the film’s central war criminal, and the ways that Apt Pupil ultimately explores evil’s corrosive touch are often chilling and disturbing.
The film is by no means a standard or straightforward Stephen King adaptation, but that’s also part of the reason why it works as well as it does.
Dolores Claiborne (1995)
This 1995 thriller may not be as well-known as Kathy Bates’ other foray into the world of Stephen King adaptations, but Dolores Claiborne is still an underrated and effective drama. Featuring a number of noteworthy performances from its stars, including Bates, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Christopher Plummer, Dolores Claiborne may have been well-received when it was originally released, but it has since been disappointingly lost to time.
Fortunately, there’s no better time than now to give Dolores Claiborne the attention it deserves. The film notably boasts a screenplay written by none other than Andor writer Tony Gilroy.
Gerald’s Game (2017)
Odds are, most Netflix viewers will know writer-director Mike Flanagan best for his work on limited series like The Haunting of Hill House and Midnight Mass. But before he made The Haunting of Hill House, Flanagan partnered up with Netflix for his 2017 adaptation of Gerald’s Game. The film, which was initially released without much fanfare, has since emerged as one of the more underrated Stephen King adaptations that have ever been made.
Even though it never quite manages to shake off many of the flaws present in its source material, Gerald’s Game is still an intense and inventive thriller — one that is, frankly, worth seeking out solely for Carla Gugino’s stellar lead performance.
Mr. Harrigan’s Phone will stream on October 5 on Netflix.
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