Category: Book Reviews
Written by Steve Pattee
Published on Sunday, 20 July 2014 19:25
"Stephen King Films FAQ: All That's Left to Know About the King of Horror on Film" Book Review
Written by Steve Pattee
Published by Hal | Leonard
Written by Scott Von Doviak
2014, 385 pages, Reference
Book released on February 1st, 2014
There is no name more synonymous with horror than Stephen King. Whether or not you like his books, there is no denying that no one person is better known when it comes to bringing the scares to a global audience. His countless works have spawned over one hundred film adaptations (including TV mini-series and episodes), from shorts to full-length features and from indie to Hollywood-produced. Scott Von Doviak attempts to tackle those films in his latest book, Stephen King Films FAQ: All That's Left to Know About the King of Horror on Film.
I have to admit, before cracking this book open, if you had told me there were over a hundred titles based on the work of King, I would have scoffed. But when you sit down and think about it, you've probably seen many of them or maybe even some of their sequels (that most likely weren't endorsed by the horror king – no pun intended). Hell, there may even be some titles in this book that would surprise the casual horror fan.
The first part of the novel is broken down by decade for movies, followed by individual sections for: shorts; miniseries, TV series, and TV movies; sequels and remakes; and a final chapter for "oddities and ephemera", which is just what it sounds like: things that just couldn't fit in the other chapters. Instead of diving right in, Von Doviak starts with an opening chapter entitled "Apt Pupil: Precursors and Influences", which is a brief overrun of the history of horror in film, lightly covering topics ranging from Dracula and Frankenstein to Roger Corman's work and influence to the impact of such of films like Rosemary's Baby and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1976). It's a wise way to start the book as it establishes the author is not just a giant Stephen King fan but also a fan of the genre. This is important because there are many people who claim to be King's "number one fan", but don't care about any other part of horror. If I'm going to take someone seriously, especially in a book like this, I want the person behind the words to be knowledgeable enough to put things in context, and author Scott Von Doviak proves to be more than qualified.
After the history lesson, Doviak proceeds to tear into each movie King had some involvement in, starting with Brian De Palma's Carrie. I've read numerous books on film in the past, and there are two different types of writers. The first gives a brief synopsis of the film – maybe adding the actors and directors involved – before moving onto the next making it nothing more than a glorified list. The second type takes his or her time with each title, perhaps giving a background or personal thoughts in addition to the synopsis. I prefer this latter type, and in Stephen King Films FAQ, Von Doviak exceeds my expectations.
Von Doviak provides the expected plot synopsis with each film, short, and TV episode, as well as his own thoughts on each piece that he's seen (and he's seen a lot!). But the author goes a step further by adding interesting tidbits. For example, after discussing the David Cronenberg-directed The Dead Zone, Von Doviak adds his opinion on five other of the director's films. In addition, there are "Deep Cuts" found throughout the book which offer up pieces of trivia from the media discussed in that particular chapter. It's little things like this that elevate Stephen King Films FAQ from your typical Stephen King-branded money-grab book of lists to something that is a well thought out and fulfilling read.
In fact, it is so enjoyable that throughout the book Von Doviak does something that would normally annoy me, but I let it go. He makes it clear from the beginning that The Shining is his favorite film based on King's work. That in itself is no big deal, but it feels like he compares every other film in the King stable to the level of The Shining (or, rather, his opinion of it). This is made most clear in his critique of Shawshank Redemption, where he says it would be considered a "bromance" if made today. He clearly enjoyed the movie, but calling it a bromance sells it short. And considering the high praise he gives The Shining, where Jack Nicholson is annoyingly over-the-top in his performance (calm down, kids, I do dig the movie, but he really tries too hard to sell crazy), it bothered me. But here's the rub: he backs up his points. There are definitely times that I don't agree with Von Doviak's opinions (Shawshank clearly being one of those times), but his knowledge of the genre (and King) and his skill as a writer allowed me to be fully vested in the book, regardless of whether or not he says things I like. Well done, I say.
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