Published March 27, 2008

When it comes to adapting Stephen King for the Silver Screen, there are only a handful of directors who have tried, and succeeded, more than once. Rob Reiner is two for two, after making Stand By Me and Misery. Mick Garris has directed no less than six films based on King, Sleepwalkers, The Stand, The Shining, Quicksilver Highway, Riding The Bullet, and Desperation. And then there’s …

Frank Darabont
Since the early-80s, Stephen King has offered student filmmakers a “dollar deal.” He will sell his short stories to them for one dollar, providing the student makes no money off the film, and he (Steve) gets a copy. Frank Darabont took advantage of this deal, adapting and directing a short story from King’s 1978 collection, Night Shift. The story, The Woman in the Room, involved a young man struggling with what to do about the cancer that is eating his mother alive. King liked it so much, that when Darabont came calling a few years later (after getting some cred in Hollywood with scripts for Nightmare on Elm Street 3, and a remake of The Blob), King not only remembered him, but was a little surprised by the request. Darabont wanted to adapt and direct a novella from King’s book, Different Seasons (one of his best), with the unlikely moniker, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. King agreed, and the rest is history.

The Shawshank Redemption tanked on its initial release, but has since become one of the most popular films of all time. On IMDB’s tally of favorite films, it regularly appears in the top three alongside The Godfather and Star Wars.

In 1999, lightning struck again when Darabont adapted and directed another King period prison piece, The Green Mile. It hasn’t gained quite the cult following as Shawshank, but was a powerhouse of a story, extremely well told.

And now, we have yet another King/Darabont film, albeit one that has sharply divided audiences and garnered incredible controversy.
Stephen King's The Mist
Based on a novella from Skeleton Crew (a King collection from 1985), The Mist tells the story of David Drayton, a Maine artist who gets trapped in a supermarket with 100 or so other patrons when a mysterious fog rolls into town. It doesn’t take long to figure out that … “There’s something in the mist!”

The story is at once an homage to the B-movies of the 50s and 60s, and … a brilliant look at how extreme fear and stress lead to societal breakdowns. In many ways this movie is like a cross between John Carpenter’s The Thing (referenced early in the film), and William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies. In short order, the people trapped in the market to divide into groups – one embraces logic, another denial, and still another hellfire and brimstone theology. This last one, led by Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), quickly becomes dangerous and deadly. Darabont has said, “The story is less about the monsters outside than about the monsters inside, the people you’re stuck with, your friends and neighbors breaking under the strain.” Indeed.

In addition to Harden, and Infamous’ Toby Jones — both great, the fine cast is rounded out by King alumni, Thomas January e (Dreamcatcher), Andre Braugher (‘Salem’s Lot), Frances Sternhagen (Misery), and Darabont regulars, William Sadler, Jeffrey DeMunn, Brian Libby (all from Shawshank and Green Mile) and Laurie Holden (The Majestic).

I abhor spoilers, so I will not reveal any more of the plot. However, I will discreetly address the most controversial part of this movie: the ending. Once again, there is no middle ground on how people react to the end of this movie. They either love it, or despise it. I’ll admit, when I first saw this film in theaters, the ending rocked me. It was like a kick to the stomach. And yet, it stayed with me for days. Unlike Darabont’s earlier King adaptations, where the emphasis was more on human drama, this film fully embraces the horror classics of the past. In fact, it’s one of the few horror films that has the strength of its convictions to the very last frame. Here, finally, is a horror film that is not afraid to horrify. Those who thought the ending of The Mist was horrible need to redefine their adjectives. The ending was horrifying, not horrible.

There are two DVD versions of The Mist available now, and I recommend most enthusiastically the 2-disc version. That one contains some outstanding documentary features, deleted scenes, director commentary track, and most cool of all, The Director’s Vision, The Complete Feature Film in Black and White (see the video below for more on that). After watching both, I must say I like the b&w version better — it feels like a mid-60s horror classic, kind of like Night of the Living Dead. Stark, crisp, and beautiful.

In regards to how different The Mist is to Shawshank and The Green Mile, there is one very important similarity. And that is, again … the ending. I personally think, after much reflection, that the ending of The Mist has exactly the same moral as The Shawshank Redemption. And that is …

Never give up ~ never lose hope.

But, this is the dark side of that moral. Oh boy, is it.

Bottom line: The Mist is one of the finest horror films ever made. An instant classic.