It’s hard out there for Stephen King movies. No, really, it is. For every runaway success like It, there are a dozen other duds that simply fail to make the jump to the big screen.
It’s no wonder why, either. For as amazing an author as he is, King’s particular strengths – the parts about his stories that work on paper – aren’t generally what make great movies. He finds the longest possible way to tell a story that he can – tracked through countless back channels of micro-world-building and characterization, of layers upon layers of description and scene-setting, agonizingly slowly paced to milk every last ounce of suspense that he possibly can get from it – and movies, by and large, are predicated on brevity. They distill pages upon pages of setting description into a single establishing short and can’t find room for chapters worth of minor characters’ backstories.
And when you cut out everything uniquely King about his stories, there’s not much else there to work with: a vampire here, a rabid dog there, maybe some evil kids to tie a bow on it. His novels are simple ghost stories when you get down to it, and everything great about them is in the way he tells it.
That’s probably why so many of his best films are taken from short stories and novellas. Those are pretty much screen-ready out of the box, meaning that there’s not too many ways to butcher them along the way. Movies like The Shawshank Redemption, Stand by Me, 1408 and The Mist all come have similarly humble origins as dime-a-dozen shorts. Hell, even It cut out half the novel just to keep things manageable.
Perhaps, then, the reverse holds true as well: cut an entire novel down to just a few minutes long highlights – distill it down to the core of the idea – and maybe you end up with something just as good as the original. At least, that was John Carpenter’s approach when he recently adapted King’s novel Christine – about a murderous car who hunts down victims in the dead of night – into a lead, 4-minute long short film.
The short opens on an old man standing triumphantly over a pristine, 1958 Plymouth Fury. He takes the car out in the dead of night, tracing his way through the city streets, red finish gleaning in the streetlight.
Eventually, he comes across a girl stranded beside a broken down car in an empty back alley. Hopeful, she flags him down, only to be greeted by a blinding flash from his headlights. The engine roars to life, the throbbing car bucking against the parking break, setting upon her as she runs helpless through the night.
He corners her in a dead end, pulling the car around to block of her escape. The passenger door opens, revealing the gnarled old man – played by Carpenter himself – who silently waves her in. Hypnotically, she does, and he drives off to whatever dark end awaits them.
This is actually the second time that Carpenter’s directed Christine. He first brought the story to life in the 1983 film adaptation that, by all accounts, was terrible: damn near unwatchable, even. Whether he’s had time to rethink the idea in the more than thirty years since its release, or shorter is simply the way to go with some King concepts, he nailed it here. And if he wanted to take another shot at a feature – with this short as his proof-of-concept – I’ll happily be first in line to see it.