The big screen version of Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining hits theaters, so we pick three films to prepare you for it.
The adaptation train keeps rolling. We’re about two movies away from “Stephen King’s Laundry List – The Movie.” While Mike Flanagan’s take on King’s work looks to be the real deal, we’re well aware of how…uneven adaptations of the master of horror’s work can be. Just to hedge our bets, we’re picking three flicks that will get you ready for Doctor Sleep, or provide you an alternative if the film doesn’t pan out.
Doctor Sleep (2019).
Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) struggles with sobriety, haunted by the demons of his past. While he tries to forget about the Overlook Hotel, his father’s bloody rampage, and the mysterious psychic power called the shining, he is forced to use his abilities again. A young teen with the same powers broadcasts a mental distress signal to Danny; she is being hunted by a group of paranormal killers who hunt and drain those capable of the shining.
The Serious Pick: The Shining (1980)
Jack Torrance, a struggling writer and alcoholic, moves his family to the forbidding Overlook Hotel to be the off-season caretakers. Increasingly strung out and desperate, Jack’s diseased mind turns towards dark obsessions, abetted by the ghastly history of the hotel.
Meanwhile, his son Danny struggles to make sense of a strange power, which he dubs the shining, which allows him to perceive the supernatural and communicate telepathically with the kindly old chef for the hotel. The older man warns him that the Overlook has a shine to it too, and that it is a dangerous place.
The Shining isn’t my favorite King story, but the film adaptation is the best Stephen King film around. Kubrick puts on a film craft clinic, meticulously composing each shot, layering the plot with tense and gripping music, and getting terrifying performances out of Jack Nicholson. With his careful construction, the Overlook Hotel becomes a living entity, each room and hall alive with character and mystery. Each time I re-watch it, I become a little less focused on the Torrance’s drama and more engrossed in that fantastic setting. It’s a wise move for Flanagan to mine Kubrick’s iconic vision of the hotel, at least in passing, in Doctor Sleep.
The Television Pick: The Haunting of Hill House (2018)
The Crain family suffer a devastating tragedy shortly after moving into the crumbling mansion of Hill House. Now adults, the Crain children have all processed that shock differently; Steven had become a best-selling author, writing about haunted houses; Elizabeth has become a mortician, skilled at helping others process death and grief; Luke has become a drug addict; Theodora struggles with the same signs of mental illness that afflicted their mother and fueled the tragedy. When history begins to repeat itself, the family must wrestle with the ghosts from their past.
Mike Flanagan develops a slow-burn psychological horror story in the Gothic mold. Each of the characters has a depth to them, and has developed interesting, if often tragic, coping mechanisms. Like a Gothic ghost story, the supernatural elements are obliquely presented, making it much more impactful when the scares actually arrive. This Netflix series definitely gets its hooks into you, making it a binge worthy series.
The Unconventional Pick: Gerald’s Game (2017)
Jessie (Carla Gugino) and her husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) head to a secluded cabin to try to rekindle their fading marriage. Gerald pressures her into a sex game involving handcuffing Jessie to the bed, which Jessie eventually rebuffs. Before Gerald can uncuff her, he suffers a fatal heart attack. Jessie, trapped, endures days of torturous self revelations a she tries to get free.
Mike Flanagan’s first crack at a King adaptation before Doctor Sleep was a tight little terror. It’s one of the few times I found the movie to be much scarier than the book. Gugino really sells the psychological trauma she experiences, and the supporting cast is strong as well. The film also gets Carel Struycken, The Addams Family‘s Lurch, in a terrifying role.
Flanagan keeps the needle in the red when it comes to tension, no small feat considering we primarily have one character on screen, tied to a bed. It’s a bit like Misery, where an oppressive, nerve-biting dread hangs over your head thanks to really strong central characters. The film also weaves in supernatural elements deftly, offering a naturalistic explanation that highlights their horror instead of defusing it. The plot does heavily deal in sexual assault and abuse, so be forewarned before playing Gerald’s Game.