STEPHEN KING ONSCREEN

In 2010, Stephen King published Full Dark, No Stars, a collection of four novellas that were as bleak and grim as the title of the book. Though the volume might well qualify as horror, only two of the stories involved fantasy or the supernatural. The other two, the best of the group, dealt with real-life monsters and were coincidentally made into films last year, each of which (with little fanfare) just made its way to the home market last month.

Big Driver, originally filmed as a Lifetime TV movie, is considerably different from that particular channel’s usual offerings both in theme (more sordid) and style (more graphic). Maria Bello (Prisoners, A History of Violence) plays Tess Thorne, a writer of detective fiction who is brutally raped and left for dead by a large man driving a truck. But you can’t keep a good writer down.

Having survived by pure chance, Tess must determine the next page of her own story: revelation or revenge. Opting for revenge, she has to first identify the antagonist, which leads to unexpected revelations of another sort, ultimately enlarging the targets for vengeance.

Well-directed by Mikael Salomon despite the obvious restrictions of the Lifetime imprimatur, Big Driver is both chilling and surprising. Bello is very convincing, and Richard Henry Matheson’s script manages to stay very close to the author’s original tale. Of added interest are extended cameos by rocker Joan Jett (as a sympathetic bartender) and Oscar-winner Olympia Dukakis (as one of Tess’s fictional sleuths).

Unlike its companion piece in King’s book, A Good Marriage got the full treatment as a theatrical film, with King himself providing the screenplay (his first self-adapted script since Pet Sematary 25 years ago). Scheduled for only limited release in early October last year, however, the movie went unnoticed for the most part by industry types and the public, despite the casting of three-time Oscar nominee Joan Allen in the starring role and Anthony LaPaglia as her husband.

The film opens with Darcy and Bob Anderson celebrating their 25th anniversary at a party hosted by their grown children. Everyone thinks they have a good marriage, including Darcy, until quite by accident she discovers that her husband is actually a serial killer who, over the years, has tortured and killed many victims, taunting the press and police with his accomplishments. So what does Darcy do next?

In Full Dark, No Stars, King acknowledged that his villain was based on Dennis Rader, the notorious BTK killer, prompting criticism from Rader’s daughter who, when she learned about the proposed film, claimed that King was “exploiting” her father’s victims. Whatever the story’s inspiration, there is no exploitation in A Good Marriage nor is there much graphic violence. Instead, the focus is on a woman’s difficult decision about what to do (having confronted the unthinkable) for her children, her husband’s victims and herself.

For Stephen King fans, both films are well worth a look, easily better than some of the other cinematic dreck derived from King’s fiction and each a derivation of the same theme, a woman wronged. And determined to make it right.

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