Castle Rock revives King reputation

Sunday, September 30, 2001

LOS ANGELES -- It took awhile for Stephen King to scare up some respect in Hollywood.

For years, his name was linked to frightful films -- some well-regarded, some not -- until Castle Rock Entertainment began highlighting his works' humanity over horror in dramas such as "The Shawshank Redemption" and "The Green Mile."

"These weren't the usual stories people thought of when they thought of Stephen King," said Martin Shafer, Castle Rock's chief executive officer. "When you give these stories this kind of attention, people look back and see that he's really like the Dickens of today."

Now Castle Rock is releasing its seventh King adaptation, "Hearts in Atlantis," about the friendship between a boy (Anton Yelchin) and a mysterious boarder (Anthony Hopkins), set in the summer of 1960.

"King may be a horror writer but he writes about human monsters, too, and Castle Rock was willing to look at that side of his work when others weren't interested," said William Goldman, who wrote the company's screenplays for 1990's "Misery," this year's "Hearts in Atlantis" and the upcoming sci-fi King thriller "Dreamcatcher."

"I don't know of anything else quite like it -- one studio and one writer," said Goldman, a two-time Academy Award winner ("Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "All the President's Men"). "Castle Rock's not the only one doing Stephen King, but I think, for whatever reason, they do him better than anyone else."

Nearly 30 films

King has consistently topped best-seller lists worldwide since publication of "Carrie" in 1973, and nearly 30 feature films have been adapted from his work.

The relationship between Castle Rock and King began in 1985 when director Rob Reiner turned his attention to the author's novella "The Body," about four boys on a quest to find the remains of a missing boy. Reiner's "Stand by Me," released the next year, became a surprise box-office success -- particularly to those expecting another King slasher.

In the decade before, Brian De Palma's "Carrie," Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" and David Cronenberg's "The Dead Zone" were well-received thrillers. But the directors' big names and distinctive styles eclipsed King's contribution. And King's name was most frequently linked to B-grade, blood-and-guts screamers such as "Children of the Corn," "Cujo" and "Christine."

"It was not supernatural. It was all very human, very real," Reiner said of "Stand by Me." "Stephen King, I think, gets a bad rap in a way. ... But the reality is he's just a great writer who writes wonderfully detailed characters."

King rarely speaks about his films and did not make himself available for an interview. However, he has said he considers "Stand by Me," which got an Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay, one of the most faithful film adaptations of any of his books.

Character-based horror

After the success of "Stand by Me," Reiner and several partners founded their own production company in 1987, naming it Castle Rock -- after the fictional town in "The Body."

Reiner explored a darker side of King's work when he directed 1990's "Misery," the tale of a deranged fan who rescues her favorite romance novelist from a remote mountain car crash -- and then tortures him.

"Although it was horrific, it was a very realistic, character-based horror piece," Reiner said. "I'm more interested in human behavior, and what people do, and who they are, and how they bump up against each other."

Goldman said he knew the film was working when King himself became engrossed in it.

"There was a great moment at the end of this screening when I saw King hunched over the seat and saying to the screen, 'Be careful. ... Look out, she's got a gun in her apron,'" Goldman said.

Soon, King was offering his non-horror novels to Castle Rock.

"Castle Rock has what I call a sort of serial franchise that has shown the cinema-going public that the power of King's writing is really in his characters," said "Hearts in Atlantis" director Scott Hicks.

"King's name is synonymous with horror, but I think stripping some of that away has expanded the breadth of his work to new audiences and earned him some new respect," Hicks said.

Kathy Bates, then a little-known stage actress, won an Oscar for "Misery," prompting some A-list actors to sign on to the company's King films. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman starred in 1994's "The Shawshank Redemption," which received seven Oscar nominations, and Tom Hanks took the lead in 1999's "The Green Mile," which got four Oscar nods. Bates herself returned to King's writing for Castle Rock's 1995 drama "Dolores Claiborne."

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