King, Stephen

He brought horror into the mainstream


From the Oct. 29, 1982, Deseret News

HOLLYWOOD – With "Creepshow," Stephen King makes a double debut, as both screenwriter and actor.

It's true his novels "Carrie," "Salem's Lot" and "The Shining" have been made into films, but he had nothing to do with the screen versions. And while he did a brief, non-speaking cameo role in independent filmmaker George A. Romero's "Knightriders" last year, it was hardly acting.

But "Creepshow" is an original screenplay and he has a starring part in one episode of the five-story anthology film.

King is a self-effacing fellow, tall and lanky with a shock of black beard growing in. He tends to hunch over, as if he wishes he weren't quite so tall, and though he is an amiable, friendly interview, it's apparent he'd rather be somewhere else — perhaps anywhere else.

But he's excited about the impending release of his very first film. "Creepshow" is fashioned after the old horror comic books that King loved as a youngster, and he and director Romero ("Night of the Living Dead," "Dawn of the Dead") use an animated segue device that introduces each of the five stories via a comic book titled "Creepshow."

"In a way, ‘Creepshow' is a film for 12-year-olds of all ages," King said, "and it's made by a couple of warped 12-year-olds (King and Romero). It's full of the childish kinds of things you would expect from two guys who are just trying to scare each other really bad, and the humor comes out of that."


                          George Romero, left, and Stephen King on the set of 'Creepshow'

Indeed, "Creepshow" is surprisingly filled with humor, in between monsters and scares. But then so are King's books.

In a way, King has given horror a mainstream reputation, and the child in him has always been evident with the children depicted in his stories. All of his novels have been best-sellers and all have been picked up for movie sales (except his latest, "Different Seasons"), and he's the only writer to have simultaneous best-sellers in hardcover fiction ("Different Seasons"), mass-market paperback ("Cujo") and trade paperback (a comic book version of "Creepshow").

He has 10 or 12 unpublished novels that are now finished but only three of those will be seen, he says. One, "Christine," is about a killer car! A disciplined writer (he writes daily except for three specific days each year), King says a lot of what he produces is just for his own pleasure, and he still writes short stories, has another screenplay he's working up and an idea for a cable TV mini-series.

"Writing screenplays is all on the surface," King said. "It's like ice skating. Sylvester Stallone said he wrote the script for ‘Rocky' in a week. Well, the script for ‘Creepshow,' the original script, was turned in in a week, and 95 percent of what you see was in that original screenplay.

"Screenplays are seductive, they're fun to do, but they're harder for me than novels. I've been accused of writing for the movies with my books, that that's why they sell for movies so quickly, but I don't write for the movies, I write movies. I sort of see it on a screen in my head, I visualize things and that's how I write."

"Carrie" was King's first published novel and the movie version shot director Brian De Palma to prominence. "I thought ‘Carrie' (the movie) was great. It's a better movie than a book."

"Salem's Lot" was a two-part, four-hour, made-for-TV movie, directed by Tobe Hooper, of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" fame. "I thought that ‘Salem's Lot' was good. I wish it had been theatrical, and they could have opened it up a little bit. But I thought that for what it was, it was very good."

King's dissatisfaction with Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" has been widely published, but now, he says, the film grows on him with each additional viewing. "I kind of like ‘The Shining' better as time goes by. I think it's very cold. What really bothers me is that the kid never looks at his father with anything but fear. To me, that was the basic problem."

Of his other novels, "Firestarter" has been an on-again, off-again project at Universal for John Carpenter ("Halloween," "The Thing"), "The Dead Zone" is set for Canadian horror director David Cronenberg ("Scanners," "The Brood") and "Cujo" is being filmed by a Salt Lake production company, Taft International.

"I have twin philosophies about the books and films. One is, sell it and get every penny you can out of it, squeeze every dime there is in that thing — and then say goodbye to them, which is essentially what I did with ‘Firestarter.' It's like sending a kid off to college. You give him a kiss, you give him a hug, you say, ‘Change the sheets, don't call me if you've got problems — you're a grownup now.'

"The other thing to do is get somebody you really respect, and you say here's 50 bucks up front, and maybe 30 points in back. If he does a good job, I could get really rich."

It's more than monetary, of course. King has artistic, creative needs that can more readily be fulfilled if he's involved in a project, and he has confidence in George Romero as the man to handle his screenplays.


In addition to writing the screenplay for 'Creepshow,' Stephen King gave himself his first real acting role

Thoroughly satisfied with "Creepshow," King and Romero are now working up King's biggest book to date, "The Stand." "I'm going to do the third draft of the script this fall, and we're looking at a shooting script of 3 ½ hours, and George is looking at a $17 million budget. The studios say it can't be done for less than $45 million, but they want John Williams to do the music, they say, ‘You've got to get Clint Eastwood for the lead,' they want to exhume Edith Head from Forest Lawn to do the costumes . …"

Like Romero, King is interested in avoiding the studio hassles, and though Warner Bros. is distributing "Creepshow," it was made independently and edited entirely by Romero and his staff.

Upon discovering I am from Utah, King cannot resist a parting joke: "How about this for a horror story? Someone kills Donny Osmond, but his teeth live on . . . ."

Well, it's not a killer car, but it has possibilities.