Discussion with Chad A. Clark about 80s Horror Movies and Stephen King Adaptations

Chad A. Clark is not only one of the most underrated writers out there but also a dear friend. Besides his masterful storytelling, his love of cinema also shines through his work and his own review of all forms of media. You can check out his past interviews on Lit Retreat here and here. Now, without further ado, let’s have our first Lit Retreat Discussion about Movies with Chad A. Clark:

Q1. Chad, for readers who want to bookmark your LR interviews for a later date, please introduce yourself.

A1 —— I’m a horror author who hails from the Midwestern states of the US, Iowa specifically. I mostly write horror but have dabbled as well in science fiction, some dark comedy and non-fiction. 

It’s been a long time since I had my first film experience. I’ve given the question some thought and from the best I can manage, the first really intense movie experience I can remember having in the theater was E.T. Early Spielberg at his finest. We actually went to see it twice, the second time with my grandparents as well as parents and I cried my eyes out each time. 

Going to the movies was a special experience when I was a young kid. Nowadays there are any number of ways you can watch movies besides seeing it in the theater. Whether it’s your TV, your computer, a tablet or your phone it’s incredibly easy to find content, if it’s your favorite song, book, film or tv show. But in the early eighties, if you missed it in the theater, that was pretty much your one shot. It was an event you looked forward to and I kind of miss that vibe today. 

Q2. You grew up in the 80s. Are horror movies of recent times quite different from horror movies of yesteryears? Or are they all following the same formula?

A2 —— First of all, I would never put myself forward as an expert or an authority on modern horror. And I don’t think it’s just the horror genre that has changed since the eighties. Society, technology and culture have all evolved a substantial distance from where I stood at the age of ten years old. Some changes have been great and necessary. Others, not so much. One debate that has been raging in the author community (just as one example) is whether or not horror should come packaged with trigger warnings. Personally, I don’t think the actual issue is that big of a deal. I don’t have any issue with what differing authors choose to put in their books – that’s a personal choice – but I also don’t think it’s that much of an ask to request authors to put a simple warning out there if your book delves into particularly upsetting content. 

Unfortunately, “dialogue” anymore seems to consist mostly of people screaming past each other. Trigger warning has become somewhat weaponized for the purposes of mocking people for being delicate snowflakes who need their safe place. Frankly, I think the world would be a lot better if we could do something as simple as listening and being kind to each other.  

I will say that I do miss the practical special effects of the eighties. Digital effects are fantastic but sometimes for horror they feel a little too clean. I think there was a ton of heart and passion that went into creating the visual effects in films of that era – where you literally had to invent whatever it was you were trying to do. To me, it’s got a nice sort of punk rock vibe to it and the feeling of gritty edginess to movies of that time is something I think we have lost a little bit. That’s not a knock against current cinema – just something I really liked about eras long passed. 

Q3. List your favorite Stephen King adaptations of the 21st century.

A3 —— Ironically enough, my favorite King adaptations are all from non-horror stories and are all examples of films that I suspect many fans aren’t even aware of Stephen King having written. But my all-time trinity of King adaptations are still Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. 

But you asked for my favorite adaptations of the 21st century so I suppose I have digressed. 

I really enjoyed Secret Window, mostly for the performances from Johnny Depp and John Turturo. The novella is great but I think I enjoyed the film a little more. It was a great piece on a creative type slowly losing his mind. And while many a King fan complain about the ending, I loved the adaptation of The Mist. Yes it departs in radical fashion from the book but I don’t think the original ending would have worked at all and the brutality of how that film ends really captured the spirit of the book, in my opinion. Also, despite the uproar from many a fan, I really enjoyed the adaptation of the Dark Tower. It wasn’t really a straight ahead adaptation – more like “inspired by the book” but it had some really great elements to it that I liked a lot. 

And finally, while I was disappointed by Chapter Two of IT, I really enjoyed the first chapter. It was a film that packed a punch and I thought really did justice to the spirit of the book. The kids were all great and Skarsgård was stunning in the role of Pennywise. 

That probably seems like I’m taking the easy route by naming so many but considering how massively popular Stephen King’s work has been to filmmakers over recent years, four titles is a pretty small drop inn the bucket. 

Q4. I don’t think any discussion about Stephen King adaptations can be done without mentioning The Shining and Doctor Sleep. What makes these movies tick as genuine horror fares? How much are they similar to their source materials, and in which way do these films complement each other?

A4 —— Okay, you do realize we could have made this question the entire interview, right?

(Touché, Chad!)

For me, what makes The Shining work as a movie is the atmosphere created by the oldest horror element in the book – isolation. Not just the Torrances’s isolation from the outside world but also their increasing isolation from each other. It’s a slow burn of a movie, probably one that many find boring but what I find most tragic and disturbing about the film is seeing the facade of humanity stripped away from Jack Torrance to reveal the monster that has always been lurking within, hence the line, “No sir, you’re the caretaker. You’ve always been the caretaker.”

Now the one piece of Stephen King knowledge possessed by most fans is that he has never been happy with Stanley Kubrick’s interpretation of the book. King was still a rising novelist at the time, a mouse next to this giant of a director and unsurprisingly he ended up bowled over somewhat. Kubrick stripped away pretty much all of the supernatural content of the book and changed Jack Torrance from an Everyman type of character into one who oozes menace and distrust from the opening frame of the movie. 

Plenty of debate has raged over this point, as the Internet is often fond of hosting but my view has always been that both pieces are great for their own reasons. I love the book and I love the film. 

It did create a challenge when it came to writing the sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep and King has made it pretty clear that he was writing a continuation from the book, not the film and that the words on the page represent the true history of the Torrance family. 

As an aside, a little fun piece of trivia, in Doctor Sleep a reference is made to a character in his son, Joe Hill’s landmark novel, NOS4A2. And in return, if you read NOS4A2 there is a reference made to Doctor Sleep. 

With such a huge divide between The Shining in terms of the book and the movie, and with the novel Doctor Sleep choosing a clear side in that battle, the question becomes what to do with a film adaptation of Doctor Sleep. 

And in true Hollywood fashion, the producers ended up kind of trying to lean both directions at once. Truth be told, when I started hearing rumors that Doctor Sleep was being adapted I thought there would be no chance it would actually happen. The concept seemed too confusing. On one hand you’d have people flocking in who were fans of the film but with no concept of the book. But then you also have fans of the original novel who know that Doctor Sleep was written as a continuation of events dramatically different from what happens in the movie. How could you possibly reach both of those groups? And as we are constantly taught by the Internet, it’s impossible to please everyone. But to their credit, they made an effort I think to at least honor the spirit of both the movie and the book. 

From the moment the trailers began to come out and we were hit with that grandiose, beautiful score, totally reminiscent of Kubrick, the vibe from the movie was easily found. And in an effort to pay tribute to the book as well, we got much more of a sense of the supernatural than was offered from Kubrick. 

In my mind, Doctor Sleep succeeded as a film where the book fell flat for two big reasons. First, the staggering performance from Rebecca Ferguson elevates the character of Rose the Hat from a bland villain in the book to a phenomenally dangerous character. And second, while the book is largely disconnected from The Shining, the movie actually feels like a proper sequel as the story from the first film seems ever present. 

Q5. Now let’s go back to your writing. What do you have in store for us in the near future?

A5 —— I have two projects in development at the moment. A pair of novellas make up one book titled Through Waters Unseen. The stories are centered in and around the Bermuda Triangle and an island that doesn’t exist on any map. It’s been a fun project to play around with, hitting both an early fascination with the Bermuda Triangle as well as my love of films like Hellraiser and Event Horizon. The book is very close to completion and once it crosses the finish line I will start passing it around to publishers. 

The second is a book titled Death After Life. This is my first full length novel since my post apocalyptic book, Behind Our Walls in 2016. It also crosses over another divide into new territory for me – my first real venture into zombie lore. It’s the kind of a book that I always said I would never write unless the story felt right and I guess this was the one. 

Both of these books are pretty brutal, for me anyway. I wouldn’t label them as extreme horror but they are definitely more graphic than I normally write and I think there was just a good grindhouse film hiding inside me, waiting to come out. As a result though, the next two projects I have lined up after these go in the complete opposite direction. 

The first is a book that will be my first attempt at young adult fiction and came from my childhood love of the Alfred Hitchcock book series, The Three Investigators. It’s a fantasy tale with paranormal aspects and a little time travel mixed in. The second is a book inspired by Stephen King’s The Body which is the novella that would become the film Stand By Me. It will be my first book of straight ahead literary fiction. 

And beyond that? 

Only time can tell. 

Other Chad A Clark Related Content on Lit Retreat

Two Bells At Dawn (Book Review)

The Child At The End of Time (Book Review)

Nisar Sufi

Content Writer, Indie Horror Author, Book Reviewer, Film Critic and Fortune Teller @knowthyfuture

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