Why author Stephen King tried becoming a movie director in 1986

Quite a few of his books had become films when Stephen King decided he would direct one himself.

After the film version of his book The Shining came out, 'I got letters,' he said

Stephen King was 'curious' about directing -- so he tried it

37 years ago
Duration 1:47
He was already a massively successful writer when he turned his hand to directing the 1986 film Maximum Overdrive.

Pet Sematary, yet another film version of the horror novel by writer Stephen King, began playing in theatres in 2019.

Back in 1986, many of his books — including Carrie, The ShiningThe Dead Zone and Cujo — had been made into films when King decided he would direct one himself.

On the CBC program Midday, interviewer Katherine O'Hara wanted to know what motivated King to direct a film.

He got letters

Author Stephen King is shown in this May 5, 2000 photo in New York. (Ron Frehm/Associated Press)

"People would write letters ... they really started to flood in after The Shining," he said. "What they were all saying really seemed to boil down to, 'Where the hell were you?'"

The Shining, of course, was directed by Stanley Kubrick in 1980.

In 1986 King took on the task of directing Maximum Overdrive, a movie starring Emilio Estevez and that was based on King's short story Trucks.

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"There's a spirit in writers' works, even though it's just print on the page," he added. "And sometimes the director gets that."

"And I was curious, if I did it myself, what would happen? Would people say, 'you ruined it yourself,' or would they say, 'yeah, we got what we want'?" 

A healthy perspective

Best-seling author Stephen King makes a face after receiving a lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Booksellers Association in Toronto Friday, June 8, 2007. (Aaron Harris/Canadian Press)

King said he didn't have enough distance from the project to say whether the job he'd done had been any good.

He thought fans would like it, but had no greater expectations.

'I'm not rehearsing my Academy Award speech."

He was right not to: Maximum Overdrive was met with lukewarm-to-scathing reviews. 

"That King plans not to direct again soon is not cause for uncontrollable grief," wrote Jay Scott of the Globe and Mail. 

The Toronto Star didn't mince its words.

"Stephen King makes the worst Stephen King movie ever made," said the headline on its review.

When the writing is 'tight and right'

'You know it's tight and right'

37 years ago
Duration 2:17
Author Stephen King says he knows when he's written something especially scary.

Earlier in the interview, O'Hara asked King if he ever scared himself with his writing.

"Not very often," he said. "A lot of times, what you feel surfacing on your face is this sort of grin ... because you know it's tight and right."

But he said there was a bathtub scene in The Shining where he scared himself.

"And in Pet Sematary ... I just felt very, very wired, very uncomfortable with what I was writing about."

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