Stephen King Season at the BFI: Michael Blyth on what you need to see and why

We talk to the BFI’s Michael Blyth about their incredible Stephen King movie season

Author, occasional director and living legend Stephen King is a one-man book machine, so whether you’re a fan of horror, psychological thriller or straight-up drama, he’ll have penned something to suit your tastes. The British Film Institute’s Michael Blyth, a self-confessed King fan and programmer of their cult strand, had the hard task of choosing which King adaptations were to be exhumed from the vaults for your big-screen pleasure.

Why now for a Stephen King season?

There are a lot of adaptations coming out, he’s continuing to be prolific in his writing output, and 21st September is his 70th birthday. We’re hosting a King Weekender to celebrate that, with special events, a Stephen King film quiz and guests to be announced. King himself has actually chosen some films for us to screen alongside our main programme, which will give you a flavour of his personal tastes.

How did you select these films out of the myriad King adaptations?

I could only select around 20 titles. You have to do a lot of the classics like Carrie, The Shining, Misery, The Shawshank Redemption – these are all held in high regard and form a foundation. The rest of the programme is me finding a balance between those films and ones needing a bit of love and attention, such as Delores Claiborne. It’s a film people don’t really talk about, adapted from a book in King’s mid-1990s period, where he was writing these low-key, feminist melodramas. I also chose some of my own fun ‘guilty pleasures’ like Sleepwalkers, which is not regarded as a great film, but it’s the first time King worked with Mick Garris, and they had a substantial working relationship, for good or for bad! And my wildcard choice was the straight-to-DVD film The Night Flier, a real underrated gem that the few people who’ve seen it rave about. A season like this can give a film like that the lift it needs.

Which two films in this season are must-sees for those new to King?

I’d say Carrie because it’s the greatest film ever made. It’s also one of the ones we’re screening at the IMAX. It’s a faithful adaption, but what Brian De Palma does is add his own touches to it, while remaining true to the heart of the story. And I’d pick something that wasn’t one of King’s horrors – say The Shawshank Redemption. People often associate King with horror, so this season’s a great way to experience his dramas too.

Why do so many people want to bring King to the screen?

Fundamentally, he’s just an incredible storyteller. But I think the challenge filmmakers face when adapting King is that he isn’t a very cinematic writer, in my opinion; he focuses on internal monologues and he’s prone to asides and literary tricks.

Is it a coincidence that quite a few of these movies are about tormented writers, creepy kids or inanimate objects?

I think some of King’s best, most effective work is stuff about writers and the writing process, how it might be cathartic, difficult or even frightening. Essentially, he’s writing from personal experience. In terms of the creepy kid thing, we’re screening Children Of The Corn and the masterful Carrie, but also Firestarter, a film that King hates. Actually, Firestarter would be top of my remake list… Some of these films also look at King’s take on childhood nostalgia and lost innocence, such as Stand By Me and It. King’s also interested in technology as a source of evil, and we’ve also got homicidal trucks and cars with Maximum Overdrive and Christine. But if there was ever a story of King’s not to adapt it would be the one about the killer laundry press [The Mangler, not screening], but Tobe Hooper, who should have known better, gave it a go.

Stephen King On Screen runs at BFI Southbank from 1 Sep – 3 Oct. The full listings can be found here.