RIDING THE BULLET
Mick Garris and Stephen King are clearly good friends and Garris has become the most popular interpreter of Kings works on screen to date. Now, I happen to think that Stephen King is a great writer. He has an instinctive understanding of the horror genre and has written an excellent book on the subject, Danse Macabre (1981), that should be a textbook in the library of anyone writing critically about horror. I do hate to burst the bubble of the friendship that King has with Mick Garris but Stephen, Mick is the single worst director that has ever been attached to any adaptation of your work. It is not that Mick Garris has bungled one of your works its that he has proven himself entirely ham-fisted with every single one that he has touched. (Well okay, The Shining and Desperation emerged not too badly). I dont know why you seem unable to see this Stephen; I dont know why your astute insight into horror suddenly seems to have deserted you when it comes to seeing that good works are not being produced here. Once you could understand, even twice but seven times!!!! I can only assume that it is the blindness of friendship that allows you to keep letting the near-inept Garris touch your works.
I have not read Stephen Kings original Riding the Bullet (2000) novella. This had the novelty of being published as a work that could be downloaded free from the internet. You can see from the film how the original story would have gone young man hitchhikes home and gets a ride with someone who is dead who then asks him to make a choice between his own or his mothers life. It would have been a perfect story to be adapted as a half-hour episode of The Twilight Zone (1959-64) or one of the various anthology series. Riding the Bullet is a story that could have worked well with a director who is capable of some subtlety. There are even times where the distinctive voice of Stephen King shines through the sense of prescience as Joshua Jackson feels a wrongness about the dying Cliff Richardson or just knows that Alexis Arquette is dead. It is just that in the hands of Mick Garris, the rest of Riding the Bullet collapses into the completely ludicrous.
Mick Garris is a director who knows no concept of subtlety. His direction of horror is like a carnival haunted house ride that consists of having things pop into the camera corpses reaching up to grab Joshua Jackson everywhere; dreams of his mother squawking at him or walking down the road pushing an IV stand; Jacksons ghost double spouting one-liners; a crow that screeches What the fuck you looking at? before getting creamed by a truck; the Grim Reaper popping up on the back of a rollercoaster ride to throw the young Jackson out during a flashback; coyotes ripping out the throats of carrion; David Arquette showing his exposed brain; a severed head talking in the backseat of the car; the ghost of Jacksons father blowing his head off with a shotgun; the climactic trip through the fairground with the ghosts of everyone popping up; even a zombie that leers Theyre coming to get you, Barbara, the classic line from Night of the Living Dead (1968). These pop-up effects and flash fantasies occur with such regularity that they become intensely irritating through Mick Garriss constant, almost manic, need to keep trying to scare people. Contrarily though, Garris so overdoes the effect that there is not a single moment in the entirety of Riding the Bullet that in any way surprises or scares you. Yet, had all this been tossed out and we just had a film about a man suddenly coming to understand that the person driving a car is dead, we might have had something that could have been quite spooky in the right hands.
In fact, Riding the Bullet collapses into the staggeringly ridiculous within the very opening scenes where we go from Joshua Jackson breaking up with girlfriend Erika Christensen and spookily walking through a ghost double of himself and then going home to slash his wrists in the bathtub, only to have Erika Christensen burst in with his friends for a surprise birthday party (as though letting your boyfriend think you are splitting up with him is the most natural way in the world to spring a surprise party). The scene turns completely absurd with Mick Garris throwing in a Grim Reaper who comes and sits on the bathtub and lights up a joint, while the faces on the wallpaper starting talking, before Joshua Jackson wakes up in a hospital bed to the laughable sight of Erika Christensen with a pair of angel wings.
Mick Garris appear to have no concept of allowing his actors to carry the story. Everything is up there on screen and underlined with exclamation marks in big marker pens just to make sure that there is nobody in the audience who does not understand that they are being required to jump on queue Now!!! Being a director only capable of telling a story in terms of carnivalesque pop-up effects, Mick Garris has no idea of what to do when it comes to a more subtle moments that requires he convey the characters inner turmoil and so has to resort to absurd flash fantasy tactics like Joshua Jackson imagining getting phone calls from his girlfriend wanting him back, or the camera moving from an image of his mothers coffin to Jacksons own where the tombstone has the legend Who Gives a Shit. Rather than depict Joshua Jacksons anxiety about going up to the hospital room to meet his mother, Mick Garris gives us ridiculous flash fantasies of the doctors giving alternate diagnoses and the mother accusing I know what you did as Jackson waits at the hospital reception for the nurse to make a call. All of these are scenes that could have been conducted with infinitely more subtlety with a few more lines of dialogue and had Mick Garris simply sat back and allowed his actors to suggest things. Equally, issues that should have hung over the film does Joshua Jackson feel any guilt about having traded his mothers life for his own at the end? are nowhere to be found. Mick Garris is a director who has taken the work of an author who has a superb sense of character and inner voice and reduced it to an entirely laughable show of pop-up effects, ones that completely erode any sense of drama, atmosphere, subtlety; in fact, erodes everything except the constant, irritatingly insistent need to get in an audiences face. It takes an extraordinary ineptitude to be able to mangle a film in this way.
Other Stephen King genre adaptations include:- Carrie (1976), Salems Lot (1979), The Shining (1980), Christine (1983), Cujo (1983), The Dead Zone (1983), Children of the Corn (1984), Firestarter (1984), Cats Eye (1985), Silver Bullet (1985), The Running Man (1987), Pet Semetary (1989), Graveyard Shift (1990), It (tv mini-series, 1990), Misery (1990), a segment of Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990), Sometimes They Come Back (1991), The Lawnmower Man (1992), The Dark Half (1993), Needful Things (1993), The Tommyknockers (tv mini-series, 1993), The Stand (tv mini-series, 1994), The Langoliers (tv mini-series, 1995), The Mangler (1995), Thinner (1996), The Night Flier (1997), Quicksilver Highway (1997), The Shining (tv mini-series, 1997), Trucks (1997), Apt Pupil (1998), The Green Mile (1999), The Dead Zone (tv series, 2001-2), Hearts in Atlantis (2001), Carrie (tv mini-series, 2002), Dreamcatcher (2003), Salems Lot (tv mini-series, 2004), Secret Window (2004), Desperation (tv mini-series, 2006), Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King (tv mini-series, 2006), 1408 (2007), The Mist (2007), Children of the Corn (2009), Everythings Eventual (2009), the tv series Haven (2010-5), Bag of Bones (tv mini-series, 2011), Carrie (2013), Under the Dome (tv series, 2013-5), Big Driver (2014), A Good Marriage (2014), Mercy (2014), Cell (2016), 11.22.63 (tv mini-series, 2016), The Dark Tower (2017), Geralds Game (2017) and It (2017). Stephen King had also written a number of original screen works with Creepshow (1982), Golden Years (tv mini-series, 1991), Sleepwalkers (1992), Storm of the Century (tv mini-series, 1999), Rose Red (tv mini-series, 2002) and the tv series Kingdom Hospital (2004), as well as adapted his own works with the screenplays for Cats Eye, Silver Bullet, Pet Semetary, The Stand, The Shining, Desperation, Children of the Corn 2009 and Cell. King also directed one film with Maximum Overdrive (1986).
(Winner in this sites Worst Films of 2004 list).