I love Stephen King, as a writer, as a proclaimer of the greatness of genre literature, and, maybe most of all, as a guy. He was the first author I knew who—actually, scratch that. Stephen King was the first author I knew.
I recognized the names of children’s authors, and some of the bigger pulpy adult authors that my parents read (my mother was a huge Dick Francis fan, and our house had the requisite copies of Clan of the Cave Bear and Shogun) but King was the first author I saw being interviewed on TV. He was the only author I knew who wrote introductions to his own books, and I got a real sense of him as a person form reading them. Later, when I read Danse Macabre and On Writing, I discovered that he could carry that conversational, regular-guy writing style through an entire book, and the more I write myself, the more impressed I am. I think what really came through, more so even than in his fiction, was his weird, dark sense of humor.
It is in this spirit that I present to you, oh my brothers and sisters and neithers and others, a Stephen King Movie Moment Retrospective.
The first is a hilarious bit in a truly one-of-a-kind movie: George Romero’s Knightriders. In 1981, Romero took a brief break from zombies to pioneer the motorcycle-jousting-renaissance-festival-turf-war genre. This in and of itself is pretty spectacular, but the movie hits even greater heights with King’s cameo as a bloviating audience member named Hoagie Man. His wife, author Tabitha King, co-stars as Hoagie Man’s long-suffering companion.
King was available to do the above cameo because he was already in Pittsburgh to write Creepshow, an adorably gruesome anthology film borne out of King and Romero’s shared love of EC Comics. King also provided his acting services for that project, playing doomed farmer Jordy Verrill in a segment inspired by “The Colour Out of Space” titled “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill.” This makes Stephen King the only person to simultaneously reference Bob Dylan and H.P. Lovecraft. It’s wonderful:
Now again, I cannot stress this enough, I love this man. But, Maximum Overdrive… well, there’s just not much I can say about his work as a director. However, seeing this film as an eight-year-old did wonders for my vocabulary, for which I can only thank Mr. King. Here’s his Hitchcock-moment:
I find it interesting that King often plays working class guys—bus drivers, gravediggers, farmers—as in his writing, he’s really dedicated to portraying the lives of people who don’t usually get much attention in film. He also has a great fondness for the word “fuck” in all of its permutations—a fondness he and I share. I ask you now to savor his delivery of the line, “What the fuck happened?” in this clip from Creepshow 2:
The true terribleness of the movie adaptation of Pet Sematary can be summed up by King’s performance: there’s no subversion, no winking, no cursing—it’s just…normal.
Thank goodness, a return to form with his role as Sassy Bus Driver in Golden Years:
And again, in Sleepwalkers, King’s dedication to the struggles of the working class comes through. Here he’s a gravedigger trying to assert himself and his role as the cemetery’s caretaker, only to be repeatedly waved off and ignored by the cops around him.
And in The Langoliers, his otherwise boring role as a businessman is made more interesting because it’s a hallucination taking place in the mind of a crazed Bronson Pinchot. It’s a perfectly serviceable cameo in a D-list film, but I’ll admit a slight feeling of disappointment when my hopes for a face-off with Dean Stockwell were dashed with Pinchot’s grisly death-by-Langolier.
King has since taken on a few more upscale cameo roles, including a pharmacist in Thinner (1996), the band leader in The Shining (1997), a reporter in Storm of the Century (1999), and even his own alter ego Richard Bachman in an episode of Sons of Anarchy (2010). More recently, he’s returned to humbler characters, appearing as a “Diner Patron” in both Under the Dome (2014) and Mr. Mercedes (2017, top image).
As a final birthday gift, I’ll leave you with King’s fantastic interview with Craig Ferguson, which covers everything from Carl Jung to women’s bathrooms.
This article was originally published September 21, 2013