From Book to Screen: The Mist
We’re back to the Stephen King Book to Screen series! We move on to the third collection of King stories — though technically it’s only the second short story collection, as the second was a collection of four novellas. There are not nearly as many adaptations from this collection, Skeleton Crew, as there have been for the first collection, Night Shift, but today we’ll be covering the most notable one. Let’s take a step into The Mist!
Skeleton Crew was published on June 21, 1985 between novels. The contents of Skeleton Crew are even more diverse than Night Shift, with not only short stories but also two poems and the novella we’re covering today. The work displayed in Skeleton Crew spans a wider length of time than Night Shift, which was largely a group of King’s oldest stories. Skeleton Crew‘s work spans 17 years, ranging from horror to personal works and drama to the aforementioned poems. This collection also contains one of the most grisly of King’s works, with even King himself saying he a bit far in describing the gore. Skeleton Crew was critically acclaimed, with many noting that it marked a maturation in King’s work as he tackled different types of tales.
But today we focus on the novella The Mist. King was originally inspired to write the novel based on a trip to the supermarket during a thunderstorm. He imagined the store being besieged by giant prehistoric monsters, bugs, and dinosaurs. By the time he and his son were in line to pay, King had the idea for the story of a group of survivors stuck inside a store. King went on to write the novella in full and had it published in 1980 as part of an anthology called Dark Forces, which collected works from many different horror authors.
The Mist has been hailed for its depictions of desperation in survival that pushes humanity to its limits. It also delivers mature takes on the themes of man-made fears and religious fundamentalism. While there is some cliché in the phrase “humanity is the real monster,” the novella certainly brings the notion to life. The Mist did well enough to be repackaged in Skeleton Crew and has been sold on its own in later years.
While The Mist does have a few of King’s inclinations toward pulpy sex, it is a strong story. The set-up of a father and son trapped within a supermarket beset by a mist full of unknowable terrors is simple and effective. King’s depictions of the monsters evokes Lovecraftian terror very effectively, and the aura of mystery that’s never explained works really well. And as always, King builds characters well in a short period, building the foundation for the real conflict in the story: the humans breaking under pressure. Reason is challenged, ideals clash, and while there is a return of a typical King character, a religious zealot older woman, she is used very effectively here. In short, The Mist is one of King’s best works and has endured.
The Mist has been adapted into a number of different works and has served as a inspiration for other works. It has become a basis for a text-based video game from the 80s as well as serving as a primary inspiration for the Half-Life series and The Silent Hill franchise. Additionally, it became the basis for a short-lived television series on Spike as well as the film we are covering today.
The Mist was directed by none other than Frank Darabont, who notably directed The Shawshank Redemption. What few may know is that Darabont originally wanted to make The Mist as his first film. He read the novella in the Dark Forces collection and was instantly captured by it. Ultimately, he did not direct The Mist at that time, despite attempting to do so again after finishing Shawshank. He did set up a first-look deal with Paramount and eventually would write a script in 2004 and began filming in 2006.
Darabont would use many actors that would go on to star in his TV show The Walking Dead, making this a preview of sorts for that series. Darabont’s first foray into straight horror, The Mist was also an attempt by Darabont to buck against the torture porn trend in the genre. It would not be the only 2007 Stephen King adaptation to take a more psychological approach to horror, but we’ll say more about that in a future article.
Darabont intentionally blended technology from different eras to make the film somewhat timeless and not set in any particular era. He intentionally filmed with a documentary-like effect, getting the TV crew from The Shield to give the film a grainy look and cast actors to try to aim towards that style. The film also contains several King Easter eggs including references to Shawshank and The Green Mile, as well as depicting a painting at the start showing The Dark Tower.
The film opened in November 2007 to great success. Filmed with a budget of $18 million, it made $57.3 million at the box office, making it a minor hit. Critics also ate it up, with many looking at it as an allegory to a post-Bush America and a microcosm of humanity’s paranoia. Some critics were not as favorable though, viewing it as a mere hack-and-slash monster movie. Ultimately, it was widely praised as a welcome reprieve from gore-horror and is now considered one of the better horror films of the 2000s.
We see The Mist as an excellent work. Darabont understands King well, and his translation of King’s writing transferred over from dramas to horror intact. He sets up the characters well with a great cast. Thomas Jane is a strong lead with enough grit and love of humanity to realize King’s idea of heroism. The casting of Andre Braugher as a big-city lawyer that Jane comes into conflict with is an interesting choice, but one that works. As does Marcia Gay Harden as Mrs. Carmody, who isn’t exactly what one pictures from the book, but she does a great job regardless. Toby Jones as an assistant manager at a grocery store is picture-perfect casting.
Darabont’s direction is also strong. The strict confines of the grocery store create a sense of claustrophobia, and the depiction of Lovecraftian monsters is full of tension and dread. The paranoia of Mrs. Carmody, the religious zealot, and her manipulation of people is terrifying in the reality it portents. It displays the power fear has over people, and it’s believable that in this terrifying situation that people would turn to someone who claims to have answers.
We’ll go into some milder spoiler territory here, so if you haven’t seen/read it, feel free to skip this part. Darabont makes a daring and powerful change to the ending of the film. To summarize, in the end of the novella, a small group escape the grocery story and head away in a car hoping to travel out of the mist. The story ends on a note of uncertainty with hope that they will escape, but it’s never clear what happens. In the film, Thomas Jane has a gun, and when their car breaks down he shoots everyone while they’re asleep to spare them the pain of starvation or being ripped apart by monsters. He is down one bullet and is forced to step outside to allow the creatures to rip him apart. What comes next is unexpected, as the military arrives and Jane falls to his knees in horror and pain. This is a devastating turn on the theme of not losing hope.
The Mist is one of King’s strongest novellas and it gave birth to one of the stronger King films. While there are some changes made, they are changes for the better. This is probably as great of an adaptation as one could hope from this material, as once again Darabont proves one of the best adapters of the horror master. Both the novella and film are worth a look for King fans and non-King fans alike. Lean and grim, The Mist is what you want from short-form King.
- Ranked #1,907 globally
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These are my personal rankings for every King adaptation I’ve written about for this series. At the very end, we will see where my Stephen King taste overlaps with the global consensus.
- The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
- Stand By Me (1986)
- Carrie (1976)
- The Dead Zone (1983)
- The Mist (2007)
- Creepshow (1982)
- The Stand (1994)
- Stephen King’s The Shining (1994)
- Cat’s Eye (1985)
- Christine (1983)
- The Running Man (1987)
- Cujo (1983)
- The Shining (1980)
- Pet Sematary (1989)
- Silver Bullet (1985)
- Apt Pupil (1998)
- Thinner (1996)
- Sometimes They Come Back (1991)
- Salem’s Lot (2004)
- Children of the Corn (2009)
- Salem’s Lot (1979)
- Firestarter (1984)
- Pet Sematary (2019)
- The Dark Tower (2017)
- Carrie (2013)
- Children of the Corn (1984)
- The Mangler (1995)
- Graveyard Shift (1990)
- Maximum Overdrive (1986)
- Carrie (2002)
- The Lawnmower Man (1992)
- Trucks (1997)