The Three Mists of Stephen King

Stephen King

Spike TV premiered The Mist a couple of weeks ago. How does it stack up against Stephen King’s novel and Frank Darabont’s movie?

It looks like it’s going to be a good year for Stephen King. The much anticipated The Dark Tower hits theaters August 4th. The remake of It lands in September. Only twelve people, unfortunately, will be watching Mr. Mercedes when it airs on AT&T’s Audience Network. Gerald’s Game will be steaming later this year on Netflix. King’s The Mist is already airing on Spike TV.

If you’re a Constant Reader you probably read “The Mist” when it was published in Skeleton Crew. King is often at the height of his literary powers with his short stories. “The Mist” is more of a novella among the short stories in the collection, but at times it feels like a full novel.

Book cover for Stephen King's Skeleton Crew
Book art for Skeleton Crew anniversary edition. credit:

“The Mist” suffers from the same thing that plagues a lot of King’s novels- it rambles on and on and on. Sometimes it feels like King and his editors aren’t on the same page (Bad pun. I know). King goes into descriptions and keeps going and going. How many times do we need to be told Billy is scared? We’re told more than once that Bud Brown, grocery store manager, is keeping track of who’s drinking beer. Even David Drayton, like a lot of King’s characters, comes off as a sanctimonious prick.

Yes, “The Mist” is probably a dozen pages longer than it should have been. Yet it’s still one of King’s more suspenseful novellas. The monsters that live in the mist have a feel of creatures out of fifties horror movie. Scary, but not scary enough so we don’t turn the page. All of us Constant Readers were hooked. Skeleton Crew was a bestseller for King. So, what took so long to get “The Mist” to the big screen?

After the success of The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption, Frank Darabont, he of the constant Walking Dead lawsuits and now famous emails, brought The Mist to the big screen .

Frank Darabont with shotgun on the set of The Walking Dead
“I got your email right here!”

Fans have complained for years the movies based on King’s books aren’t like the books themselves. That’s true, for the most part. What these folks fail to understand is King packs A LOT of details into his books; Hemingway King is not. When a screenwriter or writers develop a screenplay they have to edit down a lot of material. Sometimes two characters in a book become one. Other times whole plot points have to be chucked out the window for the sake of making a more focused movie. Sometimes the movie turns out good and other times the end product is average at best.

In The Mist, Darabont kept as close to the book as possible. He even kept a lot of the book’s dialog intact. The dialog in the movie sounds more natural than when it’s read in the book. If there’s another complaint about King’s books it’s the character dialog. Most of the dialog doesn’t read like anything anyone would ever say in real life, but spoken out loud it comes off as natural.

Thomas Jane walks through the Mist
Something in the mist is coming to get you.

Darabont also brought together a great cast that helped bring the book to life. Thomas Jane (The Punisher) doesn’t come off like a sanctimonious prick, but a father who’s protecting his child while trying to keep the people he’s trapped in a grocery store with calm. Laurie Holden, Jeffrey DeMunn, and Melissa McBride would all later work with Darabont on The Walking Dead. However, it’s Marcia Gay Harden’s portrayal as the religious nut Mrs. Carmody that steals the movie.

The monsters in the mist are something out of 50’s horror movie if that 50’s movie was made in the 21t Century. That’s not an insult. Today’s monster creators strive for ultra realism. We know they’re not real so why try to make them look like something that exists in nature? The monsters in The Mist do look real, but real from a classic horror perspective (Take note of the giant beast walking through the center of town).

Spike TV’s The Mist on the other hand is not Darabont’s The Mist and it’s not King’s either. Creating a series out of a novella requires a lot of work and a little reimagination.  Like SyFy’s Haven, based on King’s “The Colorado Kid,” showrunner Christian Torpe had to add a lot of material into The Mist. Although Haven was one of SyFY’s better series it bared zero resemblance to King’s book. Torpe’s Mist fares slightly better.

There’s potential in the first episode of The Mist. The opening scene of a soldier waking up in the middle of the woods with no memory of how got there boded well for the rest of the episode. The mist in the background rolling into the town promised bad and weird things to come in the series. And then it stumbled as soon as the opening credits ended.

Walking in The Mist towards an uncertain future.

Stock characters are introduced. There’s the domineering wife and the put upon husband. There’s the geeky girl and her gay BFF. Also included  is the school bully, the school cool guy and his father who has too much testosterone coursing through his veins. He also happens to be the chief of police. Last but not least, the badass chick with a chip on her shoulder. Oh, and she’s a junkie.

Unlike the previous two Mist incarnations, Spike’s Mist starts in different locations. It’s one of the many changes made to accommodate a series. We go from a police station to a mall to a church.The family traveling over distances and fighting the odds to reunite has been used with success in other stories. In theory, it’s not a bad storytelling device. The only problem is what occurs between these events.

Soldier taking pills from a junkie in The Mist
Soldier Man and Badass Junkie Chick. Super heroes unite!

As mentioned before, there may be potential in The Mist. However, it’s overshadowed by the acting, the dialog and many scenes in between. The tagline for the series was: Fear. Human. Nature. It’s catchy, but that’s about it. How can you fear anything when you’re being insulted with car wrecks that were avoidable and the response is ” When was the last time you ran from a car jacking?” The forced tension of the mother and daughter being trapped in a mall with the kid who may have date raped her daughter doesn’t create any tension. The mall even has a 911 emergency phone, because you know all malls in small town America are linked to Homeland Security. The plot device creates more false tension as we learn soldiers from Project Arrowhead infiltrated the mall. It’s as corny as it sounds.

Most of the time watching The Mist feels like your watching a low budget Lifetime channel movie. The series is at the half way point so there may be some hope. But for now it’s failing at creating fear. Darabont created a fear that turned people against each other. In Darabont’s Mist the characters were just as monstrous as the monsters. Until Trope’s Mist can come close to what Darabont achieved it will only be another remake.