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The Mist - An Interview With Stephen King

Author: Finn Kirkman
Wednesday, 30 January 2008
Finn Kirkman talks with Stephen King, writer of the short novella the new horror blockbuster The Mist is based on.

In 1977, when legendary horror writer Stephen King’s early novels were lining the shelves of bookstores everywhere, his success imbued him with a streak of philanthropy, much to his accountant’s dismay. King was inundated with letters from emerging filmmakers, desperate to adapt his evocative horror stories to the screen – and so, he offered them the chance to adapt his short stories into screenplays for the princely sum of one US dollar.

This is how he met Frank Darabont. In the early ’80s, the twentysomething Darabont wrote, directed and produced one of these Dollar Babies, a chilling version of King’s The Woman In The Room – a short story about an incurably ill woman craving her own death.

Darabont would go on to helm arguably the two most successful King adaptations so far – The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. Hopes are high, then, for his latest project – a big-screen version of King’s short story The Mist, in which a small Maine town is enveloped in a thick, eerie mist that shrouds otherworldly horrors while a group of terrified survivors huddle in a supermarket.

King penned the story in the late 1970s; he’d just churned out Carrie, Salem’s Lot and Night Shift to great acclaim, and was (unsurprisingly) suffering from a chronic case of writer’s block.

“A friend of mine, Kirby McCauley, was putting together an anthology called Dark Forces, and he wanted all these original stories from people who wrote in the genre,” King, now 60, recalls. “And I said ‘You know, Kirby, I don’t think I can do that because I’m blocked, I’m not writing anything’. I was kind of stuck, really.

“I happened to be in the local small-town market one time and a lot of people were shopping, and I looked at the front windows and I thought ‘You know, if something bad happened those windows would all blow in’, because that’s the way I think. It’s not necessarily a good thing, but it’s been a profitable thing over the years. I mulled it over, and this story came out of it.

“I’ve always been grateful to The Mist because it kind of broke me out of a place where I couldn’t seem to do anything, and this story just came very, very naturally.”

The Mist, like so many of King’s stories, has its roots in a nameless, half-glimpsed fear. King has made a career out of scaring the socks off his adoring fans. He’s not a sadist, however. He doesn’t get a kick out of scaring people per se. He’s just living proof of the old adage that an author should write what he knows.

“I’m afraid of everything,” he admits. “It shows in my work. Elevators… cars… fear is a survival function, right- In the stories that I write, the only thing that I’ve tried to do is provide people with nightmares which are really safe places to put those fears for a while because you can say afterwards that it was all just make-believe anyway. So, I just take my emotions for a walk. Fear is kind of a pit-bull in the human mind, and it needs to have a place to walk, and it needs to be petted every now and then too – and that’s what these stories try to do.

“[In The Mist,] these people are trapped in a supermarket, and things happen to them that are inexplicable or not normal, but sooner or later every one of us faces those things in our own life. You might call it cancer instead of things in the mist, but we’re all afraid of those things, and it seems valid to me to explore them.

“I’m glad I do what I do because it’s allowed me to sort of vent a lot of this stuff and get paid for it,” he chuckles, “whereas people who go to shrinks pay them. This is a win-win for me.”

King says he’s delighted to be working with Darabont on a film again – not that the two men actually work together. King says that he tends to stand aside and “let Frank do his thing”.

“The thing about Frank that I’ve always liked is that he still has a child’s imagination coupled with an adult’s ability to see the core of the material and then execute his vision,” he says. “I feel very comfortable that I’m going to get something from Frank that’s gonna be usually extraordinary.

“The Mist has a different look – I don’t want to sound like a critic, but it’s a wonderful sort of documentary feel [that separates it] from the other field of horror suspense movies of the last couple of years. It has a sense of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits episodes that I loved as a kid.

“But also, you know, here’s a movie that was made by an adult. I’m not going to name any names, but it isn’t part of this Splat Pack of young guys who haven’t quite come to a realization yet that this is as serious as any other genre. So you’ve got a picture that asks some serious questions, if people want to ask them.”

Indeed it does. King penned the story in the wake of the Vietnam War, and some very dark themes are crawling around beneath its skin. The meddling of the military with things they don’t understand, for example; or the viciousness of human nature that comes hand-in-hand with panic. It’s still unapologetically a horror movie, but it could make you think, too, King says.

“Every night, when I go to bed and nobody pops a rogue nuke somewhere in the world, I feel this sort of combination of ‘I don’t believe we escaped for another day’, and gratitude, because we did escape for another day,” he says. “There’s so much of that stuff out there, and I’ve written a lot of different things about that from The Stand to The Mist. A lot of people out there, they’re afraid and they’re angry, because fear and anger go hand-in-hand.

“Is The Mist a political story- Is The Mist a story that has to do with the dangers of entrenched, fundamentalist religion- Is The Mist a story about red versus blue- I’m not going to answer any of those questions. You go see the movie, and those questions will come up and maybe you’ll discuss them. If it serves as a springboard, that’s great.”

WHEN: In cinemas 7 February