When The Boogeyman arrives in theaters later this week, it will be the first feature-length adaptation of one of Stephen King’s oldest short stories. Written in 1973, “The Boogeyman” was first published in Cavalier magazine and then showed up in King’s seminal 1978 collection, Night Shift. The brief story finds a man named Lester Billings in his psychiatrist’s office, recounting how each of his three children were murdered in their bedrooms by a monster in the closet—the “boogeyman” of the title—before he himself comes face to face with the evil entity.
While “The Boogeyman” has served as the basis for a couple of short films, it’s taken 50 years for it to reach the big screen, perhaps because King’s story is only a few pages long, necessitating some expansion and invention for it to work as a feature film. Still, seeing such an old King tale come to the screen for the first time is a bit of a novelty since so many of the author’s novels, novellas, and short stories have been adapted for various media—movies, network and cable TV, streaming. Even so, there are still quite a few novels and especially a range of shorter works that have yet to make it to the screen beyond the occasional short film.
Now, of course, not everything King ever wrote should be adapted. For instance, although it’s gotten some reappraisal in recent years, no one is clamoring for a movie based on King’s book Rose Madder. There’s no demand for an adaptation of his early Richard Bachman novel Roadwork either. Yet some of his better pieces, short and long, remain unfilmmed, so we’re here to share a few of them with you. Perhaps you Constant Readers out there, as King calls his diehard fans, will come up with a few as well.
I Am The Doorway (1971)
One of the oldest stories on this list, “I Am The Doorway” also took the same Cavalier-to-Night-Shift path as many of King’s early tales. “I Am The Doorway” is notable for two reasons: First, it’s one of King’s earliest forays into outright science fiction (or at least a sci-fi/horror hybrid), and second, its central image—a hand full of eyeballs pushing out from under the skin—is so goddamn effective that it was even used for the cover art of the first paperback edition of Night Shift.
The story centers around a disabled astronaut named Arthur who begins to manifest the eyes in his hands following his last ill-fated trip to space. He soon realizes that they are the “eyes” of alien invaders who intend to enact their malevolent plans through him. It’s easily one of King’s best early stories and stays with you long after reading it. Like a handful of other titles on here, “I Am The Doorway” has technically been filmed (three times, in fact), but all as short films. So we’re surprised that no one has pursued this as a feature yet. The material is certainly there.
The Long Walk (1979)
Published under the name Richard Bachman, The Long Walk was actually the first novel that Stephen King ever wrote. He initially completed it while still at university circa 1966-1967. It’s set in a future America where a totalitarian government forces 100 teenage boys to participate in a nationally televised contest in which they must walk from Maine to Florida without stopping or falling below four miles an hour. Contestants who do either are shot to death by soldiers, and there can only be one winner.
Very much a precursor to more contemporary takes on similar material like The Hunger Games or Battle Royale, The Long Walk is probably the most highly-regarded of King’s first four Bachman novels (it also shares a lot of thematic and narrative parallels with another of those books, The Running Man). No doubt fueled at the time by fear of being drafted to fight in the Vietnam War, The Long Walk still works today because of its frightening glimpse of a future America in which the masses are kept distracted by the bloodiest entertainment possible.
Director Frank Darabont wanted to make this as a movie for the longest time—he held the rights for around a decade—but even he, the man who made top-shelf King adaptation The Shawshank Redemption, couldn’t get it to the starting line for reasons unknown.
Crouch End (1980)
A bit of a disclaimer on this one: It was adapted for television on TNT as an episode of the now-forgotten 2006 anthology series, Nightmares and Dreamscapes. The show (mostly) adapted stories from King’s 1993 collection of the same name, in which this thoroughly creepy tale can be found. We happen to think that “Crouch End,” which was inspired by a visit King and his family made to fellow horror writer Peter Straub when the latter was living in London, could make a cracking feature film.
The story is set in the title suburb of London, which is plagued by strange occurrences and whispered to be a portal to other dimensions (ironically, the real Crouch End is now considered one of the most desirable areas of London in which to live). A woman loses her husband while wandering through Crouch End—where they encountered deformed children and a monstrous entity. Soon after arriving at the local police station distraught, one of the cops on duty seemingly vanishes into thin air as well. Very much Lovecraftian in nature, “Crouch End” remains an eerie mid-career piece from King, and the idea of a city neighborhood that isn’t quite what it seems has strong cinematic potential.
The Jaunt (1981)
This 1981 short story, first published in the much-missed The Twilight Zone magazine, is another straight-out sci-fi tale and remains one of King’s most popular among his fans. It’s set in a relatively distant future where teleportation is widely used to instantaneously “Jaunt” to other planets, but travelers must be unconscious while undergoing the voyage. The story follows an experienced businessman taking his family on their first Jaunt, and the shock ending is one of the most horrifying and indelible in all of King’s bibliography (you can read it now in his Skeleton Crew collection).
Admittedly, like a number of stories on this list, “The Jaunt” would have to be expanded quite a bit to get to feature length, although King provides enough backstory about the history of the Jaunt that a talented writer could beef up the story with minimal risk of it feeling padded. And no one should even dare attempt it if they don’t plan to keep that ending. A feature film was announced in 2015 by Plan B, Brad Pitt’s production company, and that somehow mutated into a proposed TV series (which we can’t quite see) a few years later, but for now no ambitious filmmakers are willing to take this trip.
Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut (1984)
In a little more than a decade, Stephen King went from getting stories published in men’s magazines to selling them to women’s publications, with this one first appearing in a 1984 issue of Redbook (it was repurposed the following year in his Skeleton Crew collection). Mrs. Todd is obsessed with finding the shortest routes to drive from one destination to another, but her quest leads her to take shortcuts that may not actually be part of this world, and she seems to be changing as a result.
“Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut” returns to a favorite theme of King’s—that there are places where the barriers between our world and others are “thin”— but it’s also a tale about yearning, regret, and unfulfilled potential, and as such, it’s both creepy and poignant at the same time. While there are horrors in the shortcuts that Mrs. Todd takes, there’s also a terrible beauty that would require a more nuanced filmmaker to adapt this one.
“Popsy” (collected in 1993’s Nightmares and Dreamscapes) is in many ways a predictable story: the loathsome Sheridan abducts children for an employer who is implied to be involved with human trafficking. Sheridan is doing this so he can pay off his debts to a mob boss but that doesn’t make him any less reprehensible. He finally picks up a little boy who’s lost his “Popsy,” and as they drive to the delivery point, it soon becomes clear that neither the boy nor “Popsy” is anything to trifle with.
This is familiar ground for King, to be sure, but he handles it with his usual skill and levels up the tension even if you know how things are going to play out. The idea of a vampire-like creature looking for its child, however, could be explored more—or what if the creature uses the child as bait for the kind of man that Sheridan is? There are options here.
The Library Policeman (1990)
King’s second collection of novellas, Four Past Midnight, features two stories that have already been before the cameras: “The Langoliers” (filmed as a 1995 miniseries for ABC) and “Secret Window, Secret Garden” (adapted for the big screen in 2004 by writer/director David Koepp, starring Johnny Depp). But the book’s secret weapon is its third (and centerpiece) story, a thoroughly chilling tale involving childhood terrors, repressed trauma, and a creature (like Pennywise in It) that feeds on kids’ fear.
The title apparition is a grim figure indeed, especially when one learns about its connection to the past of the story’s protagonist, Sam. As with many of King’s tales, there are layers to this story that a skilled writer and director could bring out without simply turning it into a creature feature. And there’s always something about those library stacks that’s both thrilling and creepy. “The Library Policeman” has slipped into relative obscurity now, but it’s worth rediscovering.
Everything’s Eventual (1997)
“Everything’s Eventual” is such a good tale that King named his fourth collection of short stories after it. Richard “Dinky” Earnshaw is a blissfully ignorant teenager who is living a bro-dude’s dream life: he has his own house, a car, a weekly cash allowance (which he has to get rid of by the end of the week), and basically gets anything he wants—even new music that hasn’t been released to the public yet (amusingly, he gets it on CDs, but the story was written 26 years ago).
All Dinky has to do is make these weird drawings and email them to people—“bad” people targeted for death by the organization that employs him. Dinky, you see, is a “breaker” (which connects this to the Dark Tower cycle, although that can easily be sidestepped for a movie) and his abstract drawings affect people’s minds in ways that drive them to kill themselves. But when Dinky discovers that the people he’s sending his pictures to aren’t necessarily “bad” (unless you consider speaking out against the government “bad”) he realizes that he’s being used for more nefarious purposes than he suspected.
This one seems like a no-brainer to us. Sure, you would have to expand the parameters of the story a bit and get Dinky out of the house more, but the premise and execution are so much macabre fun that this would probably make for an eerily effective, and perhaps slightly satirical, night at the movies.
Found in Just After Sunset, King’s fifth collection of short fiction, “N.” is an especially creepy tale—and potentially a difficult one to adapt, since it’s structured as a story within a story. But the narrative at the center is damn good, centering around a circle of stones in a Maine field that is (you guessed it) one of King’s famous “thin” spots that leads to a horrifying other universe. Anyone who views the stones comes under their influence, which manifests itself as a sort of OCD on steroids that eventually drives the victim to insanity and death.
Some of the psychological imagery might be hard to transfer to the screen, but at the same time, this is a minor masterpiece of atmosphere and dread, and we’d love to see someone take a crack at it. And who doesn’t like stories about mysterious stone circles?
One of King’s most frightening novels of the last 20 years, 2014’s Revival follows a minister who loses his faith after his wife and child are killed in a car accident and begins to experiment with electricity to raise the dead. His experiments, unfortunately, also open a portal into the afterlife, which is far different (and far more horrifying) than any vision of heaven.
The Lovecraftian influences are strong in this one, as is that of Arthur Machen’s seminal horror novel, The Great God Pan. King also told Rolling Stone that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was an inspiration as well. The relationship between Jacobs, the minister, and Jamie, a former pupil who grows up to be a heroin-addicted guitarist, is richly detailed and developed, with Jamie finding himself drawn into Jacobs’ dance of destruction even as he tries to pull away. It’s a bleak, deeply depressing novel, and one of the darkest of King’s more recent output.
This one came pretty close to at least getting on the film launching pad. Josh Boone, co-creator of the divisive 2020 miniseries of The Stand, penned a script for Universal Pictures that was eventually put into turnaround, after which filmmaker Mike Flanagan—who’s adapted King twice already and is looking to attempt The Dark Tower next—picked up the rights and pitched the project to Warner Bros., but the studio passed on the project in 2020 and nothing more has been heard since.
The Boogeyman is out in theaters on Friday, June 2.