Students Study the King of Horror

Photo courtesy
Photo courtesy

The screen illuminates as the 1976 classic “Carrie” is projected on a screen. Carrie’s eyes widen, and something in her snaps and the film reaches its climactic blood soaked ending.  But instead of a shocked and mesmerized audience gasping in horror, students with notebooks analyze the importance of the adaptation of Stephen King’s classic first novel.

This is a weekly occurrence for the Fiction Into Film class, taught by John P. Langan. According to the New Paltz website, Fiction Into Film teaches students “the complex interrelationships between novels and short stories and the movies derived from them.”

What makes this class unique is its subject matter. Langan decided to base the class on Stephen King novels and their silver screen counterparts.

“I’m a big fan and proponent of King’s work, and I think it’s a good idea for teachers to present material about which they’re enthusiastic…King has had a tremendous impact on not just American popular culture, but American literary culture, since Carrie first appeared in 1974.”

Novels and films covered by Langan’s class include “Carrie,” “The Shining,” “Danse Macabre,” “The Dead Zone,” “Different Seasons,” “Pet Sematary,” “The Mist”
and a few shorter works:  “Secret Window, Secret Garden,” “Low Men in Yellow Coats,” “The Night Flier” and “1408,” all of which are worthy of academic merit, according to Langan.

“A good deal of [King’s] presence has derived from the many film adaptations of his work, which have been directed by such luminaries as Stanley Kubrick, Brian DePalma and David Cronenberg. Indeed, it’s hard to think of another contemporary writer whose work has been as intimately connected to the cinema for such an extended period of time.”

Third-year secondary education major Kathleen Lane likes that the class is structured around King’s works.

“He’s an author that I wasn’t too familiar with before, and I really like horror stories and movies,” Lane said.

The class is split up among three days. Every Thursday, the class discusses whichever classic King story is their current topic, and functions mostly as “a traditional literature class” according to Langan. However, the following Monday, the class screens the film adaptation of that work, which is usually followed by a discussion of the classes immediate reactions to it. The Wednesday after that, the class discusses the differences and similarities between the novel and adaptation.

“This class provides the opportunity to give King’s work and its adaptations the extended study they deserve,” Langan said. “However, the underlying question of the class is, ‘Why?’  Why did King choose to structure his narrative in this particular way, or present this character the way he does?  Why did the director choose to focus on these scenes in King’s text, and why did he or she leave these others out?”

At the end of the semester, Langan hopes his students will have a better appreciation for King’s place in American culture, as well as a sharpened sense for critical analysis and a better appreciation of what goes into adapting a literary work for the screen.

Lane said the class has given her an extensive knowledge of King and his various works, and will “definitely” continue to read his work after the class is over.

“Because of this class, I have an appreciation of the adaptation of books into film, and the work that is done to make such films,” Lane said.