Although Stephen King remains in demand by film studios and streaming services wanting to adapt entries from his diverse and extensive catalogue, King has remained committed to his “Dollar Babies” program. Started in 1982, Dollar Babies is a program where film students can request permission to adapt a Stephen King short story for the cost of $1 dollar, from a list of titles available at www.stephenking.com.
Since 1982’s The Boogeyman, the first-ever Dollar Babies film, the program has become the stuff of movie-making legend. Established as King began to garner success with numerous film adaptations of his novels, including Carrie (1976), The Shining (1980), Creepshow (1982) and Cujo (1983), the program speaks to King’s community-minded sensibilities and commitment to horror as a genre that solicits conversation and deep thinking. As King shared with the BBC, “Around 1977 or so, when I started having some popular success, I saw a way to give back a little of the joy the movies had given me.”
The one major caveat of the Dollar Babies program is that King understandably limits the scope of licensing. His intent is to shape learning and not commercial success for young filmmakers, although the films can become viable professional calling cards. In the program’s history, only a few films have been licensed for exhibition or sale as part of compilation releases. As such, in writing this piece I embarked on a great YouTube scavenger hunt for King Dollar Babies films. Below are my Top 5 YouTube finds.
5. The Boogeyman (1982)
First published in Cavalier Magazine in 1973, the short story was later included in Stephen King’s 1978 collection The Night Shift. Directed by Jeffrey C. Shiro, The Boogeyman is the first-ever Dollar Babies film and received limited distribution rights upon its completion. A classic Stephen King tale where terror rises from the seemingly tranquil American existence, the story (if not the film) is truly a haunting narrative of guilt and paranoia.
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4. Disciples of the Crow (1983)
Based on the Stephen King short story Children of the Corn (first published in a 1977 issue of Penthouse), this adaptation was directed by John Woodward. Based on this classic Stephen King short story about a couple’s encounters with the denizens of a remote and strange American town, this short film was not the only film adaptation of this twisted tale of American haunting. Adapted as a feature film in 1984 starring a pre-Terminator Linda Hamilton, a B-horror franchise was born with ten films produced to date.
3. Harvey’s Dream (2015)
Originally published in The New Yorker, in 2003, the short story tells a striking tale of Harvey, a husband and father who shares with his wife a haunting dream about their daughter, only to discover that the dream is an actual real-life nightmare. The adaptation was written and directed by Christina Desiere, who has gone on to star in front of the camera in a number of B-movie romps.
2. Paranoid (2001)
Originally published in the 1985 short story collection Skeleton Crew, this 100-line poem from Stephen King is a first-person narrative from the diary of a character who is a paranoid schizophrenic. Shrouded in murder and mystery, the poem is connected to Stephen King’s The Stand, with a line from the poem (A Dark Man with No Face) used to describe Randall Flagg.
1. Night Surf (2013)
First published in Uribus Magazine in 1969, this short story is a precursor to Stephen King’s The Stand, where an apocalyptic event, thrusts a group of characters into peril and a quest for survival. The characters believe the virus has spread from South-East Asia and ponder their frightening next steps for survival. This adaptation was directed by Peter Sullivan who has moved on to direct a number of television movies including the now seemingly classic Hallmark Christmas films.
For aspiring filmmakers looking for an opportunity for a deeply enriched learning experience, King’s Dollar Babies program is a true gift that has the potential to keep on giving. In fact, the most famous Dollar Baby is Frank Darabont, the director of the Stephen King adaptations The Mist (2007) and The Green Mile (1999). Unfortunately, his Dollar Babies film The Women in the Room (1984) seems impossible to find.
So, if you’re a film student looking for a Hollywood experience, make sure to check for Dollar Babies over at King’s official website. If you could adapt any short story from Stephen King, which would you choose? Let us know on Twitter, in the Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!