Well. Yeah. That headline is a little misleading. A little clickbaity. Sue me. These definitely aren’t films you must watch while you’re reading the Dark Tower series.
But still, hunker down and let us palaver for a second
You may recognize me as the guy who used to have a column here. And that column used to be about the intersection of horror fiction and horror cinema, trying to get the two “scenes” more in-tune, as it were. This is not one of those columns, really, but I do intend to return to my regular duties next month.
No, this list—this cinematic “mixtape”—was born out of my own recent read through of the entirety of the main Dark Tower series (excepting the short stories, novellas, and Keyhole). I originally had the bright idea of vlogging my reaction to each DT novel as I finished them, but that quickly fell by the wayside, with delays and laziness only getting my YouTube experiment through The Waste Lands.
One thing I was doing during those videos, though, was providing a movie recommendation for each book. And I liked that idea, wanted to make sure that I continued pairing movies with Dark Tower installments up until the end.
Here is that list, completed and annotated with why the hell I chose the movie in question and a few “alternate” titles you may want to throw on as you make your way through (or re-read, as the case might be, since this is Cemetery Dance Online) King’s epic series.
Two notes, since I can already hear the click-clack of comments appearing at the bottom of this post. This is a subjective, almost impressionistic list of films I like that in some way shape or form pair well with a book in the series. If you wanted a more “literal” list, King namedrops about a thousand-and-one inspirations in the books themselves, and a few more in all the interviews, introductions, forewords and afterwords he’s composed for the series. Those inspirations are readily searchable.
I’ve also tried to avoid spoilers for the books wherever possible, so that may make some of these choices (esp. the alternates) mystifying to new readers, and may make them cheeky to Constant Readers…
Okay. On with the list.
El Topo (1970)
King makes no secret in his introduction that The Gunslinger is an attempt to mash-up the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone with the epic fantasy of Tolkien. But instead of going with the obvious, let’s pair the first book with a surrealistic, absurdist portrait of another gunslinger. Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but Jodorowsky’s trippy feast for the eyes (and famine for contemporary protections of kids and animals on film sets) is the perfect match to the younger King’s episodic, dreamlike opener to the Dark Tower saga.
Alternate Viewing for The Gunslinger: Duck, You Sucker (1971), Shane (1953), El Dorado (1967)
After Hours (1985)
The go-to Late Night monologue joke about Stephen King is that the mofo loves writing about Maine. Which is true, but as a New Yorker, I love the way that King writes about the city. Especially the way he does so when he introduces us to Eddie Dean in The Drawing of the Three. Likewise, Martin Scorsese’s comic mini-masterpiece After Hours cuts out a very specific slice of 1980s NY and feeds it to the viewer on the most sumptuous plate possible. Come to think of it, a After Hours-era Griffin Dunne kind of is the Eddie I have in my head.
Alternate Viewing for The Drawing of the Three: Death Wish (1974), The Intruder (1963), Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)
Strange Days (1995)
The Waste Lands is arguably the most “science fiction-y” book of the series, and for that fact alone (along with its apocalyptic setting and fatalistic view of technology), Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days goes with The Waste Lands like deer in a gunslinger burrito. The similarities don’t end there, as Bigelow’s sweaty and weird cyberpunk noir also tackles (some would say indelicately, some would say on an almost meta-level) issues of race, gender, and the voyeuristic consumption of violent media. Tom Sizemore also gives a performance that puts him in top villain contention with Gasher and the Tick-Tock Man.
Alternate Viewing for The Waste Lands: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), The New Barbarians (1983)
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
What to choose for the nearly stand-alone origin story of Wizard and Glass? Well, probably the most on-the-nose movie choice on this list. King may have been inspired in large part by Tolkien when it came to the quest our ka-tet finds themselves on, but I see the influence even more in his descriptions of bucolic towns (or what used to be bucolic towns, before the world moved on) in Wizard and Glass. The more pleasant moments that Roland (or Will Dearborn) and his friends spend in Mejis remind me of that soft, pleasant feeling that Peter Jackson brings to the first half of the first installment of his Lord of the Rings adaptation.
Alternate Viewing for Wizard and Glass: McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), Django (1966), Romeo + Juliet (1996), The Wicker Man (1973)
13 Assassins (2010)
King’s fifth book in the series, Wolves of the Calla, is a deliberate Seven Samurai (1954) riff (or is it The Magnificent Seven (1960)? Kind of a chicken-egg situation). But for this pairing I’m going to go with Takashi Miike’s own samurai epic remake, 13 Assassins. If you only know Miike for his horror and bizarro work (Audition, Visitor Q) then you owe it to yourself to track down 13 Assassins, one of his most straight-forward (but still bloody) films.
Alternate Viewing for Wolves of the Calla: Small Soldiers (1998), Toys (1993)
It’s a mild spoiler, but Song of Susannah is where all the world-sharing and strange coincidences in Mid-World start to be explained away. And the answers are… satisfying but trippy? Well, never have similar issues of metatextuality, imposter syndrome, and a writer’s pull between narcissism and insecurity been expressed better on film than in Spike Jonze’s Adaptation. If you’ve never seen it, you need to. If you don’t like it: we can’t be friends.
Alternate Viewing for Song of Susannah: The Brood (1979), Grace (2009), Vampires (1998)
Every Which Way But Loose (1978)
The final book in King’s series is a bit of a pressure cooker. It’s long and stressful, with danger around every turn for our heroes. King also makes no secret that Roland bears a resemblance to Clint Eastwood, so why not take a break between chapters and watch Old, Long, Tall and Ugly mix it up in some street fights and pal around with an orangutan? It may not be everyone’s favorite Eastwood film, but I contend that he’s never had a stronger ka-tet than Geoffrey Lewis and Clyde.
Alternate Viewing for The Dark Tower: Masque of the Red Death (1964), My Blue Heaven (1990), Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
Adam Cesare is a New Yorker who lives in Philadelphia. He studied English and film at Boston University. His books include The Con Season, Video Night, Exponential, and Tribesmen. He has an oft-neglected website and tweets as @Adam_Cesare. He also has a YouTube channel where he offers book and movie recommendations, but no style tips.