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In this edition of The silver lining, we will discuss Mick Garris‘ less known Stephen King adaptation, ride the ball.

As of 2022, I think it’s safe to say that Stephen King is still the undisputed monarch of horror adaptations. However, while everyone has heard of Carrie and Misery, the bulk of its massive cinematic catalog is made up of obscure stories that weren’t popular enough to warrant the blockbuster treatment. From Thinner for Sometimes they come back these limited release/made-for-TV thrillers aren’t necessarily bad, they just can’t compete with the budget and power of something like The Shawshank Redemption.

That’s where King’s partnership with filmmaker Mick Garris comes in. Accomplished director and screenwriter in his own right, having worked on films like Hocus Pocus and the most recent Nightmarish Cinema (not to mention being the creator of masters of horror), Garris was originally approached to work with King on the mid-budget monster movie Sleepwalkers in 1992. This collaboration led to a series of very successful television productions in the following years.

Having tackled projects like The Booth, Quicksilver Highway and the 1997 incarnation of the brilliantGarris will end up working on his second big screen adaptation of Stephen King with 2004’s ride the ball. Based on the online short story of the same name, the film follows a death-obsessed art student as he hitchhikes back to his ailing mother during Halloween 1969, encountering dangerous specters in road course.

A ghost-infused road movie, the movie actually had a lot going for it when it was first announced. From the groovy period setting to the dark exploration of the fear of death in the original story, not to mention an impressive cast featuring highly accomplished actors like Barbara Hershey and David-freakin’-Arquetteit seemed like this offbeat Stephen King adaptation was destined to become a box office gold mine.


SO WHAT WRONG?

Suffering from a very limited theatrical release and mostly negative reviews, ride the ball is proof that even the King of Horror can’t guarantee box office success. Currently sitting at 26% on Rotten Tomatoes, the film has often been criticized for its overabundance of familiar Stephen King tropes, as well as its confusing tone and low production values. At the end of the day, the general consensus was that the experience felt like an after-school special from hell.

Of course, there are inherent difficulties in adapting Stephen King’s patented prose style to the big screen. The internal monologues of his characters usually make up a considerable amount of the word count of his novels, their abstract reflections making it difficult to faithfully translate these stories into a visual medium. While Garris has dealt with this in previous projects, with varying degrees of success, ride the ballAlan Parker’s constant fake outings and Alan Parker’s literal conversations with himself were understandably off-putting to many viewers.

This also applies to the film’s quirky sense of humor, with the director often using subjective cutaways to play with different directing styles. It may be a creative decision, but those silly moments end up undermining the story’s underlying existential dread. While I personally don’t have a problem with Alan’s morbid musings (I still have a good laugh at the scene where the Grim Reaper smokes a joint in the bathroom), it’s easy to see why others might don’t feel the same.

Finally, there’s the fact that the movie isn’t particularly scary, which is kind of a deal breaker for many horror fans. Of course, there are gnarly makeup effects by Greg Nicotero and more than a few really scary ideas here and there, but most of the film’s scares are followed by cheesy visual humor and/or intense drama. That means the truly awful moments don’t quite have the punch that audiences associate with mainstream Stephen King adaptations.

With hindsight, it seems that ride the ball just wasn’t the movie people expected, so critics and audiences rejected it upon release.


THE SILVER LINING

riding the ball david arquette

Much like coffee and vegemite, these little Stephen King adaptations can be something of an acquired taste. I grew up watching made-for-TV horror like The Langoliers and Red rose, so I find there’s a certain nostalgic charm to these overly ambitious productions despite their undeniable flaws. And when it comes to underrated King adaptations, I’d say ride the ball stands out as one of the best.

For starters, it’s clear the filmmakers were die-hard King fans, with the film featuring several nods to the writer’s horrific multiverse. Nurse Annie Wilkes even makes an appearance towards the end of the film (played by the director’s wife, Cynthia Garris), and the undead George Staub’s Ford Mustang was replaced with a Plymouth Fury as a tribute to Christina. There are also appearances from veterans of the Stephen King adaptation like Matt Frewerwho previously played Trashcan Man in Garris The stall and Dr. Charles George in Quicksilver Highway.

The main cast is pretty solid as well, especially jonathan jackson and Barbara Hershey as our paranoid boss and loving mother. However, David Arquette really steals the show as the undead George Staub, chewing through the landscape in a lopsided performance that leaves you wanting more. Not only is his character unnerving, but he’s also comically morbid in a weirdly cheesy way, contributing to the film’s humorous ambitions.

That might bother some viewers, but I think the film’s corny sense of humor is oddly effective. The playful yet spooky tone makes the experience feel like an episode of Goose bumps, and I admire filmmakers for wanting to try something different. In fact, I would even argue that the story’s overly serious musings on mortality, parenthood, and suicide are only bearable. because of this irreverent presentation, the jokes being more of a feature than a bug.

The late 60s setting also helps with the fun factor. While the film doesn’t quite have the resources to commit to a period aesthetic, memorable characters like the faux “Weekend Hippie” and Erika ChristensenThe new age girlfriend character really anchored viewers to that distant time and place. The retro soundtrack also does its part, with hits from artists like The Zombies and The Youngbloods.

ride the ball isn’t an unknown masterpiece, but it doesn’t really have to be. Honestly, my favorite thing about the movie is its seriousness. The performances may not be Oscar-worthy and the script gets a little too literal in its visual translation of King’s storytelling techniques, but the experience still captures the writer’s signature introspective style without feeling ridiculous. or cynical. It’s also one of the few horror movies I can comfortably watch with my mom, and I think that’s saying something.

Your mileage may vary depending on your tolerance for Stephen King tropes, but I think this haunted road movie is worth revisiting if you fancy a charming B-picture. Like most King stories, the journey matters more than the destination here, so I recommend viewers just buckle up and enjoy the sights and sounds of this groovy trip down memory lane.


Watching a bad movie doesn’t have to be a bad experience. Even the worst movies can boast a good idea or two, and that’s why we try to look on the bright side with The silver liningwhere we spotlight the best parts of traditionally maligned horror movies.

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