Why I Bet Stephen King Hated Hellraiser

Dustin Koski
4 min readOct 10, 2021

In 1985, King wrote and directed Maximum Overdrive, a loose adaptation of his 1974 short story “Trucks”. It’s one of those movies where the trailer is at least as compelling as the film itself:

As he says in the trailer, “a lot of directors have adapted Stephen King books, but I finally decided, if you want something done right, you got to do it yourself.” Later he says “I just wanted to see it done right.” Obviously this is supposed to be at least a little tongue in cheek, but there’s seemingly also an element of sincerity in it, since he repeats the point.

If it is sincere, it’s fairly understandable. In the mid-80s, King adaptations were going through a bit of a rough patch. 1984 saw the release of both Firestarter (which he dismissively said “wasn’t particularly good”) and Children of the Corn, and about the best he could be bothered to say about that was “it’s not so bad.” His issues with The Shining are very well-documented, and it should be noted that initial reception to The Shining was nowhere near it’s current acclaim, to the point where director Stanley Kubrick was nominated for a Razzie. Despite the odd recent critical and commercial successes such as The Dead Zone or Cujo, there were probably plenty of Constant Readers who in the runup to Maximum Overdrive’s release thought King might actually be the one to get it right.

And then when he sits in the director’s chair, he makes something that fails at the box office and does even worse with critics. Even he has some self-deprecating comments about the film in his 1999 memoir/writing guide On Writing, and supposedly he apologized to star Emilio Estevez repeatedly casting him as the lead. Today it’s often listed as one of the worst movies ever made.

Now consider Clive Barker. By the mid-80s, he had racked up a couple of film adaptations of his work. There was 1985’s Transmutations, also known as Underworld, which is fairly similar to the 1984 film CHUD. Then there was 1986’s Rawhead Rex, about a pagan godling who kills a bunch of people, attacks a trailer park, and urinates on a priest.

These adaptations have three things in common: George Pavlou directed them, Clive Barker wrote the screenplays, and he was dissatisfied with the end results. So the next time around, Barker decided he would pull a Maximum Overdrive and do it himself with his short novel The Hellbound Heart.

The result was 1987's Hellraiser.

Now acclaim for Hellraiser has hardly been universal. At the time Roger Ebert really had his issues with it (though considering one of those issues was that a special effect looks like a special effect, it’s arguable he was giving the movie an unfair shake.) Yet the consensus is clear that it is a damn sight better than Maximum Overdrive.

So there was Clive Barker branching out artistically under similar circumstances to King, only in Barker’s case he cashed the checks his artistic ego wrote. Actually that’s unfair: King had a $9 million budget for his debut while Barker had a relatively shoe string $1 million budget, so if anything Barker’s triumph was even greater. About the only thing that could slightly undercut the achievement was that Barker had his work as a playwright and an episode of the anthology show Tales of the Darkside to practice with as a writer-director before his feature film debut. Maybe you could consider that cheating if you were willing to really stretch.

At the time, King was extremely generous in his support for Barker’s career, describing his work as “the future of horror” for the covers of Barker’s Books of Blood short story collections in 1984 and 1985. I suspect, though, on some level, that the disparity between the success of their films galled him at least a bit afterwards. According to Bustle, King supposedly found the early seasons of Game of Thrones so impressive that it compelled him to become much more involved in the TV adaptation of Under the Dome in hopes of replicating that success, indicating that even with mountains of sales and successes the former laundromat employee still valued adaptations of work and suffered from professional envy.

At least King had the consolation of his aborted film career meaning he never had to go through anything like the frustrations and disappointments that Barker had to go through when he made the 1990 film Nightbreed.

Dustin Koski cowrote the post-apocalyptic supernatural comedy Return of the Living with Jonathan “Bogleech” Wojcik. Click here to check it out!



Dustin Koski

Dustin Koski is a stagehand with IATSE Local 13 and a librarian who has written numerous articles and scripts with millions of views.