Why Did Stephen King Compare A Film Adaption Of One Of His Books To 'Cafeteria Mashed Potatoes'?

Stephen King is one of the world's most acclaimed and prolific writers. In 2006, BBC Newsnight reported that he had sold over 350 million copies of his books, a dizzying number that has surely ballooned even further since and will continue to.

The King of Horror's work is polarizing, of course. Those who don't like having their every last nerve thoroughly jangled would probably be advised to steer clear. For those who do enjoy fear and suspense, though, nobody does it better. King is known for his uncanny ability to scare us with what's truly unnerving: not always the in-your-face roaring monsters and Lovecraftian abominations, but the familiar-turned-unfamiliar — the everyday turned on its head. With the likes of "Cujo" and "Christine," his novels turned our furry friends and a Plymouth Fury, respectively, against us. Just about everything is a source of fear in King's hands.

In a Halloween 2014 interview with Rolling Stone, the author explained why horror is such a huge thing for him. "The first movie I ever saw was a horror movie. It was 'Bambi.' When that little deer gets caught in a forest fire, I was terrified, but I was also exhilarated," he said. "I thought it was great fun to scare people. I also knew it was socially acceptable because there were a lot of horror movies out there."

For him, one particular movie adaptation of his novels really missed the mark on this score.

The Shining was not Stephen King's shining movie adaptation, in his view

Over the course of his long career, King has had mixed feelings about such adaptations. King apparently hated Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining." In a December 2020 interview, he tried to express them all for The New York Times (via Cinema Blend). "Let's put it this way, I dislike the film. I always have. I admire the film, and I admire Kubrick as a director, which sometimes gets lost in the mix when people who absolutely love that film take me to task," he said. "I don't like the arc that Jack Nicholson runs as Jack Torrance. Because it isn't really an arc — it's a flat line."

When it comes to the treatment of his books, then, King isn't a writer to hold back with his views. One particular adaptation, "Firestarter," has truly been on the receiving end of his witty wrath.

The novel "Firestarter," per Stephen King's official website, was published in September 1980. It revolves around one Charlie McGee, a girl who has the supernatural ability to create fire — following experiments performed on her parents. The Department of Scientific Intelligence tries to capture and control McGee, as nefarious organizations always do in these sorts of stories.

King considers Firestarter perhaps the worst of all

The science fiction element is front and center here, which is quite an anomaly for the author. Nonetheless, it's a thrilling ride, fraught with emotion, tragedy, and (much more typically of King) quite a lot of gruesome death. For the author himself, much of this excitement and emotion was missing from the movie adaptation, leaving the whole affair rather bland.

As Far Out Magazine reports, the first "Firestarter" movie arrived four years later, directed by Mark L. Lester. King later said, per the outlet, that the 1984 film didn't stray far from the plot as he wrote it, but that there was little else to praise about it. " ... [It's flavorless]; it's like cafeteria mashed potatoes," he's quoted as saying. This interview appeared in "American Film" in June 1986, according to Toronto Film Review, and the outlet reports that King went on, "The actors were allowed to do pretty much what they wanted to do ... and I mean there must have been literally no direction."

The acclaimed author certainly wasn't the only one to lambast the first film adaptation of "Firestarter." In a scathing review around the time of the movie's 1984 release, movie critic Roger Ebert concluded, "The film's crucial flaw is the lack of a strong point to the story. A little girl has her dangerous power, some government agents want to examine her, others want to destroy her, and things catch on fire. That's about it," he wrote, per his official website.