Stephen King Watched A Cult Classic Comedy For The First Time, And He Has Thoughts

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Stephen King is not just a pop culture icon, but also a rabid connoisseur – and not just in the horror realm either. He regularly alerts fans about his watching and reading habits on social media, and while it's true that a lot of his commentary is about material of the scary variety, he also mixes things up. For example, for New Years 2021 he made a resolution to watch one movie from every year since 1961, with a special focus on films he hasn't seen before. He recently reached 1988, and as a result has found himself sharing thoughts about a beloved cult classic comedy: Hairspray.

Running down the recent slate of movies that he has watched as part of his orchestrated screenings, Stephen King revealed that he somewhat deviated from his year-by-year pattern by watching both the original John Waters-directed version of Hairspray, and the Adam Shankman's musical remake from 2007. Without a great deal of character real estate to work with, he kept his initial thoughts brief, writing that he thinks both films are "great fun," and that while he gives the edge to the original in a straight comparison, he particularly enjoys John Travolta's performance as Edna Turnblad:

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After watching dramatic and emotional movies like River's Edge and Au Revoir Les Enfants, it's not altogether surprising that Stephen King perhaps felt the need to cleanse his palate with something a little bit lighter, and Hairspray probably went down like delicious medicine.

When it first came out in 1988, John Waters' Hairspray marked a huge change in direction for the filmmaker – a PG movie made in the wake of notorious titles like Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, and Polyester. The movie stars Ricki Lake as Tracy Turnblad, a peppy, plus-sized teenager who finds herself with the opportunity to promote integration when she successfully auditions to be a dancer on a TV show. While not exactly a box office smash hit, like many of Waters' films it wound up gaining a massive cult following, and in 2002 it was adapted as a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical.

It was in the wake of the stage production's success that a musical remake came together with Adam Shankman directing. The project courted some controversy as a result of casting John Travolta as Edna Turnblad, a role that was originally played by frequent John Waters collaborator Divine, and the response to his performance was mixed – though you can evidently count Stephen King as a fan.

The author also made it clear that the experience watching the original lingered in his mind, as he continued to Tweet about Hairspray a couple days after the initial one found above – specifically highlighting another aspect of the John Waters movie that he appreciates:

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While surely not in any way influential, it is fun to note that there is a deep link between the author and John Travolta, as the actor played the villainous Billy Nolan in Brian De Palma's Carrie – the first ever adaptation of a Stephen King book.

If you now find yourself in the mood to watching Hairspray yourself, the good news is that all you need to instantly do so is have an HBO Max subscription, as both versions are currently available on the streaming service. The 1988 original is available for free on Tubi, and the two movies can also be found widely available for purchase digitally and on Blu-ray and DVD.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.