Mike Flanagan’s Scrapped Adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘Revival’ Featured a Terrifying New Set Piece

Mike Flanagan’s Scrapped Adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘Revival’ Featured a Terrifying New Set Piece

Mike Flanagan has made quite the name for himself as one of the best adaptors of Stephen King stories with Gerald’s Game and the Shining sequel Doctor Sleep. His next King adaptation was supposed to be Revival for Netflix, but sadly, the streamer passed and the project died a quiet death not long after it was announced. But now new details have emerged about his script that paint a clearer picture of what the writer/director was going for.

Outside of my /Film duties, I produce and co-host a podcast called The Kingcast where I take full advantage of my life-long obsession with everything Stephen King. Each episode has a special guest (usually a filmmaker, actor or comedian) who picks a King title and we talk about the book and its movie adaptation (if there is one) for an hour and some change.

This week, we released a new episode that has The Green Knight director David Lowery come on to chat about Revival, an as-yet-unadapted 2014 novel that is probably King’s most slept-on horror story.

A Quick Summary

If you haven’t read it, Revival follows Jamie Morton from childhood to middle age and focuses on his relationship with a man named Charles Jacobs. Jacobs starts out as a kindly small town preacher, loses his faith after a personal tragedy and puts all his time and effort into experimenting with electricity as a means to heal people. It works, but has nasty side effects and the whole story culminates in an ending so bleak and existentially terrifying that it borders on Lovecraftian.

Mike Flanagan is a friend of the show and has appeared as a guest multiple times. My co-host, Scott Wampler, and I were lucky enough to read Flanagan’s script and we got the okay from the man himself to discuss it on air.

Flanagan’s script condensed King’s novel, as all adaptations have to do, but kept the core structure.

The real big change he makes comes right in the middle of the script and injects a horrific set piece where there wasn’t one before.

Horrific Set Piece, You Say? Tell Us More…

Before Jacobs becomes a revival tent faith healer, he has a sideshow act where he uses his experimental electricity to take photos of the locals in whatever town the carnival is in that weekend. These special pictures move (think a captured moment in any random photo in a Harry Potter movie) and it’s the first sign that this guy is a grifter.

There’s a character named Cathy Morse who sits for one of the Portraits In Lightning that Charles Jacobs does. In the book, she makes a brief appearance getting her picture taken and Jamie discovers years later that she went crazy and busted up a jewelry store. You see, most people exposed to Charles Jacob’s electricity come out the other side really messed up.

Flanagan cranks that up a notch, making Morse a bigger character. Here’s my co-host, Scott Wampler, describing the change:

“So, what (Flanagan) does is he transforms the Cathy Morse character into a ringer who actually works for Charles in this traveling show that he’s doing. So she’s the one who always gets up and gets her portrait taken and there’s a sequence in his screenplay where she sits for a portrait, something goes horribly awry, and she self-mutilates on stage. She gouges out her own eyes, she carves her mouth into this huge rictus grin. She’s stabbing herself. This goes on for minutes.”

Despite all this self-mutilation, Morse survives and comes into play in the ending as a crucial participant in Jacobs’s experiments, adding a personal connection that isn’t there in the book.

I’m trying my best to avoid end of story spoilers here, because this ending one of King’s bests, but suffice it to say her role in the finale is straight up nightmarish.

There’s a bunch of little changes as well, like making Jamie’s love interest, Astrid, his childhood best friend instead of a girl he meets later at school, but for the most part Flanagan leaned heavily on King’s source material. It would have been a faithful adaptation.

Sadly, Netflix Declined to Continue Past the Script Stage for, You Guessed It, Budgetary Reasons

The only time Flanagan has spoken publicly about the movie falling apart, he cited the story’s big budget as being the main reason Netflix decided against the movie. That makes sense since you’d want a star in the Charles Jacobs role and since he starts the story in his 20s and ends it in his 70s, that’s either going to require some spectacular stunt casting of a younger version of a well-known face or some Marvel-level de-aging tech, which ain’t cheap.

Add on to that the bummer ending to this particular tale and you can see why this isn’t the easiest project to get off the ground.

Flanagan wasn’t the first to try, though, and he certainly won’t be the last. Josh Boone tried his hand a while back and even got so far as casting Russell Crowe as the diabolical preacher, but his version also fell apart due to budgetary concerns.

Someone will make this movie some day, it just doesn’t look like it will be Mike Flanagan. His script was really damn good, so it’s a shame, but I’m sure he’ll survive. He’s got a bunch of upcoming stuff with Netflix, including Midnight Mass and the series adaptation of Christopher Pike’s Midnight Club series.

So, there’s your little glimpse at what Flanagan’s approach would have been. You can hear all that and more on The Kingcast (including what Lowery’s approach to Revival would be if he were tasked to make it), but be warned. There are a ton of spoilers.

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