The Stephen King Thriller Shut Down And Never Released

By Jeffrey Rapaport | Published

Stephen King worst movie

Horror fans and Stephen King devotees all know the 1998 thriller Apt Pupil, based on King’s novella from his collection of novellas, Different Seasons. But do they know that, more than a decade earlier, in 1987, an adaption of the book almost came to fruition across the pond? Indeed, as The Lost Media Wiki reports, in the late 1980s, British director Alan Bridges attempted (and never completed) a rendition of the horror author’s classic. 

An Apt Pupil Movie Was In Production Long Before The 1998 Version

Both the 90’s flick and eponymous novella relate the deeply disturbing tale of a high school student, Todd Bowen, who discovers his neighbor, an elderly man, is a Nazi war criminal named Kurt Dussander. In every version of Apt Pupil, Todd blackmails his neighbor, a mass murderer, into describing his crimes, which the teenager relishes hearing. Soon, Todd spirals down a path of psychological torment and murder. The narrative—watched or read—embodies a chilling exploitation of the nature of evil, whether in the past or the present. 

The Budget Was Depleted Before Filming Wrapped

Alan Bridges’s initial attempt to produce a film, earning him first place in the race to adapt the fiction work to cinema, ended unsatisfactorily. The project began with a robust budget of fourteen million dollars until the film’s funds evaporated, with only three-quarters (forty minutes) of the task finished. This uncompleted and unseen version of Apt Pupil, which had hemorrhaged nine million dollars, starred child actor, Ricky Schroder, as Todd and British actor Nicol Williamson as Dussander. 

The Film Suffered From Major Controversies

Ultimately, Bridges was forced to abandon the film. 

And the abandoned project’s journey was not without attending controversies. Namely, a lawsuit stemming from an incident involving nudity, allegedly surrounding the shooting of a shower scene. The lawsuit, however, was ultimately declared meritless. The film also allegedly featured an excess of content related to the Holocaust and Nazism. 

Scholars Caroline Picart and David Frank Alsop noted indirect associations with homophobia in the uncompleted Apt Pupil. They argued that the film conflated the malevolence of the Third Reich with insidious portrayals of homosexuality, forging an offensive narrative intertwining the two.

Stephen King And The Unfinished Movie

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Roiled by budgetary woes and mired in controversy, the original adaptation of King’s work sank into veritable oblivion, leading to neither public screenings nor releases. That being said, whispers of existence blew through conventions throughout the late 80s. But no tangible evidence of the film has since come to light. Indeed, the adaptation’s legacy remains a spectral “what could have been”—with even horror maestro King alluding to the unfinished Apt Pupil’s potential. 

Apt Pupil (1998)

And while the novella eventually found its way back to the silver screen in 1998, the 90’s movie is somewhat haunted, at least in the annals of fandom, by the ghost of the 1987 attempted version, an enigmatic relic of a thriller that the world was destined never to see.

In the 1998 release, Sir Ian McKellen played Dussander terrifyingly, while Brad Renfro portrayed the morally ambiguous Todd. Upon release, this Apt Pupil received a mixed critical response but managed to captivate audiences through its haunting performances and, to put it mildly, morally disturbing narrative. The 90s adaptation represented a noteworthy balance of psychological terror and historical resonance.