The Running Man (1982) – Stephen King as Richard Bachman

Despite being a fan of the 87 Schwarzenegger flick, I’d never read the original source material, so being long past due, I dug into it and was delighted to find that the novel was a completely different experience, and worthy of a cinematic adaptation in its own right.

Ben Richards lives in the slums, a massive inner-city that boasts gangs, drugs, crimes, and little police support. Every house has Free-Vee hooked up, television being the opiate of the masses, and the Games Federation and a corrupt government control everything they watch, and the Free-Vee is always left on. It’s the law.

He and his wife are trying to find a way to get by, trying to raise any money they can to pay for medicine for their ailing daughter. You see, the air is bad, illness is rampant, unless you’re rich enough to afford a nose filter (which can be made for $6, but sold for oh so much more – sound familiar?).

But there are options, no matter how limited, and how stacked against them, in the Games Federation. There are a large variety of games, and always more grist for the mill, and Ben has finally decided to sign up – anything to save his daughter.

Through the examinations and tests he is chosen for the biggest game on the circuit, The Running Man. The crux of the show is that he is hunted, until he is caught and killed. The viewing public can help by calling in tips, and earn money doing so.

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The longer he runs, remaining uncaught, the more money he makes. All of which he plans to donate to his daughter’s medical needs.

So he takes on the Games Federation, and the chase begins.

What follows is a tense, dark tale, no where near the action adventure film that Arnold and company gave us. There is social and political commentary that seems more relevant today that it may have at the time, and King keeps the tale well-paced and entertaining, and in some cases completely unnerving.

Putting us in Richards’ shoes makes for a more engaging tale, because we realise he’s an everyman just trying to get by in a country where everybody and everything seems to be out to get him

It’s too bad that the 87 film didn’t embrace the darkness of the novel, it would have been something to see. But seeing as so many 80s films are being remade or updated, this would be a prime selection, especially if it stayed faithful to the source material.

This was a fascinating and brilliant read, and I loved every minute of it. And honestly, I can’t believe I hadn’t read it before. And from a King geek standpoint, I love the fact that towards the latter end of the book, Ben Richards finds himself in Derry. He doesn’t mention seeing any clowns though.

What King books are in your blind spot?

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