The Lawnmower Man.
Reading that, what image does the mind conjure? Wild-haired Jeff Fahey, playing a simple man Flowers-for-Algernon-ing his way toward hyperintelligence, supervillainy and wearing the world’s most badass rave outfit? Maybe you imagine a cue-balled Matt Frewer from that film’s sequel, taking over from Fahey and just absolutely INHALING the scenery as he hams it up and alternately hisses and shouts every other line?
Both films were 90s-era, pre-Matrix cyberthrillers, telling outlandish sci-fi fantasies with computer effects that were only barely up to snuff nearly three decades ago. And while the first film still manages to be a fun and intelligent genre pic, the sequel is somehow more dire today than when it was first panned back in ‘96. Still, discussion of quality aside, neither film could lay an honest claim to being faithful to what was meant to be their source material – Stephen King’s short story of the same name, originally published in 1975 and later collected in his landmark collection Night Shift.
While the original film was based on an entirely unrelated screenplay that borrowed both King’s name and short story title (leading to a lawsuit that saw any mention of King removed from the film and marketing materials), the author’s tale concerned Harold Parkette, an unlucky man who makes the mistake of hiring “Pastoral Greenery and Outdoor Services” to tend to his overgrown lawn. The company dispatches a large, overweight man, who soon sets about his job. Our hero soon discovers his lawn being cut by a mower that runs itself, with the trimmed grass gulped down by the lawnmower man as he crawls behind his machine nude and on all fours. In short order, the Pastoral Greenery employee reveals himself to be an agent of Pan (the Greek god of fields, among other things), before slaughtering our lead with his lawnmower.
It’s a gruesome and memorable tale, yet it has only seen adaptation to film as a student short (one of King’s “Dollar Babies”) and as a brief, loosely based setpiece in the first film. However, it did see a graphic adaptation in comic book form in 1981, years before any film adaptation attempted to bring King’s character to life.
Adapted by comics legend Walt Simonson, the tale appeared in black and white in Marvel’s Bizarre Adventures #29. The short comic stayed faithful to King’s story, with Simonson’s work providing the very first depiction of the grotesque villain. As you can see from the provided pics below, the character hews closely to King’s description, giving us a monster who couldn’t have been further in appearance from the two actors who would eventually bring him to the big screen.
For those interested, the issue in question can be found somewhat cheaply online (with a little effort), although IDW did republish it back in 2014 as well.
In any case, it’s a fun early look at a minor horror icon in the making, and it’s one we thought you’d enjoy. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below – which Lawnmower Man do you prefer? The grotesque King/Simonson version, Jeff Fahey’s sympathetic cybervillain, or even Matt Frewer’s over the top take on the character?