If you think Stephen King's novels are scary, try facing him in court. For the last two years, King has waged a lonely legal battle against New Line Cinema over its 1992 film The Lawnmower Man. Although the film used the title of King's short story, the author charged that the virtual-reality pic bore little resemblance to his tale and demanded that his name be removed from the film and its advertising.
In 1992, a New York court issued an injunction against New Line's use of King's name to sell the film. In a later settlement the studio also agreed to pay the writer $2.5 million in damages.
In June '93, however, suspicious about the studio's compliance, the author hired a team of private investigators to check out video-store copies in five cities. King discovered New Line had released the video with his name still attached to it. Last month, New Line was found in contempt of court and will have to pay King $10,000 a day if his name is not removed by the end of this week. In addition, the studio must pay King any profit derived from the home video since May 17, 1993, a sum that King's lawyer, Peter Herbert, won't disclose. ''Stephen is thrilled,'' says Herbert, ''and feels he's been vindicated.''
It's unusual for a motion-picture company to be held in contempt of court, and King's legal victory may have far-reaching implications for Hollywood battles over intellectual-property rights. But there's one more King-like twist. After starting the legal fight, King signed with Castle Rock Entertainment for a movie version of his book Dolores Claiborne. Then both Castle Rock and New Line were bought by media mogul Ted Turner. A Castle Rock spokesman fails to see the irony, saying, ''Does the word coincidence have any resonance?''