5 Scariest Stephen King Film Adaptations
Horror maestro Stephen King will be celebrating his 65th birthday on September 21. Hollywood has been in love with King since Brian De Palma became the first director to bring his work to the big screen with 1976’s Carrie. Since then, dozens of King’s books and short stories have made the leap from the page to the screen. Not all King adaptations are scary though. Two of the best films to come from his stories are the dramas The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me, but he remains best known for sending chills down the spines of moviegoers and bibliophiles alike.
In honor of King’s birthday, I thought it would be fitting to look back at five of the scariest films inspired by his vast body of work. (Note: if this list inspires you to hold a King-flavored movie marathon, the author can not be held responsible for any sleepless nights that may follow.)
As I’ve confessed before, I’m not a big horror fan and I pin much of the blame for that on an early exposure to King’s work. My parents were never big on monitoring what I watched when I was a kid, so I was unfortunate enough to see Pet Cemetery at an early age. For months afterwards I refused to go into our backyard where an assortment of childhood pets that had played too close to the street had been laid to rest. In terms of traumatic movie watching experiences Pet Cemetery is only outranked by The Exorcist for me.
As far as I can tell, the moral of the film was it’s never a good idea to bury your cats and/or loved ones in an ancient burial ground, but if you do it anyway and the cat comes back evil, then you should take that as a bad sign. Sadly, the people in the movie didn’t take that simple maxim to heart, and as a result, I can’t hear the phrase “I want to play” without shuddering.
King isn’t fond of Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining, but that doesn’t make the film any less unnerving. It boasts a delightfully unhinged performance by Jack Nicholson, but the real star of the film is the hotel. The dark moodiness of The Shining is unrelenting and absorbing. Every room in the vast hotel seems to exude coldness, a feeling that is amplified by its emptiness. Few beautiful places have ever looked so uninviting–granted most beautiful places don’t include elevators full of gallons and gallons of blood either (or random dead guys dressed in bear suits).
If you think Cujo is scary when you’re an adult, try watching it when you’re seven. It’s a great way to guarantee you’ll spend the rest of your childhood side eyeing every dog you pass. In truth, the tale of a mother and her young son being held hostage in their broken down car by a rabid dog makes great nightmare fuel no matter how old you are when you first watch it. It’s especially traumatic for those suffering from claustrophobia and for pet owners who secretly wonder if their beloved four-legged friend is two seconds away from ending up on the animal version of Snapped. On the plus side, it’s the rare film that won’t leave you sobbing when the dog dies.
The Mist is the most recent entrant into the King film canon and it’s a worthy contender for the title of scariest adaptation ever. It finds the natural horror in the unknown when a group of shoppers find themselves trapped in a supermarket surrounded by an oppressive mist. The concept alone is frightening, but the real terror begins when they realize there’s something lurking in the mist, something that’s not nice at all.
The film was directed by Frank Darabont, who had already helmed two brilliant King adaptations with The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption. While most film versions of King’s work soften his stories, Darabont decided to out-bleak King with The Mist‘s ending. The result is a sucker punch of a final scene that’s more disturbing than the monsters themselves.
A crazed fan hobbles her favorite author who she is holding hostage in a remote cabin–no part of that isn’t disturbing. As the fan who has gone horribly wrong, Kathy Bates is mesmerizing. The movie is free of monsters in the traditional sense, but that only makes it all the more chilling. In our current tabloid culture, the idea that someone could take their love for an author or star too far doesn’t seem far-fetched. It’s the plausibility that gives Misery many of its scares. The rest is all Bates though.
Those are the five King adaptations that inspired some of my most traumatic viewing experiences. Now it’s your turn. What King-inspired films scare you the most? Let me know in the comments.
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