The Ten Scariest Stephen King Films
With IT poised to open in just a few weeks, threatening to terrorize us all and turn a whole new generation of people against clowns, I thought it would be fun to look at the ten scariest films based on Stephen King books and short stories. Any single of these is guaranteed to scare the crap out of you.
10. ‘Salem’s Lot
A made-for-TV-movie in 1979 (based on King’s 1975 novel) that scared the pants off anyone who watched it, ‘Salem’s Lot may just be one of the most terrifying vampire stories ever written. A small town in Maine is suddenly overrun with the creatures of the night and a novelist sets out to try to put the lid permanently on the coffin, so to speak, by destroying their leader. There are so many horrific moments in this film, with a young boy-turned-vampire floating outside and tapping on the window in the night one of the most chilling.
Kathy Bates plays Annie Wilkes, the super fan of writer Paul Sheldon (James Cahn). When the author has an accident near her remote home, she takes the opportunity to hold him hostage while she reads his latest manuscript. Upon discovering that Paul has killed off her favorite recurring character Misery Chastain, she begins to unleash a barrage of psychotic tortures on the man until he rewrites the tome to her satisfaction. Kathy Bates won an Oscar for her batshit crazy Wilkes.
8. Apt Pupil
A novella in the King collection Different Seasons, Apt Pupil is all the more horrific because of how believably this could have happened. A troubled teenage boy, with a fascination for violence and torture, encounters a Nazi in hiding who was part of Holocaust. The boy begins to blackmail the old man, forcing him to relive his dark past in exchange for his silence. With each visit, the boy’s requests become more disturbing and twisted. The film stars Ian McKellan and Brad Renfro.
Christine was never one of King’s better books, but somehow the film manages an intensity and a spiral into horror that really keeps you on the edge of your seat. A high school misfit finds the perfect car, a 1958 Plymouth Fury. He affectionately restores it. The vehicle has a personality of its own, an unholy presence, that first entices the boy, then holds him hostage while she eliminates anyone who gets in her way. It may be a corny premise, but I suggest you watch the movie and then tell me if you don’t think twice about driving to the store for a load of bread.
IT has been made into a film before, a two-part miniseries that was a much-watered down version of the book. Hopefully, the new film will rectify the misfired storytelling aspects of the TV movie, but there is one thing that is not in doubt about this original adaptation: the performance of Tim Curry as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Curry dashes any happy feelings we have about these denizens of the circus and turns a childhood staple into the incarnation of our horror. This performance has scarred many and still haunts those who remember Pennywise’s luring taunts from the sewer grates.
5. Pet Sematary
Sometimes being dead is better. King’s book about a family who buys a new home near a pet cemetery, itself on ancient tribal lands, is about as horrific as the master writes. When you bury a dead animal in the ground, it comes back to life, but in a macabre, violent new life. So, guess what happens when their beautiful little boy is hit by a truck? You guessed it: there is nothing more heartbreaking and horrific than a raised-from-the-dead toddler.
A film that should make you tremble at the remembrance of any bullying you may have done in high school, Carrie is about an abused girl with telekinesis who is traumatized by her callous classmates and her religious zealot mother. When a malicious prank at the school prom humiliates her, Carrie goes on a bloody revenge spree that also heightens the capability of her powers. The film’s final moment always makes first-timers jump out of their seats in terror.
3. The Stand
A respectable miniseries adaptation of an epic book, featuring an all-star cast, The Stand is a must-see in the world of Stephen King screen adaptations. It’s good vs. evil. The end of times is nigh and a super flu has wiped out most of the population. Those who survive are left the choose sides, to fight for good or join Randall Flagg, the personification of evil. It is a harrowing journey, heartbreaking to watch characters we love go over to the evil side, while others are redeemed. The film goes into some very dark places and if you are religious, the film is guaranteed to frighten you.
2. Children of the Corn
When a band of children in a small Midwestern town become a part of a religious cult, they slaughter all the adults and worship “He Who Walks Behind the Rows.” Rows of corn, that is. A young couple happens upon the town where they try to rescue some scared little kids, even as they are hunted by the corn children. It’s a bloody film. Violence is delivered in a cavalier fashion, without remorse or even consideration. Having grown up near a cornfield, the film is a particularly frightening remembrance of my childhood.
1. The Shining
Stephen King may not have been happy with what Stanley Kubrick did to his novel when he adapted it for the big screen, but the results are a mind-boggling, hypnotic nightmare. The book and the film are like apples and oranges, unfair to compare because each achieves its own variation on a theme. The book is about how a gifted child becomes the impetus for a hotel full of ghosts to come to life, leading to the madness of the child’s father. The film, though occasionally touching on the gifts of the child, follows the father on his descent into madness, brought about by a combination of alcoholism, cabin fever, and ghosts the child incites with his paranormal abilities. The Shining’s final twenty-minutes are a non-stop race through terror.