Blessed with a career spanning over five decades, Stephen King is one of the world’s most renowned authors. In his career, he’s published over 50 novels along with numerous short stories and poems. He leaves you hanging on every suspenseful word with well-structured stories and vivid imagery. Everyone knows his name whether you’re an avid reader or not. Prominent themes in his works include science fiction, fantasy, and especially horror which he’s become known for. So many of King’s writings have been the blueprints to some of the best and most popular horror films of all time. His very first novel, Carrie, published in 1974, was adapted into a feature film two years later, becoming one of the most memorable films in history not only in horror but film in general.
It didn’t stop there as over the years, Stephen King’s words have been and continue to be transferred to the big screen. Hell, his name is usually mentioned in trailers or television spots as a means to sell the film. You can also usually spot his name on film posters and DVD/Blu-ray packaging. I bet in all of the movies discussed below, you’ll hear or see the words “from the best-selling novel by Stephen King” or something similar in their advertising. Well, since Halloween is FINALLY here, why don’t I write one last piece on horror by looking at some of the scariest films taken from the King of Horror:
The Shining (1980)
Outside of Carrie, The Shining is without a doubt King’s most recognized work. This is helped in part by its masterful 1980 screen adaptation starring Jack Nicholson in one of his most famous roles. Illustrious director, Stanley Kubrick, leads the audience into this tale of suspenseful isolation as the three-time Oscar winner takes on the role of Jack Torrance, a novelist who is seeking peace and quiet at a secluded resort in the mountains with his family to pen his next work. The lack of excitement starts to get to him and is eventually overtaken by an eerie existence that drives him mad. If that’s not enough, his young son, Danny, keeps having horrific visions of the future.
Jack Torrance is one of the most hailed cinematic characters ever due to his transformation from compassionate to murderous. The iconic “Here’s Johnny!” scene has been spoofed numerous times and the image of Nicholson’s demented face peering through a broken door has become one of the most iconic images in pop culture.
A made-for-television miniseries based on The Shining was produced for ABC in 1997, 20 years after the novel was first published. It starred Steven Weber (of Wings fame) as Torrance. It wasn’t as welcomed by critics as the former but it was still a decent interpretation of King’s novel. Believe it or not, King actually preferred the miniseries over the film stating that while the movie was really good in itself, it wasn’t a very faithful interpretation.
The Dead Zone (1983)
Christopher Walken stars in The Dead Zone, a film based upon King’s 1979 novel about Johnny Smith, a man who slips into a coma following a vicious car accident. Once he awakens, he finds out he’s developed psychic abilities. Soon, he’s able to foresee that a presidential candidate has evil intentions which prompts Johnny to take matters into his own hands.
The film eventually led to a television series in 2002 starring Anthony Michael Hall as Johnny. In the show, Hall uses his psychic abilities to solve crimes. It ran for six seasons ending its run in 2007.
Honestly? I’m not the biggest fan of this film. Walken gives a pretty good performance but the rest of the movie is pretty bland. Not one of David Cronenberg’s best in my opinion.
Here is one of my favorite John Carpenter films. I love the concept because while cars are useful in society, they also can be deadly. What is more scary than an inanimate object that has fatal infrastructure? We find out in Christine. This first hit bookstores in 1983 and a film version entered theaters that same year. Probably one of the fastest book-to-movie releases ever.
An unpopular teenage boy named Arnie buys himself some new wheels that he names Christine but the car’s evil presence alters his behavior making him an overconfident, arrogant jerk. The vehicle also has a mind of its own with its doors constantly locking, seats repositioning, the radio turning on and off by itself, and targeting Arnie’s enemies by running them over. The Plymouth Fury which causes terror all over town but how will Arnie be able to part ways with his most prized possession?
Children of the Corn (1984)
The horror film that generated multiple sequels, Children of the Corn, started out as a short story that King published in 1977. The movie stars a couple who drive through a farm town in Nebraska when they mistakenly strike a child with their car. They seek help but come to see that no adults seem to inhabit the neighborhood. This is strange until you find out that the town’s children, under the guidance of a cult, murder all of their residents before they turn 18 so they could be assured of the emergence of their crops.
It’s interesting to see minimal gore in this flick then watch how much gorier it became as the series went on. I don’t think I’ve seen any of the sequels past the fourth one. By then, the story had just gone off the rails.
Children of the Corn was actually remade for the Syfy network in 2009. It had a much lower budget and as you can guess, neither Peter Horton nor Linda Hamilton went anywhere near it. I found it to be an enjoyable way to kill 90 minutes if the original isn’t within reach.
Pet Sematary (1989)
Now this was definitely a film that scared the hell out of me as a child. Really, why was I subjected to so many horror movies as a kid? Maybe I went snooping with the remote late at nights on my bedroom TV.
The adventure into the mind of Stephen King continues with one of his most respected books, 1983’s Pet Sematary. It was made into a film in 1989 and is about the Creed family who discover an area to lay dead animals to rest behind their new home. The pet graveyard however harbors a startling secret that whatever is buried there becomes reanimated. There are consequences though to this ritual which the Creed family finds out the hard way.
An underwhelming sequel, Pet Sematary Two, was released in 1992 starring Edward Furlong. It came out a year after Furlong’s breakthrough role in the action blockbuster, Terminator 2: Judgement Day. He would never gain that sort of momentum in Hollywood again.
The film was also accompanied by a song of the same name by legendary punk group, the Ramones. One of their best tracks if I do say so myself.
I’ve mentioned on here before that I had a really bad clown phobia when I was young. When I was four, my family took me to a carnival and I freaked out when I saw a man decked out in red and white makeup with large shoes approaching me. The Are You Afraid of the Dark? episode entitled The Tale of Laughing in the Dark along with the cheesy horror flick, Killer Klowns From Outer Space certainly helped contribute to this fear. Seeing It for the first time further solidified my coulrophobia.
Based on the 1986 book of the same name and another one of Stephen King’s most successful novels, Tim Curry gives one of the creepiest horror film portrayals of all time as he owns the role of the dancing clown known as Pennywise. The painted-up psychopath is the host of an unknown evil known as “It” (think The Thing) that preys on the children of a small Maine town. He uses all the tricks of the trade including balloons to torment his victims.
The film was originally broadcast as a two-part miniseries on ABC. In the first part, several adolescents, who dub themselves “The Losers Club”, are able to rid themselves of Pennywise. In part two, Pennywise returns years later when the children become adults, and seeks revenge.
In the same boat as The Shining, Carrie, and It, Misery, based on the 1987 novel, is considered one of the best Stephen King adaptations ever.
A beloved writer named Paul (James Caan) drives his car off the road during a winter storm in the middle of nowhere. He is rescued by a caring woman who takes him in and attempts to nurse him back to good health. The lady, Annie, later turns out to be an obsessed fan who isn’t happy about his future plans for her favorite book series. Becoming more and more unhinged, she takes all of her aggression out on him. Though Paul is bedridden due to his injuries, he must find a way to escape.
This is a completely unsettling film but in a good way. Annie is one crazy character who captivates you from the moment she’s introduced until her very death. To date, this is only horror film Rob Reiner has ever helmed. It was also the second Stephen King influenced film he’s put out, the first being Stand By Me.
Kathy Bates, who portrays Annie, won an Academy Award for her performance making Misery the only Stephen King adaptation to win an Academy award.
Thinner is my opinion is probably one of the most underrated horror films of the 1990s. It actually has some elements of black comedy which I enjoyed. It didn’t receive too many positive reviews and more or less had a quiet release into theaters. Regardless, I wound up enjoying it. Tom Holland, who directed the horror classics, Fright Night and Child’s Play, sat in the director’s chair for this one.
After an overweight lawyer, Billy, accidentally drives into a female gypsy, she dies. When the court rules the death as an accident, her father lays a curse upon him. The curse causes him to lose weight at an alarming weight which he naively credits to his new diet. His weight drops to the point where he looks almost skeletal and tries to reason with the gypsy tribe to reverse the hex to no avail. Billy then turns desperate and violent while also discovering that his wife is having an affair.
This is the only movie on this list that was published under King’s pen name, Richard Bachman. This was done so that he could get more of his writing out to the mass public without wearing out his given identity.
Happy Halloween everyone!