Still from 'Pet Sematary'/Photo © 1989 Paramount Pictures
Stephen King recently recounted the first time he remembers being frightened as a kid, and it was not what we expected from America’s most popular horror novelist. While participating in a vampire revival panel during the 2010 New Yorker Literary Festival, King confessed that the first time he remembers being scared as a child was during the scene in “Bambi” when the woods are on fire. We’ll agree with Mr. King that Disney movies have their share of scary moments; personally, we were petrified of Ursula from “The Little Mermaid.” However, the first time we remember being terrified as a child to the point of having nightmares was as a result of watching a Stephen King movie.
While “The Shawshank Redemption “and “The Green Mile” number among our favorite Stephen King film adaptations, in the Halloween spirit we decided to focus on what King does best: Scare the bejesus out of us. With that said, get ready to turn off the lights, lock the doors, and comment below on which Stephen King movie left lasting scars on your mental psyche.
There are few ideas more terrifying than the thought that your own family has the potential to hurt you. King taps into that fear in his 1977 novel The Shining with Jack Torrance (brilliantly played by Jack Nicholson in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 cinematic adaptation) as his cabin fever descends into madness while serving as the winter innkeeper for the haunted Overlook Hotel. While an ax-grinding, Heeeeeere’s Johnny Nicholson scared many, we were most traumatized by some of the Overlook Hotel guests who never checked out — like the creepy twin girls beckoning Danny to come play with them or the decrepit corpse in a bathtub. We have been wary of long, empty hallways ever since.
After seeing The Shining, director Rob Reiner was reportedly so taken with Kubrick’s interpretation that he was inspired to direct a Stephen King film adaptation of his own. Enter Misery: King’s 1988 novel about writer Paul Sheldon, a man “rescued” from a car crash by his number one fan, Annie Wilkes. “Misery” has the distinction of being the only film based on a Stephen King horror novel to be nominated for an Academy Award. Though it didn’t take home the Best Picture Oscar, Kathy Bates walked away with a statue for her performance as Annie. Her turn as a homicidal fan will forever haunt us — with the hobbling scene in particular still making us wince.
We are willing to wager that cases of Coulrophobia, or fear of clowns, skyrocketed upon the publication of King’s 1986 novel, It, as well as the television movie adaptation in 1990. A shape-shifting monster referred to as It awakens in a small Maine town, taking the form of Pennywise the Clown. It lurks in the town’s sewer system, coming up through the grates to lure and kill children. While still children, seven social outcasts in the town manage to defeat It only to come face to face with the demonic clown thirty years later. With remake rumors swirling for the past few years, it was finally confirmed that “Jane Eyre” filmmaker Cary Fukunaga will reinvent “It” for contemporary audiences, splitting the 1,138 page novel into two films.
The idea for Stephen King’s 1983 novel Pet Semetary came about after his (unfortunately named) cat, Shmuckey, was struck and killed by a car outside King’s house. King initially shelved the book at his wife’s urging and only reluctantly submitted the manuscript after his publisher informed him he had to deliver the final book on his contract. Pet Semetary follows the Creed family as tragedy strikes when their cat and then later their toddler, Gage, are each run over by a speeding truck. In his grief, distraught father Louis Creed uses the ancient burial grounds on his property to resurrect his cat and child. Cue one of our deepest fears: possessed children. Gage comes back as a cherubic but demonic child, killing everyone around him. The scene that will forever haunt us is when Gage goes after his neighbor’s Achilles tendon with a switchblade. We still watch it through fingers over our eyes.
With help from director Brian De Palma, Stephen King’s first published novel, Carrie, about telekinetic teen outcast Carrie White’s prom night revenge, remains a staple in the horror movie canon to this day. King cited his inspiration for Carrie White as two classmates who were both social outcasts from deeply religious families. Though there is no denying the horror of watching blood-soaked Carrie decimate her tormentors, we were more terrified by her abusive mother, Margaret White. Though there have been a handful of remakes attempted, none have ever come close to the greatness of the original. That being said, morbid curiosity will cause us to watch the 2013 remake of “Carrie” with Chloë Moretz and Julianne Moore.
Long before Twilight was even a twinkle in Stephenie Meyer’s eye, the literary and cinematic worlds were content to be terrified by true vampires. King’s second novel, published in 1975, ‘Salem’s Lot centers around writer Ben Mears’ return to his hometown in Maine to learn that everyone is turning into vampires. Stephen King was inspired to write the book when he had his English class read Dracula. He became curious about what would happen if vampires came to a small town in America. Of the two film adaptations, it’s hard not to find the 1979 miniseries considerably creepier than the 2004 remake. The scene that still gives us chills after all these years is the one with the young vampire hovering and scratching outside a window. To this day, we always make sure to draw the curtains when it’s dark outside.
In your opinion, what is Stephen King’s scariest movie?