From monsters to maniacs to murderous motors, Stephen King has built up quite a body of work over the years and has sent chills down the spines of many a reader exploring the darker recesses of the novelist’s mind.
Much of King’s work has been adapted for the screen too, and while not every television movie and cinema feature has been successful, audiences have still been chilled to the bone by many a terrifying moment that has been encapsulated on film. We will take a look at some of them below, so hold our hand dear reader, because we are are going to lead you down a path that will haunt your mind forever.
SPOILER ALERT BELOW
#1: The Moment When Georgie Meets An Untimely End In ‘IT’
Not even children are safe in the Stephen King universe, and this is none more true than in his epic tome IT, which has twice been brought to life on the screen. The 1990 television adaptation was terrifying enough when young Georgie Denborough was killed by sewer-dwelling Pennywise the clown (Tim Curry) as he tried to rescue his paper sailboat as it slipped down the drain.
But the 2017 cinematic adaptation upped the ante (and the gore factor), as we watched in horror as Pennywise (this time played by Bill Skarsgård), greeted Georgie with a wide-open mouth of fang-toothed terror. An arm gets bitten off, a child is killed, and we watch blood mingle with water in the rain-drenched street, afraid of what is to come for the other young heroes of this classic Stephen King tale.
#2: The Moment We Realize Jack Torrance Has Lost The Plot In ‘The Shining’
Stephen King famously hated this 1980 adaptation of his third novel, but while director Stanley Kubrick did make the occasional change to King’s narrative, it is still an effective horror movie in its own right. Jack Nicholson is perfect in the lead, and we, the audience, are drawn into his descent into madness in the terrifyingly haunted confines of The Overlook Hotel.
There are many chilling moments in the film – Jack bursting through the bathroom door with an axe, young Danny encountering a traumatic terror behind the doors of room 237 – but for us, it’s the moment Jack’s wife (the wonderful Shelly Duvall) takes a glimpse at the unfinished draft of her husband’s novel. What she finds is evidence of her husband’s madness, as page after page has been filled with one repeated line, All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Unfortunately, dull is not the word to describe Jack in his demonized state. The hotel has turned him into a deranged killer, desperate for his family’s blood. Our blood becomes as chilled as the movie’s cold, wintry setting, as we realize, along with Jack’s wife, that the family is no longer safe in this isolated, far from anywhere hotel.
#3: The Moment When Deranged Fan Annie Wilkes Decides It’s Crunch Time In ‘Misery’
Kathy Bates won an Oscar for her role as Annie Wilkes in the 1990 adaptation of King’s famous novel. As the obsessive fan who confines her favorite author, Paul Sheldon (played by James Caan) within her home, her bedside manner is less than friendly when it comes to ‘caring’ for the injured author she has rescued from the wreckage of a car accident. Not only has she locked him away in her home, forcing him to rewrite his final book after she discovers he has killed off her favorite literary character, but she also gets horrible revenge when she discovers he has tried to make an escape.
In King’s novel, Annie goes all Jack Nicholson on Paul and chops his foot off with an axe. Director Reiner changed the scene for the film, but it loses none of its terror, as we watch Annie swing a sledgehammer at Paul’s left ankle, and wince in horror as we hear not only the sound of bones being broken but also Paul’s blood-curdling screams that send a terrifying chill running down our spines. In Annie’s own words, this is to teach Paul a lesson for being a ‘lying ol’ dirty birdy,’ and we feel as trapped as he is under the cruel control of this deranged psycho.
#4: The Moment When We Understand That Being Dead Really Is Better In ‘Pet Sematary’
Stephen King struggled with the story at the heart of his 1983 novel, and almost shelved the manuscript when he decided that the tale was too dark, even for him. Thankfully, his publisher made him see sense, and the book quickly became a success. Of course, after reading the novel, King’s fans quickly understood the author’s reluctance to release it. And cinema audiences understood this too, as the 1989 adaptation of the novel stuck closely to the original tale.
When Church, the family cat of Louis Creed, is killed by a big truck on the highway running close to his new home, he is encouraged by Jud, his friendly neighbor, to bury it in the nearby pet cemetery (spelled ‘sematary’ on the sign written by the town’s kids). In classic King fashion, the cat doesn’t stay dead, as the Indian burial ground on which the cemetery is based possesses dark mystical powers. In his resurrection, Church has changed for the worst, becoming more a creature of hate than the cuddly and lovable cat that he once was. And despite the regret felt by Louis when welcoming this new breed of evil into his home, he returns to the cemetery again after Gage, his two-year-old son, suffers the same highway fate as the family pet.
Not learning from the ‘sometimes dead is better’ motto that the story has become famous for, the grieving dad buries his son in the hope that he will come back to life. Of course, Gage does come back to life, and as expected, he is no longer the cute tyke that he once was. We watch in horror as the undead toddler first hobbles Jud with a scalpel, and then kills him with a murderous bite to the throat. This is horrible enough, but its the fact that the father has to make the terrible decision to kill his once-beloved son all over again that sends real chills down the spine.
#5: The Moment When We Realize That There Had Been Hope For The Unfortunate Family In ‘The Mist’
The Mist is an underrated Stephen King adaptation, and isn’t as well known as Carrie, Cujo, et al. However, it is one of the better translations of the author’s work to the screen, and is recommended for any fan of the 1980 novella on which the film is based. Frank Darabont’s 2007 adaptation retells King’s tale; the story of a town under attack from creatures that exist within a mist that has fallen over the land and its inhabitants. Focussing on the Drayton family, in particular, we watch as they, alongside many of the town’s citizens take refuge in the local supermarket. There are tensions within as people argue and fight amongst each other, and on the outside too, as brave bands of people attempt to risk their lives in the mist, only to become torn asunder by the vicious monsters that lie in wait.
Towards the film’s end, the Draytons have no choice but to risk their lives within the mist. They escape in a car, and we, the audience, sit with breathless anticipation as they try to navigate their way to safety. In the novella, the story ends on a hopeful note. The family hears a radio transmission that signifies help is coming, and readers will rightfully assume that the characters make it out of the mist alive. But Darabont changes the end for the film as the father, David Drayton, decides to spare his family the horror of being eaten alive by killing them all with a gun instead. It’s only after their death that David sees the US military arrive to rescue them, and knowing that his family’s death has been in vain, he breaks down into a screaming, blubbering mess. Like the father in the film, the realization that the family we became attached to could have been saved gives us cause to sob in horrible realization too. Could this be the bleakest and most-chilling ending of any Stephen King adaptation?
And So To Bed…
We haven’t covered every Stephen King moment here. From the rabid bite of Cujo to the twisted reincarnation of Christine, there are many more moments of bone-chilling terror awaiting you if you delve into the cinematic universe spawned by the author’s works. Watch them if you dare, and then, as you finally settle into bed after viewing something from the horror master, leave a light on. Because who knows… there could be a clown under your bed, or a zombified cat clawing at your door, or even something evil lurking within the mist that is now descending outside of your window. Sweet dreams!
Lee Brown is a UK-based freelance writer, and has written movie-related articles for such websites as Flickering Myth, Screen Rant, and So The Theory Goes. In his spare time, Lee continues to write, focussing on story writing, playwriting, and poetry. Some of Lee’s work has been published in printed and eBook formats, and he has had one play transmitted over local radio. He is an avid movie buff and TV binge-watcher, and probably spends more time than he should sat behind a pillow watching horror movies from his sofa!