Horror master Stephen King has been adapted many times with varying degrees of success, and these days it seems like movie and TV adaptations are coming almost as fast as he can write them (here’s a list of every upcoming King movie and TV adaptation on its way, in case you’re curious). These movies have released to varying degrees of success, but the very best ones have managed to captivate and/or scare us as well as a good King story.
Right on time for the King movie renaissance, we’re taking a look at the scariest King movie moments. This isn’t a list of the best adaptations as a whole, though (but you can find that here), which would, of course, include titles like Stand by Me and The Shawshank Redemption. Instead, this list focuses purely on the scariest bits in King’s big screen repertoir.
It (2017) – Pain in the drain
Nobody is safe in the King-verse, a fact never-more brutally demonstrated than in the opening of his massive horror tome, It. Adapted here in all its rain-soaked horror by director Andy Muschietti, It opens with little Georgie sailing his paper boat down a water-logged street, only for it to slip into the storm drain. There, he’s greeted by the ineffably creepy Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), who sprouts enormous chomping shark teeth. The novel’s savage arm-lopping remains in all its disturbing gory glory in the movie, as well.
The Shining (1980) – Terror in the tub
Really, take your pick – The Shining is hellish from start to finish, from the twins in the corridor (“Come play with us, Danny”) to the blood-spewing elevator to REDRUM and beyond. Of it all, though, the scene in which Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) encounters the rotting woman in Room 237 takes the traumatic biscuit. He ventures into the bathroom and discovers a beautiful woman having a soak – it’s only when Jack gets, ahem, up close and personal that she reveals her true, putrefying nature.
Carrie (1976) – Girl power
The full extent of Carrie White’s (Sissy Spacek) telekinetic powers are revealed as she unleashes fiery, blood-soaked hell on her classmates at the climax of this ethereal classic from Brian De Palma. It’s the moment the whole film has been leading to. Carrie has been mercilessly bullied by everybody – the girls at school (“Plug it up!”), kids on bikes (“Creepy Carrie!”), even her own mother (“Eve was weak!”) – and the final straw, or bucket, is the pig’s blood dumped on her as she’s crowned prom queen…
1408 (2007) – Double trouble
Another spooky hotel room is at the center of this unnerving and underrated King adaptation. Author Mike (John Cusack) visits the titular room to debunk myths it’s haunted, but things quickly spiral out of control and Mike finds he can’t leave room 1408. The real mind-fudge comes when Mike pleads for help from a man in the window of the opposite building, only to realize the man is, in fact, mirroring his every moment. The man is a doppelgänger. Shiver.
Misery (1990) – Crunch time
How unstable is Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates)? Well, we refer you to the infamous “hobbling” scene in this writer’s nightmare. Injured novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) has been trapped and forced to rewrite his final book by rabid fan Annie. After discovering his escape attempts, Annie comes up with something of a permanent solution that was used in the “early days of the Kimberley Diamond Mines” and swings a sledgehammer to break both of Paul’s ankles. We’re screaming with you, Paul.
Christine (1983) – Wheelie wheelie scary
“Hey, you ain’t mad are ya?” Peter ‘Moochie’ Welch (Malcolm Danare) gets his comeuppance after vandalizing the 1958 Plymouth Fury that nerdy Arnie (Keith Gordon) calls “Christine.” Unaware that Christine is, in fact, a sentient car, Moochie assumes it’s Arnie behind the wheel when the Fury attempts to mow him down. Something else he doesn’t know – Christine can contort herself to any shape, so when Moochie darts into a narrow alley to escape the car, Christine easily maneuvers herself inside to crush him. What a gas.
Cujo (1983) – Not a good boy
It’s the novel King “barely remembers writing at all” thanks to his period of substance abuse, but that doesn’t prevent it from being one heck of a scary ride. Lewis Teague’s film squeezes the premise for every last drop of terror as housewife Donna (Dee Wallace) and her son are trapped in a car with a rabid St. Bernard snapping its jaws outside. The kicker comes when Donna makes a bid for freedom, only for the slobbering beast to attack and sink its canines into her. Bad dog.
Pet Sematary (1989) – Knife of the living dead
As if undead pets wasn’t scary enough, the really terrifying thing about Pet Sematary is the kids. When Louis Creed’s (Dale Midkiff) two-year-old son is killed in a shocking accident, he uses the ancient power of, um, Native Americans to revive him in an old burial ground. But Gage (Miko Hughes) comes back wrong in a murderous kind of way, attacking their neighbor Jud (Fred Gwynne) by first slicing his Achilles tendon with a scalpel and then delivering a killer bite to this throat.
The Mist (2007) – Bleakest ending ever
And the prize for the most harrowing ending to any movie ever goes to… yep, The Mist, that most underrated of King adaptations. And the ending isn’t even King’s – director Frank Darabont forged his own supremely upsetting climax, as David Drayton (Thomas Jane) unloads a gun into his family to spare them from the monsters hiding in the mist. But right after slaying his loved ones, David sees the mist lifting and the US military arriving to rescue them. Gah!
Creepshow (1982) – Bugging out
In George A. Romero’s classic anthology, Creepshow, one story stands out. “They’re Creeping Up On You!” sees mysophobic businessman Upson Pratt (EG Marshall) living in a hermetically sealed apartment that somehow becomes infested with cockroaches. The real horror happens when Pratt has perished and his body is taken to a panic room, where it begins to convulse until roaches pour out of his mouth and rupture his skin. Classic final line? “What’s the matter, Pratt, bugs got your tongue?”
As an aside, Stephen King cameos in Creepshow, as he does in several other of his movies. Here’s our list of every Stephen King movie cameo to look out for.