Many of Stephen King’s books have been turned into films of varying quality. For every bonechiller, there is a film that leaves me cold. To make sure you only watch the scariest Stephen King adaptations, I have counted down five of the best films based on his work. Then I have listed five of the worst, so you know which ones to avoid like the plague.
These are only adaptations of Stephen King’s horror stories, so there are no Shawshanks or Green Miles in this list, although they are great films. So without further ado, let’s cut to the murder.
5: It: Chapter One
The sequel just came out, so now is an excellent time to watch the first half of the adaption of what many say is Stephen King’s masterpiece. Set in Derry a small town in blue-collar America, something Stephen King captures so well in his writing, the story follows the Losers Club, a group of seven children whose summer is terrorised by murderous clown Pennywise, terrifyingly brought to life by Bill Skarsgård.
The film is tense and dark. A scene inside an abandoned house is especially unsettling. The film also does an excellent job of capturing the feeling of the long summers of childhood, which makes you empathise with the Losers Club and makes the film scarier when they’re in danger.
4: The Mist
This is a claustrophobic sci-fi horror adaptation of a Stephen King novella. The film is set inside a supermarket where the customers are trapped by a strange mist surrounds them. The mist hides bizarre, alien creatures that are constantly trying to kill the captive humans.
The claustrophobic, one location setting of the film increases the tension. It being a supermarket, something so ordinary, surrounded by the alien mist brings an unsettling uncanniness to the everyday nature of the setting. The film sustains the tensions throughout and builds to an unspeakably bleak finale.
This ghost story is an adaptation of a short story by Stephen King. It stars John Cusack as a professional skeptic and serial debunker of haunted houses. He meets his match when he spends the night in room 1408 of the The Dolphin Hotel in New York against strong objections of manager Samuel L Jackson.
This is an underappreciated, solid horror film. It’s unsettling throughout, has lots of good jump scares and several very gruesome scenes. However, the bits that are the hardest to watch are the psychological torment that Cusack, a grieving father who lost his daughter, goes through.
2: The Shining
Both Stephen King and Stanley Kurbrick are masters in their mediums of capturing the awe inspiring and the terrifying. This Kubrick adaptation of a Stephen King novel is deserving of its status as a classic of horror cinema. Jack Nicholson plays Jack Torrance who has the job of looking after the Overlook Hotel in the Rockies during the quiet winter months. However, Jack finds the isolation, the enormous empty spaces and his own personal demons too much to stay sane.
Nicholson is the core of this film and he is unbelievably scary. It has been said that Nicholson only ever plays himself and this is true, but in this film he turns his persona into a terrifying psychotic killer. Kubrick’s knack for capturing the uncanny and inhuman and bringing it vividly to life makes this a gripping and intensely scary film.
Stephen King has always been viewed as a pulp writer who has attained literary stardom and there is no one who gets the pulp origins of his work as well as John Carpenter, one of cinema’s most iconic pulp directors. The film follows the terrifying events that befall Arnie Cunningham, played by Keith Gordon, when he buys a 1958 Plymouth Fury that has a life of its own. Arnie quickly finds out the car is possessed by a murderous jealousy.
One of the things that makes King’s stories so scary is his ability to turn everyday objects into something terrifying and possessed by an unnatural life. This works perfectly for the car in Christine, as people have a quasi-friendship with their cars that goes beyond the affection for a mere tool. Here this is inverted as the symbol of freedom in America becomes the source of horror. John Carpenter directs this film superbly, filling every scene with uneasy tension. This is truly an underappreciated brilliant horror film.
With the best out of the way, here are the horror shows to avoid:
- Graveyard Shift – not worth staying up for
- Thinner – just don’t
- Cell – not even John Cusack can make this film bearable
- The Dark Tower – yeah, it’s not a horror movie but it’s bloody terrible
- Maximum Override – Stephen King directed it himself. Enough said
All of those quality horror movies come highly recommended. Go watch them. It: Chapter 2 has just been released, so once you’re done watching the above classic Stephen King adaptations, you can listen to our review of the latest adaptation here: