Stephen King may well be the most prolific horror writer of all time, but he is also the Man-of-a-Thousand-Adaptations. So much of his work, from novels to short stories, has been adapted for screen that he should probably get his own category on Netflix. With so much content, how do we determine the best of the best (or even the best of the mediocre… there have definitely been some stinkers)?
We can start by taking a look at my personal top ten. You might not agree with all of my selections, but these have been some of my favorite movie adaptations by the King of Horror.
Number 10: Rose Red (2002)
I remember my 13-year-old self watching this mini-series when it first came out and loving all the creepy visuals of the mansion, the flashbacks to why it’s haunted, and the characters’ back stories. It’s sort of cheesy, not the greatest thing King ever made, and it probably doesn’t need to be as long as it is, but it’s fun and entertaining.
Number 9: IT (1990)
This movie scared the bejeesus out of me when I was maybe 5 and my neighbor made me watch it. Tim Curry’s Pennywise grinning from the gutter and the balloons that popped blood gave me nightmares… and after that, I was no longer afraid of horror movies. Now I watch the bad acting, cheesy effects, and utterly ridiculous giant spider at the end, and I lament that there was so much awesome stuff in the 1,000 page book that just couldn’t translate to screen.
Number 8: Secret Window (2004)
Johnny Depp does a great job as the losing-his-marbles writer with a dangerous alter ego. I saw the movie before I read the story, so I was shocked and delighted by the discovery that (SPOILER ALERT) Mort Rainey is Shooter, especially when the movie builds to the exciting conclusion. The ending of the movie is darker and creepier than the story, and you’ll never look at corn the same way again.
Number 7: Misery (1990)
Kathy Bates as a crazed fan who kidnaps and hobbles her favorite writer so he can’t get away? That’s awesome on many levels. I loved the book, being a writer myself (I found it horrifying when he destroys his manuscript), so I had to check out the movie, and it doesn’t disappoint: Bates is perfectly sinister and insane.
Number 6: Salem’s Lot (1979)
Who’s that creepy figure hovering just outside my second-floor window? Oh, no worries, it’s just a vampire boy! That is the scene
that will always stick with me from this movie, regardless of the rest of the scares that also occur. Remind me to start closing my curtains at night…
Number 5: The Mist (2007)
The way this story plays out on the screen is spooky and tense; the special effects of the fog and the creatures are superb, and the
acting is top-notch—especially Marcia Gay Harden in the role of the religious zealot. The ending, of course, is where this one diverges from the story, and it got a lot of flak for going where it did, but I have to applaud this movie for having the balls to pull off such an unrelentingly dark finish.
Number 4: 1408 (2007)
I’m not much for the whole one-man-show routine, but John Cusack pulls it off with grace in the simultaneously creepy, poignant, and funny 1408. The back story they added for the movie gives it more depth than the entertaining but simple story, and Cusack embodies his role with sharp sarcasm and a good dose of crazy. Really, I could watch Cusack wandering around with a tape recorder talking to himself for hours if he’s this entertaining.
Number 3: The Green Mile (1999)
This movie strays from the horror genre while still retaining the supernatural element of a man who can take sickness from other people but still ends up on death row. Tom Hanks and Michael Duncan play off each other as the prison guard and the man accused of murder to great effect. It’s a powerful movie and has turned out to be a classic even outside of the Stephen King adaptation spectrum (as has Shawshank Redemption, also not really horror).
Number 2: Carrie (1976)
When I imagine a girl voted prom queen, all I can think of is her suddenly doused in pig’s blood and proceeding to use her telekinesis to set the school gym on fire and mercilessly kill everyone inside. It’s a good visual. Then Sissy Spacek stalks around with her bug eyes and her blood-covered prom dress for a while, until she finally kills her crazy religious mom. A truly excellent movie that deserves multiple views.
Number 1: The Shining (1980)
Really, is anyone surprised that I picked the story of Jack Torrence and the haunted Overlook hotel as my number 1 choice? From the unbeatable acting of Jack Nicholson to the unsettling score, it really is the apotheosis of great horror film making. King himself isn’t too fond of this adaptation because of how far it strays from the book in terms of Jack’s redemption (or lack thereof), but even he can’t deny what a brilliant movie this is start to finish.
With King still churning out novels and the movie industry scrabbling to adapt anything but an actually original screenplay these days, we can only expect more films to be added to this list year after year. In the meantime, pop in one of these bad boys, turn down the lights, and indulge in some of the creepiest fare King has delivered over the last few decades.