Stephen King killed it in 2017. From Netflix's Gerald's Game to the blockbuster IT, the horror master's nightmarish visions were everywhere we looked. Yet this is hardly a new phenomenon. For decades, filmmakers have found inspiration in Stephen King's tales of rabid beasts, vampire predators, and evil hotels, and transformed these terrors onto the silver screen.
We're thrilled they did. Get ready to lose some sleep, horror fans. Here are the scariest Stephen King movies.
10. Salem's Lot
In this 1970s miniseries, which you can now find on Amazon, a writer returns to his seemingly idyllic hometown of Salem’s Lot only to find that it’s succumbed to vampirism at the hands of a supernatural predator named Barlow. Meet him here; try not to jump. A kind of homage to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, King’s classic story is directed by Texas Chain Saw Massacre maestro Tobe Hooper. Honestly, we’re still baffled as to how it got past the FCC.
9. The Dead Zone
Christopher Walken and Martin Sheen star in this thrilling collaboration between writer King and director David Cronenberg; it’s about a man (Walken) who wakes up from a coma with a psychogenic gift—or rather curse: He can foresee the terrifying future. And he can prevent it. Now, it’s not the puss-gushing, fetus-fondling good time with which we’ve come to expect from Cronenberg, but it is a well-acted film rooted in reality that’s hella unsettling.
8. The Mist
No stranger to a King adaptation, Frank Darabont takes the reins here—and then wraps those reins around the viewer’s throat. At least, that’s how you may feel while you’re watching The Mist. It’s a suffocating romp through a Maine village that’s been engulfed in a blinding fog. Lurking in the gloom are monstrous creatures with a hunger for the locals.
Warning: Viewers would be wise to skip the snacking while watching this movie. This King adaptation features enough slime, slobber, and bodily fluid to make Cronenberg drool. The story is simple: Good dog turns bad. When Cujo, a friendly Saint Bernard contracts rabies from a bat, he sets his bloodshot sights on a mother and her terrified kid, and so begins the marathon of gag reflex control.
6. Pet Sematary
Many will say it’s the evil British Blue shorthair cat Church who sticks out as the creepiest cinematic device of this King adaptation. Others say Pascow, the friendly-ish ghost with a grisly brain injury. For us, the title goes to Zelda, the deformed sister with spinal meningitis. Though just a subplot and around for only a handful of scenes, Zelda is the sole reason to hit play on this tale about grief and resurrection.
Kathy Bates and James Caan star in Rob Reiner’s King adaptation about a battered writer (Caan) who’s held hostage by a crazed uber-fan (Bates). King spawned one of the genre’s most fascinating characters in Annie Wilkes when he wrote Misery. In return, Reiner created some of the most bone-chilling scenes the horror genre has seen. You know where we’re going—hobbling scene, anyone?
Let’s just go ahead and call this one King’s second-best haunted-hotel spook fest, beat only by the nightmare that belongs to a dull boy named Jack. Supremely underrated, 1408 stars John Cusack as a cynical writer who checks into room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel. His quest? Debunk the chilling reputation of the notoriously haunted crib. Samuel L. Jackson plays the wary hotel manager who tries to keep his guest from entering the evil room. You can guess what happens next. Yes, A-plus creepiness.
You want classic horror? Here it is. The very first King novel to grace the shelves, Carrie is a coming-of-age horror story about a telekinetic teenager, her abusive religious zealot of a mother, and the high school A-holes who ultimately suffer her revenge. Directed by Brian De Palma, the bathed-in-blood adaptation—with help from its two amazing leads, Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie—set the standard for freaky Stephen King movies.
We had a blast with 2017's IT—it even made our 13 Best Horror Movies of 2017 list. Yet there are some things that haunt you well beyond your formative years. And the 1990 made-for-TV movie version of "It" is one of those things. We’re not sure if it’s due to Tim Curry's freaky portrayal of Pennywise or the fact that we still cannot go near the bathtub drain without expecting a sharp-toothed clown to pop out of it, but King’s story about a group of kids who meet up in adulthood to finally defeat their demon(s) continues to send chills down our spines.
1. The Shining
We’re sure you’ve guessed, and you’d be correct: King’s No. 1 haunted-hotel narrative happens within the walls of the Overlook Hotel in a little story he calls The Shining. Now, the film, conceived by the late, great Stanley Kubrick, could probably be considered more of a reimagination than an actual adaptation, but it’s still a freaky masterpiece that’s rooted in King brilliance. So what if King hates it?
Featured still from "Pet Semetery" via Paramount Pictures