Modern movie-making technology, the influence of Asian horror, and other factors have all contributed to some truly disturbing and frightening horror movie releases in the past decade. This is truly a great era for horror fans who are seeking to be grossed out as well as terrified. However, there is still a place for a great horror movie that is built around the elements of great writing, expert directing, and the writing of a seasoned horror writer.
This is why the movies based on Stephen King novels are still as terrifying today as they were when they were made. Whether the film takes place in the halls of a high school, the mountains of Colorado, a coastal fishing village, or a small New England bungalow, adaptations of Stephen King novels are almost always a critical and commercial success. Anybody who is interested in revisiting these movies over the Halloween season should start their binge watching with these ten flicks.
10. Pet Sematary (1989)
The movie opens when Dr. Creed and his family move from Chicago to rural Maine. They are all happy to ditch city living in order to live in a big farm house on a large lot. In the beginning of the movie, Creed’s wife, Rachel expresses concern about the busy highway that runs past the house.
The foreshadowing in her statement is clear, and it leaves viewers wondering how the highway will tie into the story. They settle into their new home which is next to a pet cemetery, where children of the town have been burying their pets for years. The word “Sematary” comes from the sign which mis-spelled the actual word. Next to the pet cemetery is an old Indian burial ground as well. The Creed’s have two young children and a cat.
The only other character of note is Jud Crandall, a kind, elderly man who gives them a tour of the town. When the beloved cat is hit by a truck, the Creeds bury him next to the pet Sematary, and the thing is resurrected, only to return home and terrorize the family members.
When Gage, the 3-yr. old son is also killed, the parents know just what to do – bury him like they did the cat. Jud warns them with a now famous line, “The person you put up there ain’t the one that comes back. Sometimes, dead is better.” He has spoken the truth. Gage returns as a young monster, killing Jud and his mother, and the rest of the film is replete with terrifying scenes, culminated in the decision by Dr. Creed that he must kill his son.
The scene in which Gage murders is bloody and horrible and will probably stick in the minds of viewers for days afterward. As a horror film, this has all of the elements – supernatural events, terrifying scenes, and, of course blood and gore. It is also a movie that sticks very close to the original novel, except for the ending.
The theme is rather universal – grief over death of loved ones and an unending plea to the gods to bring the dead one back to life. But what the viewers will remember more than anything is a young child turned into a murdering monster.
9. 1408 (2007)
John Cusack plays Mike Enslin in this movie adaptation of the Stephen King short story of the same title. Mike Enslin is a well-known writer and skeptic who is known for getting to the truth behind paranormal events that are the stuff of urban legends. In spite of his skeptical nature, and willingness to be convinced only by the most solid evidence, Enslin’s preferred writing genre is horror.
In the film, he has decided to debunk some of the claims surrounding haunted hotels all over the United States. His first stay will be in room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel. In spite of the intense warnings of the hotel manager, Enslin grabs the keys to the room and is confident that he is going to expose yet another myth that has been constructed to convince people that there is life after death.
What really happens shakes Enslin to the core. He is the one who must face the facts that his long held beliefs are false. He is given the proof that he so admires, but that proof shows him that life after death is indeed a reality. The terrifying question is, will he make it until morning to give his account others?
This adaptation of yet another Stephen King short story is well-written and expertly directed. And how refreshing that a truly scary movie, with amazingly terrifying scenes (even without blood and gore), is an all-adult cast. No teenagers running around with chain saws; no scantily-clad chicks facing certain doom at the hands of an insane male with an axe – just great terror.
8. Salem’s Lot (1979)
While the movie opens in Mexico, it quickly shifts back in time to the small town of Salem’s Lot, Maine. Ben Mears has returned to his hometown to write a novel and is fascinated with the old creepy house at the outskirts of town, owned by an equally creepy man, Hubie, as he was growing up. The house is now owned by two other strange men, Straker and Barlow.
As boys again begin to disappear from the town, the two are suspected, but, alas no proof. When Ben discovers that Barlow is a vampire, killing the young boys and turning them into slaves. He is able to escape with Mark, Barlow’s next victim, and down to Mexico they go. The opening scene in Mexico shows the two picking up a bottle of holy water, to discover a yellow light emanating from it. They have been found.
For those who love vampire flicks, this film is a must-see. Barlow is probably one of the best vampires in all of movie history – really frightening. The real terror in this film is not that the vampire is going to continue to claim victims in his sickening way (there really is only one drop of blood in the entire film), but in the tension of the build up to each event that the viewer already knows is coming.
7. It (1990)
The movie begins 28 years after a group of kids known as the Losers Club, fought and defeated the evil child-murdering clown, Pennywise. None have them have spoken about their experience in the town of Derry with anybody. Then, children in Derry begin dying again. The members of the Losers Club realize that Pennywise is back and is even stronger and more vicious than he was 3 decades ago.
Each member of the group has horrifying memories of Pennywise that torment them even as adults, and they must fight to get past those haunting fears to defeat Pennywise once and for all. Many people were skeptical that a clown could be frightening while still maintaining the essence of a clown in appearance and mannerisms. That skepticism was more than laid to rest when the movie was released.
Another element that adds to the intensity of the film is the fact that none of the members of the Losers Club is an obvious hero. They are, as a group, shy, physically weak, and fearful. This makes every scene in which one of them confronts Pennywise even more heart pounding because it seems as if Pennywise always has the upper hand both physically and psychologically.
The sewer grate encounter in this movie is undoubtedly the creepiest scene in any horror movie that didn’t earn an R rating. This is another film that is made better by the strength of the ensemble cast that combines John Ritter, Richard Thompson, Harry Anderson, and Annette O’Toole among others.
6. The Mist (2007)
In addition to writing dozens of full length novels, Stephen King has also released several horror anthologies. The Mist is based on a story that Stephen King included in one of these anthologies, Skeleton Crew. The film is the result of a collaboration between Stephen King and Frank Darabont. ‘The Mist’ is a thick fog that overtakes a small rural community. Anybody caught outside when the fog materializes is killed. To escape death, those who do survive seek shelter in the town grocery store.
Unfortunately, the fog was only the beginning of the horror that the townspeople would endure. Once inside the store, they are faced with the task of fighting off terrifying monsters while also dealing with the strains of being trapped with one another.
The tentacle attack scene has made many top ten lists of the scariest scenes in horror film history. The impacts of group terror and paranoia are well displayed by the ensemble cast that includes Marcia Gay Harden, and Andre Braugher.
In many ways, this is a familiar theme in science fiction – a threat to a town (a village in Maine, King’s favorite locale), the interplay of the town’s people as they attempt to determine cause (a rift in the space-time continuum or God’s ultimate punishment) and fight with one another, and horrible monsters, blood, guts, and gore. All the makings of a thriller. Those who have watched the recent King mini-series, “The Dome” will find the theme and plot eerily familiar.