5. The Dead Zone (1983)
The Dead Zone stands out from other Stephen King movies in that it is terrifying in a completely different way than the movies based on his other books. In this movie, Christopher Walken plays the main character. He wakes from a coma after five years and discovers he has the ability to determine a person’s future simply by touching them. His doctor is initially skeptical about his claims, but becomes convinced after witnessing Johnny Smith’s abilities for himself.
The doctor comes to the conclusion that if Johnny can see the future, he can change it. Johnny’s ‘flash forwards’ continue, and he is able to help others with his abilities. Then, he faces the ultimate test. He shakes hands with Stillson, a dirty politician played by Martin Sheen, and instantly visualizes nuclear Armageddon. In order to stop this from happening, Johnny must engage in some dark behavior of his own.
The performances from both Walken and Sheen earned plenty of praise from critics when this movie was released. Gory scene lovers should keep their eyes out for the grisly suicide scene when a serial killer Johnny is pursuing opts to end his life rather than get caught. The “draw” of this movie is that the viewer really almost forgets that it is a supernatural horror flick, so caught up in the terrifying events that seem realistic and credible. This is one film that will glue its viewers to their seats.
4. Carrie (1976)
Be careful who you bully. This lesson of course was learned far too late by the mean girls in Carrie’s high school who take particular delight in inflicting humiliating torment. Carrie, for her part, is unable to fight back, being a shy introverted girl whose insane mother believes her to be evil incarnate.
Bullied at home and at school, Carrie snaps. Using her increasingly developing power of telekinesis, she extracts her revenge by one horrifying killing after another, each one gruesome and hideous. Ultimately she dies, but not before killing her abusive mother too.
This movie, based upon the book of the same name, was conceived while Stephen King toiled as a night janitor. He almost destroyed the manuscript, but his wife convinced him to finish the work, which became his first published novel and catapulted him to fame. The theme is pretty universal. People who are bullied often turn into bullies themselves.
In Carrie’s case, of course, this was made far easier by her powers of telekinesis, and the horrors she inflicted upon her tormentors, including her mother, are almost too gruesome to watch – teens dying by electrocution, by hurling through glass, and so on. Interestingly, though, one of the most gruesome and chilling scenes is at the opening, when Carrie’s insane mother gives birth to her.
3. Storm of the Century (1999)
Storm of the Century is the only mini-series on the list, but it has earned its place due to the absolutely terrifying but subdued performance of evil incarnate Colm Feore and camera work that is absolutely worthy of the big screen. Colm’s character, Andre Linoge shows up in a small town in Maine just as a major storm approaches.
Through a series of terrifying episodes against the backdrop of this huge winter storm (special effects are amazing), Linoge sets about destroying the town’s people with his ability to know their deepest secrets. As he reveals them, he shatters the community and causes murders and suicides. His one repetitious refrain, “If you give me what I want I’ll go away.”
What he wants is not revealed until the 3rd and final part – an heir to succeed him as a dark wizard, and that heir is to be the sheriff’s son. The town’s decision to comply is horrific to the viewer. Perhaps the most horrifying scene is not the deaths of the town’s people nor any blood and gore. It is the encounter the sheriff has with his son some time later, during which the beloved child greets him with an evil glare and snarl.
The age-old question. How much should be sacrificed for the greater good? And this tale is not like most in which a hero ultimately saves the day and the sacrifice is thwarted. No, this is the horrifying decision on the part of a town that it will sacrifice a young child in order to rid itself of an evil and thereby save itself.
2. Misery (1990)
In this movie, James Caan plays Paul Sheldon the author of a beloved series of novels that center on the character Misery Chastain. In the opening scene, he is on his way to take some much-needed time off after finishing his latest novel. Sleepy, distracted, and driving on rough and unfamiliar territory, Paul loses control of his car and wrecks. Fortunately, he is rescued from certain death and taken back to the house of Annie Wilkes, played by Kathy Bates.
As it turns out, Annie is an obsessive fan of Paul’s series of Misery novels. When she discovers that Paul’s final novel in the series has been written and that Misery has been killed off, she descends into complete insanity, determined to bring Misery back to life in the only way possible. Paul must write a new novel.
To accomplish this, Annie commits a horribly gruesome act of hobbling Paul so that he cannot leave, one of the most stomach churning scenes of the film. Don’t bother trying to close your eyes through this scene. The horrifying snap and Paul’s agonizing scream will make your stomach jump into your throat. Initially she has the upper hand, but Paul turns the tables and begins a fierce psychological battle with his insane nemesis.
Rob Reiner should be credited with doing an amazing job of coaxing great performances out of his actors, and for sticking to the stark, New England imagery that Stephen King is known for. While the horrible scene of the hobbling is certainly the most frightening, the psychological battle that ensues also has its terrifying moments.
The impact of the terror really relies on the performance of Kathy Lee Bates who is able to turn from a sweet, solicitous woman into a savage scorned-filled beast. If overplayed, this role would have lacked credibility, but instead it leads the viewer to imagine that it actually could have happened.
1. The Shining
“Here’s Johnny!” is probably the most commonly repeated phrase from this Stanley Kubrick directed film that was released in 1980. In the movie, Jack Torrance, a struggling writer, moves his family to a Colorado hotel where he has been hired as the caretaker for the winter. Jack hopes that the change of scenery that the Overlook Hotel provides will give him some new inspiration. The beautiful mountain scenery and lush hotel grounds certainly seem inspiring…
Unfortunately, before long things take a horrifying turn. Jack learns that the past caretaker murdered his family in a fit of criminal insanity. He doesn’t believe he has anything to worry about, but his son Danny’s psychic premonitions (the shining) say otherwise. Between Jack’s increasingly bizarre behavior and drinking and Danny’s visions of blood pouring out around the door of room 237, wife Wendy can only do what she must to protect herself and Danny.
Ultimately, Jack is after both members of his family with an axe, which he uses to hack through a door, uttering the famous words, “Here’s Johnny!” Ultimately, an injured Jack dies having collapsed in the freezing temperatures while hunting down his son. The gruesome final figure of his frozen body complete with ghastly grin wraps up the tale.
“The Shining” is not so much a horror story about ghosts as it is a story about madness. Danny’s imaginary friend who “lives in my mouth” is classic paranoid schizophrenia, as is Jack’s descent into complete insanity. The ghosts that Danny sees are not so much real as they are figments of his mental instability, perhaps brought on by the past physical and emotional abuse of his father.
And in some way, Jack has become obsessed with the tale of the previous caretaker and, in his own insanity, has adopted the role of the former caretaker for himself. Even though not a classic ghost tale in any sense of the word, if the viewer is looking to be frightened by horrible chase scenes and imminent axe choppings that never actually happen, this is a thriller to be sure. Just the chase scene in the labyrinth where Jack goes after Danny is enough to have one’s heart throbbing in his throat.
Author Bio: John Unger is a passionate writer who simply adores psychological horror movies. Nevertheless, mostly, he writes about success, personal development and inner growth topics in his blog. Get in touch with him via Twitter, Facebook or Google Plus.