Stephen King’s name has become so synonymous with modern horror over the years that a person who does not read horror will most likely list him first as a horror writer that they know. Chances are you read at least one of his books in high school, cowering in your bed reading long into the night, feeling inexplicably like you were reading something subversive and secret that no one else had yet discovered. I’m not saying that I’ve enjoyed each and every book of his I’ve read, but when Stephen King is at his best, pants are crapped. Plain and simple. For the past 40 years, he has been responsible for a lot of sleepless nights.
I am not always a fan of Stephen King adaptations; I find them to be very hit or miss (don’t even get me started on Under the Dome). However, I have high hopes for It after that spectacular trailer debuted this week! In celebration, I thought it might be fitting to look at Mr. King’s extremely prolific list of works and pick my top 5 most terrifying of the bunch. I know with his works being so well loved and so iconic, that there will be those out there who don’t agree with this list. That’s okay, because that is the beautiful part of horror novels: our imaginations run rampant, and we’re all terrified of different things. At the times in my life that I read them, these ones all scared me silly and have stuck with me ever since, but this is definitely a personal list. Feel free to comment and tell me which have scared you! This one was tough, but here goes:
5. The Shining / Doctor Sleep: Okay, okay, I know having two together is a bit of a cheat, but they really should be read as a pair. We all know the story of little Danny Torrance and the Overlook Hotel, but do you know what happened after? If all you have for knowledge of The Shining is the Kubrick film, please do yourself a favour and read the book. Not that the film isn’t scary, it just isn’t an accurate representation of the novel. Jack’s descent into madness is a living, breathing thing in this novel as he struggles to keep it together. As for Doctor Sleep, I’ll be honest – when I heard a sequel to The Shining was coming 35 years later, my first though was, “This is a gimmick.” Then I read the book and my perspective TOTALLY changed. Tonally, it lets you see how much King’s writing style has changed over the years, but on top of that the story is HORRIFYING. For those of you who don’t know what it’s about, Danny Torrance all grown up encounters a group of terrifying weirdos who get their power from finding kids with the Shining, torturing them, and then feeding on the resultant auras. Nightmare fuel, trust me.
4. Pet Sematary: This is one that probably personified scary movies at sleepovers for most of us. I don’t know about you, but when I first read the story of Louis Creed and his family, I was extremely disturbed. From the title and the cover of the edition I bought, I was expecting major fun-time cheese – killer kitties run amok. Um, no. You will be saying that to yourself a lot while reading this one: “Just. No.” A masterful combination of the power of grief, the psychological horror of death, and the unholy consequences of reversing it, this one is guaranteed to get under your skin.
3. Bag of Bones: This is one that I recommend a ton as a bookstore employee – for some reason, a lot of people who read a lot of Stephen King seem to have missed this one. The fact that any Stephen King title can fly under the radar to the point where even dedicated readers can miss it is baffling to me. It may be that the mini-series adaptation was not a great one, but this one is not to be missed. Trust me. It is a ghost story, but also a story of corrupted power, small towns, and the horrors that can be perpetrated on one another by flesh and blood human beings. It is a rare beast: it made me sob uncontrollably, and at the same time it made me not want to get out of bed to turn off the light. It also made me take alphabet letters off of every fridge I encountered for several months.
2. Needful Things: This is by far one of the most harrowing stories about human need that I have ever read. I know that there are more infamous Stephen King titles out there, but this one truly got to me when I read it. The descriptions of the setting and the creepy old antique shop (aptly called Needful Things) is enough to fill you with enough dread to last a lifetime. On a fun side note, the character of Ace Merrill (remember the bully from The Body/Stand By Me?) is present as Leland Gaunt’s assistant. It’s all fun and games until the town erupts into violent madness….
1. It: I feel like this is the one choice that no one will ever question me on. I don’t even know where to start with It. Personally, I have never been a person who is phobic of clowns, and Pennywise still scares me to death. I think part of what makes Pennywise so scary is that he looks terrifying, but he is calling to children and luring them in the form of something innocent that kids can trust. People say that It is “that one with the scary clown,” but it is more than that. The story is so frightening and disturbing, primarily for the fact that it puts children in very scary and, in some cases, adult situations. It is the story of childhood innocence lost and the personification of fear itself. So wrong in all the right, terrifying ways.
Close calls: Misery, Cujo, Insomnia, and ‘Salem’s Lot were all pretty painful to leave off of this list. Highly recommended.
Do you agree? Which Stephen King novel do you find the scariest?