Scariest Stephen King Movies to Watch Before Halloween

Stephen King is undoubtedly the most successful horror author of all time,  as well as one of the most prolific authors of his generation. He’s also been very willing to sell the film rights for his work, so there is an absolute abundance of Stephen King movies out there. Of course, not all Stephen King movies are created equal, and for every Shawshank Redemption there’s three or four movies like Dreamcatcher or Pet Sematary that haven’t stood the test of time. For the uninitiated who would like to start watching Stephen King movies, here are three of the best horror films adapted from his work.

Stephen King

‘The Shining’

Jack sticks his face in the middle of a crack in a door in The Shining
Jack Nicholson in The Shining

 Because we live in an absolutely illogical world, one of the most inaccessible movies that Stanley Kubrick produced is somehow his most popular film. The Shining is a rather loose adaptation of the novel of the same name, but that’s probably for the better. For all of its merits, the novel has a fairly standard structure. Stanley Kubrick’s film, on the other hand, has a more free-flowing story which ties much better into the theme of madness.

While the film didn’t receive a warm reception upon its initial release, partially because Stephen King fans were disappointed that Kubrick often ignored his source material, it’s only grown in stature in the past forty years. There’s a good case to be made that The Shining is the most critically acclaimed horror film ever made and that’s for good reason. From Wendy Carlos’ moody, evocative score to Jack Nicholson’s absolutely unpredictable performance as Jack Torrance to Kubrick’s masterful and disquieting use of the Steadicam, there’s not a second of the film that could warrant improvement. Much like his earlier film 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining is an enigma for the ages and its precise meaning will be debated for as long as the cinema persists.

‘Carrie’

Sissy Spacek and Carrie Fisher
Sissy Spacek with Carrie Fisher

Compared to The Shining, Brian De Palma’s Carrie is a much more faithful and straightforward adaptation of a King novel. While it’s not as complex as The Shining, Carrie has charms of its own. Pino Donaggio’s score for the film is melodrama at its most grand. It somehow manages to be scary beautiful and pathetic all at once –  it’s like the audio equivalent of Edgar Allan Poe’s best poems. Furthermore, the interplay between Carrie and her mother might just be the most moving portrait of a toxic familial relationship on film. By the end of the picture, it’s clear that the two women love each other, even if both of them are dangerously insane. 

‘It’

Pennywise in It

 Stephen King’s It is a long, sprawling epic divided into two halves that take place nearly thirty years apart. It has a complex structure that’s heavily reliant on flashbacks. The fact that Hollywood was able to make not just a decent movie but a good movie out of this novel is a bit of a miracle. The filmmakers managed to capture the books combination of horror and coming-of-age story beautifully. On top of that, Bill Skarsgård’s performance as Pennywise is probably the greatest performance in a horror film since Sir Anthony Hopkins first played Hannibal Lecter.  Even if the sequel garnered a more mixed response, nothing will be able to take away from the magic of It.