3. 1408 (2007)
Dir. Mikael Håfström
The origin of “1408” isn’t as straightforward as many of King’s stories as it was first released as a part of the “Blood and Smoke” audiobook in 1999 but was then later published as a part of the “Everything’s Eventual” collection in 2002. The 2007 film adaptation, release by Goldwyn Mayer, is not one of the most well-known adaptations but earns its place at number two on this list as one of the outright scariest.
The film follows Mike Enslin (John Cusack), who is famous for writing about supernatural events and places despite his disbelief in anything paranormal. After he receives an anonymous postcard telling him to stay in room 1408 at The Dolphin in New York City, he is highly discouraged by the workers and the hotel manager to do so. He starts off smug, having never actually experienced anything paranormal, but as the evening begins to wear on it becomes clear that the sinister rumours about the room are true.
Like many of King’s novels, the story mainly hinges on suspense, though there are still some incredibly unexpected jump scares throughout which help to only increase the film’s scariness. What is truly horrifying about 1408 is that you never truly know if the protagonist has made it out of the room as King and company dupe you multiple times, and if you are a sceptic going into this film then you are dragged through Mike’s bloodcurdling experience as though you are also the cynical character caught up in this worst of nightmares.
2. The Shining (1980)
Dir. Stanley Kubrick
Probably the most famous Stephen King adaptation and the second adaptation ever made of his books, this hair-raising film from Warner Bros. and iconic director Stanley Kubrick comes from the novel of the same name published in 1977.
The story of The Shining focuses on Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) and his family after he accepts a job to look after the Overlook Hotel while it is closed for the winter. At first it seems as though he will use this time to work on a new book while his wife, Wendy, and son, Danny, enjoy a wintery holiday away, but as time goes on it becomes clear that Wendy and Danny are trapped in an isolated hell as Jack rapidly deteriorates into madness.
The one problem that many tend to have with this film is that, if you’ve read the book, it strays relatively far from the original narrative and the implication that Jack has somehow been there before doesn’t seem to make much sense and is never explained. Even Stephen King himself has condemned this film. While the author still gives it credit for being incredibly beautiful and sticking to the chilling nature of the original story, this is certainly more suspenseful than it is terrifying, and more well made than it is an honourable adaptation, sitting it in our number two spot.
1. It (2017)
Dir. Andy Muschietti
Whether you’re afraid of clowns or not, you will be after It.
In 1986, Stephen King’s best known and second longest novel was published. At a massive 1138 pages it would have seemed almost impossible to adapt into a film (or even two), but many years after its success as a mini series we were finally graced with a film adaptation in 2017 (and a sequel two years later) thanks to the resurgence of 80s culture.
The first instalment centres around a group of kids in 1989 calling themselves The Losers Club. When one of the Losers loses their brother Georgie after he is killed and eaten by an entity calling itself “Pennywise the dancing clown”, each member of the group finds themselves facing their worst fears through hallucinations caused by Pennywise (who awakens every 27 years to feed off the fear of children in the town of Derry). The Losers must work together to destroy Pennywise… at least for now.
This is easily the scariest of all Stephen King adaptations as it seems insistent upon ramping up the tension by confronting the heroes with universally human fears at every opportunity. For many horror films, an issue is raised of “but why is the ghost bothering to scare the person?” but It perfectly answers that question and makes the moments of abject horror make complete sense, merging this logic with outstanding visuals to create some of the most creepy and inhuman movements from the antagonising clown as you can possibly imagine, as well as some chilling environments for the children (each dealing with gruesome realities of abuse) to face their greatest fears. It is an incredibly well crafted horror film; the Stephen King adaptation most intent on giving you nightmares.
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But what do you think? Did any Stephen King film adaptations creep you out more than our selection? Let us know in the comments, but remember… only the scariest qualify.