Stephen King has been called a lot of things in his career — a pulp novelist, a master of horror, and a true visionary, just to name a few. Whether you believe his books are masterpieces or you think he’s totally overrated (you’re wrong, sorry), you can’t deny that he’s contributed some of the most talked about scary stories in American literature, and helped bring horror to mainstream audiences along the way.
Because Stephen King is so popular, dozens of his novels and stories have been adapted for TV and film. That’s given non-readers a chance to get to know some of his scariest characters. King has a knack for getting into our psyches, figuring out what scares us, and then bringing those ideas to life. Sometimes, that means grotesque monsters. Other times, he delivers the darkest sides of human nature. Here are the 15 Scariest Stephen King Monsters that have been brought to the screen.
15. Randall Flagg – The Stand
In many ways, Captain Trips is one of the most frightening ideas that any author has ever put to page. A superflu that decimates the world’s population is a horrifying concept, because unlike some of the other creepy crawlies that he’s created over the years, it’s something that could happen pretty easily. Still, the evil entity that emerged during and after the virus at the center of The Stand was pretty scary in his own right, too.
Randall Flagg is frightening because it’s hard to describe exactly what he is. At times, he looks like a completely normal man (albeit one in a Canadian Tuxedo). Other times, he looks like the devil himself. He’s so powerful, he can reach people even in their dreams – and he has the ability to convince seemingly normal people to do some pretty terrible things in his name.
Randall Flagg goes by many names, and die-hard fans know that his nefarious presence has crept up in many of King’s books over the years. In fact, we’ll see Matthew McConaughey play him in another incarnation in this summer’s The Dark Tower. Despite the Oscar-caliber casting upgrade, there was something especially sinister about the first version of Flagg most fans ever saw on their screens.
14. The mutant bat – Graveyard Shift
In the pantheon of Stephen King movies, Graveyard Shift isn’t usually cited as being one of his best works. It did have one thing going for it, though, and that’s the absolutely disgusting creatures its characters encountered in a textile mill. It was hair-raising enough for them to have to work through a basement full of rats.
The giant rat-bat hybrid they found in the tunnels was a special kind of frightening, though. It had a wingspan longer than most cars. It spit, and squealed, and ate humans alive with the help of its monstrous talons. It was grotesque in every sense of the word, because it was a monster that simply shouldn’t exist – except, it did. Even if the 1990 special effects that brought the rat-bat to life left a little to be desired, the very concept was spine-tingling enough to inspire a few nightmares. Unlike many of King’s most sinister creations, Graveyard Shift’s supersized bat appeals not to our psychological fears, but to our most base terrors.
13. Christine – Christine
Stephen King has a knack for taking a seemingly benign, everyday object and making it somehow sinister. That’s exactly what he did with Christine, a novel that was adapted into a feature-length film by horror legend John Carpenter in 1983. The story centers on awkward teenager Arnie, who buys an old car and fixes it up, only to learn it’s actually very evil. The 1958 Plymouth Fury – which he calls Christine – has a mind of its own.
It also has a way of getting inside young Arnie’s psyche and getting him to do some very bad things. Like, seeking revenge on those who’ve wronged him and trying to kill them. Sure, in some ways, the story could be perceived as a heavy-handed cautionary tale about the perils of teen recklessness and machismo. That doesn’t change the fact that Christine is a pretty frightening piece of machinery. Perhaps what’s scariest about the car, and its effect on her owners, is that there’s really not any way to kill a seemingly inanimate object.
12. Annie Wilkes – Misery
Stephen King has never shied away from exploring the more dangerous aspects of real life in his stories. In Misery, he took on the frightening extremes of fanaticism, and subsequently created one of the best villains in literary history. In 1990, Rob Reiner adapted Misery into a top-notch thriller, and it upped the ante as far as Annie’s insanity was concerned. In Kathy Bates’ Oscar-winning hands, the nurse and number one fan of romance author Paul Sheldon was positively unhinged.
It’s one thing to complain when an author kills off your favorite character, but Annie took her disappointment to another level. She seemed to take a macabre sense of pride in kidnapping Paul, drugging him, incapacitating his feet with a sledgehammer, and threatening his life unless he rewrote his book. The fact that she couldn’t tell fiction from reality was especially chilling, because she genuinely believed that in almost killing her favorite author, she was actually helping him.
11. Isaac – Children of the Corn
Children and horror movies are usually a pretty scary combo all on their own. When you take the titular villains in Children of the Corn and consider the fact that they murdered every adult in their town and worshipped an evil cornstalk creature, well, it makes you want to consider never entering into parenthood. Or walking near a school zone.
Based on a short story by Stephen King, Children of the Corn followed the dark happenings in a rural Nebraska farming town that’s been overtaken by a preteen religious cult. Their de facto leader, Isaac Croner, is just about as scary as they come. He looks and sounds a lot more like a shrunken adult, and somehow manages to indoctrinate every child in his hometown to worship He Who Walks Behind the Rows. He’s frightening all on his own, thanks to zealous devotion to both his evil deity and copious bloodshed. Ultimately, what makes Isaac scariest, though, is his ability to turn an entire population of children into a cult with seemingly minimal effort.
10. Andre Linoge – Storm of the Century
Stephen King miniseries were, like, a thing in the 1990s. Some, like The Langoliers, were embarrassingly bad. Others, like Storm of the Century, have really held up well over the years. That’s thanks, in large part, to the complete and utter creepiness of its central villain.
Storm of the Century is set in Little Tall Island, a small coastal town that’s shut down and temporarily isolated from the rest of the world by a massive blizzard. Just as the snowfall hits town, a mysterious man, Andre Linoge, shows up, and makes his presence known by killing an elderly woman. He looks just like a normal person – at least, at first. He’s unfailingly polite, even as he’s wreaking havoc on the small town. But he harbors an especially dark secret, and he definitely hasn’t come to the town by accident.
Underneath his seemingly human skin is his monstrous true face. He is, in fact, Legion, a demon that dates back to Biblical times, and also claims responsibility for mass disappearances in places like Roanoke Island. His price for not doing the same in Little Tall Island? Just one of the town’s children, which he can take with him to be his new protégé. Linoge is sinister and manipulative. The fact that he’s been doing it for so long adds an extra layer of horror, because it makes his evil feel somehow eternal.
9. Cujo – Cujo
Sometimes, we’re afraid of the things we can’t see, the dark ideas that make our imagination run wild. Other times, our biggest fears take the form of very real things – spiders, snakes, nuclear war, etc. Stephen King knows this, and he’s found a way to make reality truly terrifying on more than one occasion. He did an especially good job at it with Cujo, his story of a dog that turns mad after being bitten by a rabid bat.
Cujo, the titular St. Bernard at the center of the 1983 film, would be frightening to anyone that’s a bit uneasy around dogs as it is. He’s an imposing figure, one that looks almost larger than life. His murderous behavior, though, is enough to make even the most fervent dog lover a little wary. At times, he looks positively rabid, foaming at the mouth, with blood splattered over his snout. Though Cujo started as an average pet, he transformed into something much more dangerous. That, coupled with the fact that he still looks like an average pet, until he begins his vicious attacks, makes him all the more frightening in that very ‘real world’ way.
8. Margaret White – Carrie
When you think of Carrie, chances are, the first image that comes to mind is of the unfortunate (and telekinetic) outcast-turned-prom queen doused in blood. That image, and the ensuing macabre retaliation that Carrie White inflicts on her classmates, is both iconic and thoroughly unsettling. But in many ways, the most frightening part of Carrie – Brian De Palma’s beloved adaptation of Stephen King’s first novel – is the titular heroine’s mother.
Margaret White is unstable, to say the least. She’s a religious zealot who punishes her daughter for things beyond her control, like the fact that she’s growing up. She couches her abusive tendencies by proclaiming that she’s doing God’s work. She’s willing to stop at nothing, even murder, to make sure that her daughter remains pure. Everything about Margaret is frightening; from her syrupy-sweet voice to the way she decorates her home with images of Jesus in agony. While Margaret isn’t anywhere near as dangerous as, say, a demonic force that could end the entire world, her horrific parenting methods make her every bit as disturbing as King’s other, more obvious, monsters.
7. The creatures – The Mist
Stephen King has never been shy about tapping into the fear of what we can’t see. That’s a large part of what made The Mist, his short story adapted by Frank Darabont in 2007, so freaky. In some ways, it’s similar to Storm of the Century, in that it involves a small town isolated by inclement weather conditions and forced to face unspeakable horror. In most ways, though, The Mist is entirely different. At first, the townspeople can’t see whatever is attacking. When they finally do see what’s been hiding in the mist, it’s arguably more frightening, because instead of a creepy ancient demon, the dangerous forces at the town’s doorstep are basically huge monsters that look like mutated dinosaurs.
In The Mist, the characters encounter several different types of creepy crawlies. Some resemble spiders; others are enormous with octopus-like tentacles. Approximately none of the terrifying predators in the film look like they’d be fun to hang out with, though – especially given their penchant for snacking on unsuspecting humans.
6. Kurt Dussander – Apt Pupil
When it comes to historical events, there are few more horrifying than what transpired in Nazi Germany during the 20th century. For decades, many of the perpetrators of Adolf Hitler’s murderous agenda were able to escape persecution by fleeing the country. Stephen King’s short story, Apt Pupil, imagined what might happen if one escaped Nazi managed to strike up a relationship with an impressionable child. Bryan Singer’s brought that idea to life with his chilling, oft-underrated adaptation.
Ian McKellen, who’s usually able to efficiently charm just about anyone, portrayed Apt Pupil’s retired war criminal Kurt Dussander, who’s resettled in a quiet American suburb. The fact that he’s so normal is, by and large, what makes the character so unnerving. He seems like a completely harmless old man at first, but it becomes clear that he’s still deeply devoted to the Nazi party and its agenda. McKellen played Dussander as a man who is not haunted by his past actions, but rather forced to keep his pride in them under wraps. The idea of that sort of evil hiding in plain sight is bone-chilling, and not at all outside the realm of possibility.
5. The Overlook’s guests – The Shining
Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is a horror classic, although Stephen King didn’t agree with the creative liberties the director took in adapting his novel for the screen. Despite this, Kubrick did manage to infuse his version of the Overlook Hotel with countless haunting images. While some, like the elevator full of blood, are remembered for their sheer goriness, some of the most chilling moments in The Shining involved the hotel’s ghostly inhabitants.
There were the two twins, standing at the end of one of the hotel’s hallways, asking Danny Torrance in a monotonous voice to come play with them. There was the beautiful, mysterious blonde in Room 217 who transformed into a hideous, decaying and cackling old woman in Jack’s arms. Let’s not forget about the man in the tuxedo receiving a salacious favor from someone in a child-like bear suit. All told, the Overlook’s undead guests added to the movie’s unsettling ambiance in a way that few other movie ghosts have accomplished.
4. Jack Torrance – The Shining
There’s people with personal demons, and then there’s Jack Torrance. The patriarch that’s often the focus of The Shining never seems entirely okay. But as he descends into insanity during an isolated winter as the caretaker at the Overlook Hotel, he becomes something that seems much worse than a monster. Sure, the sequences in which he loses all control, rages through the hotel’s not-so-empty hallways, and goes after his family with an axe are frightening. His “Heeeere’s Johnny!” howl after he breaks through the door is unforgettable, because he’s not only going mad, he really seems to be enjoying himself in that process.
What also makes “all work and no play” Jack one of the scariest movie monsters ever, though, are those moments when we see him all alone, staring blankly out the window. That’s because we know there’s something horrifying going on inside his head – dark thoughts, malicious ideas, that are slowly taking over.
3. Gage Creed – Pet Sematary
“Sometimes, dead is better.” It might as well be the tagline for Pet Sematary, Mary Lambert’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel. It follows a family as they move into a new home and encounter some of the supernatural side effects of living near a haunted Native American burial ground. The reanimated animals that wander into the Creed family’s life are pretty gross all on their own. The truly horrific part of the film, though, comes after they try to use the Micmac grounds to bring their adorable young son back to life after he’s run over by a truck.
Gage Creed is basically like Child’s Play’s Chucky – that is, if he were a little bit cuter and had a much more tragic backstory. His death, all on its own, is one of the more traumatic moments in any Stephen King adaptation. His pale, scarred, reanimated body is enough to make your blood run cold.
2. Kurt Barlow – ‘Salem’s Lot
We’ve seen all kinds of vampires in horror movies. There are the thin, pale, but still sort-of good looking ones. There are the sparkly ones – also pretty good looking, by most accounts. Then, there’s Kurt Barlow, the centuries-old master vampire from Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot. Tobe Hooper adapted the book, about a journalist who realizes something sinister has come to the small town he’s staying in, as a TV miniseries.
He managed to avoid skimping on any scare tactics in bringing the story to the small screen, too. There’s nothing sexy or appealing about Kurt Barlow, in his true, ready-to-suck-some-blood form. His cheeks are sunken, his eyes glow yellow, and his teeth aren’t just long and sharp, but look like something a parasite might use if it wanted to latch onto you and never let go. Barlow is also tied into the greater mythological framework of King’s novels, since he’s appeared in The Dark Tower series. Perhaps we’ll get a chance to see him, in all his grotesque glory, on the big screen sometime soon.
1. Pennywise – It
He’s the eater of worlds, and of children. As far as an evil resume is concerned, it’s pretty hard to top Pennywise. It was first brought to life in a 1990 TV miniseries directed by Tommy Lee Wallace. The creature, who takes the form of whatever his victim is afraid of, but usually masquerades as a sinister clown, was played with a malicious glee by Tim Curry in that incarnation.
Pennywise is, without question, Stephen King’s monstrous masterpiece. That’s because, in the small town of Derry, he can be anywhere and anything when he’s ready to feed. An old photo album? Don’t even think about looking at it. Bathroom sinks? Definitely stay away. Storm drains? Say goodbye to your adorable little brother.
While it’s too early to say for sure, it looks like Andrés Muschietti’s feature-length adaptation of It could make the clown in question even more terrifying. We’ll have to see when it hits theaters this September.
Which Stephen King monster makes you want to sleep with the lights on? Did we miss your favorite? Let us know in the comments!