WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for The Dark Tower.
Fans may be plunged into a world of magic and fantasy with The Dark Tower movie, but the wealth of Stephen King Easter Eggs, movie references, and moments of fan service should help it all feel a bit more familiar. Especially if viewers were hoping to see the Dark Tower films confirm the same shared universe that Stephen King has revealed many of his most iconic stories to exist within. Those connections will have to wait for a Dark Tower sequel to ever be explored, but fans can enjoy them immediately.
Needless to say, there will be SPOILERS for the movie as we break down the references only known to those who’ve read the entire book series, the subtle nods and impossible-to-miss references to other King films, and everything else we spotted in our viewings.
12. The Overlook Hotel
Fans had best strap in for a number of references and nods to not only The Dark Tower‘s books, but a TON of other novels and short stories by Stephen King. The adaptations of said books to other films are just as fair game, which means an unforgettable image dropped into the movie when an earthquake strikes New York City.
When Jake is visiting his psychiatrist and discussing his dreams, a quake brought on by the Dark Tower being attacked punctuates the doctor’s accusations about the nature of Jake’s “dreams.” As the room begins to shake, the camera cuts to a close-up of a framed photo on the doctor’s side table. It’s a pretty shameless moment of fan service, since the framed photo isn’t even a person – just the Timberline Lodge, used as the Overlook Hotel in the big screen adaptation of King’s The Shining (198o).
Of Stephen King’s strictly horror novels adapted to motion pictures, the infamous Christine (1983) may be his secondmost famous behind The Shining. At least in terms of setting a trend for horror fans: of vehicles brought to life to commit evil deeds. In the book, the car was a bright red, 1958 Plymouth Fury previously owned by a man named Roland D. LeBay (a hint that King’s affection for the name would continue forward to The Dark Tower).
The movie (and car) get a shout out when Jake is talking to his neighbor and friend in his bedroom about his visions. The boy, named ‘Timmy,’ opens the scene by idly pushing a model car back and forth along the floor of the room: a car looking an awful lot like a 1958 Plymouth.
10. Rose Drawings
Most of Jake’s drawings are straightforward to anyone who has seen the real things – the Man in Black, the Dark Tower, and even Roland the Gunslinger. But amidst these recreations of Jake’s visions, one can be seen scattered throughout that isn’t actually explained in the course of the film. We’re referring to the blood red roses visible in only a few shots, which actually refer to more than one key plot element in the novels.
First, there’s the Can’-Ka No Rey, or “The Red Fields of None” that surround the Tower itself. These roses are possessed of the magic needed to quietly sing a siren song, calling souls to the Dark Tower. But more importantly, a single such rose exists in a vacant lot in New York City, at the corner of Second Avenue and Forty-Sixth Street. The flower is eventually protected by Roland in the books, since its destruction would bring about the Dark Tower’s fall all on its own. Thank goodness the Man in Black never realized it in the movie.
Not all of Stephen King’s ‘horror’ stories are based in the supernatural, with no better example than Cujo. The story of a good dog driven mad by rabies, terrorizing a small town – specifically, a mother and son – is named for the dog in question: a St. Bernard bitten by a rabid bat. As it turns out, the dog was actually named by King as a reference to Willie Wolfe, a member of the 1970s radical political group known as the Symbionese Liberation Army. The book even concludes with a puppy named Willie… which isn’t the only time the group will be mentioned in this list.
It’s the dog itself who gets a nod in The Dark Tower, when a woman can be seen walking a large St. Bernard down the street, completely oblivious to the trials of Jake Chambers or Roland. He still seems to be a “good” dog, meaning the rabies is still a long way off.
8. All Hail the Crimson King
When Jake finds his way to the house in Dutch Hill, Brooklyn, his story heads into another gear – doing battle with a demonic house and being transported to Mid-World will do that. Before he leaves, he notes graffiti in the house reading “All Hail the Crimson King” and later, The Man in Black runs his hand along the very message. It’s shown elsewhere in the film, without ever being explained. But for those who have read the books, it’s nod to the real rivalry going on.
On the surface, The Dark Tower is a tale of vengeance between Roland and The Man in Black. In reality, The Man in Black a.k.a. Walter is a servant of the Crimson King, a timeless, evil being locked within the Dark Tower and largely comparable to Satan. The graffiti shows that dynamic is clearly still at work, although the real nature of The Dark Tower‘s place in the book series does raise some questions about the state of the Crimson King’s followers.
7. The IT Connection
Most Stephen King fans will voice their shock in the theater upon Jake’s discovery of a dilapidated and buried theme park bearing the name “PENNYWISE.” Not only is it the unforgettable name of the murderous clown in King’s IT, but the clown itself can almost be seen protruding from the ground. His hand, still holding a bunch of balloons is visible, and what may be a red hat beside it show Pennywise’s face is just below the surface (count yourselves lucky for that one).
For moviegoers, it’s yet another obvious, impossible to miss homage to King. But for book readers, it’s actually faithful to shared universe Stephen King created using his Dark Tower series, working several of his previous stories into its fiction. In fact, The Man in Black’s ability to shapeshift has led some to suspect that Pennywise is a similar form of demon… but we’re not sure that mystery will actually be confirmed or denied when the new IT hits theaters.
6. “The Shine”
As evidence of just how much the world of The Dark Tower and King’s other stories really is, fans should pay close attention to the abilities of the film’s protagonist, Jake. In the world of the books, the ability is referred to by the residents of Mid-World as “The Touch,” making Jake able to sense and see reality far beyond his other senses. Even more powerful than the Seers of Mid-World, The Touch is what Jake and The Man in Black have in common – as well as another child in a famous King story.
We’re referring to ‘Danny Torrance,’ the little boy terrorized by the ghostly inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. In that story, the titular “shining” is a reference to Danny’s ability to not only see the Overlook’s spirits, but bring them to life. In King’s novel The Stand, prophetic visions are said to be “the shining lamp of God… sometimes just the shine.” In the movie, the parallels between Danny and Jake are made even clearer, swapping out “The Touch” and referring to psychic abilities as “The Shine.”
5. Misery’s Child
The Man in Black doesn’t work alone in the movie, but relies on a team of techs to monitor and launch attacks from psychic children against the Tower. During one scene set in his base of operations, a copy of the novel (clearly titled) Misery’s Child can be seen sitting on a console. That’s the name of the book that launches the events of Stephen King’s book Misery, as well as the 1990 film.
In the book, Misery’s Child is the final story by romance novelist Paul Sheldon. When he’s caught in a car accident and nursed back to health by an admiring fan, the revelation that Misery’s Child will kill his longtime heroine, Misery Chastain, Paul’s nightmare really begins. Since the book, like the film, earned acclaim, we have to assume that taste in psychological thriller novels extends well beyond the realm of our Earth.
4. Portal 14-08
The trend of Easter Eggs that are impossible not to spot for fans of Stephen King’s writing career continues to the film’s portals. The first destination input by Jake is 19-19, a number appearing to him in several of his visions both abstract and as an address in the small town of Breakers (psychic children being used by the Man in Black). The number 19 is a popular one for King on his own, but the other gate shown prominently is an even more explicit reference.
When Jake is preparing to head to Keystone Earth, he’s told by and elder Mid-World resident that he should note their own gate for when he needs to return. The number 14-08 over the doorway also happens to be the title of yet another Stephen King work (1408) following a man trapped in a hotel room of horrors. The story was adapted into a movie starring John Cusack in 2007.
3. The Black Thirteen
The film may not dive into some of the book series’ magic as much as fans may wish, but several magical enchantments or technology are shown and alluded to without explanation. When The Man in Black’s goons arrive to kidnap Jake from Roland, the audience gets to see the attack from the villain’s point of view. The Man in Black selects a magical stone ball from a collection, and uses it to see over the distance that separates his base of operations and Roland. And these are no ordinary orbs.
They’re the collection of seeing stones known as Maerlyn’s Rainbow, named for the ancient, demonic being that rose from the Prim alongside The Dark Tower (the primordial, unformed world that existed before realities were constructed). The most sinister of the baker’s dozen was known as Black Thirteen, which allowed the Crimson King to keep a weather eye on Mid-World. Here, the audience is left to wonder (like the readers) about the abilities and uses of the other dozen.
2. The Smiley Face
To emphasize just how cruel and twisted The Man in Black truly is, Roland and Jake find that he has done more than kill the boy’s mother and step-father. There will be no love lost for Lon, left lying on the kitchen floor, but Jake’s mother is a different story. As if the charred outline of her body on the floor wasn’t bad enough, The Man in Black psychically encodes memories of her actual death into a note on the wall. A simple “Hello There” and a smiley face, presumably drawn with the ashes of Jake’s mother.
While some attribute the smiling face to Stephen King’s novel Mr. Mercedes, the reference is, more logically, a nod to The Man in Black’s origins. As those who go digging into the character’s history will know, The Man in Black is actually Walter Padick… who has claimed a number of names throughout King’s books – including the villainous role of Randall Flagg in The Stand. The villain was shaped by the 1970s, specifically influenced by the leader of the Symbionese Liberation Army, Donald DeFreeze. That includes the Smiley Face button he wore on his jacket.
1. The Shawshank Connection
It wasn’t just the horror genre that Stephen King changed forever, but the world of tragic, unforgettable tales of prisoners pursuing their freedom. The Shawshank Redemption (1994) is actually a shortened version of the novella’s title, released in a 1982 collection of King stories. The original title is Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, referring to the large poster of the actress that protagonist Andy Dufresne hangs in his cell.
In the book, it’s actually a poster of singer Linda Ronstadt, not Raquel Welch left concealing Andy’s tunnel. But it was Rita Hayworth who first gave him the idea and means of concealing his escape. It’s an unforgettable image for fans of the film, and the exact poster reappears in The Dark Tower as Roland rummages through a guns and ammunition store – even placing his hand on the image as he, too, looks for his way out.
That does it, Dark Tower fans: every Easter Egg, inter-novel reference and allusion to the larger world of Stephen King’s writing career that we could spot in the film. In the repeat viewings to come more are guaranteed to be spotted, so be sure to let us know in the comments.
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