On this day in 1947, horror and science fiction writer Stephen King was born. For that we are all grateful — and also a little bit more emotionally disturbed.
In addition to being one of the most prolific novelists of our time, Stephen King is an avid Red Sox fan, patron of the arts, and all-around really cool dude. Baseball hats off to him!
On a personal level, Stephen King is responsible for a lot of irrational fears that have carried over from my childhood. I don’t remember who in my family was into King, but I do remember getting my hands on his books and movies at an inappropriate age, and the results haven’t been great. But Stephen King is great, and that’s why you should re-watch the top ten movies based on his books, stat:
10. Pet Semetary
Maybe because of the spelling, Pet Semetary’s genuine terror factor seems to have been underrated. Rachel’s dead sister Zoe is the scariest part of the story —which is also a sad one, as it highlights how desperate we all are to avoid the inevitable pain of loss.
This anthology film deserves a mention at the very least for the unbridled evil of the death scene (with Ted Danson!) in “Something to Tide You Over.” (Also: The music.) The lesson learned here: Do not cheat on Leslie Nielsen!
8. The Mist
The Mist deviated pretty dramatically from the book to deliver one of the most disturbing and fucked up endings you will ever see. But Stephen King approved, saying, “It is the most shocking ending ever and there should be a law passed stating that anybody who reveals the last five minutes of this film should be hung from their neck until dead." Since I’m afraid of Stephen King, I’m keeping my mouth shut.
7. The Green Mile
Personally, I really didn’t love The Green Mile, but I’m including because I am told I have a minority opinion. Also, you can’t argue with the late, great John Coffey as a falsely accused death row inmate, even if the mouse stuff was weird.
6. Children of the Corn
Children should not watch this movie, d’ya hear? Children SHOULD NOT watch this movie. Still, it’s one of several King adaptations that makes a very strong case for short stories as source material for movies — it’s a much easier fit than full-length novels. Originally published in Penthouse, Children of the Corn again explores the terror and danger of blind religious devotion.
This is one of the most complex and terrifying and hilarious and uncomfortable movies made about obsession, ever, hands down. Adapted from King’s novel of the same name, Misery launched Kathy Bates’ career and is probably a big reason why contemporary American society is terrified of single middle-aged women. "My little ceramic penguin in the study always faces due south."
Lessons learned from Carrie: Do not trust the cool kids, graveyards at night, your mom, or Christian fundamentalists (especially if they are your mom). The 1976 movie earned Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie Oscar nominations, and helped launch the career of John Travolta.
3. Stand By Me
Columbia Pictures execs thought the title of the source material, The Body, was too “misleading,” so director Rob Reiner offered the title of the Ben E. King song that plays over the closing credits. Stand By Me isn’t particularly horror-y despite the fact that it involves a dead child — the bigger theme is the death of childhood itself.
2. The Shining
The Shining made ordinary objects like typewriters and Hot Wheels and identical twins the source of spellbinding terror, and probably didn’t do a whole hell of a lot for the New Hampshire tourism industry. But the novel but King on the map as a writer, and the movie remains not only one of the scariest and most entertaining horror films to made in America, but also a sharply relevant commentary on the dark recesses of the writer’s life.
1. The Shawshank Redemption
There’s not a lot in this world that literally every human being dead or alive can agree on, but the infinite watchability of The Shawshank Redemption is one of them. The only way this movie could have been improved is if it it had used the full title of King’s short story: Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. But it’s still pretty much perfect, and if you turn on your TV right now, it’s probably on. Check TNT first.
Photos by Everett Collection