If there’s one thing that all of us can agree on, it’s that Stephen King has had quite the cinematic resurgence: his 1983 novel Pet Sematary got another terrifying adaptation early this summer; the sequel to the 2017 blockbuster adaptation of his classic title IT just premiered in cinemas; and the cinematic adaptation to the sequel to his seminal novel The Shining — the equally terrifying Doctor Sleep — is set to open in movie houses just in time for Hallowen this year.
It’s well deserved, if we’re going to be honest: not only is King an expert at playing around with tropes surrounding literature and classic Americana and pop culture, his monsters and villains are, to be honest, straight-up terrifying. I mean, who could ever forget Pennywise the Dancing Clown? Or Gage Creed and the Pet Sematary’s resident Wendigo? Or Kurt Barlow’s vampire brood? What about the ominous Overlook Hotel? Or the cosmic horrors in The Mist?
One of King’s early editors, Bill Thompson, once said that “Stephen King has a movie projector in his head.” And judging by how well most of his creations have been adapted for the screen, we couldn’t agree more.
Here’s our list of some of the other monsters and villains — some mainstream, others, cinematic deep cuts — to ever come out of Mr. Stephen King’s head. Be warned, though: make sure you keep the lights on tonight. You never know just what might come crawling out of the dark.
The titular villain of the 1983 American horror film directed by Lewis Teague based on Stephen King’s 1981 novel of the same name, Cujo is a formerly lovable, friendly, and sweet St. Bernard who, after succumbing to rabies, proceeds to trap a mother and her child inside their car during a heat wave. Think 127 Hours, but instead of getting stuck between a rock and a hard place, the protagonists are stuck between what is practically an oven and a man-killing beast.
Leland Gaunt, Needful Things
The main antagonist in the 1993 adaptation of King’s similarly-titled 1991 novel, Leland Gaunt — played with aplomb by veteran actor Max Von Sydow — first appears in the film as a charming elderly gentleman who operates a nifty little gift shop in Castle Rock, Maine. In reality, he is a demon who tricks people into selling their souls to him, usually in exchange for useless trinkets disguised as the objects they want most.
George Stark, The Dark Half
First, a backgrounder: Stephen King wrote and published The Dark Half in 1989, sometime after he officially “killed off” his pseudonym, Richard Bachman.
This is mirrored in the story, which sees author Thad Beaumont’s other persona, the dark and evil George Stark, inexplicably coming to life after being killed by Beaumont in a similar manner. In the novel and 1993 film, Stark looks exactly like Beaumont, right down to his fingerprints, and he wastes no time in making his creator and killer’s life a living hell. Yikes.
Annie Wilkes, Misery
A psychotic fan who holds her favorite author captive and forces him to write stories for her, Annie Wilkes — famously portrayed by veteran actress Kathy Bates in the 1990 film adaptation — is probably one of the most terrifying monsters in King’s catalogue of horrors mainly because she’s human, with her madness and obsessions being especially grounded in reality.
Trivia: Bates won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Annie Wilkes. Talk about a killer role.
Randall Flagg, The Stand
The main antagonist in Stephen King’s 1978 novel as well as its 1994 TV miniseries adaptation, Randall Flagg is described by King as a demonic and accomplished sorcerer, as well as “…a devoted servant of the Outer Dark,” whose goals typically center on bringing down civilizations through destruction and conflict.
Due to his major appearances in The Stand, King’s seminal epic The Dark Tower, and the anthology Hearts In Atlantis, it’s been theorized by fans that King created Flagg to act as the overarching symbol and source of evil in his expansive literary universe.