Stephen King has created a wealth of monsters over the years. With countless novels under his belt, he is the most prolific living author, regardless of genre. He is the undisputed master of modern horror fiction. And of course, he has more film adaptations based on his work than anyone else.
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King has served up monster after monster and the majority of his creations have been translated to the screen with varying degrees of success. Some have been forgotten and some have already found their place among the most memorable of cinematic monsters. These villains are sometimes human, sometimes more, but they are all evil. They are all vicious. Here are five Stephen King villains (from films based on his work) that still give us nightmares.
Barlow, Salem’s Lot (1979)
Barlow is one of the most frightening vampires in movie history without ever uttering so much as a single word. The design was based on Max Schreck in Nosferatu, rather than the description given by King in the novel. It works for the adaptation though. The design gives the character an iconic and immediately recognizable look. One of the scariest aspects of the vampire is how much we don’t see him. Barlow is kept in the shadows, repeatedly talked about and built-up, but he doesn’t appear until over halfway through. When he makes his first appearance in the jail cell, the results are terrifying, especially for those of us who viewed the movie at a young age. So iconic was the image of Barlow that A Return to Salem’s Lot used his image in the promotional and VHS art, despite the vampire not actually appearing in that picture.
Malachi was the right-hand man of child preacher Isaac in Children of the Corn. But in many ways, Malachi was the scarier of the two. Isaac made the rules, but Malachi enforced them. What makes him scary is his utter lack of emotion or empathy. Malachi is not only willing to dish out any kind of punishment, but he is constantly looking for an excuse to do so. He will kill anyone if given the OK and that coldness is what makes him the scariest character in the story.
Pet Sematary might be the scariest out of any film adaptation of King’s work. It works on a visceral level, it stays with you after you watch it. It’s a haunting story in just about every way. The concept is scary from the beginning. It’s so simple, but it works so well. It’s natural to deal with the death of a cat run over in the road; but It feels less natural when it’s a three-year-old child that gets run over. Bringing Gage to the burial ground is the ultimate act of desperation and the result, to see a child that had been sweet and gentle hollowed out and replaced with something else… that’s absolutely horrifying.
The twins are not necessarily the scariest aspect of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, nor the woman in Room 237, the man in the dog costume, or even Jack Torrance. What’s scary about The Shining is the Overlook. It’s responsible for everything that happens in the film. It is a character unto itself. As such, it is one of the creepiest, most foreboding presences in any horror picture. It might not necessarily be what drives Jack insane in this version, but it supports that insanity. It feeds into it and unleashes it. The hotel has no real reason for driving Jack to murder his family, other than carrying on a tradition of making caretakers do the same. It simply exists as a powerful, supernatural force and remains one of the best manifestations of evil in film and literature alike.
It’s impossible to talk about Stephen King’s wide range of villains without talking about Tim Curry’s timeless performance as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Even people readily familiar with the actor’s work do not generally recognize him in the miniseries. While the adaptation itself might not hold up as much as other King works, Pennywise remains the embodiment of everything a child might fear. It wears the appearance of a clown, something that most children harbor some discomfort toward, even though they are supposed to love them. But the being can appear as anything that the children are afraid of. It invades their mind and preys on their fears and insecurities and that is why Pennywise holds up as the scariest, most vicious Stephen King villain ever put to film. It’s important to mention that Bill Skarsgård turned in a noteworthy and quite sinister performance of his own as Pennywise in the 2017 remake.