Stephen King is the most prolific author in horror history. There have been so many adaptations of his work that he’s become his own subgenre. You’ve got slasher movies, monster movies, and Stephen King movies are right in there too. Even now, over forty years after the publication of his first novel with Carrie, King’s name holds incredible power in the horror world.
A lot of his adaptations have been highly praised. King’s literary work has certainly made its mark on the landscape of cinema, with greats like The Shawshank Redemption, Stand by Me, Misery and The Green Mile. But there are many more that simply fail or, more often than not, take drastic liberties with the work that don’t win over many of the author’s fans.
The general consensus seems to be that everyone would rather have as straightforward an adaptation as possible. But there are moments in King’s literary canon that simply do not work on the screen. Some stuff can’t be created due to budgetary reasons, while some of it would push ratings past their boundaries or simply be extremely uncomfortable for audiences. Whatever the reason, below we highlight several moments from Stephen King literature that could never be adapted for the screen.
Chris has post-prank sex in the restaurant where Carrie was conceived in Carrie
Chris Hargensen is one of the two true antagonists of Carrie—the other being Carrie’s mother—in all of its incarnations, but it’s in the book that her instability and uncontrollable rage are the most clear. Her anger is directly tied to sexuality and both the book and De Palma film heavily imply that her hatred toward Carrie contains an element of lust as well. In the movie, we see her moaning “I hate Carrie White” during a sex scene with her boyfriend. The book goes the whole nine yards, however, with Chris and Billy having post-prank coitus in the Roadhouse, a dive that Margaret White said was where Carrie was conceived. It’s not subtle in any way and would probably not go over that well with audiences, but it provides a sort of very dark humor and cosmic karma for the teens that caused Carrie the most misery.
While plenty of King adaptations have strayed far from the source material, The Lawnmower Man was the only one that King sued to have his name removed from. With good reason, too. It doesn’t resemble his short story in any way, shape or form. The film’s only real connection to King’s stories is the inclusion of the mysterious organization The Shop, which originated in Firestarter. But the original “Lawnmower Man” short story would have made for an incredibly unsettling movie. It’s about a gardener who becomes obsessed with the man who’s lawn he’s tending, eventually culminating in a human lawnmower. The final image of an overweight, naked man chewing grass while crawling across the lawn is definitely disturbing but would not fly with either studio heads or audiences.
Wendy Torrance contemplating her life while staring at drying seed in The Shining
King’s work is full of little details like this that have a huge impact on the text and give the characters a hard-hitting sense of realism. Scenes like this are great at showcasing the differences between what works on the page and what works on the screen. This is a powerful moment for Wendy in the book, thinking about leaving her husband, contemplating her future both with and without him and what sense it would make to stay together for their child. On the screen, it would just be really gross as we’d only be seeing Wendy staring down at seed on her own leg with no internal monologue that would make the image work.
Trash’s molestation in The Stand
There’s a lot of dark stuff in The Stand. It’s a long book and while it may be more focused on epic fantasy, there’s horror in here beyond what can really be shown on the screen. One of the most horrific moments involves the dim-witted slave of antagonist Randall Flagg, the Trashcan Man. For a while in the book, Trash teams up with a young man known only as The Kid. In their insane travels, a terrified Trash wakes up the find The Kid demanding that Trash jerk him off and when Trashcan Man tries to refuse, The Kid molests him with the barrel of his gun. It’s a horrific moment and one that would in no way fly on the big—or small, for that matter—screen.
Gage’s resurrection in Pet Sematary
Gage Creed’s resurrection is the crucial point of Pet Sematary that defines the harrowing third act, but it’s dealt with very differently in the film than the novel. King must have been aware of the necessary change, as he wrote the screenplay for this adaptation himself. In the book, Gage is much more talkative, saying absolutely crude and vile things and somehow knowing the secrets that people around him have been hiding. And while that last point would have been cool to see in the movie, the rest would have been unintentionally funny. Even though it’s creepy on the page, there’s no way that audiences wouldn’t be laughing at some of the things coming out of Gage’s mouth.
The group sex scene in It
Without a doubt, one of the most strange and uncomfortable scenes in any Stephen King novel would be the big resolution between the kids at the end of the 1958 segment of It. It’s Beverly Marsh’s decision to allow each of the young boys to have sex with her in an enormous eleven-year-old virginity losing session. Even if it’s consensual, it’s creepy. In terms of the story, they’re doing this to keep their bond and remain connected to one another, which they probably could have done by exchanging phone numbers. Even if we do eventually get that big, R-rated version of It on the screen, there’s no way this scene would ever be included. I hope.