If you've seen Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, you might not think there can be anything scarier than the image of those Grady twins in their matching pinafores at the end of the hallway. You might think that the combination of Jack Nicholson and an axe is pretty much as frightening as it comes. Or maybe blood gets you weak-kneed (in the woozy — not swoony — way), and you're just not certain that, whenever elevator doors open, you're not going to get tsunami-ed by the red stuff. And yes. There is a lot, lot, lot to be afraid of in the adaptation of King's novel, but, frankly, Stephen King books are scarier than the movies.
And that, my fright-loving friends, is truly terrifying.
Given how vivid the inner lives of readers are, it's no wonder that many of Stephen King's novels are far scarier than their cinematic counterparts. If Stanley Kubrick's The Shining or Brian DePalma's Carrie or Rob Reiner's Misery are the creme de la creme and the novels are still scarier, what does that suggest about titles like Kujo?
The truth is books let us imagine a whole realm of possibilities and particularities that some films just spoon-feed. This Halloween, freak yourself out with any of these Stephen King novels, all guaranteed to petrify.
1. Apt Pupil
Technically a novella, but a Stephen King novella has the richness and density of some airy novels, so let's forget categorization. King wrote Apt Pupil hot on the heels of The Shining, and it's one of the writer's only novellas to be narrated in third person. (Also, if you're into drafting lore, word has it that King penned this book in a mere two weeks.) The 1998 film, despite solid casting, just doesn't hold a candle.
Nothing against King's novel, but admittedly it's scarier because John Carpenter's film adaptation is, well, not very scary. Janet Maslin (now you adore her book reviews in The New York Times) wrote of the movie: "Though the car, a 1958 red Plymouth with a wicked grin, is capable of trampling, burning, asphyxiating and squashing its enemies, and though it performs these feats to the sound of vintage rock-and-roll songs, ''Christine'' isn't terribly eerie."
3. Dolores Claiborne
In his review of the eponymous 1995 film adaptation of Dolores Claiborne, Roger Ebert noted:
"This is a horror story, all right, but not a supernatural one; all of the elements come out of such everyday horrors as alcoholism, wife beating, child abuse and the sin of pride. The non-supernatural movies based on King stories ... are curious in that they deal with unhappy situations, and yet somehow don't turn audiences off - maybe because the characters are so strongly drawn."
Nevertheless, and despite the phenomenal performances of Kathy Bates and Jennifer Jason Leigh, this novel — narrated through a riveting first-person policy testimony — is still a tick scarier than the silver screen version.
4. Pet Sematary
With a line like, "sometimes dead is better," how's an okay-to-bad movie even going to have a shot?
5. The Running Man
In On Writing, King owns up to writing this book — this 336-page book — within a week. No film can be as scary as that fact.
A personal fave, the adaptation of this novel feels kind of like a mash-up of a Lifetime flick and Big. The book and it's take on uncontrollable weight loss will get under your skin.
7. Needful Things
At the end of the day, how do you compare a 790-page book to a film? (I kind of think you can't, unless you want to be haunted by King's very words: “Everyone loves something for nothing... even if it costs everything.”