Inspired by my buddy Edward Lorn, I’ve decided to talk about my top ten scariest Stephen King stories. I say ‘stories’ instead of novels — careful distinction there! What I find scary might not have affected you at all; Constant Readers are nothing if not varying in their opinions. Much of Kong’s output has scared me in some way, so it was a bit challenging narrowing it down! Slight spoilers abound.
10. “Children of the Corn,” Night Shift
You’ve all seen the infamous 1984 movie . . . and hopefully not all the ridiculous sequels. This one has a simple premise: couple gets lost in a small Nebraska town, and things get crazy from there. The movie ranks among my least favorite King adaptations, but I love this story. It is the stuff of nightmares.
9. The Tommyknockers
I have a fascination with (and deep fear of) aliens, and I live deep in the woods. Naturally this story calls to me, making it one of my favorites. When King writes about the vastness of the Maine woods, it typically makes for some excellent horror. This one is unsettling, for me, from start to finish.
8. Duma Key
The scares in this novel are certainly low key — I did not pick up on them until I reread it sometime in 2014. What makes this novel, for me, is the setting: a Haunted beach house on a desolate Florida Key? SIGN ME UP.
7. ‘The Raft,’ Skeleton Crew
Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, King was the master of isolation horror: getting his characters off by themselves and killing them one by one, in circumstances beyond their control. This is one such story. The ending of this tale is one that has always stuck with me: the main character singing a refrain from a Beach Boys song, and the call of a loon . . .
6. ‘A Good Marriage,’ Full Dark No Stars
I’m going to be honest: I don’t remember a whole lot of this story. It’s been a long time since I read it, but I do remember being deeply unsettled by it. The sheer horror of finding out one’s spouse is a serial killer makes for one of Kong’s finest novella plots, and he gets all he can out of it. Though I do not remember but the foggiest details about this one, I remember it did scare me.
5. Pet Sematary
Jesus. Do I really have to explain it? This novel is nightmare fuel. That is all.
Okay, yeah, only the last couple of chapters are ‘horror,’ but what makes those chapters so scary is the exquisite character development leading up to them. I have never closed a King novel feeling so sick, so uneasy. Even Pet Sematary told the reader ‘Sometimes dead is better.’ In Revival, King reveals death is not better at all.
3. ‘Salem’s Lot
For a long time, this was at the top of my scariest King stories list . . . now it isn’t, but that is more of a comment on how scarring numbers one and two are. This one is filled from top to bottom with iconic scenes (the boy scratching at the window made me lose sleep for two nights) — and it oozes with a seventies vibe I just love.
2. The Shining
Haunted hotels fascinate me. In the last couple of years I’ve really become obsessed with them, making me love this 1977 novel even more. Like ‘The Raft,’ this is King doing isolation horror, and doing it well. Jack’s descent into madness is not so much scary as it is sad . . . the hotel itself, the Overlook, is what makes this one such a gripping and jarring read. And I agree with my friend Edward: the topiary animals are freaky AF.
1. Gerald’s Game
GAH. Reading this novel is like having all my nerves cut up with blades set on fire . . . or something. I don’t know. The Moonlight Man is King’s scariest creation. The whole premise is almost too much for me, really — the thought of being handcuffed to a bed for days and no one hearing me scream turns my stomach. Just thinking of this book really almost makes me sick.
That’s my list! Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments!