2019 is shaping up to be a great year for Stephen King fans. In April, from directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer (Starry Eyes), comes the Pet Semetary (2019) remake starring Jason Clarke and John Lithgow. In September, the highly anticipated sequel to the 2017 smash hit, IT: Chapter 2 will arrive, starring (among others) Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader and James McAvoy as the adult versions of the famed “Losers Club.” And it was just announced that Doctor Sleep, Mike Flanagan’s sequel to The Shining (1980) has been moved up from January 2020 to November of this year!
It was also announced recently that Greg Nicotero’s remake of George A Romero’s Creepshow would be adapting the Stephen King short story, Survivor Type for the Shudder series. The disturbing (and downright harrowing) tale follows a man stranded on an island who is forced to eat parts of myself in order to stay alive.
So, with Body Horror Month coming to a close, we thought we’d take a look back at the top 10 gruesome moments from Stephen King adaptations that truly traumatized us.
10. Creepshow (1982) – The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill
While the short is played mostly for laughs, with an over-the-top performance from writer Stephen King, what happens to the man is anything but.
After touching a meteorite that crash landed in the field outside his house, Jordy Verrill (King) starts sprouting green moss from his fingertips. The problem gets significantly worse as the moss starts to grow into long patches of grass all over his body and anything else he touches. Before long, his entire house is overtaken by the mysterious growth, as Verrill is completely covered from head to toe, barely recognizable as a human being. After taking his life with a shotgun blast to what used to be his face, the growth is seen slowly spreading over his property and headed towards the nearest town, Castle Rock.
9. The Dead Zone (1983) – Frank Dodd
Compared to other films in David Cronenberg’s career, 1983’s The Dead Zone is surprisingly light on body horror. Except when it concerns a serial killer and a pair of scissors.
School teacher turned reluctant psychic Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) helps the Castle Rock police track down the local serial killer. It just so happens to be Sheriff Bannerman’s (Tom Skerritt) own deputy Frank Dodd. With nowhere left to run, Dodd locks himself in the bathroom of his mother’s house, grabs a pair of scissors and sits in his bathtub. He sets them in front of him – pointy side out – and opens his mouth. While the action itself happens off-screen, the aftermath is as bloody and gruesome as you would imagine as Smith (Walken) and Bannerman (Skerritt) come across Dodd’s still convulsing body, scissors sticking out of his mouth.
In the novel, Dodd slashes his throat and leaves a note saying “I confess.” Here, instead of slashing his throat or even using his own gun which is in the next room, Cronenberg shows the lengths someone is willing to go to get out of a situation even if it means harming oneself. For Frank Dodd, it was more desirable to end his own life, “riding a dead toilet seat into eternity” – to quote King – than deal with the ramifications of what he had done.
8. Thinner (1996)
In Tom Holland’s 1996 thriller, Thinner, we follow an obese lawyer who accidentally runs over an old gypsy woman and starts to lose weight due to a curse the gypsy’s father places on him. As the film progresses, the lawyer, Billy Halleck (Robert John Burke) sheds pound after pound until he is nothing but a gaunt, barely recognizable version of his former self. But he isn’t the only character cursed with an unnatural body disfigurement.
While trying to figure out a way to put a stop to the curse, Halleck finds out that the judge who helped clear him of any wrongdoing in the car accident has started to grow lizard scales all over his body. Likewise, the police chief who also aided Halleck suddenly had boils start spreading over his body after being cursed with a ‘leper’ spell and eventually committed suicide.
While the deterioration of their bodies is horrific in its own right, it’s the lack of empathy that is truly horrific. Instead of taking responsibility for their actions, the three cursed men find themselves on the wrong side of right. In the end, after realizing he only has a few weeks left to live, Halleck is willing to do anything to break the curse, even if it means passing it off on someone else.
7. The Mist (2007) – The Drug Store aka Spider Babies
Morale is low but not completely lost for David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and crew when they head to the drug store for supplies and venture out into the mysterious mist engulfing all they can see. You know something will go wrong – something has to go wrong! – you just don’t know when or how.
The group stumbles across a soldier who is strung up in a giant web, pleading for help. As David (Jane) and Private Jessup (played by Sam Witwer) try to cut him loose, you start to hear gurgling sounds coming from … somewhere. We soon realize the gurgling is coming from *inside* the man. As more and more of the webbing comes loose, the soldiers chest and stomach is revealed, covered in boils and beginning to bubble. All hell breaks loose when his cheek bursts and a tiny spider crawls out. Before the group can do anything, they are surrounded by giant grey spiders with webbing that burns. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the strung up soldier falls to the ground as hundreds of baby spiders come flying out of him and start attacking the group!
Regular sized spiders are scary enough for people, let alone dog-sized ones that harvest human beings and turn them into incubators for their little spider babies. While a lot of horrible things happen to the survivors from the grocery store in The Mist, the fact that their bodies could be taken advantage of and used against them, truly makes your skin crawl.
6. Tales from the Darkside (1990) – Cat from Hell
In the Stephen King-penned, George Romero directed, “Cat From Hell” segment of 1990’s Tales From the Darkside, a hit man is hired to kill a cat. Instead, the cat leaps into the man’s mouth and starts to eat *him* from the inside out.
As someone who is allergic to cats, this is a nightmare I never even knew I had!
5. Carrie (1976) – The Prom
In the first adaptation of a Stephen King novel, Brian DePalma’s Carrie stars Sissy Spacek as the shy, burgeoning telekinetic with an overly over-bearing mother, played by Piper Laurie.
The film begins with Carrie experiencing her first period after gym class. Around the same time we start to she her powers of telekinesis grow stronger and stronger. Having been under her mother’s strict thumb for too long, Carrie finally stands up for herself and defies her mother’s objections about going to prom. Once there though, things only get worse.
After being dosed in pig’s blood, a prank played on her by the other students, Carrie proceeds to inflict her own body horror on those who have humiliated her. With people being electrocuted and set on fire, perhaps the harshest fate belongs to Miss Collins, the gym teacher who gets impaled by a falling rafter and cut in half from the waist up.
4. Green Mile (1999) – The Bad Death of Eduard Delacroix
Frank Darabont takes his time in The Green Mile. The over 3 hour run-time allows the audience to truly get to know these characters and feel a connection with them, especially Eduard ‘Del’ Delacroix (Michael Jeter). While you never find out what his crimes were, the fact that he’s on death row means they couldn’t have been all that good. But Darabont still makes you sympathize with the criminal as Delacroix befriends Mr. Jingles, a “circus mouse” that the guards can’t seem to get rid of. In an otherwise wholesome movie about prisoners on death row and the guards who watch over them, the botched execution of Eduard Delacroix is downright cruel.
In a scene that seems to go on for an excruciating amount of time, Del’s body begins to smoke and burn, thanks to the sponge that’s supposed to wet his head never being saturated in the first place. As the witnesses there to watch the execution begin fleeing from the ghastly scene, a blue flame explodes from Del’s face as he slowly burns alive.
3. Pet Sematary (1989) – Jud Crandall’s Achilles Heel
In a film that is filled to the brim with haunting imagery, from the terrifying and malformed Zelda, to an innocent toddler being struck down by a speeding truck, one sequence in Pet Sematary (1989) stands out as a truly gruesome moment.
After a distraught Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) buries his 2 year-old son, Gage (Miko Hughes) in the mystical “Pet Sematary” behind their home, the recently deceased toddler returns from the grave. But according to neighbor, Jud Crandall (a pitch perfect Fred Gwynne) “the person you put up there, ain’t the person that comes back.” And so, reborn with a taste for blood, young Gage stalks Jud (Gwynne) in his house, toying with him, waiting to strike.
As Jud moves cautiously around his house, knife in hand, the Creed’s cat Church – who also met a similar early demise / resurrection – surprises Jud, giving Gage the opportunity to strike. From underneath the bed, Gage reaches out with a scalpel and slices right through Jud’s Achilles heel, splitting his ankle in two. Jud screams out as the once innocent Gage approaches and slices Jud’s mouth, knocking him on his back. Unable to move, Jud is helpless as Gage takes a chunk out of his throat, killing him once and for all.
It’s upsetting to watch, especially since Fred Gwynne’s portrayal of the Maine native is quite endearing. But also poetic in the fact that, if it weren’t for him telling Louis (Midkiff) about the mysterious power of the “Pet Sematary” he might not have met such a ghastly and tortuous end.
2. Misery (1990) – The Hobbling
Originally, “The Hobbling” sequence in Stephen King’s Misery features the character of Annie WIlkes taking an axe to the injured and bedridden writer Paul Sheldon and cutting his foot clean off. It’s what drew writer William Goldmann to the project in the first place. But when Rob Reiner came on board to direct the adaptation, he changed the sequence to something far more painful and unsettling.
After one too many escape attempts, Annie Wilkes, played by Kathy Bates, straps Paul Sheldon (James Caan) to his bed and places a block of wood between his feet. Taking a sledgehammer, she proceeds to smash his feet, breaking the writers ankles.
Reiner doesn’t hold on the shot of Sheldon’s foot breaking for long, instead cutting away to his pained reaction as Wilkes breaks his other foot off-camera as well. It’s a magnificently tense scene that showcases the talents of all involved. From Kathy Bates’ award-winning portrayal of the obsessive super-fan, to the devastatingly powerful effect work by Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, and Howard Berger from KNB Effects, Misery proves that a little bit of trauma can go a long way.
1. Gerald’s Game (2017) – The De-Gloving
Any other year and Misery would be number one on the most tortuous Stephen King moments in history. But in 2017 that all changed when Netflix released Gerald’s Game starring Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood. Directed by Mike Flanagan (Haunting of Hill House), Gerald’s Game is about a woman named Jessie (Gugino) who spends the majority of the film handcuffed to a bed in a secluded vacation home with her husband, Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), dead from a heart attack lying at the foot of their bed. Days pass as Jessie struggles with inner demons, a hungry stray dog that’s been feeding on the remains of her husband and one extremely creepy, moonlit man. When all seems lost and another night approaches, one which Jessie assumes she won’t live through, she decides it’s time to act.
Referred to as “The Degloving”, Jessie takes a glass of water that had been left on the shelf above her head, breaks it and proceeds to cut her wrist. By letting the blood coat the handcuffs – just enough to slip her hand through – she is able to escape but at a terrible price. In a scene that is so painful to watch but impossible to take your eyes off, the more her hand glides through the cuffs, the more skin starts to peel away from her muscle, leaving behind a permanently damaged bloody mess.
This goes back to The Dead Zone, where the lengths one finds themselves going to in order to get out of a situation, even if it means harming oneself. Unlike Frank Dodd, Jessie chooses to live. But the only way to do that is to inflict upon herself an incredible amount of pain before truly being free again.
There you have it! The Top 10 gruesome moments from Stephen King adaptations that truly traumatized us! Have you enjoyed Body Horror month? What were some of your favorite articles? Let us know on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!