Drugs are a hell of a bad time. From the physical to psychological effects, no person is immune to their impact. So what happens when one of the greatest minds in horror ends up writing a huge part of his extensive work under the influence? Stephen King knows better than anyone. The man has been nothing but honest when it comes to the work he produced during his days of addiction, categorizing them as either some of his worst novels… to some of his most twisted. And us, as readers, are able to go into those stories with that extra nugget of knowledge and prepare ourselves.
From the most twisted inanimate objects we’ve ever heard of to the familiar (and spooky) characters we’ve known for years, here are the 10 Best Stories Stephen King Wrote Under The Influence.
10. Cujo (1981)
One of King’s most well-known works and every cat person’s worst nightmare, Cujo told the story of a rabid St. Bernard. While the premise itself can be scary (I mean, the breed is massive.. but adorable), it’s the psychological push behind it that brings out the terror within. Behind the killer pup is a family in distress, battered by a marriage that’s marred by an affair and a failing business. The novel focuses on the humdrum life of two families that are destroyed by a creature they desperately loved, who fell to illness. It’s a tough read, and one that King doesn’t quite remember writing, but the psychological distress is easy to pick out through the bloodied doggy drool that seems to ooze out of the pages.
9. It (1986)
Another monolith of the genre, It has been plaguing our nightmares with clowns, werewolves, and neighborhood bullies for years. And with the release of the new films, Pennywise is as strong as ever. However, the novel itself has a dark history behind it. King was heavily addicted throughout the writing of the novel. Again, King proves himself to be the master by showing us horror through who we are instead of the scary thing that’s imposing on us. While the clown is of course scary, the sadness and desperation of a group of kids battling isolation and abuse is the true terror of the novel.
8. The Dark Tower Series (1982)
This one is an interesting one because it’s not quite horror, it’s not quite fantasy, but it is a layer cake of depression. King started the series under his heavy cocaine addiction, however, he’s fond of the series, recognizing the growth of the series mirrored in that of his journey of sobriety. A lot of scary, a lot of sad, and a hell of a lot of discomfort.
7. Trucks (1973)
Any list of Stephen King that doesn’t at least mention this short story is missing out. With a simple title, it would be easy to assume the story is about anything other than what it actually is. A comprehensive list about trucks? Maybe. A rough and tumble story about a down on his luck mechanic? Probably. But instead, it’s about killer trucks. Sentient trucks that are capable of thought (murderous thoughts). It was written with a love for B-Movie horror, but even that couldn’t escape King’s heavy addiction. The short story would later be adapted for the big screen with King himself in the director’s chair. Released as Maximum Overdrive, the film has gained a loyal fanbase but productions was plagued with problems, and marked the height of King’s cocaine and alcohol abuse.
6. Kingdom Hospital (2004)
Kingdom Hospital is another of King’s work that exists a bit closer to Twin Peaks than It. The series was initially inspired by the Danish Riget, but King was unable to buy the rights. So he did what he does best; create his own story around it. It was the first time King tried to adapt a story that wasn’t originally his, but that didn’t mean it lacked any of King’s flair. What resulted was Kingdom Hospital; a fever dream of hospital nightmares and even more ghostly children. While the story still stuck close to its Danish inspiration, King took some liberties. The setting was changed to Maine and a new central character was added. Peter Rickman was a patient at the hospital who, in his comatose state, develops psychic abilities that help him to see into the past and future of the hospital. Rickman was heavily inspired by King’s own stroke of bad luck of being hit by a minivan and on heavy doses of drugs. The story is a wild ride, featuring Hitler references, nurses terrified of blood, and even an anteater with fangs.
5. Misery (1987)
Misery comes near the end of King’s heavy drug use and it reads incredibly self-aware. The book itself is about addiction. King stated in a Rolling Stone interview that the character Annie was the embodiment of cocaine. She was there to sooth and she was there to harm. It’s fitting that she dies by typewriter. King showed himself defeating his addiction through the death of his greatest adversary.
4. The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet (1984)
One of King’s novellas, the story is rich in both horror and metaphor. It revolves around a man named Henry, who is a struggling editor. Henry receives a short story from a novelist Reg Thorpe and finds himself both fascinated and horrified by the novella. Eventually, he begins to believe in the paranoia-fueled Thorpe has presented to him. It’s a strange novella, featuring tiny elves that live in typewriters. But at the story’s core is a tale of madness, brought on by booze and drugs that eventually lead to death.
3. The Langoliers (1990)
Another powerful novella, The Langoliers doesn’t dial back on its own absurdity. The madness of the novella ripples and flows throughout like time itself, sending the reader on a bizarre stream throughout. The titular creatures featured are able to devour reality, and if that wasn’t weird enough, we witness the events through an airplane where the crew has vanished mid-flight. Toss in a psychic girl, endless voids, and even assassins, The Langoliers is a sci-fi mass that shows what cleaning up the past can really do.
2. Dreamcatcher (2001)
Set in the forever cursed town of Derry, Maine, Dreamcatcher is a mish-mash of parasites, aliens, and anxiety. King wrote Dreamcatcher while recovering from being hit by a minivan. Because of the accident, King was using Oxycontin, which makes a lot of sense when you read the book. The story revolves around a set of life long friends who, after escaping sadistic bullies, share a telepathic bond. What follows is body horror to an extreme degree, even for King. It’s a trippy read and one King seems want to forget, mentioning that he isn’t fond of the novel at all.
1. The Tommyknockers (1987)
The Tommyknockers is probably the most famous when it comes to King’s writing under the influence simply because of how absolutely bonkers it is. King himself dislikes the novel and it’s typically regarded as one of his worst. The story features a buried alien spacecraft which, when discovered, emits a gas that turns the residents of a small town into unethical alien geniuses. But the story features some of King’s most tell-tale tropes; an alcoholic writer, a disenfranchised small town, and the impact of outside influence. It’s a trip of a novel, and one that shows that outer influence in the form of drug use.
How many of these Stephen King novels have you tackled? Knowing they were written under the influence of different medications, alcohol, and drug use, do the themes seem more apparent? Chat about it with the Nightmare on Film Street community over on Twitter, Reddit, and the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!