Stephen King is, well- king at writing horrible, unsympathetic people of all sorts, but his work has often trended toward horrible husbands. In the early 90s, he even dedicated a few doorstop novels specifically to exploring truly awful marriages (to the point that they are often referred to as the “abused wife trilogy” by Constant Readers…and you can bet that all three are on this list). Whether intentionally or not, a good number of King’s characters leave us asking: How can you be sure that you married a good person? How can you be sure that their goodness is stronger than the will of evil forces? The men on this list are definitely men that you’d regret marrying.
If you’re not super familiar with the brand of awful that comes with marrying a Stephen King character, fair warning: a lot of domestic abuse is involved.
Honorable Mention: Bob Anderson (A Good Marriage)
Bob is by most accounts a model citizen, a pillar of the community, and he dotes on his wife and kids. He’s a good husband! But he’s also a meticulous serial killer. His wife, Darcy, might never have known if she hadn’t come across his box of trophies while looking for batteries for the remote control. The original story, featured in the collection Full Dark, No Stars, strongly implies that Bob’s love for his wife and family never truly existed.
Another, different sort of bad husband from Full Dark, No Stars who deserves a mention is Wilfred James from the story “1922” (which also became a Netflix film in 2017), who convinces his 14-year old son Henry to help him murder his wife, just because she wants to sell the farmland she inherited and move the family to a city and Wilf is adamantly opposed to city living. Not the most compelling motive for murder, but it’s motive enough for Wilf.
10. Thad Beaumont (The Dark Half)
The Dark Half is notoriously the last book that King wrote before he worked on kicking his addictions, and novelist and recovering alcoholic Thad Beaumont and his evil twin/alter-ego, George Stark are clearly avatars of this phase in King’s life. Sure, George is the one who is responsible for the murders that occur, but there are ways in which George and Thad are inextricably linked. He starts out as a pen name and alter ego that Thad decides to decommission and [mock] bury (with a headstone that reads “Not A Very Nice Guy”), but George ends up an embodiment of all of Thad‘s worst qualities, including a capacity for violence. Even once he’s defeated, his wife Elizabeth isn’t convinced that George and Thad were completely separate. Worse, she suspects that part of her husband liked having George around.
The Dark Half leaves Thad and Elizabeth on shaky ground at best. In King’s later books, Needful Things and Bag of Bones that Thad relapses into alcoholism and that his wife does leave him.
9. Gerald Burlingame (Gerald’s Game)
Gerald and Jessie go to have a sexy getaway in an isolated house.
Horrible Husband Moment #1: Gerald uses real handcuffs on his wife, instead of ones with a quick release, because he wants to enact a rape fantasy. His response when Jessie asks him to take off the cuffs? “What if I won’t?”
Horrible Husband Moment #2: He doesn’t stop when Jessie tells him to stop.
We don’t get to see Gerald alive for very long, but we spend a lot of time with Jessie and her thoughts as she’s trapped on the bed. It’s pretty clear that Gerald wasn’t a great guy and that their relationship wasn’t very healthy.
8. Oscar “Butch” Bowers (IT)
Henry Bowers’s father Butch is far from the only bad husband in IT (we could just as easily add Beverly Marsh’s father Alvin and Eddie Corcoran‘s stepfather, Richard Macklin). Butch is an abuser who rewards abusive behaviors in his son (like gifting Henry his first beer after he learns that his son kills Mike Hanlon‘s dog). After nearly dying at her husband’s hands, Mrs. Bowers does leave him and seemingly skips the chaos in Derry when IT comes out of hibernation.
7. Mort Rainey (Secret Window)
Mort would legally be one of the worst ex-husbands on this list, if only he would stop dragging out his divorce with Amy. She’s moved on, but he can’t seem to, plus he has to deal with writer’s block and a mysterious “stalker”. The original novella Secret Window, Secret Garden diverges hugely from the film in that a) Johnny Depp’s version of Mort in the film is a far cry from the sort of adorkable version we meet in the novella, and b) Mort in the movie manages to murder his wife and her new boyfriend and bury them in his corn garden (and his favourite food shifts from Doritos to corn on the cob), while novella-Mort only attempts this (and fails).
6. Ed Deepneau (Insomnia)
A lot of Ed‘s behavior probably stems from his life’s thread being meddled with by the Greek mythos -spired villain Atropos, but, supernatural causes or not, I wouldn’t want to be married to a violent abuser who protests pro-choice gatherings with mass murder. The book also implies that Ed‘s wife Helen is a lesbian because of the abuse she suffered in her marriage to Ed (and we’re not even going to touch how problematic that is). Despite his evils and abuse, Ed is still sentimental enough to carry a picture of his family around as he commits atrocities…like that redeems him or something.
5. Joe St. George (Dolores Claiborne)
Dolores Claiborne is probably the most famous of the so-called “abused wife trilogy”, and centres around Dolores‘s confession to her involvement in her husband’s murder, and his horrible abuses of her and of their teen daughter, Selena (not to mention manipulating Selena against her own mother).
Outside of terrorizing Dolores at home, Joe also cleans out his wife’s savings, which she had originally socked away to send their kids off to college one day. Dolores discovers this when she tries to withdraw funds to get herself and her children out of town and away from Joe. Trapped and cornered by his abuse, it’s no wonder Dolores decides to get rid of Joe in her own way.
4. Norman Daniels (Rose Madder)
Norman is one of those viciously horrible types of people who don’t even bother pretending that they’re not viciously horrible. He’s a dirty cop, he’s racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, misogynist, you-name-it. After fourteen years of emotionally and physically scarring abuse, Rose Daniels finds it in herself to walk away from her husband, but he’s not ready to let it end that easily. Throw in some supernatural forces of evil, and Norman becomes a literal monster as he hunts Rose down.
3. William “Billy” Halleck (Thinner)
What makes Billy Halleck the worst is his absolute selfishness and lack of self-awareness. He is cursed to drop pounds at an alarming pace as a consequence of running over an old woman with his car and killing her, and he refuses to accept his role in this manslaughter. Eventually, he finds a way to can pass a concentrated form of his curse along to someone else: he can feed someone he hates curse-infused pie that will cause the eater to pretty much instantly start shedding extreme amounts of weight.
And what does he do? He plots to feed his curse-pie to his wife. His reasons differ a little between the book and the movie: he decides that his wife deserves his curse because he blames her for the distraction that caused him to run over Susannah Lemke and hates her for all of the problems that Susannah‘s death has caused; in the movie adds that Billy suspects his wife of cheating on him. Seems extreme, especially when he decides to kiss and nibble on her after she’s doomed to die and becomes a part-pie, part-human husk.
2. Louis Creed (Pet Sematary)
Depending on which version of Louis Creed you’re taking in, your mileage may vary. The novel makes Lou‘s selfishness the most blatant: he’s constantly miserable about being around his wife and family and clearly would rather be either at work or having drinks across the street with Jud Crandall. The 2019 film tries to paint Louis as a much more sympathetic and reasonable character, but I don’t buy it.
Also, would you want to be married to someone who keeps desperately burying you and your kids in a cursed burial ground? Hard pass. Gage, Ellie, and Rachel deserve peace, not to come back as half-rotted, murderous undead.
1. Jack Torrance (The Shining)
Of course, Jack is on this list. He’s easily the most well-known Bad Husband in any Stephen King work ever. Even before he’s under the control of the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel, he’s a decidedly poor husband and father, even if he has his moments of guilt, shame, and desperate want to make things work. He’s an alcoholic prone to violent bursts of rage, and his wife and son don’t feel safe around him. Even at the beginning of the book we learn that he once drunkenly wrenched Danny’s arm so hard while trying to spank him that he broke a bone. Things only spiral once the Overlook takes over, and Jack becomes an axe-wielding killer (or Croque mallet-wielding, if we go the book route). The book and the 1997 miniseries (King’s preferred adaptation of his work) both cut Jack some slack and give him a sort of redemption arc toward the end, but you can decide how much trauma can be erased by exploding a haunted hotel (and you can read Doctor Sleep to find out for sure).
There are a lot of bad husbands in King’s work. Did we miss someone that you think should definitely be on this list? Let us know on our Twitter, Subreddit, Instagram, or on The Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!