Stephen King has undoubtedly cemented his spot as one of the greatest and most prolific horror/mystery writers in history. There are no two ways about it. This is the mind that brought us ‘It’, ‘The Dark Tower’, ‘The Green Mile’, and that’s just off the top of our heads.
In fact, in his journey into becoming a literary icon, he released half a century of novels, with number 50 released just earlier this year. In this article, we’re listing our choice of the top 5 scariest Stephen King books to date.
Published: 5th of April, 1974
The first entry in our list is Stephen King’s first ever published novel, titled ‘Carrie’. The book revolves around an unpopular and friendless 16-year-old girl named Carrie, who discovers she has telekinetic powers. As all sane and mentally stable human beings would do, Carrie uses her newly-discovered telekinetic powers to exact revenge on all those who wronged her. Ok, teenage girls can be mean enough, but give them telekinetic powers…yeesh.
It is a testament to how brilliantly twisted Stephen King’s work is – that the book is one of the most commonly banned books in schools across America. This may be down to the fact that King’s style of writing has the readers sympathize with Carrie, despite the fact that she’s neurotic and horrifying and literally wreaked havoc all across town.
Funny enough, Stephen King almost gave up on the project, but it was his wife, Tabitha, who saw potential in the story and pushed him to keep going – talk about #CoupleGoals. The massive success which his first publication saw pushed King to keep writing and producing excellent novels which have propelled him to the top and kept him there ever since.
The book has also since been adapted into a number of different movies.
4. The Shining
Published: 28th of January, 1977
Another one of King’s earlier works that makes our top 5 scariest Stephen King books list is ‘The Shining’. This book was heavily influenced by Stephen King’s 1974 visit to The Stanley Hotel, as well as his long recovery from alcoholism. The plot revolves around the life of aspiring author and recovering alcoholic Jack Torrance, who accepts the position of off-season caretaker of The Overlook Hotel in the Colorado mountains.
So far, not too creepy.
His wife and young son accompany him. His son, Danny Torrance, possesses psychic abilities which allow him to view the hotel’s grisly past. Add Jack and his family getting snowed in, and things start going south real quick.
The story behind the book is actually pretty cool. ‘The Shining’ was only King’s third published story, and his first two were both set in Maine, where King grew up.
So for his third novel, King wanted it to have a different setting and vibe. He literally opened a map of the U.S and pointed to a random location, which turned out to be Boulder, Colorado, and stayed with his wife in The Stanley Hotel for a while.
After becoming a hit, The Shining was adapted into a major motion picture and was released in 1980. The Stanley Kubrick film, starring Jack Nicholson, became an instant classic, and is still revered as one of the finest horror films of all time.
Published: 15th of September, 1986
You may remember the hype surrounding the movie ‘It’, part one of a two-part series, from fall of last year. And for good reason. This story is thrilling and horrifying, both in equal measure – a true Stephen King masterpiece.
This epic, 1138 page novel is told through two alternating narratives, each around 3 decades apart. It deals with plenty of themes that have become staples of Stephen King books; childhood trauma and how it resurfaces during adulthood, the power of memory, chaos and tension in a small town.
Oh, and there’s also a creepy clown. That lives in a sewer. Because, you know, why not give all your readers nightmares for the rest of their living days?
‘It’ has become such a phenomenon and truly an icon in modern pop culture, being nominated and winning a number of different awards. And unsurprisingly, like many of Stephen King’s literary works, ‘It’ was adapted a bunch of times. Back in the 1990s, it was adapted into a television mini-series, which got pretty high ratings.
We already mentioned the first movie, It: Chapter One, which shook the world for a few weeks. Its sequel is expected to come out in 2019.
2. Pet Sematary
Published: 14th of November, 1983
Another horror novel which was embraced by audiences, Pet Sematary, offered a fresh take on the question: How far are you willing to go to bring someone – or something – back from the dead?
The novel revolves around the life of Louis Creed, a Chicago doctor who takes up a new position as head of the University of Maine’s campus health service. He and his family take up residence in a new house along the highway.
One day while taking a walk with their new neighbors and family friends in the woods, they come across a pet cemetery where some local children bury their deceased pets. The reason the book is titled Pet Sematary, instead of spelling it correctly as cemetery, is because in the book, this is how the children spell it.
Without giving away too many spoilers, the book’s main theme revolves around death, and how it can have such a profound effect on a family. And needless to say, because it’s my man Stephen King who’s writing it, he puts his own creepy twists to what is already a scary subject.
Stephen King is no stranger to taking his own life experiences as inspirations for his novels. The idea behind Pet Sematary came to King when he moved back to Maine for a year to teach at the University of Maine.
During his time back, he and his family were living in a rented house that was right by a highway. The passing cars had claimed the lives of many pets, and the local kids buried their pets in a field near King’s home. And thus, Pet Sematary was born.
Fun Fact: After finishing Pet Sematary, both King and his wife thought that the book was too dark and King almost didn’t submit it. He was eventually forced to because of a contractual obligation towards Doubleday, his publisher. Despite its undeniable success, King still maintains that the book is far too dark and that the message it conveys is too bleak.
1. Night Shift
Published: 17th of February, 1978.
Okay, we kind of cheated on this last one. Night Shift isn’t a novel, but rather a collection of short stories. It includes 20 short stories, which are all light, romantic comedies with happy endings – ok, we couldn’t pull that off. They’re far from light. Actually, they’re brilliantly twisted and scary and thrilling and get your heart racing.
We’re going to quickly run down the short stories that make up this publication:
Jerusalem’s Lot – A prequel to ‘Salem’s Lot’, this short story is told through a group of letters written by Charles Boone to a certain Mr. Bones. These letters describe his and his servant’s arrival to a deserted home, which is believed to be a mansion. He finds a map of a deserted village, and he decides to go explore it, alongside his trusty servant. They have brushes with the paranormal, yada yada, things go bad… you know the drill.
Graveyard Shift – A story as ominous as its title, it revolves around a rat infestation in the basement of an old mill. Except this isn’t your run-of-the-mill – pun intended – These rats, after being cut off from the rest of nature, evolved into some ghastly creatures. It’s up to two cleaners to face the horrors down below. Shudders
Night Surf – A group of former college students try to survive after a world-wide epidemic takes out most of humanity. How lovely.
I Am The Doorway – This short accounts the story of how a disabled former astronaut undergoes some truly horrifying and graphic changes after being exposed to a mutagen in a space mission on Venus. We’re starting to get the vibe that King may need some serious therapy sessions.
The Mangler – Police investigate several grisly deaths which were caused by an industrial laundry press, or a Mangle.
The Boogeyman – This heartwarming tale takes place in the office of Dr. Harper, a psychiatrist, who is helping her paranoid and possibly schizophrenic patient, Billings, deal with the mysterious deaths of his children. He is sure he heard his children cry ‘The Boogeyman!’ before dying. Is Billings just too paranoid, or is there really a violent, evil presence that is out to get him and his family?
Gray Matter – Okay, this story is just straight-up messed up. It revolves around the stories of a young boy, who’s seen his father drink a can of bad beer (implied to contain a mutagen) and subsequently saw the man slowly transform into a blob-like abomination. It is very graphic and pretty gross, to be honest.
Battleground – A hitman finds a package delivered to his home. The package contains living, breathing miniature soldier figurines who want to kill him. Oh, and they have working miniature weapons and molotov cocktails and stuff like that.
Trucks – Many people don’t actually know this, but Stephen King is a massive fan of Disney’s Cars and has even written the script for the prequel, It follows the early life of Tow Mater and his journey, and finally settling down in Radiator Springs. And we’re totally just messing with you! Yeah, all the trucks come to life and kill everything in their path. Woo!
Sometimes They Come Back – A story of three undead greasers, who murder people close to Jim Norman and constantly mentally torment him. He finally decides to take justice into his own hands.
Strawberry Spring – This horror short revolves around the foggy memories of an unnamed narrator, as he tries to remember details of a series of murders that happened eight years earlier.
The Ledge – This short begins with Stan Norris in the clutches of evil criminal overlord, Cressner. Norris is being punished for having an affair with Cressner’s wife. But instead of killing him outright, he is given an ultimatum. It is a matter of life or death.
The Lawnmower Man – Stephen King even managed to make mowing a lawn creepy. This story revolves around a peculiar and perhaps even deadly lawn mowing service.
Quitter, Inc. – A middle-aged smoker looking to kick the nasty habit tries the services of a company that promise him he will never smoke again. Their methods turn out to be shockingly inhumane. But they wouldn’t do anything to physically hurt him, would they?
I Know What You Need – YOU NEED JESUS, MR. KING. But anyway, the story begins when Elizabeth Rogan finds herself suddenly and inexplicably attracted to Ed Hamner Jr., a social outcast that she’s known her entire life. Is it just an ugly-duckling-turned-beautiful-swan story, or is there something more sinister going on?
Children Of The Corn – A couple decide to drive to California for a vacation. On their way, they hit a kid with their car. Upon examining the body of the child, it turns out his throat was slit and he was bleeding to death before even being hit – talk about bad luck. The couple are too far in this to turn back now, but should they have? Answer: Yes.
The Last Rung On The Ladder – This story follows a mentally tormented Larry as he recounts the dreadful discovery that his sister had committed suicide.
The Man Who Loved Flowers – A man in love? Buying flowers? No way is this a Stephen King story. Oh wait. The man’s a lunatic who kills people. Yep, that’s more like it.
One For The Road – An old man from Jerusalem’s Lot – sequel to the first story in this list of short stories— tells the story of how paranormal forces are once again looming large in the town, and about the horrors that they have provoked.
The Woman In The Room – A man is drowning in guilt after deciding to euthanize his mother, who was terminally ill.
50 and Counting
And there you have it. Our list of the top 5 scariest Stephen King books. Of course, readers and especially Stephen King aficionados will each have their own opinion on which books should make the list, and they are undoubtedly entitled to that opinion. If you’d like another take on what King’s finest novels are, here. Be our guest.
For real though, let us take a moment to celebrate the genius that is Stephen King and marvel at his ability to horrify, engage and thrill us with so many different and fresh ideas.