Stephen King’s influence on the horror genre cannot be underestimated. So many creatives in horror right now, from Jordan Peele to Mike Flanagan, thank King for inspiring them. Stephen King returns those compliments in kind, like when he praised the recently released Smile.
Such is his influence (and the things that influence him) that many of the best horror movies over the years evoke Stephen King vibes. Intimate character studies brutally interrupted by sheer horror, often in claustrophobic settings, were a staple of horror then and continue to be so today.
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
10 Cloverfield Lane shocked audiences by releasing with no marketing other than an intriguing and suspenseful trailer a few weeks before its release. The premise follows three people trapped in an apocalyptic bunker, with the owner claiming that “something” has invaded the surface.
Unfortunately, the owner is an unstable and emotional man who the other two survivors aren’t sure they can trust. Misery vibes run throughout this film, as John Goodman perfectly portrays a seemingly jovial person who becomes psychotic in no time.
The Witch (2015)
The Witch follows the story of a Puritan family who have been exiled from their community. Starting a farm near dark woods, the family’s luck soon turns sour as a powerful witch threatens them all. Worse still, they suspect their daughter of being the witch herself.
Stephen King’s stories often show that while monsters exist in his world, humans can be just as monstrous. The Witch amazingly does just that, showing that even though there is a real witch, much of the tension stems from human paranoia and fear. Even in the face of the supernatural, humans cannot help but kill each other.
While Stephen King inspired generations of horror talent, he too was a new face himself. He was a longtime friend of horror legend George A. Romero, and Martin is perhaps the best example of how the two friends inspire each other.
George A. Romero likes to render the supernatural with a disturbing banality, however sickening it may be. Here it remains ambiguous whether Martin was truly a vampire, or just a highly disturbed serial killer. This tension, exploration of characters, and intimately grimy setting evoke many similarities to Salem’s Lot, a clear deconstruction of oft-romanticized vampire lore.
Jordan Peele has been open enough to call Stephen King one of horror’s GOATs. It’s clear in Peele’s work that many of Stephen King’s core elements have gone into his films, but no more so than his last outing, Nope. It follows a diverse cast of characters who suddenly have to deal with a mysterious UFO hovering over their town.
The clearest comparison to this film of King’s work is The Tommyknockers. Both follow everyday people who suddenly have to deal with the mysterious appearance of an alien spacecraft. In both films, the alien threat is a metaphor for deeply personal themes tied to all the characters’ pasts.
Not many people have heard of this underrated turn-of-the-century horror classic, but ’90s legends like James Cameron, Sam Raimi and Stephen King certainly did. The story follows an FBI agent chasing the “God’s Hand Killer” across Texas. Slowly, the FBI agent reveals that he is more connected to the case than anyone could have imagined.
Family trauma is an unfortunate but powerful constant in many Stephen King stories. When this is thrown on a loop by the supernatural, it results in a lot of psychological horror for the characters and the audience. Fragility isn’t just a movie title, it represents how fragile the human spirit can be.
The Lighthouse (2019)
The Lighthouse is a metaphorical horror movie with a deceptively simple premise. Two lighthouse keepers struggle to keep their sanity as their shifts don’t seem to be over. As the story progresses, the younger of the two begins to come to terms with the sins of their past and he begins to wonder if this “lighthouse” was actually real.
One of the best things King did for the horror genre was popularize metaphorical horror. The Lighthouse is a horror film about the dangers of toxic masculinity. When toxic men’s egos are bruised, they’d much rather kill each other than face their emotions. Robert Eggers’ movies deserve all the praise Stephen King gave them.
Horns cheats slightly. Hardly anyone can understand the works of Stephen King better than his own flesh and blood. Yes, Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son, but he did well to shine out of his father’s shadow. Even then, he’s not afraid to bring up his father’s motives, and Horns does it pretty well.
The film follows the story of a young man accused of murdering his girlfriend, which he denies. However, the next morning, he begins to grow horns, along with mysterious satanic powers. Like his father, Joe Hill takes this absurd premise and gives it a deeply grounded tone, showing how real people would deal with the supernatural, while being distinct from his father by adding a little more whimsy to the characters.
Near Darkness (1987)
Stephen King loves to write about vampires, but they are rarely the classic archetype. They are not suave nobles or “cool” rebels. Instead, they are exactly what they would be: social outcasts. Near Dark is perhaps the grittiest theatrical portrayal of vampires to date, and its tone has not been copied since.
Near Dark follows a young man transformed by a family of vampires and it’s fascinating because it shows the realities of vampirism and how diverse they really would be. One is an old man stuck in his own childish body, another is a killer, and the last tries to romanticize his situation, only for it to fall flat. It’s an oppressively cynical film, a bit like Salem’s Lot and Doctor Sleep.
Oculus is the movie that convinced Stephen King to give Mike Flanagan his blessing to adapt Doctor Sleep. In what has quickly become a Mike Flanagan-style staple, Oculus follows the story of a family whose lives are brutally interrupted by the machinations of an evil mirror – or so those involved want. what others think.
Oculus is packed with staples of Stephen King, the making of the supernatural and weird MacGuffins, family trauma and, of course, horrible human beings. In fact, Mike Flanagan blatantly stated that Oculus was just his disguised adaptation of 1408, stating that he originally envisioned it as such. Only one movie could be a more blatant love letter to Stephen King’s work.
In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
The third installment in John Carpenter’s self-titled “Apocalypse” trilogy, In The Mouth Of Madness, is about as blatant a Stephen King send-off as one can get. Not only has John Carpenter previously worked with Stephen King on Christine, but the main character here is a blatant horror auteur expy.
Sutter Cane shares many of the same personality traits as King, and even shares the same popularity in his universe. The movie is something of a meta-attack on Stephen King himself, as the very tropes he helped perpetuate come to life, only to take his own back. Small town, intimate cast, and supernatural horror sum up Stephen King perfectly in this daring film.