Stephen King’s influence on the horror genre cannot be underestimated. So many horror creatives right now, from Jordan Peele to Mike Flanagan, thank King for inspiring them. Stephen King returns those compliments in kind, like when he praised Smile, which came out recently.
Such is its influence (and the things that affect it) that many of the best horror films over the years evoke Stephen King vibes. Intimate character studies brutally interrupted by sheer horror, often in claustrophobic contexts, were a staple of horror then and continue to be today.
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
10 Cloverfield Lane shocked audiences by releasing an ad-free, intriguing and suspenseful trailer just 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 that the other two survivors are not sure they can trust. Vibrations of misery run throughout the 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 sours when a powerful witch threatens them all. Worse still, they suspect their daughter is the witch herself.
Stephen King’s stories often show that while monsters exist in his world, humans can be just as monstrous. The Witch does just that, showing that even if there is a real witch, much of the tension comes from paranoia and human fear. Even in the face of the supernatural, humans can’t help but kill each other.
While Stephen King inspired generations of horror talent, he too was a new face. 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 platitude, however disgusting it may be. Here it remains ambiguous whether Martin was truly a vampire or just a very disturbed serial killer. This tension, character exploration, and intimately filthy setting evoke many similarities to Salem’s Lot, a clear deconstruction of the often romanticized vampire lore.
Jordan Peele was open enough to call Stephen King one of the GOATs of horror. It is clear in Peele’s work that many of Stephen King’s core elements have been incorporated into his films, but no more than his latest release, No. It follows a diverse cast of characters who suddenly have to deal with a mysterious UFO in hovering over their city.
The clearest comparison with this film of King’s work is The Tommyknockers. They both follow ordinary people who suddenly have to deal with the mysterious appearance of an alien spaceship. In both films, the alien menace is a metaphor for deeply personal themes linked to the past of all the characters.
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 “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 brought into circulation by the supernatural, it results in a lot of psychological horror for the characters and the audience. Fragility is not just a movie title, it represents how fragile the human spirit can be.
The lighthouse (2019)
The Lighthouse is a metaphorical horror film with a deceptively simple premise. Two lighthouse keepers struggle to maintain their sanity as their shifts don’t seem to be over. As the story progresses, the younger of the two begins to deal with the sins of their past and begins to wonder if this “lighthouse” was really real.
One of the best things King did for the horror genre was popularizing metaphorical horror. The Lighthouse is a horror film about the dangers of toxic masculinity. When toxic men’s egos are hurt, they would much rather kill each other than face their own emotions. Robert Eggers’ films deserve all the praise Stephen King has given them.
Horns cheats slightly. Hardly anyone can understand Stephen King’s works better than their 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 out his father’s motives, and Horns does it quite well.
The film follows the story of a young man accused of killing his girlfriend, which he denies. However, the next morning, he begins to grow horns, along with mysterious satanic powers. As his father, Joe Hill takes this absurd premise and gives it a deeply ingrained tone, showing how real people would cope with the supernatural, while still distinguishing himself from his father by adding a little more whimsy to the characters.
Near Darkness (1987)
Stephen King loves writing about vampires, but they are rarely the classic archetype. They are not gentle nobles or “cool” rebels. Instead, they are exactly what they would be: social outcasts. Near Dark is perhaps the crudest theatrical representation of vampires to date, and its tone hasn’t been copied since.
Near Dark follows a young man transformed by a vampire family and is fascinating because it shows the realities of vampirism and how different they 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 to bring it down. It’s an overwhelming and cynical film, a bit like Salem’s Lot and Doctor Sleep.
Oculus is the film 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 cut short by the machinations of an evil mirror – or so the people involved want it.
Oculus is filled with Stephen King’s core elements, the realization of the supernatural and weird MacGuffins, family trauma and, of course, horrifying humans. In fact, Mike Flanagan has openly stated that Oculus was just his own disguised adaptation of 1408, stating that he originally envisioned it as such. Only a movie could be a more brazen love letter to Stephen King’s work.
Into the Mouth of Madness (1994)
The third installment of John Carpenter’s “Apocalypse” trilogy of the same name, In The Mouth Of Madness, is Stephen King’s cheekiest farewell you can get. Not only has John Carpenter previously worked with Stephen King on Christine, but the main character here is a blatant scapegoating horror author.
Sutter Cane shares many of the same personality traits as King and even shares the same popularity in his universe. The film is something of a meta-attack on Stephen King himself, as the same tropes he helped perpetuate come to life, only to bounce back. Small town, intimate cast and supernatural horror sum up Stephen King perfectly in this bold film.