The 5 Scariest Stephen King Novels
When I was 13 years old, I read Stephen King’s “Salem’s Lot” at my parent’s pine cabin in Maine. Ensconced in my bedroom reading late into the night – so late that the loons had ceased their disturbing warbles. But there were other sounds.
As the digital clock slipped passed 1 a.m. I heard the soft, but unmistakable crunch of pine needles just outside my open window. My blood froze. Feeling vulnerable under the reading lamp, I clicked it off. The darkness thickened as if I had fallen into an abandoned well.
I held my breath. Heavy footfalls paused at my window and I thought I could see the outline of a man beyond the screen. I swallowed and carefully reached for the Buck knife on my bureau. I snapped open the blade.
Something was out there – watching me. I thought I could see the dim redness of a pair of eyes.
I thought about my mother alone in her bedroom and my little brother sleeping in the next bedroom. My father was home in Massachusetts working. We were alone.
I eased back the covers and padded out of my bedroom to the porch. A silver mist lifted off the lake water. The moon light washed over the hemlock forest and everything looked like it had been dipped in confectionery powder. Clutching my knife, I popped the lock on the screen door and eased myself outside.
There was no one outside my window. I clicked a flashlight on and swept it through the woods. Nothing.
Breathing a sigh of relief, I went back to my bed. As I settled back with the book, I heard footsteps outside my window. My breath caught in my throat and it was then that I understood that Stephen King had me. He was inside my damn head.
And that’s what King does best.
Here are my picks for Stephen King’s 5 Scariest Novels (and I trend toward old school King).
Can it really be more than 30 years since “The Shining” first appeared? The story of the haunted hotel is actually based on a real vacation King took with his wife, Tabitha, at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. The hotel was closing for the winter the next day and the couple was the only guests at the hotel that night. King went to the empty bar alone (and was served by a bartender named Grady) and wandered the long, silent corridors. He later said that by the time he went to bed he had already written the entire book. “The Shining” is King’s third novel and remains one of his most terrifying. Writer Jack Torrance agrees to be the caretaker of a hotel that closes for the winter and is slowly possessed by the ghosts that haunt the place. A masterful ghost story.
King was inspired to write “Salem’s Lot” after teaching Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” to his high school students. He wondered what would happen if Dracula returned to the 20th century. The result is a story about an ancient vampire moving to a small Maine town and infesting the locals with vampirism. The main character, Ben Mears, returns to his childhood home of Jerusalem’s Lot after the death of his wife. He teams up with a high school teacher, a young woman recently home from college, and a young boy to battle the growing legion of blood-suckers. The book is partly responsible for the resurgence of vampire fiction in the late 20th century.
One of King’s best written novels – as well as one of his scariest. King has commented that he wanted to write a book similar to “The Lord of the Rings” with an American setting. The result was “The Stand,” a post-apocalyptic story about what happens when a deadly strain of the flu (known as Captain Trips) kills more than 99 percent of the human population. The surviving people divide into two camps: good and evil. The good people congregate in Boulder, Colorado with Mother Abagail while the evil population heads for Las Vegas (where else?) under ruler Randall Flagg. The novel is a metaphor for the cold war and nuclear reasons of the early 1980s.
How scary is “Pet Sematary”? Well, a logging truck runs down a little boy and his despondent father digs up his corpse and buries him in a mystical burial ground where things come back to life. “Pet Sematary” is a modern version of the short story “The Monkey’s Paw” only we get to see what happens if you open the door. The novel breaks a lot of taboos and its difficult to read some of the passages – especially the build up as the toddler, Gage, meanders toward the road as his unaware parents chat with a neighbor. The reader can see it all happening and is left with a hopeless feeling – and the strong desire to dive into the pages and push Gage onto the soft shoulder and to safety. You’ll be forced to read this one with the lights on.
This is the first book King published under his pseudonym Richard Bachman. The novel is an odd combination of the movie “The Breakfast Club” and the Columbine high school massacre – yet it was written before both the movie and killing spree. In the book, Charlie Decker, a high school senior, snaps and kills his teacher and holds the classroom hostage. As the police and media descend on the school, Charlie turns the classroom into a therapy session where all the students begin to talk about their problems. Ultimately, it becomes clear that the other students are actually on Decker’s side and they end up brutally beating the only student against Decker, a jock named Ted Jones. The novel has been connected to two actual school shootings and King has admitted that he wishes the novel would go out of print.
Photo by Kevin King (courtesy of Flickr)