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The scariest Stephen King characters to stalk the screen


The world's most terrifying clown, Pennywise, is back to terrorise our screens in this September's big screen adaptation of IT.

Stephen King's celebrated novel has already been adapted back in 1990 for TV, with Tim Curry providing a memorably creepy interpretation. But with Mama director Andres Muschietti behind the camera and Bill Skarsgard providing a menacing new take on King's character, this year's movie is poised to blow the original out of the water.

On that note, we thought we'd take a look back at those wonderfully ghoulish King characters that kept us up at night...

Mrs White – Carrie (1976)

Brian De Palma's adaptation of King's first novel is a blood-drenched, chilling yet heartrendingly emotional coming-of-age story gone bad. Sissy Spacek (Oscar nominated) captivates as the teenage girl grappling with devastating psychic powers and matching her beat for beat is a wonderfully monstrous Piper Laurie (also Oscar nommed) as Carrie's religious fanatic mother. Truly she's one of the most despicable characters ever to appear in a King story.

Jack Torrance – The Shining (1980)

Stephen King famously dismissed the casting of Jack Nicholson in Stanley Kubrick's classic horror, saying that the former's reputation for playing oddballs and psychos gave the game away too early.

Regardless it's a better performance than King gave credit for, the actor initially giving a surprisingly subtle depiction of an isolated writer coming apart at the seams (watch those eyebrows) before it descends into raving, ax-swinging mania.

Christine – Christine (1983)

One of King's strengths as a writer is to turn non-human objects into malevolent forces of terror. This John Carpenter offering is a case in point, transforming an eye-catching 1958 Plymouth Fury into a rampaging, unstoppable demonic force on wheels. It's one of King's sillier concepts but still brings the fear when necessary.

Cujo the dog – Cujo (1983)

If Jaws scared people out of the water then this lean, mean Stephen King adaptation forever changed people's perceptions of the cuddly St. Bernard. One of the most famous scenes from the author's canon comes when a mother (Dee Wallace) and her son are stranded in a baking hot car by the slathering, rabid dog of the title, a claustrophobic slice of terror if ever there was one.

Greg Stillson – The Dead Zone (1983)

Martin Sheen is most famous for playing upstanding, liberal types, most famously with his role as President Bartlett in The West Wing. Director David Cronenberg however hit on the inspired notion of casting Sheen as the baddie in this superb King adaptation, the actor playing a Presidential hopeful whose monstrous nuclear ambitions are witnessed by sensitive psychic Johnny (Christopher Walken).

Ace – Stand By Me (1986)

Not all of King's villains are supernatural in nature. Some of the author's finest creations are drawn from day to day reality, as witnessed in this outstanding Rob Reiner drama, quite possibly the best movie to be made from a King story. A pre-fame Kiefer Sutherland is all-too-recognisable as teen bully Ace, a small fish convinced of his own power who is eventually trumped by pre-teen hero Gordie (Will Wheaton).

Annie Wilkes – Misery (1990)

Continuing with the Stand By Me theme of terrifying villains drawn from reality, this claustrophobic thriller tackles fan psychosis run out of control. An unforgettable Kathy Bates chills the blood as Annie, who takes injured author Paul Sheldon (James Caan) hostage in order so that he can resurrect her favourite heroine. The actress' homespun, unpredictable swerve from whimsy to full-blown terror keeps us on edge throughout – that Oscar was well-deserved.

Pennywise – IT (1990)

This somewhat dated King adaptation singlehandedly made an entire generation scared of clowns. One area in which it continues to hold up is Tim Curry's wonderfully frightening performance as the malevolent Pennywise. An unstoppable force of evil who takes great relish in embodying all manner of childhood fears, Pennywise is quite possibly King's most memorable horror creation.

Leland Gaunt – Needful Things (1993)

King's Faustian story of devilry and demonic forces in a small Maine town was somewhat mangled in this movie adaptation. As ever, where the movie hits a slam dunk is in the delicious casting of its central baddie, a never-more debonair Max Von Sydow playing the mysterious shopkeeper Leland with a constant diabolical twinkle in his eye.

Elmo Blatch – The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Truly what scares us with Elmo is not so much the character (although that demented smile and laugh is bloodcurdling) but what his story means for incarcerated central character Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins). Appearing in just one flashback scene, it turns out Elmo is the missing link to Andy's lifetime prison sentence, and the person who inaugurates the latter's final push for freedom.

Joe St. George – Dolores Claiborne (1995)

Few of King's villains are as contemptible or off-putting as David Stathairn's abusive husband in this powerful drama. The movie is a gloomy, withdrawn story of murder and family reconciliation with Kathy Bates again delivering a knockout performance in a Stephen King adaptation. Nevertheless it's the usually noble Strathairn who chills as the eponymous Dolores' repulsive partner, someone whose comeuppance can't come soon enough.

Kurt Dussander – Apt Pupil (1998)

Ian McKellen is the personification of evil in this disturbing King interpretation from Usual Suspects and X-Men director Bryan Singer. The celebrated British thespian plays a former Nazi hiding out in American suburbia whose cover is then rumbled by a teenager (Brad Renfro). The latter then blackmails Dussander into revealing lurid details about the Third Reich, the story blurring the lines as to who is the more monstrous.

'Wild Bill' Wharton – The Green Mile (1999)

Sam Rockwell is a phenomenal actor, able to turn from friendly and goofy (The Way Way Back) to genuinely frightening on a dime. This sprawling King drama, adapted by Frank Darabont following The Shawshank Redemption, casts him as a murderous, scheming inmate of the titular prison, and the man who indirectly provides a catalyst for everthing that ensues throughout the movie.

Mrs Carmody – The Mist (2007)

It takes a special kind of actor to make you loathe a character with every fibre of your being. But Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden excels herself as a fire and brimstone lunatic in Frank Darabont's third go-around at King, the story of a supermarket besieged by a mysterious mist and the monsters contained within. But truly it is the monsters in plain sight that are the greatest threat, the wicked Mrs Carmody's penchant for sacrifice and lunacy leading her to a much-deserved sticky end.

Hammer lady – 1408 (2007)

She's barely a character (indeed she only appears for a few frenzied shots). But as the evil spectre tormented John Cusack's writer stranded in a haunted hotel room, this creepy ghoul more than makes an impact.

Who have we missed off our list? Let us know and prepare for the arrival of IT on 8th September.