Stephen King: The ‘It’ Man of Screen Horror

Maddy Trigg

Popular culture over the last century has witnessed the rise of several Kings and Queens. The 50s crowned Elvis Presley the King of Rock n’ Roll, whilst the 80s saw the coronation of Michael Jackson as the reigning King of Pop. It appears as though a new monarch has recently risen to power, however, and that man is none other than Stephen King. 

One of the most successful and prolific horror writers of all time, Stephen King has sold over 350 million copies of his novels since the start of his career. King’s kingdom expands further than the territories of literature, however, with a new crop of cinematic adaptations gaining worldwide praise and success. Since its release in September 2017, It – the chilling tale of a murderous child-eating monster who haunts the residents of Derry every 27 years – has become the highest grossing horror film of all time. With box office returns of over $327.5 million dollars, It has managed to eclipse the success of such horror classics as The Sixth Sense, Jaws, and The Exorcist – titles widely considered to have cemented themselves within the canon of horror cult classics. 

Over the course of the last three years, Hollywood has spent billions reworking Stephen King’s novels into box office hits, with Pet Semetary, Doctor Sleep, and It: Chapter Two, all dominating cinema screens during the latter half of 2019. The question that has yet to be answered, however, is why the sudden influx of King adaptations? With the advancement of CGI and its ability to bring fictional monsters into the realm of realism, horror films have grabbed audiences with the seductive appeal of experiencing authentic terror.  

Authentic terror is difficult to attain in today’s cinematic age, however, with a wide majority of frequent horror viewers admitting to laughing more often than gasping at Hollywood’s recent attempts to shock audiences into fits of fear. Horror films throughout the century often appear to follow an assigned set of features that were once proven to incite terror into the masses: a haunted house, a deranged murderer seeking revenge, spiritual possession and most importantly, monsters. The lack of focus on these rudimentary horror features is what distances Stephen King’s novels from other works in the genre however. 

Whilst works such as It and The Shining draw upon the classic themes of haunting and monstrosity, they also have a propensity for depicting the evils present in humanity itself. Of course, the first villain that springs to mind when considering the film It is the child-consuming clown who relentlessly pursues and torments the members of the Loser’s Club. But what about the psychotic knife-wielding Henry Bowers? Or Eddie Kaspbrak’s Munchausen syndrome-ridden mother? Or Beverly Marsh’s abusive father? All human, all villains. The juxtaposition of human evil and supernatural terror is a feature that endows King’s novels with a unique attraction. They encourage readers and viewers alike to fear not simply the unknown, but the human evil that is known to us.