As the undisputed master of horror, Stephen King has tackled all of the greats; zombies in Cell, vampires in Salem's Lot— hell, he's even had a crack at killer dogs in Cujo — but most fans of King's work would argue that Pennywise easily ranks as one of the best villains he's ever devised.
Tim Curry infamously brought the evil clown to life in the widely celebrated TV adaptation of It, which condensed over a thousand pages into three hours of supernatural horror that freaked out an entire generation of fans. Controversially, the story is set to be adapted once again for cinematic release and only time will tell whether this new reboot will be embraced or shunned by the fans.
King doesn't just freak us out with nightmarish monsters though. What's remarkable about the bestselling author is his versatility. For every supernatural force that threatens the inhabitants of Maine, King has also constructed a number of human antagonists who are arguably far more terrifying.
Pennywise is terrifying, sure, but what are the chances of actually seeing him in a storm drain? It's the evil, yet regular, people in King's work whose depravity resonates with us long after we've failed to find solace in sleep. We've rounded up 5 of the scariest Stephen King movie villains who could pass you by on the street or even live in the house next door to you. Now that's a terrifying thought.
1. Margaret White - Carrie (1974)
Carrie may be King's first novel, but it didn't take long for the Master of Horror to tap into one of humanity's biggest taboos— an abusive mother— and transform her into something far more frightening than any ghouls or goblins.
The bullies at Carrie's prom pushed the poor girl over the brink, resulting in many gruesome deaths, but Margaret White is the real monster here. Every word she spoke to Carrie was designed to torture and humiliate the troubled teenager, using the conviction of her religious views to hold sadistic power over her own daughter.
There's nothing more devastating than seeing children abused by the ones who should be protecting than most, which is why Brian De Palma's adaptation of King's book still remains terrifying over 40 years later.
2. Mother Carmody - The Mist (2007)
The premise of The Mist is terrifying even before Mother Carmody shows up: Trapped in a supermarket surrounded by fog, a group of survivors fend off otherworldly creatures that linger outside, all while struggling to maintain order among those who remain within.
Rather than work alongside the others in order to survive the apocalypse, Carmody deliberately pits the survivors against each other, using a dangerous mix of fear and charisma to manipulate them. Through the words of God, Carmody convinces the sheep in her flock to sacrifice those who defy her in order to supposedly bring about an end to the mist, all while conveniently taking down those who disagree with her ways.
The potentially corruptive influence of religion over the lives of everyday people is a theme King has explored time and time again in his work, to chilling effect. Rather than criticise the power of faith itself, King uses characters like The Mist's Mother Carmody to highlight how religion can be warped into a tool of control for the selfish and weak-minded. You only have to look at certain political campaigns to see that this horror is unfortunately all too real.
3. Percy Wetmore - The Green Mile (1999)
The Green Mile isn't even a horror movie technically. Nonetheless, the prison-based drama contains one of King's most disturbing creations in the form of Percy Whetmore, a guard working Death Row who takes joy in the misery he inflicts on others.
Not only do the inmates face the constant reminder of death looming over them, but they must also contend with Wetmore's barbaric cruelty. During one execution, Percy deliberately sabotages the equipment so that the prisoner will catch fire and die in agony, just because he enjoys the rush of power.
What makes Wetmore such a compelling yet truly terrifying character is that his cruel attacks on the prisoners come from a place of cowardice. Percy wasn't born evil like Pennywise and its ilk. No, Wetmore inflicts cruel and torturous pain simply to feel better about himself. If you still don't think he's scarier than a thousand clowns, here's two words that should change your mind in a heartbeat. Mr. Jingles.
4. Jack Torrance - The Shining (1980)
In many ways, Stanley Kubrick's The Shining is actually King's most famous adaptation, yet ironically, it's the one he was least fond of. In the mid '90s, King even helped to craft a TV version that stayed more faithful to the original novel.
Regardless though, Jack Nicholson's performance as the hotel's caretaker Jack Torrance is undoubtedly iconic. It's absolutely mesmerising to watch his gradual descent into madness, which eventually leads to all-out assault against his family and arguably, other members of the cast too.
Admittedly, Torrance is influenced by supernatural forces in the Overlook Hotel. Nonetheless, the character is unhinged right from the start of the film, giving up alcohol after he accidentally hurt his son Danny before.
That's what makes Torrance so terrifying — he always had the potential to lose control of the violence within him, regardless of any manipulation that may have taken place later. Like Margaret White in Carrie, Jack is ultimately an abhorrent creation who betrays his family in the most sinister way possible.
5. Annie Wilkes - Misery (1990)
Of all the human monsters that King has created, Annie Wilkes may truly be the worst of them all, which is why fans were understandably worried at the time when Hollywood first announced the inevitable movie adaptation of Misery. Who could possibly do justice to such a seemingly sweet yet deranged nutcase of a woman?
Somehow, Kathy Bates did the impossible and brought Annie Wilkes to life like no one else possibly could, earning a legion of fans and even an Academy Award for her stunning portrayal of the matronly caregiver. Quite honestly, Kathy's acting in the hobbling scene alone is worthy of every award that man could possibly conceive, but there's layers to both her performance and King's original writing that transcend what people believe the horror genre is capable of.
The dichotomy between caring spinster and sadistic murderer taps into primal fears of trust that are universally disturbing, regardless of whether you're usually a fan of King's work or not. Just remember, if you end up in a horrific accident and wake up anywhere other than a hospital bed, don't be a dirty birdy and lie your way out of the situation or you may end up struggling to find a leg to stand on.
King has published over 50 books since Carrie first hit book stands in 1974, but with movies like The Stand and The Dark Tower still set to appear on the horizon, the prolific author isn't quite done with terrorising his fans just yet.
Who do you think is Stephen King's greatest villain from the movies?
Image Credit: Eugene Kaik