The One Horror Film Stephen King Was Too Scared to Finish
"It may be the only time in my life when I quit a horror movie in the middle because I was too scared."
Stephen King has been responsible for many of our nightmares over the years. The prolific author has written a staggering number of terrifying novels and stories, many of which have been adapted into equally frightening films. But King is also a fan of the horror genre, and frequently recommends books, movies, and TV shows that have hooked him. In fact, he often showers them with effusive praise. In a new foreword for the 2010 reissue of his nonfiction book Danse Macabre, he called The Blair Witch Project the "worst nightmare you ever had." Read on to find out why the movie spooked King so badly, along with his other favorites. And for more '90s nightmares, revisit The Scariest Movies '90s Kids Can't Forget.
As reported by Bloody Disgusting, King explained that what scared him so much about The Blair Witch Project was that it "looks real" and "feels real." "It’s like the worst nightmare you ever had, the one you woke from gasping and crying with relief because you thought you were buried alive and it turned out the cat jumped up on your bed and went to sleep on your chest," he wrote.
The Blair Witch Project was released in 1999, garnering rave reviews and terrifying audiences. As King notes, part of the success of the movie was in how real it felt. At the time, audiences were not as familiar with found footage movies—which purport to be just that, "found footage" rather than something scripted—and the Blair Witch actors were complete unknowns who stayed out of the spotlight during the promotional campaign. While Blair Witch wasn't the first found footage horror film, it was undoubtedly the most influential, and certainly one of the most effective.
It clearly worked on King, who first watched the movie in a hospital room when he was recovering from being hit by a car, an accident that nearly killed him. Partway through the film, he asked his son to turn it off. "It may be the only time in my life when I quit a horror movie in the middle because I was too scared to go on," he wrote. "I was just freaked out of my mind."
In his foreword, King wrote that he has subsequently seen the movie in full. And that must be true, because he describes Blair Witch's infamously unnerving ending in detail: "There is a thud as that unseen thing falls on Heather from behind. The camera drops, showing a blurred nothing. The film ends. And if you’re like me, you watch the credits and try to escape the terrified ten-year-old into whom you have been regressed."
King's in-depth take on The Blair Witch Project is a great reminder of why the movie is a modern-day horror classic. But that's far from the only film he has strong opinions about. Keep reading for a list of Stephen King's other favorite horror movies, as compiled by Open Culture. And for a film that's bound to keep you up at night, discover The Scariest Horror Movie of All Time, According to Science.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)
In a round-up of horror films Stephen King has recommended by Bloody Disgusting, King is quoted as saying that The Autopsy of Jane Doe is "visceral horror to rival Alien and early Cronenberg."
The Changeling (1980)
The Changeling was one of the films King chose when he was asked to list his favorites by the British Film Institute (BFI). "There are no monsters bursting from chests," he wrote. "Just a child’s ball bouncing down a flight of stairs was enough to scare the daylights out of me." And for more of the classics, these are The Best Horror Films of All Time, According to Critics.
Crimson Peak (2015)
Per Bloody Disgusting, King went to an early screening of Crimson Peak and called it "gorgeous" and "terrifying."
Dawn of the Dead (2004)
"Genius perfected would be Zack Snyder’s Dawn remake, which begins with one of the best opening sequences of a horror film ever made," King said, as reported by Bloody Disgusting. And for stars you might not realize got their start in scary movies, check out these Celebrities You Forgot Were in Horror Movies.
Deep Blue Sea (1999)
While King acknowledged that this movie doesn't seem to have a lot going on, according to Bloody Disgusting, there was at least one moment that really caught him off-guard. "I screamed out loud," he said, "and I treasure any horror movie that can make me do that."
The Descent (2005)
The strength of The Descent is in the strong characterization, Bloody Disgusting quotes King as explaining. "In successful creepshows, it’s not the FX, and mostly not even the monsters, that scare us," he said. "If we invest in the people, we invest in the movie… and in our own essential decency." And for more fun content delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
King put Steven Spielberg's first movie on his BFI list, writing, "It’s his most inventive film, and stripped to the very core: one man, one truck, one fight to the death."
Les Diaboliques (1955)
Also for the BFI, King picked Henri-Georges Clouzot's Les Diaboliques, a "suspense-horror masterpiece" that's "as terrifying now as it was back in 1955."
Final Destination (2000)
Per Bloody Disgusting, King is a fan of the entire Final Destination series. "I love all these movies, with their elaborate Rube Goldberg setups—it’s like watching R-rated splatter versions of those old Road Runner cartoons," he said. "But only the first is genuinely scary, with its grim insistence that you can’t beat the Reaper: When your time is up, it’s up." And for another blast from the past, revisit The Biggest '90s Horror Icons, Then and Now.
Event Horizon (1997)
Event Horizon has gotten less-than-stellar reviews over the years, and King is willing to acknowledge its deficiencies, as Bloody Disgusting reports. "The plot’s messy, but the visuals are stunning and there’s an authentic sense of horrors too great to comprehend just beneath the eponymous event horizon," he said.
The Hitcher (1986)
For his BFI list, King compared The Hitcher to Duel, because both are "terrifying road movies stripped to their very basics." He added, "What sets this apart, other than some spectacular stunts, is the amazing performance of Rutger Hauer as the mysterious and homicidal John Ryder."
The Hitcher (2007)
The 2007 remake of The Hitcher may not have Rutger Hauer, but King is still a fan. "This is that rarity, a reimagining that actually works," Bloody Disgusting quotes him as saying. "Do we really need this film? No. But it’s great to have it, and the existential theme of many great horror films—terrible things can happen to good people, at any time—has never been so clearly stated."
The Last House on the Left (2009)
Another remake King has praised: this 2009 take on the notorious Wes Craven classic. In fact, Bloody Disgusting says that King called it "the best horror movie of the new century," saying, "the Dennis Iliadis version is to the original what a mature artist’s painting is to the drawing of a child who shows some gleams of talent."
The Mist (2007)
Yes, King's list of favorites includes a movie based on one of his stories—but to fair, he called out the film's ending, which is a radical departure from the one he wrote. As Bloody Disgusting quotes, King said, "The ending will tear your heart out… but so will life, in the end."
Night of the Demon (1957)
"Although it’s old school, I love Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon, a pretty wonderful adaptation of M.R. James’s story, 'Casting the Runes,'" King wrote for the BFI. "Tourneur was a disciple of Val Lewton, which means the horror here is pretty understated, until the very end."
The Ruins (2008)
According to Bloody Disgusting, King praised The Ruins while also acknowledging what the original novel does better. "The Scott B. Smith-scripted adaptation of his novel isn’t quite as creepy as the book, but the sense of dismay and disquiet grows as the viewer begins to sense that no one’s going to get away," he said.
It's not really a horror film—despite the title and direction by William Friedkin—but Sorcerer is King's favorite movie of all time, he told the BFI. "I am especially partial—this will not surprise you—to suspense films," King wrote.
The Stepfather (1987)
As with The Hitcher, the appeal of The Stepfather is in the theme of "terrifying men who come from nowhere," King wrote for the BFI. In this case, that's Lost star Terry O'Quinn, who received great reviews for his harrowing performance in the titular role.
Stir of Echoes (1999)
Bloody Disgusting quotes King as saying that "writer/director David Koepp should be declared a national treasure" for this adaptation of a 1958 Richard Matheson novel.
The Strangers (2008)
King's thoughts on The Strangers, as documented by Bloody Disgusting, sum up what makes the film get under your skin so effectively. "It starts slowly and builds from unease to terror to horror," he said. "Why is this happening? Just because it is. Like cancer, stroke, or someone going the wrong way on the turnpike at 110 miles an hour."
The Witch (2015)
The Witch is another film that really scared King, Bloody Disgusting reports. "It’s a real movie, tense and thought-provoking as well as visceral," he said.