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`Most, if not all, of Stephen King‘s stories adapted for TV or film are promised to be thrilling… but there are those that standout, leaving a permanent mark, with certain scenes leaving us frozen with fear yet unable to stop sneaking glimpses through clasped hands.

Mr. Mercedes, starring Brendan Gleeson as a retired police detective who’s being taunted by a serial killer, premieres tonight (August 9) on AT&T’s Audience Network. Yep, that sounds suitably terrifying. Still, we’re really going to try to watch the entire 10-part series without hiding behind our hands. But should we become paralyzed with fear, we’ll be comforted in the knowledge that this is what’s supposed to happen. Horror should be horrifying, or it’s not doing its job.

Here are six earlier King adaptations that check this box — and each story’s pinnacle moment:

1. The Shining

Just the mention of 1980’s The Shining gives us chills. The most penetrating image is of Jack Nicholson as writer Jack Torance typing. Eventually we learn — through his wife’s (Shelley Duvall) discovery — he’s actually writing the same thing over and over: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” [Insert the eyes-bulging-out-of-head emoji]. The scene that finally did us in, though, was when he chased his young son through an unmanageable maze made of snow-covered evergreens, creating intense panic for us on the other side of the screen. Run, Danny, run!

2. Carrie

We get that Carrie (Sissy Spacek) may have stood out from the other kids at Bates High — yep, that’s a reference to Alfred Hitchcock‘s Norman Bates — in the 1976 film. But, her classmates took things way too far, terrorizing the timid teenager in the gym showers and tricking her into believing the popular boy genuinely wanted to bring her to prom. You’d think the scene where pig’s blood dumped on her at the dance would be the end all moment for us, but actually it was when Carrie turned her powers on the bullies. The moment when all the kids and teachers were trapped in the high school gym as it went up in flames definitely left us in shock. 

3. IT

The tone-setting terrifying moment in IT is pretty easy to pinpoint as the scene takes place early on in the 1990 two-part miniseries. Little Georgie is running after his paper boat, which is sailing down a stream of water in the gutter, when he spots a clown in the sewer. Coming across anyone below a grate would be alarming, but this wasn’t just some fella in fancy dress. “It” was a demon, known as Pennywise, whose schtick was disguising himself in a way that could get him close to children. It was down to a ragtag group of pre-teens to take him out of play. But here’s the catch: even if they could overcome this otherworldly power, Pennywise comes back every thirty years. This dang clown just won’t go away.

4. Misery

Kathy Bates and James Caan teamed up in 1990 to act out King’s Misery. Caan portrays a successful romance novelist who’s saved from a car crash by his “number one fan.” The woman who finds him, Annie Wilkes (Bates), follows his writing and repeatedly reminds him of how committed she is to his work. That’s not so unsettling — at first — because it seems entirely genuine. And she’s nursing him back to health. Surely she can’t have an ulterior motive. But when she gets out a wooden block, placing it under the author’s legs, and produces a large metal mallet… yep, it was heart-stopping, and the fear sunk in. “What is she going to do with THAT?,” we wondered, followed by a huge gulp and stomach sinking feeling . This time around, King lets us believe everything is hunky dory and then sneaks up on us. Wham! 

5. Cujo

We’ll admit, we get really upset when an animal is injured in a scene. It’s hard to watch, particularly when a defenseless critter is brought into a man-made situation. But in the case of the 1983 thriller Cujo, we’re left torn when a typically friendly St. Bernard, who takes on the title role, is sent into a rage after contracting rabies. A mother (Dee Wallace) and her young son (Danny Pintauro) find themselves in their broken-down Ford Pinto with Cujo on the other side of it. At this point, he’s lost his head and is well beyond the point of getting a curative shot from the vet. When watching the mother and son cling to each other while trapped in the car, we pick up on the claustrophobia setting in. The frightening moment is marked as the air gets denser by the minute. Yet we held onto the possibility that it’d all be fine. Like, sure, Cujo is a handful, but eventually he’ll tire himself out… right? RIGHT?

6. Christine 

Speaking of non-human baddies, the 1983 film adaptation of King’s Christine, is about a killer car. When the volatile Plymouth Fury (a.k.a Christine) develops a mind of her own, her violent ways start to rub off on her young driver (Keith Gordon). He’s loyal to his wheels, though — killer or not — and won’t let anyone lay a hand on her. We’re picking up a little bit of Stockholm Syndrome, with the driver relating to his captor. That, or he just really likes someone — or something — having his back, being kind of the odd man out. But the moment of no return, horror-wise, was when she regenerated after a brutal beating… it’s alive!

In addition to Mr. Mercedes, The Dark Tower, another King adaptation, just hit theaters this past weekend (August 4) and is killing at the box office.

As well being as world-class fermenter of fear, King is also known for creating alternative worlds. So when we caught up with Dark Tower leads, Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey recently, we asked them to describe their dream fantasy world. Their answers might surprise you…

Did you have the same visceral reaction the items listed above? Any you’d add? 

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Filed Under: Stephen King
By Brigid Brown