In anticipation of the impending release of yet another Stephen King movie adaptation – Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep – here is a list of the author’s favourite films of all time.
Not all of the films are in the horror genre. King once stated: “I am especially partial—this will not surprise you—to suspense films.”
King’s choices include all-time classic movies such as Les Diaboliques and Village of the Damned and highly-rated recent releases such as The Autopsy of Jane Doe and The Witch, however his championing of the 2009 remake of The Last House on the Left may strike some as an odd choice.
Stephen King’s favourite films of all time, with comments by the author:
The Autopsy of Jane Doe – André Øvredal, 2016
“Visceral horror to rival Alien and early Cronenberg. Watch it, but not alone.
The Blair Witch Project – Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, 1999
“One thing about Blair Witch: the damn thing looks real. Another thing about Blair Witch: the damn thing feels real. And because it does, 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.”
The Changeling – Peter Medak, 1979
“For supernatural horror, I like Peter Medak’s film The Changeling, starring George C. Scott in perhaps his last great screen role. There are no monsters bursting from chests; just a child’s ball bouncing down a flight of stairs was enough to scare the daylights out of me.”
Crimson Peak – Guillermo del Toro, 2015
Gorgeous and just f*cking terrifying.”
Dawn of the Dead – Zack Snyder, 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. Snyder’s zombies are, it seems to me: fast moving terrorists who never quit. You can’t debate with them, you can’t parley with them, you can’t even threaten their homes and families with reprisals. All you can do is shoot them and then steer clear of the twitchers. Remember that their bite is worse than fatal.”
Deep Blue Sea – Renny Harlin, 1999
Directed by the ever-popular Renny Harlin, who could potentially turn Heidi into an action flick, this movie about genetically engineered sharks, you could say, isn’t up to very much… until, at the most unexpected point of the film, one of the surpermakos rears up and bites Samuel L. Jackson in half! Yessss! I screamed out loud, and I treasure any horror movie that can make me do that.”
The Descent – Neil Marshall, 2005
“If it were to pick another movie to analyze closely, it would be this remarkable story of six women who go on a caving expedition and encounter a race of subhumans (who resemble del Toro’s Pale Man, now that I think about it). What gives the movie its resonance is how the women play against each other – their very real resentments (and secrets) allow us to believe the monsters in a way that most horror movies do not. I never tire of saying this: in successful creepshows, it’s not the FX, and mostly not even the monsters, that scare us. If we invest in the people, we invest in the movie… and in our own essential decency.”
Les Diaboliques – Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1955
Duel – Steven Spielberg, 1971
“His most inventive film, and stripped to the very core.”
Event Horizon – Paul W.S. Anderson, 1997
“Basically a Lovecraftian terror tale in outer space with a The Quatermass Experiment vibe, done by the Brits. 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.”
Final Destination – James Wong, 2000
“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 – 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.”
The Hitcher – Robert Harmon, 1986 and Dave Meyers, 2007
“Rutger Hauer in the original will never be topped, but this is that rarity, a reimagining that actually works. And Sean Bean is great in the role Hauer originated. 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 – Dennis Iliadis, 2009
“The best horror movie of the new century. 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 2009 Last House is the most brutal and uncompromising film to play American movie theaters since Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer.”
The Mist – Frank Darabont, 2007
“Frank Darabont’s vision of hell is completely uncompromising. If you want sweet, the Hollywood establishment will be pleased to serve you at the cineplex, believe me, but if you want something that feels real, come here. Darabont could have made a higher-budget film if he’d added a cheerful ‘It’s all OK, kiddies’ ending, but he refused. His integrity and courage shine in every scene.”
Night of the Demon – Jacques Tourneur, 1957
Although it’s old school, I love Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon, a pretty wonderful adaptation of M. R. James’ story, Casting the Runes. Tourneur was a disciple of Val Lewton, which means the horror here is pretty understated, until the very end.”
The Ruins – Carter Smith, 2008
“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. With its cast of mostly unknowns, this would play well on a double bill with Snyder’s Dawn remake.”
Sorcerer – William Friedkin, 1977
My favourite film of all time – this may surprise you—is Sorcerer, William Friedkin’s remake of the great Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear. Some may argue that the Clouzot film is better; I beg to disagree.
The Stepfather – Joseph Ruben, 1988
While we’re talking about terrifying men who come from nowhere, there’s The Stepfather, with Terry O’Quinn as the murderous (but charming) psycho looking for a family to love him. There’s that classic moment when he goes blank and says, “Saaay, who am I this time?” before bludgeoning his wife with a telephone.
Stir of Echoes – David Koepp, 1999
“Writer/director David Koepp should be declared a national treasure. His adaptation of Richard Matheson’s 1958 novel is an unsettling exploration of what happens when an ordinary blue-collar guy (Kevin Bacon) starts to see ghosts, thanks to a hypnotic suggestion.”
The Strangers – Bryan Bertino, 2007
An orchestration of growing disquiet and horror as a young couple (Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman) are set upon by a trio of masked psychotics. It starts slowly and builds from unease to terror to horror. 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.”
Village of the Damned – Wolf Rilla, 1960
“On the subject of British horror (wrapped in an sci-fi bow), you can’t do much better than Village of the Damned, directed by Wolf Rilla and – like Night of the Demon – shot in beautiful black and white. It’s an adaptation of The Midwich Cuckoos, by John Wyndham, and George Sanders does a stellar job as the schoolmaster tasked with teaching some very strange pupils.”
The Witch – Robert Eggers, 2015
“The Witch scared the hell out of me. And it’s a real movie, tense and thought-provoking as well as visceral.”
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