Any Stephen King fan will tell you that the true horror in his stories comes from the audience’s connection with the characters and the desire not to see harm befall them – but that being said, the author is remarkably talented when it comes to imagining the “harm” part of that equation, and it has inspired a great number of filmmakers to do the same. To be blunt, in the wide variety of King adaptations, we have seen characters meet some bitter and terrible ends that audiences wouldn’t wish upon their worst enemy.
But in that specific history, who arguably got it the worst? It’s a difficult question when you consider how high the body count is going back to 1976, but upon deep reflection I think I have managed to determine the list of the most horrific Stephen King movie deaths. Strap in, and prepare for a desensitizing adventure through cinematic history.
As you might expect, this article is brimming with spoilers from movie adaptations of Stephen King's books. Also, some extremely gory images.
10. Carrie – Margaret White Gets Skewered
One could make an argument that Margaret White (Piper Laurie) would be happy with the way she dies in Brian De Palma’s Carrie – which is to say thinking of herself as a martyr trying to rid the world of evil (in the same position as St. Sebastian, no less). In a much more objective way, however, her death is truly horrific.
After spending decades of her life in psychotic religious fervor, she attempts to murder her own daughter (Sissy Spacek) by stabbing her in the back with a kitchen knife, and when Carrie tries to defend herself the result is the telekinetically gifted girl launching a variety of kitchen utensils into her mother’s torso. Even though Margaret is a horribly abusive monster, you can’t help but empathize with the pain felt by her teenage daughter in the moment – pain that winds up bringing down their house on top of both of them.
9. The Dead Zone – Frank Dodd Commits Suicide With Scissors
With the police, a.k.a. his colleagues, having discovered his awful secret, serial killer Frank Dodd (Nicholas Campbell) sees only one way out in David Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone. But ordinary methods of suicide apparently of interest to him – so instead of trying to hang himself or slit his wrists, his method of shifting off this mortal coil is by balancing a pair of scissors on the edge of his bathtub and driving his open mouth into it. As he discovers, this isn’t the most efficient way of taking one’s own life, and so when he is discovered by Sheriff Bannerman (Tom Skerritt) and Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) he is still twitching in the tub.
Adding insult to injury, it’s entirely possible that he is still alive when his mom (Colleen Dewhurst) decides to open fire with her son’s service revolver and dies taking a bullet in the gut.
8. Cujo – Gary Becomes Cujo’s First Victim
With the first half of Lewis Teague’s Cujo being dedicated to establishing characters and drama, the moment the rabid dog story really activates kicks like a mule, with the death of Gary Pervier (Mills Watson) driving home just how dangerous the titular insane animal is. The man is at home just minding his own business and taking out the trash when the infected St. Bernard shows up, and within minutes he is dead – first wrestling with the giant beast, but then succumbing and getting his throat ripped out.
Admittedly Gary isn’t the most lovable individual in the ensemble, and in truth he makes a pretty gross pair with Ed Lauter's Joe Camber (which is very much the case in Stephen King’s novel as well), but it’s hard to say anybody deserves such a horrific death.
7. In The Tall Grass – Becky Eats Her Newborn Baby
Adapting the short story of the same name co-written by Stephen King and Joe Hill, Vincenzo Natali’s In The Tall Grass gives us a vomit-worthy death that is particularly horrific because it is both an internal and external kind of horror. First there’s the fact that you have a newborn slaughtered by the child’s possessed uncle (Avery Whitted), which is monstrous all by itself, but then there is the additional fact that said uncle then feeds the pieces to his sister/the baby’s mother (Laysla De Oliveira) to nourish her post-labor.
It’s a terrible thing to behold even in low light and in close-ups, and a moment that is not quick to leave the mind of anyone who witnesses it. You spend the entire movie hoping that these characters are going to be able to escape the endless trap they find themselves in, and in the moment your jaw just naturally drops.
6. The Dark Half – George Stark Gets Torn Apart By Sparrows
Given that George Stark (Timothy Hutton) is a literal evil twin in George A. Romero’s The Dark Half, you don’t exactly feel all that terrible when he winds up the loser in his confrontation with his “brother” – but this is an interesting case where you still get chills and a curled lip witnessing his death. A person being pecked at and torn apart by small birds is not the kind of thing you see in movies every day, and with the use of some great special effects the Stephen King movie goes all out presenting the murderous psychopath being ripped apart into bloody pieces.
There is some schadenfreude in it, but it’s an odd kind of schadenfreude that comes with a side of nausea.
5. IT – Georgie Denbrough Gets Pulled Into The Sewer
The death of Georgie Denbrough in Andres Muschietti’s IT is what can be called a “tone setter,” and boy, what a fucked up tone does it set. Anyone who even knows the most minor details about Stephen King’s epic knows about “the scene with the kid and the clown in the sewer,” but in a way knowing what is going to happen makes it all the more horrific.
You watch helplessly as innocent, trusting Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) negotiates the return of his paper boat from Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) knowing that at one jarring moment the who situation is going to make a turn for the terrible. When it finally does it is beyond upsetting to watch, as the monstrous clown first rips off the boy’s right arm, and then drags him into the storm drain as the boy desperately tries to crawl away. You instantly know what the film is all about, and it prepares you for one of the best King adaptations we’ve ever seen.
4. The Mist – A Military Police Officer Gets Devoured From The Inside Out
There are zero easy deaths in Frank Darabont’s The Mist, as every creature that is unleashed as part of the Project Arrowhead mistake has its own special way of killing. I very nearly included the scene where Sally (Alexa Davalos) gets stung in the throat by a monster wasp… but then I remembered what happens when Thomas Jane's David Drayton and his crew venture to the pharmacy for supplies. It’s there that they not only discover a massive spider web, but also a military police officer who has been used by the alternate dimension arachnoids as an egg incubator.
There are truly no words for how unbelievably horrible it is that the guy lives through the experience of being eaten alive by baby spiders, right up until his body falls to the ground and explodes.
3. Pet Sematary – Jud Crandle Gets His Achilles Tendon Split, Adam’s Apple Bitten
Unlike the 2019 remake, Mary Lambert’s Pet Sematary demonstrated some remarkable boldness by sticking close to the Stephen King book of the same name and bringing the nightmarish Gage Creed to the big screen (it obviously helps that King himself wrote the screenplay). There are some small moments that haven’t aged well, but what’s most important is that the sequence featuring Gage vs. Jud Crandle absolutely has, and it still registers as one of the most horrific deaths in a Stephen King movie.
The unsuspecting Jud first gets his Achilles tendon slashed by Gage, who wields his father’s scalpel, and then, when the innocent neighbor is prone on the floor, the two-year-old zombie chomps down on his throat. If you haven’t already noticed, violence against children has already been a big part of this list, but this is a reversal of that, and it has a kind of horrific extra edge as a result.
2. The Green Mile - Eduard Delacroix Fries
While taking into account that he is a prisoner on death row for having committed a horrific crime, Michael Jeter’s Eduard Delacroix is mostly presented as a sympathetic character in Frank Darabont’s The Green Mile: clearly not a champion in the IQ department, remorseful for his actions, and a gentile pet owner. All of that, of course, makes witnessing his death by itself horrific – but what puts it at number two spot in this ranking is the gobsmackingly awful way in which he is executed.
Because he is a sadistic piece of shit, Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchison) purposefully doesn’t soak the sponge that is meant to take the chair’s current straight to its occupant’s brain, and the end result is that Eduard gets cooked alive with electricity… and Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) can’t even call for it to be shut down because living through such an experience would be even worse than dying.
1. Doctor Sleep – The True Knot Tears The Baseball Boy Apart
Imagine you’re Bradley Trevor. You’re a sports-loving kid living in a small Iowa town, and though you don’t really know why, you’re a hell of a baseball player because you can see the pitch that a pitcher is going to throw before they throw it. You wonder if perhaps your talent could someday lead to you wearing the number 19 for a Major League ball club. But then you’re set upon by a group of energy vampires who drug you, bring you to an abandoned ethanol plant, and torture you to death so that they can absorb a magic you didn’t even know about.
It’s a fucking nightmare, and one that director Mike Flanagan brings to traumatizing life in Doctor Sleep. With the brilliant added touch of casting the adorable Jacob Tremblay as the young Baseball Boy, it’s a death that makes you want to cry as you watch it – and also further reveals Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) as one the most diabolical Stephen King villains of all time.
Of course, this list is definitely mutable, as new Stephen King adaptations premiere practically every year, and more often than not they feature a character losing their life in some kind of horrific way. To discover everything that’s ahead, be sure to check out our Upcoming Stephen King Movies guide.