There's a solid chance that in the span of your entire life, you've had at least one nightmare inspired by Stephen King. He's the man who brought Pennywise the Clown to life in It, gave a high school outcast bloody reign over her entire town in Carrie, and gave twins a horrifying reputation in The Shining. And though he's also written plenty about topics far removed from the horror genre, an unavoidable menace follows him all the same. In fact, that very menace goes so far as to transcend the page, burrowing into various films that have been adapted from his vast collection of novels.
Between Mary Lambert's adaptation of Pet Sematary to the recent Netflix adaptation of 1922 from Zak Hilditch, there are dark behind-the-scenes secrets hidden beneath some of King's adaptations, including body mutilation, real-life ghosts, and even death.
Keep reading—if you dare—to check out 15 Dark AF Secrets Behind Stephen King Adaptations.
When Stephen King decided to get behind the camera himself to direct an adaptation of his short story Trucks—titled Maximum Overdrive—it didn't just become a painful experience for audiences, but for one of the crew members as well.
While filming a particular scene involving a lawnmower, King insisted that it keep its blades, despite cinematographer Armando Nannuzzi's objections. Insisting that the blades made it seem more realistic, King ultimately got his way. Unfortunately, a malfunction caused a wooden splinter to pierce Nannuzzi in the eye. As a result, Nannuzzi ended up losing his eye and suing King, as well as 17 others, for $18 million.
Not only did audiences and critics pan the film, but King himself has gone on record bashing it, calling it a "moron movie."
Before last year's adaptation of It from Andy Muschietti, there was a made-for-TV mini-series adaptation in 1990. With a lower budget than the 2017 feature-length version, as well as the inability to go all-in on gore, it still managed to create some memorable bits of horror courtesy of Tim Curry as the shapeshifting Pennywise. Still, the most haunting aspect of this miniseries doesn't even have to do with the source material at all, but with two of its lead actors.
John Ritter, who starred as the older version of Ben Hanscom, and Jonathan Brandis, who played the younger version of Bill Denbrough, both died in 2003, just two months apart. After experiencing chest pain during rehearsals for 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, Ritter died suddenly from aortic dissection on September 11th; Brandis took his own life on November 12th.
Even though Cujo is all about a rabid dog (or possessed, depending on your interpretation) attacking a mother and her son in a broken down car, the adaption's cast and crew shouldn't have had anything to worry about. No matter how frightening the titular dog might appear on screen, the real scares only happened on account of movie magic; no one was ever in any real danger. Or so they thought.
During production, Dee Wallace's stuntwoman, Jean Coulter, had part of her nose bitten off by one of the dog's playing Cujo. According to Wallace and director Lewis Teague, Coulter had inadvertently signaled the dog to lunge towards her (he was trained to do so in order to shoot a particular scene, but the cameras were no longer rolling), and as a result, the dog "bit off the end of her nose."
While not quite as well received as the first of the two Stephen King anthologies, Creepshow 2 had its fair share of inspired moments. For example, the scene in which Daniel Beer's Randy discovers that Jeremy Green's Laverne has one side of her face eaten off by the black blob. As it turns out, however, the scariest part of this entry wasn't even written into the script (yes, there was actually a script).
After filming in the freezing water for hours on end, Beer ended up being rushed to the hospital for hypothermia. The actor explains in a post of Facebook that someone on set noticed that he "was green and looked woozy." After filming some scenes, a paramedic would have to supply him with oxygen, whereupon he would pass out.
Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining is considered to be one of the best horror movies ever made. However, for Shelley Duvall, who played Wendy Torrance, it was one of the most horrific acting experiences of her career.
In an interview with Roger Ebert in 1980, Duvall opened up about how she felt emotionally abused by Kubrick during the 13 months it took to film her scenes in The Shining. Referring to work conditions as being "unbearable," she explained how essentially crying for 12 hours straight was hardly the recipe for a healthy work environment. Behind-the-scenes footage shot from Kubrick's own daughter revealed the verbal abuse Duvall had to suffer through from the director. Even King himself has criticized the movie for its depiction of Wendy, who is hardly portrayed to be as resilient as the character is in his novel.
Stephen King is no stranger to death. In his stories, his characters are surrounded by it, haunted by it, and even fueled by it. Outside of his stories, King has personally brushed with death on more than one occasion, with one such experience inspiring his novel Pet Sematary.
In the novel, the horrific events are set in motion after the death of the main character's three-year-old son. The family lives on a busy road where trucks are often reckless and speeding, and before long, the young boy walks into the road, gets struck by a passing truck, and is immediately killed. While horrific all on its own, King was inspired by a real-life incident where his son Owen (now a successful author) might have been struck himself on a similar road had King not intervened.
If you haven't already caught 1922 on Netflix, be prepared to have some happy-go-lucky movies at the ready to help cleanse your palette. Though set on a cozy-looking Nebraskan farm, the negativity on display here is ripe and unforgiving—but what more could you expect from a Stephen King tragedy? It's infested with regret, despair, death, and (most prominently) rats, but one of its nastier elements didn't happen on-screen, but on set.
During production, filmmakers used live rats instead of resorting to CGI, and the results were impressive. That said, though, while filming on location in Virginia with up to 200 trained rats, the trainers discovered that some rogue wild rats had mixed into the crew. Considering the fact that they were filming in an actual barn, this shouldn't seem to surprising, but lack of surprise by no means cancels out of finding wild, potentially diseased and dangerous, rodents crashing the party.
When Bryan Singer (the director of X-Men, The Usual Suspects) adapted Stephen King's novella Apt Pupil in 1998, he was delving into a very real-life sort of horror, tackling industrialized genocide courtesy of Hitler and the Nazi Party. As it turns out, though, there was allegedly another kind of real-life horror happening on set—in this case, courtesy of Singer himself, as well as two assistant directors.
Amid the #MeToo movement, various actors who were considered minors while filming Apt Pupil accused Singer of inappropriate behavior during production. The allegation came from an extra who was 14 years old at the time who accused Singer of forcing him, as well as several other underage extras, to strip naked for a scene taking place in a locker room. Despite the fact that there are laws protecting minors from this sort of on-set behavior, they were still expected to follow direction regardless.
When Carrie White finally loses all control over her telekinesis in Carrie's final act, all hell breaks loose. She looks her fellow classmates into the high school gymnasium, forcing them to essentially wait their turn until some violent death eventually finds them. As it turns out, though, despite movie magic ultimately bringing King's horrific scene to life, production wasn't quite as safe as filmmakers might have intended.
When P.J. Soles' character eventually dies, it happens by way of a fire hose. However, considering this movie was filmed in the '70s (and on a relatively low budget), special effects weren't as easy to come by as they are today. In other words, the blast was real. When Soles was hit in the face with the water, it ended up breaking her eardrum, and in an interview with Vulture, she said that "the pain was excruciating."
In the original Stephen King novel, The Shining ends (SPOILERS) with the hotel blowing up and burning down (which is a major contrast to the icy conditions with which the film ends). During production, however, a mysterious accident turned out to adhere closer to the source material than the film itself.
Around the time that production was set to wrap, a fire consumed the set, destroying over $2.5 million worth of damage. And as if the destruction was bad enough, the on-set photographer added explained that "we never really discovered what caused that fire." Whether it was due to foul play or the result of a real-life haunting itself, the fire remains a mystery to this day. Thankfully, no one on set was hurt.
Nothing about the story in Cujo is meant to illicit a single shred of comfort. Dee Wallace's Donna Trenton and her husband are having marriage woes, her car breaks down, there's an unbearable heatwave consuming the town, and to top it all off, there's a rabid (or possessed) dog hellbent on killing her and her son. As it turns out, though, the struggle wasn't just real for Wallace's character, but for Wallace herself as well.
After Cujo wrapped, Wallace had to be treated for exhaustion for three weeks. She explained, in an interview with Den of Geek, that she "didn’t know how to be able to access it [exhaustion] and monitor" herself. She even adds: "Cujo’s the toughest thing I ever did."
It's a good thing the adaptation didn't go with the book's original ending. God only knows how that would have left her...
If you don't cry at the end of The Green Mile, then you may want to consider giving your local Exorcist a call (what with your soul being possessed and all). This Stephen King adaptation hit every emotional button imaginable, but it also happened to coincide with a very real kind of horror affecting King himself.
Around the time of production on The Green Mile in the summer of 1999, King was walking home in Maine when Bryan Smith struck him with his vehicle. King survived the collision, but just barely, breaking his hip, leg, and ribs, puncturing a lung, and receiving a head injury. As a result, he spent three weeks at Central Maine Medical Center, undergoing five operations, just barely surviving. Then, to make things all the more unsettling, Smith mysteriously passed away a year later on King's 53rd birthday.
With Misery, Kathy Bates became the first actress to win an Oscar for the portrayal of a Stephen King character. Unfortunately, in order to truly embody Misery's maniacally obsessive Annie Wilkes, the role ended up taking an emotional toll on her during production.
The longer production lasted, the more isolated Bates became on set, prompting director Rob Reiner to interfere, insisting that she leave work behind after wrapping for the day. What's more is that the violence had become difficult for Bates to handle, and she would have occasional emotional breakdowns during filming on account of the subject material. In two particular scenarios—the mallet scene and the final altercation between Wilkes and James Caans' Paul Sheldon—Wilkes broke down in tears, proving that the sort of material King typically writes is hardly for the faint of heart.
As if The Shining wasn't haunting enough, it's managed to land a third entry on this list due to the mysterious and dark foundation on which it was produced.
While King never offers up a specific explanation as to why The Overlook Hotel is infested with so much malice, there have been plenty theories, the deepest of which have a home in Rodney Ascher's documentary Room 237—named after the dreaded hotel room in Stanley Kubrick's film (in the novel, the room is 217). One of the theories posits the idea that Kubrick's version of the hotel is a product of Native American genocide. If you rewatch The Shining and look closely at the details, you'll see that Kubrick may well have been drawing dark parallels to the way Native Americans were treated in early American history. Then again, you can just watch the documentary itself for more detailed insight.
If haunted houses are make believe, then how do you explain the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California? (OK, so you can definitely write off the "haunted" claims as pure coincidence or embellishment, but it's still fun to believe.) The wife of firearm magnate William Winchester (see Winchester rifles), Sarah Winchester believed that her home was haunted by victims of Winchester firearms, and became more and more paranoid as years progressed. After the death of her husband, she used her inheritance to continue arbitrary construction on her home for as long as she lived, allegedly believing that constant construction would appease the spirits.
Stephen King wrote a made-for-TV miniseries titled Rose Red in 2002 that revolved around a similar house. Only, in the series' case, Rose Red continued construction even after its owners passed away—on account of supernatural assistance.