In case you haven’t noticed, or you live under a rock, it’s Women in Horror Month! And while we never miss a chance to report on the invaluable contributions women make to the genre, it’s great to have an entire month to sing their praises exponentially. From the filmmakers on horror’s cutting edge to the enduring villains that haunt our psyches, the female influence can never be understated.
You know who has a knack for creating terrifying female characters, the kind who burrow under your skin and fester? Stephen King. That’s hardly surprising considering the master fear practitioner’s extensive cannon, with dozens of film adaptations. Below, see who I think are Stephen King’s 10 Most Terrifying Female Characters, and let me know what you think in the Comments section.
Did your favorite female villain created by Stephen King make the list?
Annie Wilkes from Misery (1987)
Played by Kathy Bates in Misery (1990, Directed by Rob Reiner)
The infamous hobbling scene in the movie Misery (above) was actually much worse in the novel. Annie Wilkes actually chops off Paul’s leg, then cauterizes the stump with a blow torch. The final bloody battle at the story’s climax is also much more extreme. Stephen King has probably dodged his share of obsessive fans in his day, and he no doubt drew from those experiences to create the ultimate rabid fanatic. While Annie’s propensity towards violence is terrifying, it’s her moments of lucidity that really haunt us. Kathy Bates proved the perfect choice for the role, and her Oscar win for Best Actress in 1992 was a huge victory for the horror genre.
Margaret White from Carrie (1974)
Played by Piper Laurie in Carrie (1976, Directed by Brian De Palma)
While her extreme religious zeal and draconian punishments make Margaret White frightening, it’s the situation she’s locked into that makes her truly terrifying. As a single mother, she’s an authoritarian figure without balance, and while mothers are supposed to be beacons of love and support, Margaret is a stern warden, an emotional abuser, and a complete fucking nut. Check out her version of Sex Education in the clip above! Her emotional exclamation, “They’re all going to laugh at you!” became part of popular vernacular thanks to an absolutely arresting portrayal by Piper Laurie. Check out the short fan film Margaret from Sickening Pictures below for an interesting glimpse at what could have been her life, pre-Carrie.
Carrie White from Carrie (1974)
Played by Sissy Spacek in Carrie (1976, Directed by Brian De Palma)
While Carrie is seen as an antihero to many horror fans who identified with her role as the consummate outcast, there’s no denying that the eruption of her volcanic rage is terrifying. It’s the fact that no one could have predicted the power of her rage that’s both heroic and petrifying, proof that anything can happen when someone is pushed too far. The character endures as high schools and complex social hierarchies remain dangerous terrifying to navigate, perhaps more so in an age of gun violence, cyber bullying and revenge porn. The 2013 remake, directed by Kimberly Peirce, featured Chloë Grace Moretz in the titular role, and included some of these 21st Century elements.
Mrs. Carmody from The Mist (1980)
Played by Marcia Gay Harden in The Mist (2007, Directed by Frank Darabont)
While Margaret White was at least as fanatical as The Mist’s Mrs. Carmody, her hermitic tendencies limited the scope of her damaging influence. Mrs. Carmody, played to perfection by Marcia Gay Harden in Frank Darabont’s film adaptation, on the other hand is articulate and magnanimous with the power to tap into people’s fears in order to manipulate them. She also proves a wicked opportunist, using an unnatural disaster to initiate a power grab. Mrs. Carmody has an old school interpretation of The Bible, and she convinces her followers that God demands a blood sacrifice. Is it any wonder some of them chose to take their chances with the Lovecraftian monsters outside?
Christine from Christine (1983)
Portraying in film in Christine (1983, Directed by John Carpenter)
She may not have the double-X chromosomes, but Hell hath no fury like a… well, like a Plymouth Fury! Gearheads and auto enthusiasts have long given their precious possessions female names, but Christine actually is as devoted, caring—and obsessed as a real life girlfriend. Yeah, Christine is special. She does more than merely stand by her man, she kills for him. Only problem is, Christine is an incredibly jealous and catty demon. And did I mention she’s nearly impossible to kill? I’d rather face a human ex any day than this unstoppable beast!
Zelda from Pet Sematary (1983)
Played by Andrew Hubatsek in Pet Seamatary (1989, Directed by Mary Lambert)
Pet Sematary is a tale overflowing with terror: Zombie pets, mutilated specters, gut-wrenching traffic accidents, and a cursed Indian burial ground populate this enduring favorite. But it was a crippled, bed-ridden flashback that really stole the show—at least in Mary Lambert’s film adaptation. Zelda, played by Andrew Hubatsek (yup, that’s a dude!) scared the shit out of horror freaks—myself included! As a metaphor, Zelda represents those childhood traumas that continue to haunt us. She’s the manifestation of our darkest regrets, a permanent mental demon who’s impossible to outrun.
Alice Krige from Sleepwalkers (1992, Directed by Mick Garris)
This female villain is unique to King’s bibliography in the she went straight to film, birthed in a screenplay as opposed to a novel or short story. Alice Krige is also unique because, well, there’s nothing quite like her! She’s an energy vampire who feeds on the life-force of female virgins, but she’s also able to transform into a werewolf at will (no full moon needed for this lycanthropic predator). You’d think that such a powerful creature would be nearly immortal, but it turns out cats are her Achilles hell. Cats, and that incestuous relationship she’s having with her son, perhaps.
Mercy from Gramma (1985)
Played by Shirley Knight in Mercy (2014, Directed by Peter Cornwell)
If you thought the authoritarian grandmother from Flowers in the Attic was horror’s most wicked grandmother, you haven’t met Mercy. While grandparents are ideally loving and generous, quit a few are oddballs and some are downright scary. And while Shirley Knight was just fine playing this particular sinister granny in Mercy, she pales compared to the literary character she’s based on: A fish-white, grotesquely obese, bedridden monstrosity covered with sores and boils. When she says, “I want to give you a hug,” you’d be best served to run for your life! This nanna is a witch, and she’s planning to fight the grim reaper when he comes a calling. Now imagine you’re a 10-year-old child, and you’ve been left at home to take care of terrifying Gramma all by yourself… and she really wants that hug!
Charlene ‘Charlie’ McGee in Firestarter (1980)
Played by drew Barrymore in Firestarter (1984, Directed by Mark L. Lester)
Scary things can come in small packages, and even a film’s hero can be terrifying when she’s concocted in the twisted mind of Stephen King. Little Charlie McGee is cute as a button, perfectly brought to live by a post E.T. Drew Barrymore, but, like Carrie, she’s got special powers. She’s able to ignite fires through intense concentration, but things really get explosive when she’s in danger. Government plans to turn this precious tyke prove ill-advised when her full fury is unleashed. Charlie’s lack of impulse control makes just being in her presence a potentially painful event—and children aren’t exactly known for being rational! Also, anything related to spontaneous human combustion is scary as hell, am I right?
The Woman in Room 237 from The Shining (1977)
Played by Lia Beldam in The Shining (1980, Directed by Stanley Kubrick)
I haven’t read the book (please don’t lynch me, King fans!) so I can’t attest to her presence in the novel, but the Woman in Room 237 in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is stone cold petrifying. Like Zelda in Pet Sematary above, her time in The Shining is short (see the entire, very NSFW scene, HERE), but her impact is harrowing. In a film encompassed by an oppressive sense of dread, Jack’s encounter with this specter may well be the film’s most shocking moment. While she’s initially seductive and nearly impossible to resist, the reveal of her true form is almost painful to behold, giving her pivotal moment enduring resonance. I’d rather face a horde of bloody Grady twins than the Woman in Room 237!