Stephen King's It Clown-Only Screening

Being scared is a highly subjective experience. Some people have a genuine fear of clowns. For those people, the coulrophobics of the world, watching the new film adaptation of Stephen King’s It in a theater full of clowns would probably be terrifying. The rest of us will just have to be content to get in the mood for It some other way. A great way to do that is by revisiting scary scenes from other Stephen King adaptations.

With that in mind, let’s dive into a few memorable moments from other Stephen King adaptations and talk about how those moments play into certain indelible fears. Some of these fears might register on a basic human level; King would not be as successful as he is if he were not capable of tapping into the kind of horror that does that. Other fears might seem more perspectival in nature; but here again, King would not be as successful as he is if he were not capable of shifting the axis of a reader’s perspective from time to time.

Let’s attempt something similar. Let’s put you in the shoes of a contestant on a FearFactor-like show, set entirely within King’s world of horror. Here, the contestant is forced to confront a succession of elemental fears, one after another.

To keep it accurate, we’ll follow the format of a real Fear Factor episode, and limit the list to three stunts, or fear challenges. Even if you are not wired to have the same fears — even if these are not the same King moments that would rank with you personally — maybe they will start to resonate, and you will start to feel a little sympathy or even empathy for our beleaguered fear contestant (let’s call him Grifty McFear).

Now, let’s run the gauntlet …

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The Mist (2007)

Fear challenge #1: The fear of hopelessness.

Key quote for this challenge: “Four bullets.”

Throughout this list, we’ll be moving backward through the decades, and so the first title to come up is this 10-year-old film from director Frank Darabont. Before he developed The Walking Dead into a TV show, Darabont had made a career of adapting Stephen King stories for the big screen. His first two adaptations, The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, were both nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

The Mist is more of a B-movie, complete with dodgy special effects, like the squirming CGI tentacle that drags a character out of the garage in a supermarket where people are taking refuge from a mysterious fog with monsters in it. But while the film would not get nominated for any Oscars, there are some flourishes to it, like the heavily improvised camerawork, that do elevate it above the usual horror fare, both stylistically and thematically.

When Darabont made this film, he was coming off a stretch where he had just directed several episodes of the television crime drama The Shield. Much of the crew for The Mist was in fact made up of Shield personnel, and the show’s influence can very much be felt in the film’s ragged camera approach. As the characters start to get caught up in mass hysteria at the supermarket — with Mrs. Carmody, the deranged, Bible-thumping ring-leader, inciting stabbings and calling for “expiation” — the camera is right there in the middle of the chaos. There is a feverishness to the way it pivots and zooms. Darabont went in guerrilla-style, without blocking the shots, letting the lens participate in the delirium.

But it is the film’s divisive, unflinching ending that truly elevates it. Gentle reader, we are about to delve into some serious spoilers now, so if you have not seen The Mist and do not want to know the film’s ending, do yourself a favor and skip to the next fear challenge.

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Walking Dead fans will recognize Laurie Holden and Jeffrey DeMunn, who played Andrea and Dale on the hit show, as two of the faces in the escape car when it runs out of gas in the middle of the mist. Up until this point, the movie has been all about survival. But now, when faced with the seemingly hopeless prospect of abandoning the car and taking their chances against the mist monsters, the characters give in to despair and make a suicide pact.

The only problem is, there are not enough bullets in the gun that David Drayton, played by Thomas Jane, is holding. And so he must do the unthinkable: shooting his four friends, including his son, and then offering himself up as the sole survivor to be devoured by the mist monsters.

The scene plays out like a tragedy, with Drayton resigning himself to his fate and embarking on an irreversible course of action, only to get out of the car, see the mist clear up, and realize help was right around the corner in the form of tanks and military men. By then, his situation really has become hopeless: not because it was that way to begin with, but because he himself made it that way.

In this fashion, The Mist restructures the fear that all hope is lost into a fear of giving up hope, abandoning it of one’s own volition. At the same time, it also plays into another fear: the fear of folly. That feeling of, “Oh, my God. What have I done?” It shows how fragile a person’s decision-making process can be when beset on all sides by monstrous problems.

Can we trust ourselves in moments like that? What if our instincts mislead us, even deceive us, to make choices that will let us down in the ugliest way possible?

The film’s feel-bad ending is one for the record books, yet in showing us the folly of what Drayton does, it manages to make a powerful allegorical statement about not letting oneself lose hope. Because we could all be him. We could all be that person struggling for survival, driving through life with a fog over our future, tempting us to give up hope.

Through the folly of its characters, The Mist illustrates a kind of worst-case scenario, the waking nightmare that can result, when a person gives up hope. In a weird, roundabout way, it is almost life-affirming. By building up Drayton’s fatal blunder, illustrating the ultimate example of what not to do, it lets us as audience members learn from the tragedy of a fictional character’s mistake, reinforcing the need for perseverance in our own lives.

Even though the ending is different, it is worth noting here that in his original novella for The Mist, King literally gave “hope” the last word. The Shawshank Redemption was also based on a novella with the phrase “Hope Springs Eternal” in the subtitle.

Continue Reading Dissecting the Scariest Stephen King Scenes >>

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