Stephen King is the undisputed master of horror. He’s an incredibly prolific writer, penning over 56 books under his own name alone, and is one of the most adapted authors alive, with over 120 adaptations of his books, scripts, and short stories on film and television. In those thousands of pages, there have been more deaths than anyone could count—until now. After scouring every one of King’s novels, films, mini-series, and collections of short fiction, here are the 28 worst deaths in the Stephen King canon.
In this short story, originally published in King’s Bazaar of Bad Dreams, several people (most notably Doug Clayton, an insurance salesman) are devoured by an alien that has disguised itself as an old station wagon at a rest stop. Pretty gruesome, but we’re just getting started.
A young couple named John and Elise Graham are crushed in their cellar under a mass of sharp-toothed toads when they decide to stay in their homes during the titular rainy season, despite the warnings of many of the townsfolk. Weird, yes, but crushing isn’t that bad, considering.
One of King’s earliest novels, Firestarter is about Charlie McGee, the daughter of two test subjects of a super-soldier formula that grants users pyrokenesis. When the Shop, the government agency that created the formula—led by Cap Hollister—sends assassin John Rainbird to kill Charlie, both men are burned alive by the pyrokinetic girl. When will bad guys learn? Don’t mess with super-soldiers. I’d still pick fire over what’s coming up, though.
In an alternate Earth’s far future, a war-torn United States is under martial law, ruled by a dictator known as “The Major.” Each year, a competition called the Long Walk is held, wherein 50 boys walk nonstop across America, under threat of death, until only one remains standing. Near the end of the marathon, participant Gary Barkovitch loses his mind and rips out his own throat to stop the psychological agony of the Walk. Not the best way to go, but it gets much, much worse.
After being run over by a truck and brought back to life by his father Louis’ misuse of the titular magical cemetery, a demonic toddler named Gage Creed kills neighbor Jud Crandall with a scalpel, toying with him by slicing his Achilles tendon before finishing the job. A brutal death, but it’s made worse by the killer, not the method.
The eponymous character, a housemaid, gets her abusive husband drunk and tricks him into falling down a well, after he takes all of the couple’s savings and turns their kids against her. If that weren’t enough, she hits him with a rock when he tries to climb out. If the rock didn’t kill him, the fall back to the well surely did the trick. He definitely deserved it, but maybe he deserved one of the lower entries on this list.
(NOTE: Though this story was not written by King, it kills one of his original characters, so we’re including it.) In the film-only sequel to Carrie, Sue Snell—one of the only survivors of Carrie’s Black Prom—becomes a school counselor only to be brained with a fire poker by another telekinetic girl, Rachel Lang. Bullies Monica and Eric are also murdered very creatively when Rachel breaks Monica’s glasses and shards of glass fly into her eyes. In her distress, she fires a harpoon gun into Eric’s crotch, castrating him. Both bleed out, hopefully quickly in Eric’s case.
Death row inmate Eduard Delacroix (played by Michael Jeter in the 1999 film) is put to death via the electric chair, and is cruelly denied conducive brine on the sponge by cruel guard Percy Wetmore, prolonging his execution and ensuring he dies in screaming agony. This is one of the most realistic deaths on the list, but you know we have to go supernatural for our best picks.
In this movie-only story, an incestuous mother-son, vampire-werecat duo invade a small town to drain virgin women of their life force. After killing a police deputy, mother Mary Brady murders another cop by stabbing him with a corn on the cob and delivering a one-liner as corny as the murder weapon... I’ll see myself out.
In the second of the Dark Tower books, sadistic killer Jack Mort is killed when gunslinger protagonist Roland Deschain possesses his body and forces him to jump in front of a subway train, dispossessing him at the last possible second. Talk about a mindfuck, though he probably didn’t end up feeling it much.
A corn-based cult of youths in service to an otherworldly monster crucify housewife Vicky when she and her husband, Burt, attempt to turn in the body of a young boy they run over with their car. After the couple gets separated, the kids rip out her eyes and stuff her mouth full of corn husks, hopefully post-mortem. I like this death a lot, but it’s off-page, so I can’t get too scared.
After a cross-country flight where everyone who fell asleep entered a time warp, business man Craig lands in Maine and tries to get back to his own time. Unfortunately unhinged, he has his legs cut off and gets eaten by the Langoliers, black spheres with razor-sharp teeth that clean up the time stream. He dies screaming. Great death, but it’s by some of King’s least inspired monsters.
When the cops come to her home looking for missing mystery writer Paul Sheldon, his kidnapper—former nurse Anne Wilkes—stabs a police officer with a cross then runs over his head with a lawnmower. Later, Paul hits her over the head with a typewriter and forces her to eat the burnt pages of the manuscript she tortured him in order to get him to write. She wanders off and later dies in her barn from her injuries. It’s a great conflict, but Wilke’s final fate should have been at Paul’s hands directly.
A malevolent spirit named Tak takes over the mind of an autistic boy named Seth and terrorizes the neighborhood with the figments of his very active imagination. Neighbor Peter Jackson (no relation) is killed when Tak magically grows a cactus and stabs him in the back, paralyzing and eventually killing him. I bet Jackson wishes it were just a figment of his imagination.
A group of the unluckiest laborers ever are sent to exterminate a rat infestation in the basement of a textile mill, and are all eaten by the aforementioned rats, which have mutated into giant, horrific bat and weasel-like creatures. Claustrophobia and monsters are horrific on their own; both combined is something I don’t even want to think about.
A pair of seemingly-broken novelty teeth in the possession of a salesman slowly tear a hitchhiker to shreds when he tries to rob and kill the salesman after the latter offers him a ride. That’s way worse than a whoopee cushion.
In King’s first novel, Carrie White, a telekinetic teenager with an overbearing, overly-religious mother, massacres a prom full of people after being elected queen as a joke and covered in pig’s blood. She seals the exits of the gymnasium with her mind and turns on the sprinklers, which wets the hired band’s equipment, electrocuting some and starting a fire that incinerates many more in an event that will come to be known as the Black Prom. This, one of the most famous King death scenes, proves he knew how to freak us out from the beginning.
After writer Thad Beaumont’s evil, pulpy alter-ego George Stark takes on a life of his own and begins murdering people, only one of them can survive. After a final confrontation, Thad eventually triumphs, a feat punctuated by a flock of sparrows ripping George’s skin from his bones, and signaling the symbolic death of King’s real life alter-ego Richard Bachman. This kill gets bonus points for killing a fictional character outside of the book.
In the third Dark Tower Book, the city of Lud (an alternate-dimension version of New York) is serviced by sentient AI monorails Blaine and Patricia. After years of service, Blaine goes insane, drives Patricia to suicide, then kills itself after losing a riddle contest to gunslinger Roland Deschain and his friends. And you thought the A train was bad.
On a trip out to a Pennsylvania lake, four college students named Rachel, Deke, LaVerne, and Randy are terrorized by an oil-slick like creature that dissolves their flesh and bones when they touch it—in LaVerne’s case, while she’s having sex with Randy. As it happens, Randy survives in the book but gets melted in the version filmed for Creepshow 2. Lots of slow deaths are agonizing, but being melted alive is a contender for the worst.
When a mist—concealing a legion of gruesome Lovecraftian monsters—descends upon Bridgton, Maine, many of the residents are trapped in the small town’s supermarket. While seeking an escape, assistant manager Ollie Weeks is TORN IN HALF by a giant crab claw (more mantis-like in the film). This one isn’t terribly complicated, but it’s hard to beat bisection.
In a town terrorized by the titular monster, no victim has a more off-the-wall death than Bully Patrick Hockstetter. The monster, which delights in taking on the form of its victims’ worst fears before killing them, hides in a broken refrigerator and attacks the boy as a swarm of flying leeches, sucking him dry before moving onto its next victim. I love this death because it’s not even crucial to the plot. Stephen King just wanted a badass sequence of a guy being drained by leeches in a fridge.
Despite the terrible name for this story from King’s Just After Sunset collection, this death will make your skin crawl. An unnamed hitman working for a company that tortured thousands of cats is killed by his unusual target (a demonic cat, believed to be connected to three murders) when the creature claws its way into (and out of) his body. Just think about a cat crawling around inside of you, and tell me you won’t look twice the next time one wants to sit on your lap.
In this strange, technophobic tale, every cellphone in the world turns its users into zombies. The survivors (including prep school teacher Charles Ardai) all share dreams of a telekinetic named the Raggedy Man. When the man turns out to be real, he makes Ardai commit suicide in one of the most painful ways imaginable, telepathically forcing him to shove a pen in his eye. The Raggedy Man could have chosen any way to kill Ardai, but he deliberately chooses one of the most painful things I can possibly imagine.
Stephen King not only wrote this story, but adapted it for the screen and directed it himself. Originally called Trucks, the (awful) expanded movie version contains the deaths of an unnamed Little League coach and his team, who are killed in potentially the greatest tag-team of all time between a vending machine that fires soda cans at the coach’s balls, scaring the kids into a steamroller that finishes the job. This death gets a lot of credit for humor, but this tandem kill is still horribly visceral as well.
The army quarantines an alien microvirus that grows worm-like aliens in humans, eventually expelling themselves through the anus and killing the host (giving them their name “shit-weasels”). Unfortunately, four friends are caught in the quarantine. Even worse, one friend—Beaver—gets the full shit weasel treatment. While there are other King deaths that are more brutal, there are few more ridiculous and humiliating than death by ass-burster.
This second entry isn’t one death, so much as an event. In Under the Dome, bored alien teens erect a dome around a small town. This day comes to be known as Dome Day to commemorate a cavalcade of creatively awful deaths. Casualties of Dome Day include Police Chief Howard Perkins, whose pacemaker explodes when he touches the dome; Wanda Debec, who crashes into the dome in a car twice, the first time in her own vehicle and then again in a car that tries to take her to a hospital; Myra Evans who bleeds out after her arm is severed by the dome; Nora Robichaud and Robert Roux, who break their necks after being flung from vehicles; and Claudette Sanders, who flies a plane into the dome that explodes on impact, killing her and flight instructor Chuck Thompson. This one might be cheating a little bit, but damn if it isn’t an intricate and creative way to murder almost a dozen characters.
Laundry worker Adelle Frawley is eviscerated by an industrial laundry press that has been possessed by a powerful demon. This kill is the only one on the list that physically disturbed me when I first encountered it. I can’t possibly do it justice, so I’ll post a little bit of the story, from his Night Shift collection, below.
And Mrs Frawley, somehow, had been caught and dragged in. The steel, asbestos-jacketed pressing cylinders had been as red as barn paint, and the rising steam from the machine had carried the sickening stench of hot blood... But not even that was the worst... ‘It tried to fold everything,’