Stephen King has written 56 novels and nearly 200 short stories. He has been adapted many, many times for the big and small screen and has become such a name in the horror genre that he will probably never be dethroned as the king of scary stories. He has become so ingrained in our culture that we see his influence pop up all the time in sitcoms, music videos, video games, music, literature, cookery (he has a mean cheesecake recipe), and animation. It would be impossible to list every reference to him in popular culture, so I’ve narrowed it down to five of my favourites.
Radiohead – Karma Police
The music video for Radiohead’s “Karma Police” (directed by Jonathan Glazer) involves a driverless car careening down a dark, dirt road after a man. The car is playing with the runner, letting himself tire himself out before the kill. All the while Thom Yorke sits in the back of the car crooning one of his greatest songs, seemingly happy to let the car do its thing. John Carpenter’s adaptation of King’s 1983 novel, Christine features a similar scene, without Yorke obviously, in which the possessed Plymouth Fury at the centre of the story runs down the bully, Buddy, and kills him. In Radiohead’s video, the chased man manages to fight back and set the possessed car on fire, while Buddy is not so lucky and finds himself under the wheels.
Rick and Morty – Something Ricked This Way Comes
Rick and Morty, the dark mirror version of Back to the Future and Doctor Who, is a spoof a variety of tropes, genres, movies, and cliches. In the first season episode, “Something Ricked This Way Comes,” Dan Harman, Justin Roiland, and episode writer Mike McMahan turn their attention to underrated King adaptation, Needful Things. Summer, Rick’s granddaughter, gets a job working at Mr Needful’s store, Needful Things, a place where everything is free but you pay later. Rick quickly ascertains that the objects are cursed and, feeling jealous of Mr Needful/Satan’s relationship with Summer, begins to sabotage the curses. It is a pretty esoteric spoof considering how little-known Needful Things might be, but the be-careful-what-you-wish-for trope is tried and true, and Rick and Morty manages to have a lot of fun upending it.
When Stranger Things premiered King tweeted out a perfect summation of the show:
For King fans The Duffer Brothers, praise doesn’t come any higher. They have earned it though as the show captured a lot of the core themes at the centre of King’s work: shady governments, kids banding together to fight evil, frazzled characters on the brink of nervous breakdowns, young love/death, outsiders, and a strong depiction of a certain time period via music, pop culture references, or a meticulous eye for detail. Stranger Things felt as though it was was a Stephen King story directed by ET-era Spielberg and has managed to create a strange train of influences where the novel It inspired the show Stranger Things and the show Stranger Things inspired the look and feel of the movie It.
Silent Hill is the gold standard for survival horror video games that make you lose sleep and play with all the lights on. The plot of the first game follows Harry Mason as he crashes his car on the outskirts of the titular town. When he wakes up his daughter is gone and he must wade into the fog engulfing the town to find her. Instantly there are heavy allusions to King novella, The Mist with the creatures that live in the pea soup fog. There are also more subtle references with posters for the movies of Pet Sematery and Carrie appearing at different points ,as well as King’s “Study Damnit” poster he made in college. Don’t miss the graffiti on a garage door that reads REDRUM and or the street Bachman Road, a reference to King’s pen name, Richard Bachman. The game is scary enough, but knowing King is infused into its DNA only heightens the terror as you stumble blindly into the unknown.
J.J. Abrams has never made his love of King a secret. A lot of the TV shows he has brought to the small screen have featured references to King’s work that were either subtle or right in your face (Revolution had an episode called “The Stand” and a villain named Randall Flynn). Lost and Fringe featured King books or King concepts, and King reciprocated the love by writing extensively about Lost in his Entertainment Weekly column and referencing the show in his novels, Lisey’s Story, Duma King, and Under the Dome (which makes reference to a sequel show called The Hunted Ones). This mutual love-in has culminated in the upcoming Castle Rock, an anthology series set in the Maine town that King has set a lot of his novels, which J.J. Abrams has helped develop and on which he will serve as an executive producer (and maybe he’ll direct an episode or two if we’re lucky).
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