Stephen King needs no introduction. Though he spends most of his time writing books and stories that almost inevitably get made (and remade) into movies and TV series, he also manages to do a little acting on the side, most often popping up in adaptations of his own works. Would you have guessed? We have some favorites!
Before we dive in, note that this list is sticking to horror movies and TV, so nobody come ‘round with “What about that sloppy, snarky guy he played in Knightriders?” (as much as I love that guy, and that whole movie). Same goes for all you Sons of Anarchy fans who came for me after my Ron Perlman list. With that clarification out of the way, here are our 10 favorite Stephen King horror roles—most are cameos, some are full-fledged characters, but all bring a little sprinkle of extra weirdness, and a big meta wink, to whatever project they appear in.
10) Pet Sematary (1989)
He’s only on-screen in Mary Lambert’s film for around 20 seconds, but casting King as the minister who delivers the graveside service for little Gage Creed—a temporary burial, because the kid’s grieving father will soon foolishly re-bury his son in a certain patch of cursed land—is both cheeky and perfect. Behind the scenes, King also adapted the screenplay from his best-selling novel.
9) The Shining (1997)
King, who famously disliked Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 take on his 1977 novel, penned the script for this Mick Garris-directed ABC miniseries do-over that starred Steven Weber and Rebecca De Mornay. Then, he bestowed it with the ultimate stamp of approval: a totally goofy cameo as “Gage Creed,” a character who’s somehow transformed from a creepily resurrected toddler into a dancing, prancing bandleader clad in a white tuxedo, leading a ghoulish shindig at the Overlook Hotel. We love that this role preserved his fancy footwork for posterity.
8) Thinner (1996)
Tom Holland (Child’s Play, Fright Night) directed and co-adapted this body-horror flick about an obese, morally corrupt lawyer (Robert John Burke in prosthetics) who starts rapidly dropping pounds as a result of a stereotypical Romani-influenced curse—an unfortunate trope that could have been updated from King’s 1984 novel but plays right into all the expected stereotypes instead. At any rate, King appears as a grumpy pharmacist who escapes being marked by a curse of his own, despite the fact that his customer service is somewhat lacking, and his testimony helps the lawyer wriggle out of charges after he accidentally mangles a Romani individual with his car. Thinner has not aged well, y’all.
7) Sleepwalkers (1992)
King wrote the screenplay for this tongue-in-cheek Mick Garris film about a mother and son who happen to be incestuous, vampiric, nomadic, cat-hating shapeshifters (played by Brian Krause and Alice Krige). At the start of the movie, the charming pair targets the unsuspecting Tanya (Madchen Amick at the height of her Twin Peaks fame) as their latest victim. Tanya realizes her new crush is actually a monster when he tries to drain her life force on their first date—a picnic in the local graveyard. The aftermath brings King’s cameo (as the cemetery caretaker, whose main concern is not the well-being of the traumatized girl, but rather making sure the cops don’t think he had anything to do with it) as well as some very fun other blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em turns by horror legends John Landis, Joe Dante, Clive Barker, and Tobe Hooper.
6) The Langoliers (1995)
Holland also directed and adapted King’s novella, which appears in his 1990 collection Four Past Midnight, for this two-part ABC miniseries about plane passengers left to fend for themselves after a Rapture-like event (caused by a wrong turn through some kind of space-time portal) strands them at the deserted Bangor, Maine airport. King’s surreal turn comes courtesy of increasingly unhinged businessman Craig (Bronson Pinchot), who hallucinates a business meeting with King as his money-hungry boss. Pinchot definitely chews a lot of scenery in the moment, but it’s so startling to see the author as a greedy corporate suit that he still makes an impression.
5) Kingdom Hospital (2004)
King got a “developed by” credit on this ABC series, which ran for a single season as an adaptation of Lars von Trier’s 1994 miniseries for Danish TV. He also pops up as one of the haunted hospital’s staff—a mysterious maintenance man named “Johnny B. Goode” whose existence is teased throughout the series, but who only actually appears in the finale. Though his screen time is short, the payoff after all that build-up does make for a nifty Easter Egg.
4) Maximum Overdrive (1986)
King adapted his short story “Trucks” for this cult horror-comedy, which is also his first and only directorial effort to date. He appears early on, as Earth is just starting to realize that all machines are starting to gain sentience—and very bad attitudes. King’s cheesy character can’t quite believe what the ATM he’s trying to use has registered on its screen, so he calls his wife over for a look: “Honey, come on over here, sugar buns...this machine just called me an asshole!”
3) The Stand (1994)
Garris (yes, again) directed this four-part ABC miniseries based on King’s epic 1978 novel set in the aftermath of an apocalyptic global pandemic. The huge cast is studded with cameos (John Landis and Sam Raimi show up, but so do big-name actors known for their work in King adaptations, like Ed Harris and Kathy Bates), but King actually gets a slightly more substantial role than his usual one-scene appearance. He plays Teddy Weizak, who helps main character Nadine Cross on her perilous journey from New York to Colorado, and he’s also tasked with a dramatic moment, breaking some very bad news to Stu Redman, another main character. While we don’t know yet if King will have an on-screen part in the rapidly approaching CBS All Access take on The Stand, we do know that the author penned “a new coda” for this version of the story.
2) It Chapter Two (2019)
King’s most recent cameo takes place in good old Derry, Maine, where a jittery Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy) spots an undeniable link to his childhood in the window of a secondhand store: his bicycle, Silver. Most fans will instantly recognize King as the salty shopkeeper, but for anyone who doesn’t catch on right away, King gets to say “Aren’t you William Denbrough? The writer?” before demanding Bill pay $300 to reclaim Silver. Bill agrees, but not before he notices the clerk has one of his books stashed behind the counter. He offers to sign it, but the man declines before brusquely jabbing Bill with a phrase King himself has no doubt heard a time or two over the years, especially in regards to 1986's It: “I didn’t like the ending.”
1) Creepshow (1982)
One of King’s earliest acting gigs came in this George A. Romero-directed horror anthology. At the time, the author was already an established creator of best-sellers—Carrie, The Shining, The Stand, The Dead Zone, and Cujo are just some of the titles he penned prior to Creepshow hitting theaters—but he did make his screenwriting debut with the film. He wrote himself a wonderfully oddball role in the “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” (based on his short story “Weeds”), about a beer-loving farmer who realizes the meteor that falls on his land isn’t the ticket to riches he imagines it will be; instead, it covers his home, his flesh, and probably the entire planet with fuzzy green plant matter. It’s somehow poignantly sad, hysterically funny, and totally gross all at the same time.
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