Follow TV Tropes

This is based on opinion. Please don't list it on a work's trope example list.


Nightmare Fuel / Stephen King

Go To
Futurama sums the whole thing up.

Stephen King made a career out of producing Nightmare Fuel, which has made him one of the most prolific horror authors of all time.

Spoilers Off applies to all moments pages, including this one. Proceed with caution.

Works with their own pages

  • Insomnia. The main character can see people's "auras", which lets him see how healthy they are... so he can see how badly brain-damaged children in a hospital are, and he can see roughly how close people are to death. When people are about to die, their aura turns into a black "death bag", which is somewhat alive. When someone is going to crash a plane into a convention center, the death bag is larger than the center and ''cursing at everyone'', even though they can't see it. The villain is an agent of chaos, who kills people because he wants to... and he's invisible and Made Of Air.
  • The Dark Tower has several elements that seemed designed to remind the reader that King writes horror stories. From the first three books we have Norm of Tull, the end of Tull, the Slow Mutants, The lobstrosities, a man getting cut in half by More Dakka, Odetta/Detta, Shardik, and the Pusher, who doesn't do drugs but pushes people in front of trains. Oh, and when Jake thinks he's going insane. And the Doorkeeper, who is a sentient, malevolent entity disguised as an abandoned house. And Blaine the train, who is a real pain.
    • Onward through the remaining four books, of which some of the more notable ideas and concepts include a procedure which ends up destroying little kids' minds because of what they extract. Bonus points for the fact a byproduct of the process is the accelerated growth of the kids to such a point you can hear their skulls expanding. The pain is basically that of teething... for a solid year or so. Dandelo; Randall Flagg being psychically compelled to tear his own eyes out and then tear his own tongue out; Mordred the half-human, half-spider from the time of his birth; long pork at the Dixie Pig; ruminating on the sound of the Crimson King screaming as he is erased from existence; the can-toi; and, at the Battle of the Algul Siento, a hydrocephalic kid banging his head on the ground and dying with a sound like a watermelon being split in half.
  • "The Jaunt," another short story about a futuristic transport system that takes people directly from one point to another — and what happens when they aren't rendered unconscious first. "It's eternity in there..." Contains what is quite possibly the most gruesome and memorable ending to any of King's stories.
    • Oates recalls rumors of people who used the Jaunt as a murder weapon, chucking people into it after turning off all the exit points. The victim is trapped in the void, cut off from all external stimuli, with no way to escape. Ever.
      • It's stated that there was one confirmed case in which a Jaunt researcher disposed of his wife in this manner. The man's defense attorney argued that it wasn't murder, because they couldn't prove that the wife was actually dead. When the jury realized the implications, it cemented the man's conviction. (Though to be fair, it isn't made entirely clear what happens during a jaunt; it's possible that using it that way DOES kill the person, and that it's only the sensation of journeying to an actual point B that feels like "an eternity".)
  • Gerald's Game. This one is psychological rather than monster-related. It has everything: paranoia, delusion, voices, and a dog eating Jessie's dead husband. She is handcuffed to the bed and as she gets more dehydrated she starts to hear more and more voices, coupled with someone she thinks is moving around the house while she is helpless, but for most of the story it seems this is another hallucination. She finally escapes by slicing her wrists open on a shard of glass to provide lubricant to tear her hands out of the manacles. She ends up ripping a ton of skin off and almost dying from blood loss. Later she writes a letter to one of the people whose voice she heard, which involves explaining what really happened and what her recovery process was.
    • He was in the back of her car!!!
  • There were two things about Dreamcatcher: The part where someone plays a tape of the "aliens" imitating celebrities and telling people that they're not dangerous, and the part where the first alien appears, because it was so sudden, Jonesy just turns around and he sees it, no previous signs to warn the reader.
  • Desperation. How about the fact that the whole FREAKIN' TOWN has been killed in various gruesome and disgusting ways. Or the fact that all the animals left alive in the town are under Tak's control including the spiders and snakes, which are everybody's favorite animals in the world. Or how about the way that Tak possesses people, with their bodies eventually just sloughing off until all that's left is a bloody mess.
    • The insertion of the words "I'm going to kill you" into the Miranda Warning near the beginning of the book, and the Tak-possessed cop doing just that to the husband of the family at the end of the chapter.
  • Dolores Claiborne isn't exactly a horror novel, but the old woman deteriorates into madness from age and realizing she can't stop it. Only Stephen King could turn dust bunnies into a terrifying representation of a decaying mind.
  • Any Stephen King stories involving vehicles. Maximum Overdrive, Christine, and From a Buick 8 are all damn freaky when you consider this is stuff we live with and depend on, and then BOOM! You're running from an 18 wheeler that wants to enslave you, a car with a ghostly rider, and a car that, for all intents and purposes, shouldn't exist.
    • The scene in Christine where Leigh is choking on a hamburger and she sees glowing green eyes from Christine's dashboard.
  • The Library Policeman, that is, Sam Peebles' very own library policeman. Prepubescent Sam is graphically raped. It is a pretty painful scene.
    • Ardelia Lortz. A beetle-like thing that will remind you strongly of IT, who possesses people and feeds off the misery of little children. Fuck.
    • The description of the Library Policeman. Its revealed that its actually a combination of the man who raped Sam as a child, and a picture hanging in the library of a man in a trenchcoat called the Library Policeman. He is always accompanied by the smell of red licorice, which Sam subconsciously associates with his childhood trauma, and that trenchcoat? It isn't actually clothes at all, it's skin.
  • Stephen King writes a story called "The Boogeyman." His description of the thing in the closet having "cabbage breath" is shudder-inducing. Not to mention that his voice is described as someone speaking through rotting cloth.
    • How about when the main character leaves the psychiatrist's office after telling his story, then notices that the receptionist is away so he cant schedule his next appointment. So he goes back into the office... and the closet door is open.
    The Boogeyman: So nice... so niiiice...
  • The description of the eponymous character in Rose Madder, specifically how she looks right before she deals with Norman. The mental image of the 'rot' that seems to move beneath her skin is equal parts Nightmare Fuel and Squick. Then again, King seems to love hopping over the line between the two. What happens with Norman and the mask could count, too; It fuses to his face. Fortunately for him, he doesn't live much longer than that. Rose and Norman's marriage itself is a more reality-based example.
  • The scene in The Dark Half when they operate on Thad, only to find what they assumed to be a brain tumor was actually the living remains of his twin brother, absorbed/digested while in utero. Nothing but a pulsing pile of flesh, teeth, and one blinking eyeball.
    • Also George Stark's slow and painstakingly described decomposition, followed shortly thereafter by his being pecked to death by sparrows. In The Movie, his skin is pecked down to his bones, his jaw is moving in a silent scream.
    • "What's going on out here?!" "Murder. Want some?"
  • Blockade Billy has a piece of HONF at the end when Billy, after his secret has been found out, reveals what the hell is under that Band-Aid on his middle finger when he goes to talk to the umpire who screwed him earlier in the game. It doesn't end well.
    When I saw the puddle of blood after he was taken away in handcuffs - oh my God, such a pool of it there was - all I could think of was those forty thousand people screaming KILL THE UMP the way they'd been screaming Bloh-KADE. No one really means it, but the kid didn't know that, either.
    • Extra HONF for the "secret" itself - that he killed the real Billy and his parents and their cows because he didn't want people getting suspicious about them not getting milked.
  • One of King's short stories, The Gingerbread Girl, tells the story of a woman who moves to her father's summer home in Florida after having a fight with her husband. Not scary yet? Well while there she discovers there is an insane madman who brings women there just so he can rape and murder them. The entire later half of the story is her escaping the same insane madman.
  • Possibly some of the scariest parts of King's works are the point in his career where he published "The Bachman Books".
    • Rage - A high school loser finally snaps and guns down two teachers and holds his class hostage, forcing them all to work through his issues (and some of their own). Eventually, they all get a case of Stockholm Syndrome and beat the living shit out of the one poor bastard who didn't fall for it, and who winds up catatonic for his troubles; in a prognosis it is mentioned that the mobbed teenager is not recovering and is still in the same condition, meanwhile the teenager who did kill his teachers is making progress, but is quite psychologically troubled by what happened that day. Add to the fact that it was found in the possession of multiple school shooters, and you see why King had it pulled.
      • The ending for the original manuscript for Rage is much worse, because we find out that the mobbed teenager died due to the incident, and the main character is convicted, the death of the other student as another reason for his conviction.
    • The Long Walk - An easy comparison to make to Battle Royale and The Hunger Games, an alternate universe America has 100 teen boys pulled from all fifty states to compete in "The Walk". What is "The Walk"? A literal death march, forcing the contestants to walk an impossibly huge distance at gunpoint; anyone who slows down for too long, stops or tries to flee is shot dead. Why do they do this awful, pointless thing? ...No reason is ever given. It's just what's done.
    • Roadwork - A man who refuses to move out of his house, which is in the path of a new freeway under construction, loses both his son and his mind; he ends up taking "There's no place like home" too far.
    • The Running Man - Try watching a reality competition show after reading this. It's the near future (far future when it was written) where if you're not one of the rich elites, you're dirt poor and probably sick from polluted air. But there's always "the games", televised competitions where you earn more money the longer you stay alive. If you die, your family gets the cash, which is enough for hero Ben Richards, who enters "The Running Man", a game which literally makes him an enemy of the state and wanted fugitive. And they're not kidding around, either; he's considered just as much Public Enemy Number One as Osama Bin Laden. His goal is to stay alive for 30 days. No one has ever made it past five days.
    • The Dark Half, though not a Bachman book, takes the idea of Richard Bachman being not just a pseudonym but an alternate identity to its furthest extreme. And he doesn't like having been "killed". That alone is rather creepy, but it also has a rather disturbing moment in the prologue where the main character has surgery to remove a brain tumor, and it turns out its not a tumor at all, its a parasitic twin, just a clump of flesh, teeth, hair and a single eyeball that had been nestled in his brain all this time. It's hinted that the twin might be the main characters Evil Twin rather than it just being a psychological problem, but its left ambiguous.
  • Duma Key is creepy even before bad stuff starts happening. Imagine being in an accident and waking up with no right arm. Also, you can't remember a good portion of your vocabulary. There's a page describing the protagonist getting frustrated while asking his wife to come over and sit on the friend, on the pal, on the chum because it's as close as his fractured mind can come to the word "chair", and it doesn't end there. He ends up stabbing his wife with a plastic knife and choking her and can't remember either incident, and when she breaks the news to him that she's divorcing him, he calls her a "birch". Instead of getting angry, she corrects him and leaves without another word.
    • Also that really creepy lawn jockey.
  • The short story "Gray Matter" has a man turn into a giant fungus or bacteria after drinking spoiled beer and begins to eat children.
  • One word- no, one letter: "N." That one was based on an 1894 story by Arthur Machen called The Great God Pan. King considers it one of the single best horror stories ever written and even claimed it kept him up at night!
  • On the author notes at the end of Just After Sunset, he asks if the readers are sure they locked all the doors or turned off the oven, OCD symptom or not, just in case something happens. As if he KNEW people would be reading the book in bed, right before sleeping.
  • Full Dark, No Stars. First off, the first story has a man being bitten to death by rats (in first person).
    • The visit that Wilfred receives from the months-dead Arlette and her court of rats, with bonus points for how her corpse looks by this point.
  • From a Buick 8. Everything, everything that comes out of that car is just not meant to be in our world. The "driver" (which is generous to call "him that), the "bat", everything in that car should never have been as far as our world is concerned. But what really sells the nightmares are the simple descriptions of things that the troopers have seen on the job, from descriptions of how a cop commits suicide to a description of a little boy hit by a car coming back from buying bread. In universe, the creatures consider our world a nightmare, and treat things from our reality the same way we treat creatures from theirs.
  • In his nonfiction book Danse Macabre, there is a footnote that particularly fits this trope, and good luck getting the image out of your head after you read it:
    I can remember, as a kid, one of my fellow kids asking me to imagine sliding down a long, polished banister which suddenly and without warning turns into a razor blade. Man, I was days getting over that.
  • The ending of Revival. Many have called it the most disturbing ending King has ever written, and considering his track record, that's saying a lot. In short, the hero and villain of the story find out that once you die, there's no heaven to go to. There is only the Null—upon death, your soul is captured by giant ant-like beings and you are used as slave labor for a giant Eldritch Abomination known as "Mother" and a host of other horrors. For all eternity. Oh, and Mother lashes out through the psychic connection they've been observing the Null through, killing the villain, and forcing the hero to kill the patient they were using as a gateway to close it. Its implied that Mother then drives everyone the villain had been "healing" insane and makes them commit suicide. The hero is left alive, but has to constantly numb himself with a cocktail of anti-depressants, knowing that no matter what, sooner or later he will also die and join the rest of mankind in the Null.
  • The Tommyknockers features some prime Body Horror as the townspeople of Haven slowly transform. First, they all lose their teeth, and later, those in a more advanced stage of transformation have their genitals replaced by tentacles, and their skin turns transparent, revealing their organs. By the end of the book, they don't even look human anymore, with their faces bulging out into snouts.
  • The Rats short story has a nice bit of completely realistic and possible horror. The protagonist, Drew, arrives at his cabin and after getting out of his car hears a noise. Soon a small moose comes out of the woods. Drew thinks it looks ridiculous, at which point the much larger mother moose shows up. She glares at him apparently trying to decide whether or not to attack and Drew is stuck for almost a full minute before she and the calf leaves. Drew then runs into his cabin, trying to convince himself that he was never in any real danger. And besides, it could have been a lot worse. It could have been a bear.
  • Graduation Afternoon from Just After Sunset isn't scary for the most part, focusing on the relationships of a group of teenagers fresh from their high school graduation in the early 2000's, and the main character thinking about her relationship with her boyfriend. The story seems to be one of King's contemplative works rather than a horror story... that is until the ending, where the group gets to witness the nuclear destruction of New York City! It comes completely out of nowhere, everyone stands in shock and denial while the main character briefly contemplates how any sort of plans they might've had for the future are now implausible at best, and... that's it. We never find out why it happened, or who the attacker was. Maybe revenge for the War On Terror? It doesn't matter, all that's known is that the fragile shell of normal life is broken forever. Apparently this was based on a dream King had while going off painkillers after the infamous truck incident.
    • Not to mention that, while it's not brought up in the story itself, all the characters were close enough to New York that they're almost certainly going to die from radiation poisoning.