Is Stephen King Really the Greatest Horror Contributor of All Time?
Written by: Matt Molgaard
The horror genre can be an interesting and fickle animal. Do right by your fans and play faithful to terror and the obsessed viewer will walk with you through Hell, whether you warrant the company or not. Turn your back on the genre, hurl pretentiousness in our direction and we’d just as soon see you tarred and feathered than see you continue to better yourself as a professional contributor. Ask Rooney Mark who invoked the scorned fans’ fury when she brazenly bashed the Nightmare on Elm Street remake. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t care for the film too much, myself – but to turn around and tell the world you underperformed because you knew the script was trash in advance of signing? Get out of here. Seriously, take a hike, and never come back.
When it comes to the absurdly accomplished, who have been good to both the fans and the genre as a whole, there are a few who are guaranteed to be mentioned unanimously. Clive Barker. John Carpenter. Wes Craven. Dean Koontz. Robert Englund. Edgar Allan Poe. Kane Hodder. HP Lovecraft. You all know the names, just like you know that anyone who nominates these types of figures is informed on the genre. They know the unrelenting contributors we’ve invested ourselves in. The men and women who find themselves swallowed by this beast, dedicating their every hour to its existence. Those people are you and I, and we can all agree as a collective that there is no clear front-running candidate who bumps Stephen King from the top position of “the list.”
The man has written 55 novels, released 11 collections and seen 7 novellas, to date, published. He’s written comic books. He’s written non-fiction. He’s written fiction with his son, Joe Hill. He’s seen more than 200 cinematic pieces created, all inspired by his fiction. The Shawshank Redemption was nominated for seven Oscars. The Green Mile was nominated for four Oscars.
Most people will never know what one single one of those accomplishments feels like. Stephen King knows the feeling of all of it, combined, and that’s a very small, very quickly assembled list of accolades.
Naturally, anyone talking up horror and the “Greatest of All Time” or “The GOAT,” has to bring up King. He’s the most active genre contributor today. He’s banked more decades – already – than most ever dream of. His body of work is far more expansive than Poe, or Lovecraft. He’s banked more best sellers than any other genre writer in the game. Stephen King is loved globally and it’s been this way since the 1970s, when king burst onto the scene with his first of many smash hits, Carrie.
Stanley Kubrick’s big screen adaptation of The Shining is widely recognized as one of, if not the most terrifying horror film ever made. Stand By Me might be the most overlooked and underrated film in history; it’s a genuine masterpiece that never earns mention in “Best Movie Ever” talks.
It certainly doesn’t hurt, being Stephen King.
But for all the amazing things the man has done over the years, there are a few complaints that follow the living legend. First, many accuse King of injecting far too much filler, or unnecessary narrative (King writes some of the longest dark fiction out there) in a great deal of his works. Also, many feel the man’s peak may have – oddly enough – come during a stretch of dark years. King himself has admitted to at one point in time living in a drug and alcohol induced haze, during which time such brilliant works as Cujo, The Gunslinger, Christine and Pet Sematary were written. Poll a thousand or so people, ask them what the greatest King novel is, and I’d expect to see all of those mentioned a number of times.
For my buck, King’s finest days were his earliest. If you ask me, it’ll be a cold day in Hell before stories like The Shining, Salem’s Lot and Rage are outshined by anything King, or anyone else, writes – ever.
That’s all subjective. Younger readers (do they still exist?) could easily argue that some of King’s more recent novels are far more chilling than his works of old. King has managed to keep himself very modern, so some of his recent releases are aimed at those who keep their feet dipped in today’s fast-moving technology oriented creek. It’s easy to see how younger groups may favor a novel like The Cell over a novel like, The Stand.
It’s hard to fault anyone for catering to their own personal preferences.
It’s also hard to argue against King and his deservedness of the title, “Greatest of All Time.” Even if you pluck every mediocre effort King has released and cite it as reasoning for voting against the man, you’d better be prepared to acknowledge the suspect efforts of every other great mentioned in this article.
We’re all human, and no one, I repeat, no one bats a thousand, 100-percent of the time.
Has King rolled a few duds down the pike over the years? Yep. I’d say he certainly has. I’d say the same thing for Clive Barker, John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Dean Koontz – you see where I’m going with this. It’s obvious, and I’ve now said it more than once, more than one way.
When weighing King’s legitimately great works versus any other living, or deceased legend of the genre, it’s a clear victory for King. Lovecraft was truly prolific with his writing of shorter works, but his ledger, while amazing and engrossing is still considerably smaller than King’s, and it ca be argued that the best King has written most certainly does match the intensity and overall quality of the best Lovecraft has to offer.
That’s another statement I can repeat in regards to everyone else listed here.
Vincent Price may forever be my personal pick for “GOAT.” But I won’t argue much with anyone who says King trumps Price. In fact, I’d agree that King has already accomplished a whole lot more in his day than Price ever did.
I’ve just got a really, really soft spot for Vincent Price, what can I say?
So, I’ll bring my wordy rant to an abrupt end and propose a question to all of our loyal HNR readers: Is Stephen King really the greatest horror contributor of all time?
Of course he is!
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Gotta agree with you but this is mainly due to the amount of books the man has churned out. No one can beat him there, my favourite horror author is still Clive Barker but he has not influenced the genre as much as King.
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I certainly agree to an extent. The volume doesn’t hurt him. Koontz has made a valiant run at the man, in regards to sheer numbers, but his work feels as though it’s a little bit more challenging to transfer to screen, which has probably slowed Koontz in his pursuit, to the eye of the consumer.
King is the greatest, but he is by no means my favorite. Like many, I recognize what he has done for the genre. He has helped push horror into the mainstream in the 80s and early 90s. He also has a fantastic imagination. However, what I read is not mainstream and never will be. In hardcore or splatterpunk horror, the greatest is probably Jack Ketchum with honorable mention to Joe Lansdale, Clive Barker, and Richard Laymon. Going beyond that, there is really only one author I go out of my way to read every work he writes. He may not be the greatest at anything, but he is who I personally enjoy. That author is Brian Keene.
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Oh, I am a huge Brian Keene fan. Have been sine The Rising. That book tore me up. He’s always a good scare. There are a lot of really good new-ish, scary authors.
(Incidentally someone could do a tribute to Skipp and Spector from the late 8o’s…wink,wink!)
I don’t even have to think twice about it. Anyone who says he isn’t is just hating for the sake of hating and hasn’t been tuned in to the genre for the past 40 years.
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While sheer volume doesn’t always equate to greatness, there’s no question that King stands at the top. Quite simply, he’s The Beatles of Horror.
If you don’t even know the actual titles to his books (it’s just Cell, no “The”) maybe you shouldn’t present yourself as an expert on the subject. And, while I’m writing, what’s with the jab at young readers? Are you one of those “get off my lawn!” types?
Yes. Now get off my lawn.
There are so many things about horror that I love, and horror wouldn’t be what it is today without all of the contributions of everyone you named here, and more. I have my favorites, and depending on what it is depends on if I like it more than King. For instance, I love the Evil Dead. Sam Raimi dominated horror with that. I love it more than anything King did. But ultimately, as someone else here said, King has the sheer numbers. Ultimately, I love King’s work more than anybody else’s. So to me, King would be the GOAT.