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Doctor Sleep's Psychic Vampires Are Among King's Most Frightening Villains

WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Doctor Sleep, in theaters now.

Doctor Sleep brings audiences back into the world of The Shining, one of the definitive horror films of the 20th century. But even beyond the nigh-demonic presence of the Overlook Hotel or the spirits that dwell within it (which does return over the course of the movie), the narrative also introduces some of Stephen King's most unsettling villains to come to the big screen.

The True Knot, a group of wanderers who use their Shining powers to kill others and steal theirs, are scarier than anything else that's appeared in a Stephen King story in a while.

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THE TRUE KNOT

The True Knot are introduced early in the film. While a little girl is camping with her family, she ends up alone with the woman known as Rose the Hat. She's initially friendly, speaking softly with the young girl. But as more of her "friends" surround the pair, the more the little girl becomes anxious. She has every right to be, too, as the group suddenly ambushes and proceeds to murder her. As it turns out, the group does it for their own survival: killing people to steal their Shining to feed themselves.

They come across as stranger loners but seem to have a great deal of power and authority, especially when working together as a unit. Each of them also has their own Shining abilities. Working in tandem with other members of the group, Rose is able to hunt down people to take and consume their powers for their own sake, with relative ease considering that they seem to usually target children. Doing so extends their lives and increases their powers, allowing them to continue the cycle all over again. What part of the Shine they don't consume outright they store within a special device, allowing them to prolong the substance. Their apparent disconnect from society makes them all the scarier, as they can easily relocate and repeat the process.

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BRUTAL FOR BRUTAL'S SAKE

The True Knot are more than just killers, though. They're vicious, specifically targeting children. They also make a point of killing slowly and painfully, drawing out those powers and making them more potent to consume. It makes the effect of consuming the Shine all the more fulfilling for the True Knot, so they make sure to try and have the people they kill be terrified and aware just as they do it. It gives them a layer of cruelty that makes them more fearsome than even the scariest villains of the Stephen King canon. Cruel entities like Pennywise or the Overlook Hotel at least had the distinction of being monsters. The True Knot are nominally human beings who decided they were higher up on the food chain and have been enjoying this superiority ever since.

It makes their decision to become what they are so much worse because they also seem to just be having so much fun terrorizing these children, laughing and treating the whole devilish enterprise as some sort of game. When the group takes the little boy Bradley, the atmosphere is jovial. For them, that's all it really is: a game where they lure kids into the kind of position where they could just disappear before they follow suit, heading down the road in a caravan that always seems to blend into nowhere. They're not insane; lashing out wildly: they have protocols, they have plans, and they enjoy implementing them, which is terrifying on a whole new level.

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AGELESS BUT NOT ENDLESS

Doctor Sleep

 

One of the scariest aspects of the group is just how efficient they are at their job, and there's a reason for that: they've had the time to perfect it. By consuming the Shine of other people, the True Knot are able to extend their own existence. The oldest of their number, Grandpa Flick, is said to have existed since the days of the Roman Empire. They can easily be nigh-immortal, nearly as much as any other kind of vampire. This longevity helped them develop the kind of connections and wealth that would make their lives simple and deadly. It's implied they have a great deal of sway with the world, helping explain just how easily they were able to slip away.

But just because they have a long life doesn't mean they can't be killed. In fact, their deaths are spectacularly dark when they do happen. They wheeze and gasp, their bodies altering between normal and a near skeletal version. Upon the actual moment of death, their bodies collapse into pure smoke -- the Shining essence all that's left of them. It's treated as a very painful end, mirroring the kind of pain they left others in as they died. But to make matters even worse, their own Shining can be taken. This happens with Grandpa Flick, who finally (after over a thousand years) succumbs to age. The second he's gone, the rest of the True Knot move in like a pack of hyenas, consuming his lingering spirit for the power it had, proving that they even turn on each other in a heartbeat. They're cruel, fearsome and can disappear as soon as they're done.

Written and directed by Mike Flanagan, Doctor Sleep stars Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Carl Lumbly, Alex Essoe and Zahn McClarnon. The film is in theaters now.

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