Page-to-Screen Adaptations: Halloween Edition
Like many people, I've recently been swept up in the craze over The Haunting of Bly Manor, the story of an au pair who discovers sinister secrets at an isolated country manor. But did you know that the series is also based on a book? That's right! The Haunting of Bly Manor was adapted from The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, one of many, many adaptations of horror books and stories for film and television. Some are wildly successful. Some...not so much. Here are a few of my favorite (and least favorite!) page-to-screen adaptations.
Required reading: I'm not saying you shouldn't watch the adaptations made from these next few books, but I'm definitely thinking it really loudly.
Anyone who has ever given me half a chance to talk about Shirley Jackson knows that The Haunting of Hill House is one of my favorite books ever. But something about atmospheric horror is so hard to translate to the screen, and at lot of the tension of The Haunting of Hill House relies on Eleanor's deteriorating state of mind, which we can only see through her inner monologue within the text. I know this is controversial, since a lot of people really enjoyed the recent Netflix series, but if you want to get a true sense of the horrors of Hill House, you need to read the original book.
Several of the stories in this collection have been adapted into movies, including "Rawhead Rex," "The Midnight Meat Train," "The Forbidden" (adapted into The Candyman), and the title story "Book of Blood." Hulu has recently dropped their own attempted take on some of Barker's twisted stories, but nothing can top the true visceral horror of his words in print. Candyman is getting its own reboot next year by Jordan Peele and you'll definitely want to read the original first.
Ok, shut up. I know you love the movie. I love it too. I saw it on the big screen at the State Theater last fall and was quite traumatized. That being said, the film is all Kubrick (and may or may not be about his faking the moon landing video, but more on that some other time). And while Jack Nicholson gives a fantastic performance as Jack Torrance, the slow burn of his descent into madness is so much more sinister in the book. Not to mention the actual backstory of the hotel.
For these next books, watch the movie instead: go ahead, I give you permission.
A lot of people don't realize that Jaws was originally a book, and that's probably for the better. The book isn't so much a scary horror story about beachgoers being mangled as it is Chief Brody being mad that his wife might be cheating on him and reading actual porn while hunting for the shark. Even Peter Benchley regrets writing it because of the way it influenced public perceptions of great white sharks. Seriously, don't ever read this. And especially don't read it if you're in middle school and your grandmother bought you a used copy at a rummage sale because she had no idea of the content.
Another controversial take, but hear me out on this one. First of all, the book is massive. Seriously, it's almost 1200 pages which is nearly twice the length of the first Game of Thrones book. But the length isn't why I advise against reading this one, the content is. In addition to the usual Stephen King horror (scary clowns, children getting their limbs ripped off, evil extradimensional spiders) this book also deals with more abstract horrors like racism, sexual abuse, and violent homophobia. All of this and more makes for a book that is just as much existential horror as it is anything else. If all you really want is a scary clown story, definitely skip the book and watch the Tim Curry version.
Surprise, this was a book first! And a young adult book at that! Now, don't take inclusion on this list as me saying there's anything wrong with the novel. This is just one of those instances where the source material is a lot tamer than the adaptation. It has the same basic plotline (four teens make a pact to conceal a secret, someone starts threatening them with revenge), but don't read this one expecting any hack-and-slash.
These books are a toss-up: please don't make me choose!
First published in 1971 this book is half a century old and still manages to terrify. The Academy Award-winning screenplay (also written by Blatty) made Linda Blair a household name and forever solidified "vomiting split-pea soup" as a hallmark symptom of demonic possession. The book spent 57 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list with 17 consecutive weeks at #1 and the movie was nominated for 10 Academy Awards so you really can't go wrong with either. (Bonus recommendation: the first season of the TV series starring Geena Davis is also really good!)
Another one of those books I was probably just a little too young to be reading when I did, The Silence of the Lambs is part mystery/thriller, part horror story, and part commentary on the human condition. It also won the Bram Stoker Award for best novel in 1989. Anthony Hopkins's portrayal of Hannibal Lecter is one of the most iconic of all movie villains (will any of us ever look at fava beans and chianti the same way?) and both he and Jodie Foster won Academy Awards for their performances in the film.
A bullied twelve-year-old develops a friendship with a centuries-old vampire child in this Swedish story set in the 1980s. Both the book and film play with the traditional conventions of the vampire genre (even the title is a play on the idea of vampires needing an invitation to enter a building), but the true horror in this one comes from the exploration of human darkness (including alcoholism, divorce, self-mutilation, and murder) versus the supernatural. When you watch this one, make sure you get the original 2008 Swedish film and not the American remake.
Oh look, another Stephen King adaptation! Carrie might be my favorite of all King's books, no joke, and I've read a lot of his stuff. Maybe it's because it's his first published novel or maybe because his wife helped him with it, but there's just something about Carrie that I love. I've read it multiple times, I've seen all the movies, and I've even seen the musical (yes, there's a Carrie: The Musical and it's exactly what you expect it to be). The book is told through flashbacks, newspaper and magazine clippings, and "official testimony" that all detail the events known as 'The White Affair' and this format works so incredibly well with the narrative of an outcast girl that no one quite understands. The original film version stars Sissy Spacek as the titular character and Piper Laurie as her zealot mother, and both were nominated for Academy Awards.