Movies & TV / Columns

A Bloody Good Time 12.15.11: Top 10 Horror Book Adaptations

December 15, 2011 | Posted by Joseph Lee

Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)

Welcome to the A Bloody Good Time.

In one week we look at the upcoming horror films of 2012. In three weeks we look at the best of the year. That’s where I need your help. I already have a list growing of 2011 horror films I have yet to see. If it’s mainstream I’ve likely watched it already and it has NOT been a good year for most mainstream horror. I’m looking for indie suggestions. Hit me with some in the comments.

Speaking of comments, there’s a few from last week we should look at. Last week I discussed how to properly remake Stephen King’s IT.

Guest said: I could see someone like Crispin Glover as pennywise!

Man, I wish I had thought of that. Crispin Glover is weird enough that if you put some clown make-up on him, he might be terrifying.

neverAcquiesce replied: I’d love to see the Black Spot scene on the big screen. I think it’d add more to Mike’s character (and his family’s history with It), other than “just” being the “black kid in the group who stayed in Derry.” Like you I’d also dig seeing the scene under the porch of the house on Neibolt St (you’re right, it is truly the most terrifying scene in the book), and, in brief, the Bradley Gang.

Man, you really don’t need the Black Spot scene for character development though. Just show Mike interacting with his father and their habit of visiting historical Derry locations. That’s what sets up Mike’s encounter with IT anyway.

APrince66 responds: I love IT, both book and mini series, and I love your ideas here. I had a scary clown mask I used to terrorize multiple cousins of mine for years. Your casting of Bill Moseley or Brad Dourif as a possible Pennywise is genius. I myself was thinking Willem Defoe would absolutely rip as the clown. He’s naturally creepy, and has a great voice for it. I also would have no problem with Currey reprising the roll.

I don’t want Curry back simply because it’s been done. We saw his portrayal of Pennywise. I want to see someone else try to scare a generation of children. And Dafoe, man…he could do it.

I should add here that I didn’t really cast Mosely or Dourif as Pennywise, just threw them out as suggestions. I must say you guys came up with some much better ones.

Drew suggests: I wouldn’t do it as a movie, I’d give it to HBO and let them do it as a several part Mini Series, it has all the advantages of TV length with no commercials while having just as much of what you’ll see in the movies. I think 5 parts would work, each part showing the events of each major section of the book. Also he interludes between chapters by Mike could work as previews in the weeks before to build to premire night. Also, throw in as many references to other King’s work as they can, particuler to the Dark Tower series since the main villian is the same species as It.

That’s a good idea too, and if HBO does a great job with Under the Dome, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them go that way.

This week, we look at taking the horror novel and turning it into a film. But I’m going to do something just a little bit different. While I could just make a list of the best movies to come from a book, that would be boring and chances are you’d guess what I would pick right off. Movies like The Shining or Universal’s Dracula. But those aren’t necessarily accurate adaptations of their source material. The Shining is great, of course, but it contains very little of the source material, and some of the best moments weren’t even in the book. Dracula meanwhile, is based on the play, which is a bare bones adaptation.

So in this week’s ABGT, we’re going to look at the horror films that follow their source material the closest, while also remaining good films. This list is part opinion and part fact. After all, what I think is good is obviously subjective, but whether or not a book closely follows its source material is not. So I guess what I’m saying is I’m completely open to your scorn if I screw something up with the facts.

#10: Pin (1989)

I’ve talked about my love of Pin before, but it’s also a decent, if bizarre book as well. For those who haven’t seen it, Pin is about a man who has a deep bond with a medical dummy. It’s a life-size mannequin with a display that shows all the parts of the human body (his father was a doctor). The father uses it to communicate with his kids as well as children patients, but his son is a little too believing that Pin is real and regularly has conversations with him when no one else is around, not even his father to provide the voice.

So of course when his sister breaks up their little family (Leon, Pin and her) by getting a boyfriend, “Pin” doesn’t like it. “Pin” might even kill to make sure they stay together. The thing about both the novel and the film is that never once are you under the impression that Pin may be alive. It’s useless to attempt it. Leon is clearly crazy, and it’s just a matter of time before one personality takes over the other. Not surprisingly, both the novel and the film are difficult (and somewhat expensive), but not impossible to find. The movie was on Netflix Streaming at one point, but now it’s gone. Good luck.

#9: Misery (1990)

This won’t be the last Stephen King novel to make this list. The amount of good Stephen King films is lower than you might think, and the number of faithful adaptations is even less. Misery, while containing a few differences (even the most perfect of adaptations tend to deviate), follows the book pretty closely. What are the big differences? Well, there’s no hobbling scene. Instead Annie Wilkes straight up cuts off the foot of Paul Sheldon with an axe. Later, she cuts off his thumb for no particular reason.

But both the book and film are very good at isolating Paul Sheldon and noting that Annie is both his salvation and possibly his cause of death if she goes too far. I will say that one thing the book does that the film doesn’t really is make Annie a gross character. The first time Paul meets her, he notes that she smells bad. The book tries to get very descriptive in how plain and unattractive the woman is. The film just casts Kathy Bates and wins her an Academy Award. I have no idea how she smells.

#8: Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

The reason that Rosemary’s Baby is close to the novel by Ira Levin is simple: Roman Polanski didn’t know he could deviate from the material. As a result, the film had many lines of dialogue from the book within and is one of the most faithful adaptations out there. The film version stars Mia Farrow as Rosemary, who is pregnant with what might be the Anti Christ. The film never shows you the baby, and the baby is really in the story all that much.

Where the slow-building terror comes from is the cult that helps Rosemary get pregnant (via Satan rape) and both protects her and keeps her isolated from the world. All so the man with the most generic name in the world (Guy) can be a star. Yes. The end of the world is coming because some dude wants to be famous. That doesn’t seem fair, but given today’s reality show driven world, I totally buy it.

#7: Carrie (1976)

There is one big difference between the Carrie novel and film and it is in the way that the two are presented. King’s novel is framed with a series of articles, book excepts and newspaper clippings. It presents the tale as a historical event that exposed the world to telekinesis and is part of an investigation as to what happened the night of the Prom. The film is just a straightforward story and focuses on Carrie and her development.

Sure, there are little changes too. Carrie and her mother die differently (this is kept the same in the remake) and some moments of character development are removed. But this is one of the more faithful King adaptations that you’re going to get. The novel is small enough that they were able to put most of it into the movie, while changing a few things up for a more cinematic approach.

#6: Pet Sematary (1989)

This is the last King book that makes our list, although there are several more that follow their source material. Hell, for all of its faults, IT was pretty good at following the book for a TV miniseries. Considering how R-rated the novel is, and the budget of the show, it’s good that they at least tried to keep what they could in. But we’re talking about Pet Sematary. I don’t know what I can really say about the film that I haven’t said before. It’s one of my favorite horror films of all time.

Are there any differences between the book and novel? Sure. The book hints that the spirit known as the Wendigo is responsible for the entire story. In the book, Jud’s wife is very much alive through part of it. Also, Gage talks like an adult and shows the damage he took from the truck that hit him. And you thought he was scary in the movie.

#5: Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Man is it me, or does that look like the cover of a romance novel? Anyway, Silence of the Lambs is one of the rare horror films that according to some, is better than its source material. This is because a lot of people didn’t care for the exhausting detail given to the procedures of the FBI in their hunt for Buffalo Bill. I compare this to Jurassic Park‘s long lectures on scientific theory that Michael Crichton seemed to love.

Obviously the book’s Hannibal Lecter didn’t have nearly the amount of charm that Anthony Hopkins has. The book also built up a relationship between Jack Crawford and Clarice, which probably wouldn’t have worked in the film because the film’s version of Crawford is a dick. The film also has that whole “won multiple Academy Awards” thing going for it too.

#4: American Psycho (2000)

Before I write anything about this, let me just say that as someone who is more lenient to remakes than others, a modernized American Psycho is about the dumbest thing someone could do with the material. The entire film was a satire of the excess of the 1980s. But I’m not going to go on a rant because that’s not what this is about. I will say that the film of American Psycho follows the book very closely, outside of a few bits that were cut out here and there.

There is one notable scene that doesn’t make the movie. In one horrifying moment, Patrick Bateman starves a rat, then sprays cheese on a woman’s genitals. You do the math. Other than that, some names were changed. Mary Harron included entire monologues from Patrick Bateman for the film. And not just the monologues either, nearly every single line of the film is from the book. Thank Bret Easton Ellis for all that quotable dialogue.

#3: Hellraiser (1987)

This one is based on Clive Barker’s novella The Hellbound Heart. Clive Barker did the adaptation himself. Obviously it’s going to follow pretty closely. Hellraiser just happens to be one of the best horror films ever made, and it still holds up today. The make-up effects, if not the light show, especially looks great in comparison to today’s CGi-driven world.

There are some small differences. For example, you don’t really get a good look at Hell in the film, but you do get some idea of what exactly the Cenobites do to Frank in the novella. There are also some name changes (Larry’s name is Rory) and slight cosmetic changes. The story is pretty much the same. If you’ve got an hour to kill, try reading the novella. It’s pretty short, and gets far more descriptive than the movies probably ever could.

#2: Psycho (1960)

The biggest difference between the novel and film of Psycho is Norman Bates himself. Norman is overweight and middle-aged in the novel, and generally shows more flashes of being crazy. Obviously, that’s a big difference from casting everyman Anthony Perkins as Norman and including moments where the audience actually fears for what will happen to him. But the story, the twist ending, the sudden shift in main character, that’s all in Bloch’s novel.

Psycho was otherwise incredibly faithful and it makes for a great movie as a result. Like some feel about The Silence of the Lambs, I think Hitchcock’s adaptation is ultimately better than its source material. That’s of course all subjective, but consider this: How many of you heard of the book before you heard of the movie? Exactly. Sure, that argument could be made about anything without Stephen King’s name on it, but you get what I’m saying.

#1: The Exorcist (1973)

Considering that William Peter Blatty wrote the screenplay for the film that his book was used for, it’s not surprising that it’s one of the most faithful adaptations. My memory on the novel is a little fuzzy (I last read it in high school), but I do remember the film sticking to it. Character names, plot points, even moments of character development are all kept intact, and it’s hard to see very many differences outside of unimportant cosmetic ones.

The result of course is a great novel being turned into a great horror film. Even today The Exorcist is held up as one of the best of the best. There are films on this list that have been remade or had new adaptations made of them. If not, then one is surely on the way. Every time a remake of The Exorcist is rumored or announced, it’s quickly shot down. To me, that says everything I need to know about how good the original is. This is a world where Psycho got a remake, and yet The Exorcist hasn’t. It’s really the last great horror film that’s untouched.

That’s it for me. Leave some comments here or on my Twitter. Next week we take a look into the future, as I look over the horrors to come in 2012! Besides, you know, that whole end of the world thing.

A Bloody Good Time: The Store is now officially open! Like this design? You can now find it on most of my merchandise! Click here to find shirts, posters and more!


article topics

Joseph Lee

Comments are closed.