The horror genre is no stranger to adaptations. Nowadays, we’re more likely to get a reboot of a reboot than an original property – but even in the dawn of silver screen, films were adapted from novels. Universal Studio’s classic movie monsters are a great example of classic horror literature brought alive on the screen.
We’ve compiled 12 horror films that were actually adapted from novels (and a few duplicates!) So how good exactly are these adaptations? Are they worthy of the books they are based on? Do they change much of the original content? Are they faithful to the source material? Let’s find out:
12. Jurassic Park (1993)
Novel: Jurassic Park By Michael Crichton (1990)
This is probably the most famous film adaptation on this list. A scientist finds a way to bring dinosaurs back from extinction and then opens an amusement park where people can come and view them. But it turns out that messing with nature is not such a good idea after all and things quickly take a turn for the worst.
The book and the film script were actually written at the same time. Initially, the here were discussions with Michael Crichton for a film adaptation before the book had even finished being written.
Michael Crichton worked on the script but there are huge differences between the film and the novel. The novel is of a dark, gore filled cautionary tale of human meddling while the film is more of a dinosaur filled adventure.
I’ve often hoped that a truer version will be made; imagine Jurassic Park as a gory horror film?
11. Frankenstein (1931)
Novel: Frankenstein By Mary Shelley (1818)
Victor Frankenstein is a scientist who tries to create life and succeeds, but his creation is so grotesque that it terrifies him, causing him to abandon it.Left to its own devices, the creature educates itself, then tracks down and begs Frankenstein to create him a mate.
There have been many adaptations to screen but the best one is a part of the Universal Monster series. Even if you haven’t seen the film you will be familiar with its most famous scenes; from Dr.Frankenstein crying out “It’s Alive!!!” as his monster rises to life, to the villagers forming a mob with flames and pitchforks. Interestingly, Showtime’s Penny Dreadful actually followed the events in novel more accurately than the Universal film.
The writing of the novel is an interesting story in itself; Mary Shelley and her companions were travelling through Switzerland and decided to have a competition to see who could write the best horror story. After having a dream in which a scientist creates a monster and brings it to life, she wrote Frankenstein.
10. IT (1990 & 2017)
Novel: IT By Stephen King (1986)
Pennywise the killer clown may very well be the reason so many eighties kids had trouble sleeping at night.
In the sixties, in a town named Derry, a group of outcast kids known as the Losers Club encounter a terrifying being (whom they refer to as IT). IT can shape shift, but its default persona seems to be a carnivorous clown named Pennywise. They soon learn that IT is responsible for the disappearance of children in Derry every twenty-seven years. Together they put a stop to IT and vow to return if IT ever reappears….Twenty seven years later, IT does.
A low-budget telemovie was made back in 1999 which was faithful to the book but is now somewhat dated. In 2017 an updated version hit cinemas and did an excellent job retelling the first half of the book. The second half is due out in 2019.
9. Misery (1990)
Novel: Misery By Stephen King (1987)
This list could have consisted entirely of Stephen King novel adaptations, given that around fifty of his books have been adapted into films so far.
Misery was based on Stephen Kings own worst fears. Paul Sheldon is a novelist who is involved in a car accident which leaves him critically injured. He is rescued by Annie Wilkes, who takes him in and acts as his nurse. At first she seems like a Godsend but it quickly becomes evident that she is actually a deranged fan who is incredibly dangerous and Paul is now her prisoner.
In my opinion this film is the scariest Stephen King adaptation of all, the premise is simple and it was done on a low-budget but it made good use of what was available. Cathy Bates performance as Annie is outstanding, she is truly terrifying.
8. Soylent Green (1973)
Novel: Make Room! Make Room! By Harry Harrison (1966)
Harry Harrison’s book tells the story of a dystopian future where humans have bred beyond capacity.
It is not often that a book can change your life but Make Room! Make Room! did. I constantly find myself wondering if the characters dire existence is our future as our planet becomes ever more overcrowded.
The book and the film adaptation are both set in New York City, where only the very rich can afford something resembling a comfortable lifestyle. Everyone else struggles to survive. Water and food are rationed, and food comes in the form of compressed squares made from soybean and lentils called Soylent green and Soylent red – these also become a currency of sorts due to everyone starving. Previously wiped out diseases have made a comeback due to lack of nutrition and people sleep in apartment stairwells and on the streets. The film offers an alternative, much creepier ending to the book.
7. The Thing from Another World (1951) & The Thing (1982)
Novel: Who Goes There? By John W. Campbell Jr. (1928)
A group of scientists find themselves stranded in the Arctic after uncovering a crashed UFO. They pull an alien body from the wreckage which turns out to be a big mistake, as it begins to prey on them one by one. In the written version, the alien must feed on blood to survive, and then it begins to reproduce.
Like many books on this list, Who Goes There? was adapted twice. In John Carpenter’s 1982 film the alien can take on the form of any living thing to disguise itself, posing as various characters. As a result the humans begin to turn on one another.
Both films bring something to the table; the fifties version is one of the few films of its time where the lead female (Margaret Sheridan) had top billing. John Carpenter’s film used the newest special effects available at the time and they really amped up the fear factor, the scene with the sled dogs is particularly gruesome.
6. Psycho (1960)
Novel: Psycho By Robert Bloch (1959)
Much like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this novel was inspired by the crimes committed by Ed Gein, the deranged Wisconsin necrophiliac. The film closely follows the book in what is probably Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous film.
Marion Crane (played by Janet Leigh) is on the run after stealing a large sum of money. She stops at a motel for the night which is run by Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) and his elderly mother, a shut-in who stays out of sight. That night, Marion is brutally murdered. Police come to investigate and the rest of the story follows this investigation. Another, little known film adaptation was made in 1998 starring Vince Vaughn but it lacks the style and substance of the Hitchcock film.
The television series Bates Motel, however, offers an interesting interpretation, as it is set in the present day but is actually a prequel, exploring the events which took place prior to Psycho. This is also worth checking out as Freddie Highmore who plays Norman is superb and does an excellent job channelling Anthony Perkins.
5. The Bad Seed (1956)
Novel: The Bad Seed By William March (1954)
Eight year old Rhoda is a model child; she does well in school and is always perfectly behaved. Yet, there is something not quite right about Rhoda. She doesn’t seem to have any friends and seems somewhat cold and calculating.
Things begin to unravel after a boy dies at a school picnic. Rhoda was the last person to see him alive, surely she is not somehow responsible? And what about the lady who used to babysit Rhoda and died suddenly in suspicious circumstances?
In the fifties it was practically unheard of to have a child character who was a killer, let alone a little Cindy Brady-esque girl. The performances in the film are outstanding; especially Patty McCormack who plays Rhoda and the script did the book justice. However, due to censorship laws at the time the ending was changed, making the novel a more frightening experience that the film.
4. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 & 1978)
Novel: The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney (1954)
What would you do if you woke up one morning to discover that your husband was not really your husband? Sure, he looks the same and sounds the same but there is something different. Something wrong about him. What if nobody took you seriously when you tried to explain all this?
This is exactly what happens in The Body Snatchers; extraterrestrials come to earth and begin replacing people with replicas. Both film adaptations are titled Invasion of the Body Snatchers and both are about paranoia, delusions and fear of conformity. The fifties version was beautifully shot in a black and white film noir style and stars Carolyn Jones who played Morticia in the original Addams Family series. The seventies film stars Donald Sutherland in one of his most famous roles and there is also a cameo from Kevin McCarthy who played the lead in the first film. Leonard Nimoy also makes an appearance. If possible, this version is the more disturbing one but both offerings are excellent.
3. Battle Royale (2000)
Novel: Battle Royale By Koushun Takami (1999)
This novel is The Hunger Games for adults; set in Japan in a dystopian future, a class of year nine students are trapped on an island with explosive collars strapped to their necks. They are told they must kill one another in order to survive while the entire thing is televised to the outside world. But there is a catch; they are given weapons but these are completely randomized and may be anything from a machine gun to a saucepan lid.
The film adaptation is thinner on the ground than the novel and does not feature the same depth of character development, but it is still a very worthy adaptation and well worth watching. Kinji Fukasaku directs and Takeshi Katano is brilliantly unsettling in his role as the class teacher. The film is terrifyingly violent and gory, yet somehow beautiful at the same time as it’s set to Masamichi Amanos powerful music score.
2. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Novel: The Silence of the Lambs By Thomas Harris (1988)
Another Ed Gein inspired horror. Clarice Starling, a young FBI recruit enlists the help of Hannibal Lector, an insane but incredibly intelligent former psychiatrist, in solving a series of murders and kidnappings. Basically, this is the tale of two murderers; one who kills people and eats them and another who kills people and then wears their skins as a mask and makeshift clothing.
The film is a masterpiece which truly does this novel justice and Jodie Foster in her role of Clarice Starling was actually the inspiration behind the character of Dana Scully in the X Files.
In more recent years we have seen Brian Fuller’s offering Hannibal, a beautifully shot and intriguing prequel – but I must confess I spent a majority of it wondering when I’d get to see Hannibal eat someone.
1. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Novel: Rosemary’s Baby By Ira Levin (1967)
When Rosemary and her husband Guy first move into their new apartment things couldn’t be better, but when Guy strikes up a friendship with their creepy neighbours he begins acting strangely. After a vivid nightmare, Rosemary falls pregnant and weird things begin happening. Suddenly she finds herself feeling very alone and vulnerable, and fears that someone is plotting to hurt her and her baby. But is it just paranoia? Or is something sinister really taking place?
The film was directed by the now-disgraced Roman Polanski. That aside, it really does the novel justice; from the creepy lullaby music by Krzysztof Komeda to the gothic location. It was shot inside the formidable looking Dakota building in New York City (outside of which John Lennon was assassinated in 1980).
Novels are far denser than books so adapting them into films is not an easy task, especially when we look at the epic works of people like Stephen King. Have you read the books and seen the films on this list? Which are your favorite adaptations? Sound off in the comments below, Tweet us, or share in our Horror Group on Facebook!