Every scary story starts somewhere. And when it comes to horror movies, their origins are wide-reaching. For every truly original tale, there is a movie that is drawing from some source material. Sometimes Hollywood borrows from classic monster lore or timeless ghost stories to frighten viewers. Other times, they borrow their plots from terrifying true stories.
And then there are the horror films that get their start as novels. Some, like The Shining and The Silence of the Lambs, spawned from best-selling books and are celebrated in equal measure with their literary counterparts. But others were modest hits at best, films that received critical praise but not necessarily widespread popularity. Here are five awesome horror movies that were adapted from equally frightening novels.
1. The Woman in Black
Susan Hill’s 1983 novella The Woman in Black is so terrifying, it’s spawned multiple adaptations — most recently the 2012 thriller of the same name starring Daniel Radcliffe. The story follows Arthur Kipps, a young lawyer who travels to the English countryside to settle the affairs of a recently deceased recluse. Once inside her home, he realizes he’s being followed by an otherworldly apparition of a pale woman wearing all black. And he has to convince those around him that he’s being haunted before it’s too late.
Most of the major plot elements of the novel made it into the most recent film adaptation. And the result is a subtle but effective horror film that captures the best of Hill’s moody story. Radcliffe is completely believable as a widowed young father, and the film does an excellent job of creating an unsettling tone from get go. And The Woman in Black strikes the perfect chord between building suspense and delivering terror.
2. Stir of Echoes
In 1958, popular horror writer Richard Matheson released A Stir of Echoes, a terrifying story about a man who suddenly develops psychic powers and is subsequently haunted, both by the secrets his friends’ thoughts reveal, and by messages from beyond the grave. More than 40 years later, the novel was adapted as a film starring Kevin Bacon. The cinematic version of A Stir of Echoes strays in many ways from the novel’s plot. But from its surreal dream sequences to the jarring moments in which the protagonist comes face-to-face with a supernatural dimension, it’s every bit as frightening.
3. The Howling
Gary Brandner’s violent and disturbing exploration of werewolves made for one hell of a page turner when it hit bookshelves in 1977. But The Howling truly took off for horror fans when it was loosely adapted into a full-length movie in 1981. The film version is every bit as disturbing as its source material — from seedy serial killers to otherworldly creatures, it paints a bleak picture of the world. But The Howling also delivers its fair share of truly frightening moments, thanks to the excellent special effects and make-up work that help transform seemingly normal people into terrifying lycanthropes.
4. Let the Right One In
This vampire novel from author John Ajvide Lindqvist was a best-seller in Sweden. But many American horror fans didn’t catch wind of it until it was adapted into the equally creepy film. Let the Right One In follows Oskar, an outcast who befriends Eli, a child vampire and her caretaker as they settle into a quiet Swedish town. Though the film changed some of the novel’s more controversial plot points — including pedophilia — the adaptation is in some ways more unnerving. It creates a chilling atmosphere, from its snow-covered streets to the pale faces of its characters — that stands in stark contrast to the bloody death that young Eli brings about when her hunger takes over.
5. The Haunting
Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is considered essential reading by many. And while the 1999 adaptation of the novel, The Haunting, was poorly received amongst horror fans, the original 1963 film version is well worth your time. The Haunting closely follows Jackson’s novel, which concerns a psychologist who invites a group of guests to visit Hill House in hopes of recording supernatural activity. And like the book, it relies on psychological terror — in the form of unexplained noises and movements just out of frame — rather than gore or horror to frighten us. And even with this simple strategy, The Haunting is still concerned one of the scariest films of all time.
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