Well, I didn’t know they were based on books, anyway.
I hate articles that start like “YOU DIDN’T KNOW THIS THING! LET ME EXPLAIN IT TO YOU!” Because, when the reader does know, the title and information come across as so condescending. That being said, I thought it would be fun to write one of those articles but be really honest about it. I found 10 horror movies that I really didn’t know were based off books that maybe, just maybe, you didn’t know, either.
There aren’t any Stephen King books on here, because we already know the chokehold his stories have on horror film.
1. In The Tall Grass (2019)
Okay, I lied. This one is based on Stephen King and Joe Hill’s 2012 novella of the same name. To be fair, I didn’t know this was a King-related production when I watched it on Netflix. It honestly didn’t even feel like one. It was beautifully filmed, twisted and mysterious, and criminally underrated. It stars Harrison Gilbertson, Laysla De Oliveira, and Patrick Wilson (you know, the guy from all The Conjuring movies).
The film does have some criticism, most being that it had limited source material that felt stretched a bit too thin. I don’t necessarily agree, but that could just be because I didn’t know it was a novella and just thought it was a rad horror movie with weird pacing. It was nominated for Best Streaming Premier at the 2020 Fangoria Chainsaw Awards but lost to a film called The Perfection. I’d recommend checking it out if you like time-warping, bloody, cult and alien-related horror. Oh yeah, and cursed fields of really tall grass.
2. The Ritual (2017)
This one is a British horror film based on Adam Nevill’s 2011 novel of the same name. It follows a group of four friends taking a short-cut (never a good idea) through the forests of northern Sweden. They’re hiking in the memory of their friend who was killed in a tragic attack. If you love forest horror, creepy abandoned cabins, and cults that worship the ancient beasts of the woods, then this one might be for you. It’s a love story to atmospheric horror, low on jump scares but high on stunning cinematography, honest and moving acting, and the terror of being totally lost and off the grid. I get anxious when my cell phone has less than 50% battery, so needless to say this would not be a horror film I would survive.
The film stars Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, and Sam Troughton. It premiered at the Toronto Film Festival but was sold to Netflix for streaming shortly thereafter. The novel won the 2012 August Derleth Award for Best Horror Novel. Definitely worth a watch, and a read.
3. The Wicker Man (1973)
I could write an entire article on the horror that was the 2006 Nicholas Cage version of this movie, but I am choosing not to for my sanity and for yours. The 1973 version was inspired by David Pinner’s 1967 novel Ritual. A policeman travels to an isolated island in search of a missing girl, only to find a colony of former Christians practicing a form of Celtic paganism involving sacrifices and other horrors. Film magazine Cinefantastique described this film as “The Citizen Kane of horror movies”. If that’s true, then the Nicholas Cage version is any Adam Sandler movie made after 1999.
There’s a sequel to the novel called The Wicca Woman that was published in 2014. Not sure why the books were published nearly fifty years apart, but I think they’re both worth a read if you’re interested in the origins of this famous (and infamous) film.
4. Jaws (1975)
I have seen Jaws probably 25 times, and I had no idea it was based on a book until researching for this article. We’re all familiar with the horror-thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss. . It was the highest-grossing film until the release of Star Wars in 1977. It tells the story of a small Massachusetts beach town that is terrorized by a man-eating great white shark.
Peter Benchley’s 1974 novel of the same name was on the bestseller list for 44 weeks and sold millions of copies worldwide. The movie focused solely on the shark and the three men hunting it and omitted the majority of Benchley’s subplots. That didn’t hurt the film’s success, however. The sequels are a horror story for another day… Of course, the literary elite will explain that it’s not about the shark, it’s about the greed of capitalism and how the rich will sacrifice the lives of the poor in order to make a quick buck.
5. The Exorcist (1973)
I guess I did know this one was based on a book, but I didn’t know until embarrassingly late in life. William Peter Blatty wrote the novel in 1971 of the same name detailing the demonic possession of a little girl named Regan and the priests who are charged with performing her exorcism. You already know I love exorcisms and possession. This film is actually one of the first horror films I ever watched. Regan and I were the same age, which both terrified and fascinated me as a budding horror fan. How could my parents forbid me to watch a movie if myself and the main character were the same age??
Blatty also wrote the screenplay for the film, earning him an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Aspects of the novel were actually inspired by a real life exorcism performed in 1949 of a young boy in Maryland. I guess it’s true that the most terrifying stories are based in reality.
6. The Amityville Horror (1979)
Speaking of stories based in reality, this is one of the first wildly successful horror franchises based on a “true story”. Of course, this claim has led to decades of controversy and lawsuits debating how “true” it really is. Still, it’s terrifying nonetheless. The novel of the same name was written by Jay Anson in 1977 and was reported to be based on the paranormal experiences of the Lutz family of Amityville, New York. According to the book, the Lutz family moved into a haunted house and claimed to be terrorized by evil left behind after a murder took place in the home one year prior.
The first Amityville film was released in 1979, and there have been dozens released since. The most famous remake of the 1979 original might be the 2005 version starring Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George. None of the films since then have been particularly exciting, as they all pretty much chronicle the same series of events in pretty much the same exact way. It would be interesting to have a film more about the controversy surrounding the book – like how the book falsely claimed the home was built on a spiritual site of the local Shinnecock Indians, or how everyone who’s owned the house after the Lutz family have reported no problems at all (other than morbidly curious horror fans stopping to take photos).
7. Candyman (1992)
Another novel adaptation that I had absolutely no idea about. I don’t blame myself. This film is based on Clive Barker’s short story The Forbidden from his horror anthology collection Books of Blood (1984), about a grad school student studying urban legends and folklore. And the movie was only made because the director Bernard Rose had a chance run-in with Barker, where Barker eventually agreed to license the rights. The original film starred Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd, and Xander Berkeley. There were two sequels, released in 1995 and 1999 which were not met with the same critical acclaim as the first.
Never fear, for an actually good direct sequel was released just this year, in August of 2021! It’s written by Jordan Peele (a true pioneer of evolving modern horror) and directed by Nia DaCosta. Though it’s the fourth film in the series, it’s a direct sequel to the 1992 oroginal. It stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Teyonah Parris. If you’re looking to get into the Candyman franchise, start with Barker’s short and work your way through the films (yes, even the crappy sequels. That’s part of the fun.)
8. I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
Did you know this cult classic was based on Lois Duncan’s 1973 novel of the same name? Well, loosely based. It’s actually a Young Adult novel that was regarded at the time of publication as well written and cleverly mysterious. Criticism included calling the novel’s plotting basic, which (in my opinion) is pretty standard in the Young Adult genre. It follows a group of high school friends who are being tormented by an anonymous person who, you guessed it, knows what they did last summer.
The film starred Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillipe, and Freddie Prinze Jr. I mean, come on. Talk about a stacked cast. The film was a departure from much of the inspirational material, as the novel isn’t really a slasher and doesn’t feature the graphic deaths of several characters. Duncan herself was pretty critical of the film, stating that she was actually “appalled” that her story was turned into a slasher film. Despite the author’s poor reviews, the film went on to have two sequels, one in 1998 and one in 2006. Not too shabby.
9. Hellraiser (1987)
And I was worried about too much Stephen King – turns out, I should have been worried about Clive Barker all along. I’m not a huge fan of the Hellraiser franchise in general, but I was fascinated to know that it, too, was inspired by a Clive Barker novella (The Hellbound Heart, 1986). The film serves as Barker’s directorial debut. The plot is basically about this group of beings called Cenobites who cannot tell the difference between pain and pleasure. You might know the leader of the Cenobites, played by Doug Bradley, as “Pinhead”. The original film was met with mixed criticism, but was followed by NINE sequels, so… I guess criticism doesn’t really matter.
The film was initially given an X rating, so Barker had to cut multiple scenes to get it down to an R. Cut scenes included a hammer murder, a naked murder, exposed entrails, and a closeup of an exploded head. Gnarly. Apparently the source material is just as gory and visceral, as is much of Barker’s work. The novella also has two sequels and several spinoffs to check out, if you’re interested. Barker uses a lot of the same horrors throughout his different tales, so you might spot a Cenobite or two across his massive bibliography.
10. American Psycho (2000)
Here’s another one I’m a little embarrassed about. Bret Easton Ellis published the novel of the same name in 1991, telling the story of Patrick Bateman, a serial killer by night and investment banker by day. The novel was wildly successful when it released, though controversial. Ellis himself claimed everyone thought the book was going to end his career. And if the morbidly curious reader didn’t go absolutely nuts over it when it came out, it just might have. American Psycho is the 53rd most banned and challenged book in the U.S. between 1990 and 1999, and sales were restricted in Germany and Australia due to potentially harmful subject matter. Feminist activist Gloria Steinem vehemently opposed the book due to its portrayal of violence against women. Coincidentally, Steinem is the stepmother of actor Christian Bale.
The same Christian Bale who portrayed Patrick Bateman in the 2000 film adaptation! The film was marketed as a dark but comedic film. It starred Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe and Reese Witherspoon. It premiered at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival where it was alleged to be “the next Fight Club” (that came out in 1999, also based on a novel). Upon its theatrical release, the film was met with positive reviews by most major outlets. There was even a straight-to-video spin-off made (aptly titled American Psycho 2) that no one watched. The novel is certainly worth the read, if only to figure out what all the fuss was about when it came out.
Well, there you have it. Ten horror films I didn’t know were based on books. Did you already know any of these? Good for you.
Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or, not. Trick-or-treat, after all.
Art is used Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 107 under the “fair use” defense.
All other images are certified public domain.