Five Horror Films That Took the Source Material to Another Level
by A.E. Santana
Contrary to popular belief, the book is not always better than the movie. Yes, I know—blasphemy and sacrilege! Often, the film seems to destroy the source material. The usual laments being: the movie cut out important subplots, characters have been changed or poorly casted, or the movie just isn’t like the book at all.
However, there have been times when films have brought another element or layer to the story, created connections that the book missed out on, or, in the case of horror, took the scares to another level. Sometimes, all it takes is one scene to elevate an already masterfully written horror story to a place of cult notoriety. Here are five examples of horror movies that took it one step further.
5. The Thing. A favorite of both sci-fi and horror lovers, the 1982 film by John Carpenter is based off the 1938 novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell. The novella is brimming with nervous terror as a team of scientists discover an alien wreckage during an expedition in Antarctica. The men then begin to turn on each other, attempting test after test to discover who is human and who is the shape-shifting Thing. Carpenter’s film spotlights the visual horror, showing audiences an alien that turns sled dogs into a spider monster, as it did in Campbell’s story. But the moment in the film, not in the novella, that helped to rocket The Thing into to sci-fi/horror Hall of Fame? The defibrillator scene, where trying to save a life can make you lose an arm (or two).
4. The Wicker Man. Robin Hardy’s 1973 folk horror film, The Wicker Man, doesn’t have too much in common with David Pinner’s 1967 novel, Ritual, which it is loosely based on. That said, both stories revolve around mysterious cult activity in a little, hidden-away village with a detective on a case. While all the bizarre, unsettling, and disturbing sequences that follow the detective are only slightly similar to each other (book and film), the biggest difference comes with the film’s now iconic ending. Ritual ends with a twist that was gasp worthy in the 1960s, but The Wicker Man ends with a scene that has proven to transcend generations.
3. The Fly. David Cronenberg’s 1986 gross-out, sci-fi classic is based on the short story of the same name by George Langelaan. The original 1957 story is bizarre and devastating—after creating a teleportation device, scientist André Delambre is in a gruesome accident, making him a monster and causing his wife Hélène to follow through on a terrible promise. Cronenberg’s film ramps up the shock value with visually and viscerally disturbing special effects that the director has become notorious for. But the added horror that the film imposes on its hapless audience is the repulsive, nightmare-fuel dream sequence of a possible half-fly, half-human birth, taking the story to a whole new level of squeamish terror.
2. The Mist. A 1980 novella by master of horror, Stephen King, The Mist is a weird and frightening tale of deadly creatures from another world and, worse, fearmongering. But when people think of The Mist, they may think of the 2007 film of the same name directed by Frank Darabont (who also directed King’s The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile), which has one of the most horrifying and shocking endings ever. While the story and movie are filled with terrible sequences of creature and human alike, the film’s doozy of an ending differs from the book and elevates it to one of the most infamous endings in horror movie history. With having been known to softball in endings, I wonder if King ever thought, “Damn. I wish I would have thought of that.”
1. Psycho. Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic film, Psycho, was based off the 1959 Robert Bloch novel of the same name. While both the film and the book are written with suspense, dread, and unfailing horror, Hitchcock did one thing that gave his movie a one up on the novel—he made Norman Bates handsome. In the novel, Norman is a creepy, little troll of a man, which lends to beautiful thief Mary feeling uneasy around him. Yet, in the film, Norman is mild-mannered and average looking (even attractive by some fangirls’ opinions), which makes the twist so much more devastating. Although Mary gets weird vibes from Norman, she dashes those concerns away because he looks so ordinary, so unassuming—so normal. A mistake any person can make.
· In the Tall Grass. Novella by Stephen King and Joe Hill (2012), film directed by Vincenzo Natali (2019)
· The Silence of the Lambs. Novel by Thomas Harris (1988), film directed by Jonathan Demme (1991)
· 1408. Short story by Stephen King (1999), film directed by Mikael Håfström (2007)
A.E. Santana is a Southern California native who grew up in a farming community surrounded by the desert. A lover of horror and fantasy, her works can be found in Demonic Carnival III, Weird Ales Vol. II, and other horror anthologies. She received her MFA in fiction from the UCR Low Residency program and was the drama editor for The Coachella Review, their online literary journal. Her perfect day consists of a cup of black tea and her cat Flynn Kermit.