Lina Leandersson in ‘Let the Right One In’/Photo © Magnolia Pictures
We are morbidly fascinated folk. Many of us love the macabre, the terrifying, the disturbing. There's a reason horror films rake in dollars at the box office - sometimes very much in spite of those films' quality. There's enjoyment to be had in the vicarious thrills of terror. Why else would horror be so prevalent in word and film? There is a long and varied tradition of adaptations of horror prose from the earliest days of cinema ("The Hunchback of Notre Dame" from 1911 is perhaps the earliest horror adaptation) to the present. Audiences have had an urge to be virtually scared via the medium of cinema for eons, and thankfully there has never been a shortage of literary inspiration into which filmmakers can tap. Here are our picks for a few of the best.
It would be difficult to call "Nosferatu" scary for modern audiences, but its sheer influence merits a spot on this list. Director F.W. Murnau may have failed to officially secure rights to Bram Stoker's Dracula but there's no mistaking the inspiration for the iconic Count Orlok (Max Schreck). A masterpiece of German Expressionism, "Nosferatu" cemented Murnau as perhaps the most innovative director of the period and laid out the template for the modern horror movie.
"The Haunting" (1963)
The 1963 adaptation of Shirley Jackson's novel The Haunting of Hill House ranks among the best haunted house films ever made. It is equal parts a moody, gothic thriller and character study built around a potentially unreliable narrator. "The Haunting" is atmospheric, beautifully shot, claustrophobic and well, haunting.
"The Wicker Man" (1973)
Beginning as a mystery film with an investigation into the disappearance of a young girl, "The Wicker Man" slowly sheds its layers and begins to revel in the anxiety and desperation of its lead character, Sergeant Neil Howie (Edward Woodward). The film takes its time building to its shocking conclusion, but the sense of mounting dread that permeates the entire film makes for an uncomfortably effective horror film. It's based on the novel Ritual by David Pinner.
"Let the Right One In" (2008)
Based on the Swedish novel of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist, "Let the Right One In" is one of the best vampire movies of the last twenty years - if not more. By approaching the traditional vampire tale from a more human angle and essentially centering the film on the disquieting relationship between two lonely and desperate children, "Let the Right One In" briefly reinvigorated the tired vampire genre. It is a sometimes beautiful, sometimes visceral horror film with a final scene that manages to be both somehow heartwarming and disturbing.
"The Shining" (1980)
Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's novel of the same name is an interesting film. Initially opening to decidedly mixed reviews from critics as well as a slow start at the box office, it is now regarded as one of the most effective haunted house films of all time. Kubrick took the bones of King's novel and stripped it to only the barest supernatural elements, choosing instead to concentrate on the claustrophobic nature of the situation and the ever-more perilous sanity of Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson). It may not be the most faithful adaptation on this list, but the film is no less terrifying for it
"Rosemary's Baby" (1968)
Based on the novel by Ira Levin, "Rosemary's Baby" is a profoundly disturbing slow-burn film that succeeds on both its well-crafted premise and the performances of Mia Farrow and Ruth Gordon (Gordon won an Oscar for best supporting actress for her role). Nearly fifty years after its release, the film's chilling finale and closing scene remain as disturbing as ever.
"The Exorcist" (1973)
A pinnacle of the horror genre and one of the most unsettling films of all time, "The Exorcist" is a master class in sustained suspense. Seen as extraordinarily shocking and controversial at the time of its release, the film is one of the most influential horror flicks ever created and holds the distinction of being the first horror film nominated for an Academy Award for best picture. "The Exorcist" is based on the novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty.
Those are our picks for some of the best horror adaptations Hollywood has brought our way. What are yours? Did we miss any of your favorites? Tell us below.