The 10 Best Literary Scary Movie Adaptations

It’s my favorite time of year. The leaves are on the ground, I’m terrified to walk to my car in the now early dusk after work… It’s also that time of year I binge on horror movies. The scariest thing I have ever seen on film was the ending of the pilot for Twin Peaks (1990). That was back in 1999 and I still can’t watch it again. I tried about a week ago. However, it did make me think about the book/movie adaptions that scare the pants off of people.

Jaws was not considered because the novel went from “a man’s battle with nature” in the novel to “sensationalized horror” after the movie came out. I also LOVED Hound of the Baskervilles (1939) even though it’s a loose translation, but I’m definitely in the minority. As always, kid or comic books are not considered.



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No Country for Old Men (2007)

I consider this the Coen brothers’ horror film. It’s dusty, it’s bloody, and it has a bad guy who can’t be stopped by bullets or begging.

A recent polling of doctors listed villain and cattle bolt gun enthusiast, Anton Chigurh, as the most realistic psychopath in media history. Imagine being chased by him through the rugged plains of Texas. Cormac McCarthy once said that he gave his villain a strange name because he didn’t want readers to put a nationality or ethnicity to him, believing it made him scarier. Mission accomplished. This is the author’s greatest big bad, narrowly beating out The Judge from Blood Meridian. This is also Javier Bardem’s best performance, rightfully rewarded with an Oscar. That end scene in the small tract house is both quiet and heart-poundingly scary.



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Frankenstein (1931)

This was a work of art before directors really knew what they were doing with talkies. They even gave us a new character, something that normally bombs an adaptation. But can you now imagine a Frankenstein movie without Igor? This slow burn to the wedding night ends in sympathy for the devil. That was how good actor Boris Karloff was. Everything about this movie is trend setting, complete with iconic costume and makeup that gave us a “face” to a century old character.



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Silence of the Lambs (1991)

This is one of the greatest literary adaptations ever made. Period. Everything fell into place when it came to hiring actors, a director, and even Precious. Everyone is on their A game here. Sweeping the Oscars in all of the top categories, Silence of the Lambs is one of those films that makes you run off to go read the novel and its sequels (prequels?). Culminating in a terrifying finale in a dark basement, lotion in a basket or fava beans never sounded the same afterwards.



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Flowers in the Attic (1987)

Because of the sexy incest (something V.C. Andrews and her army of ghost writers are known for), movie studios recently tried to come out with an updated, YA version. Sorry. Nothing compares to Louise Fletcher as the soulless grandmother out to kill her daughter’s spawn. There’s something so Joan Crawford sinister and campy about her performance. She even smacks around a little kid. Throw in an isolated mansion in the snowy middle of nowhere and you have a new Halloween favorite!



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Interview with the Vampire (1994)

It’s been revealed that Anne Rice had a fit when she heard that Tom Cruise was cast as the hero of her many novels. Then she saw him act as Lestat and was won over, as were audiences who didn’t think he could play seductive scary. That moment when he comes back to get his vengeance on Claudia? Cover your eyes.

It’s impossible to cram an entire Anne Rice book into a movie, but Interview with the Vampire was an incredible, beautiful adaptation. The film gave readers what they wanted without losing the non-readers. The creep factor is strong as the cinematographers used specific historic lighting for each time period. Then there is the star making performance by Kirsten Dunst, giving birth to her film career and kissing Brad Pitt.



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The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Give Lon Chaney any role and he can do no wrong. He, himself, created this horrifying mask of nightmares while crafting Erik as an anti-hero for the audience. When this movie was first released, people fainted in the movie theaters as his true face was revealed. And this is a silent film! Modern versions puff up the romance and glamour of ballet and costume, but this is the most true to the terrifyingly gritty book.



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The Mist (2007)

When I first watched the ending to this interpretation of Stephen King’s novel, The Mist, I literally jumped off the couch with my hands on my head. I could not believed that happened. I was stunned until the end of credits. For this reason, I’m going to do something I never do and recommend that you watch this movie before reading the book. This is Frank Darabont hitting another Stephen King home run.

Mr. King loves putting strangers in stressful situations to see how they react. When a thick mist sweeps through a small town carrying with it nightmare inducing creatures, neighbors trapped in a grocery store become heroes or crazies. Or cowards. This ramps up the tension as one poor guy tries to escape with his son. Forget the embarrassing Netflix series. It’s awful. Instead, rent or download this movie and enjoy and be shocked.



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Psycho (1959)

This list could be filled with Hitchcock book adaptations. The Birds, Rebecca…anything by my homegirl, Daphne du Maurier. However, I can only pick one and it has to be Psycho, the movie that changed the art of film forever. The terrifying masterpiece that’s burned into pop culture after all these years. It’s so breathtakingly patched together shot by shot that you see something new in every viewing. Pyscho is a level of perfection few directors get close to achieving.

Filmed by Hitchcock’s TV crew on a string budget, Psycho elevated the crappy novel (sorry, I hated it) and gave viewers their first look at a toilet on screen. No. Really. Then there’s the casting. Would it be just as good without Anthony Perkins as the sweet-faced motel proprietor with mommy issues? I think not. This is not a movie relegated to Halloween watching. This is a movie you own.



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Nosferatu (1922)

There was a big to-do out of making this loosely translated version of Dracula. The widow of Bram Stoker was so angry about this silent adaptation of her dead husband’s work (and was in debt and needed money) that she went to court to gain profits and get it destroyed and she won. Not really. A few clever movie buffs saved a copy or two of this now German classic. You might wonder how a silent movie can be that scary. Turn off all the lights and turn down the volume (the music harms the film). The moment when the man at the motel looks down the dark hallway and sees the vampire creeping towards him? The stuff of nightmares.



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The Exorcist (1973)

A movie that frightened every dad I knew when I was growing up. I watch this with the eyes of a writer and during every viewing, fall in love with the fleshing out of the characters. The boxer priest who is grieving. The actress who’s losing her child to a demon. I’m a fan of movies that know less is more and they do it well here by not showing the mysterious death of a man who was flung out of a window. Then there is the silent moment as Mom looks up at the attic door not realizing that the devil is up there waiting to possess her daughter. The perfect creepy movie for Halloween night.



Nicolina Torres
Nicolina Torres

Nikki worked for Barnes & Noble for 15 years, in seven stores. She is the author of This Red Fire, Young Nation, and Girls Who Wear Glasses. She prefers to live in the country and is a new aunt to a potential bookworm.

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