10 Horror Books and Their Many Adaptations
It’s that time of year again. The leaves are changing, there’s a chill in the air, and everyone’s in the mood for some classic horror. It’s a tradition for many to sit down and rewatch their favorite horror media and indulge in new frights here and there. Others may get their fill by curling up with a captivating, spine chilling novel they just can’t put down. Why not experience the best of both?
Here is my list of 10 of the best horror novels and their many adaptations.
The Haunting of Hill House (1959) by Shirley Jackson
Known as The Haunting in both the 1963 and the 1999 films, Shirley Jackson's classic novel is about a group of paranormal “seekers” looking to unearth the truth of a haunted mansion. It has been both faithfully ('63) and not so faithfully adapted ('99) for the big screen, and also has a critically acclaimed 2018 Netflix adaptation loosely based on the novel. Rather than following a group of strangers, the Netflix version follows a single family living in the mansion. If you’d like a different experience with the story, you could also check out the play or radio adaptation.
The Exorcist (1971) by William Peter Blatty
This famous work recording the tale of two priests’ battle to save a possessed young girl was originally adapted in 1973, and has had many adaptations since then. Various directors, including Blatty himself have gone on to produce a series of prequel and sequel films, including this year’s The Exorcist: Believer. There’s also a 2016 television sequel series that ignores the film sequels. Blatty’s novel was also adapted into a 2012 stage play and 2014 radio drama, as well as a Japanese comic by Kazuo Umezu in 1974.
Who Goes There? (1938) By John W. Campbell
Better known by the name of its film counterparts, The Thing or the novella Who Goes There? tells the story of a group of scientists trapped in Antarctica with a shapeshifting alien. It was originally adapted in 1951, and a prequel to John Carpenter's 1982 film was released in 2011. There was also a fan film made in 2021, though whether it is canon is up for debate. Carpenter recently teased that a sequel to his adaptation may be in the works, much to the excitement of longtime fans. Besides its film adaptations, Who Goes There? has inspired numerous scifi and horror short stories, and has also been adapted for radio multiple times.
The Shining (1977) by Stephen King
Despite King’s disapproval of it, the 1980 film adaptation about a family’s fight for survival at the dangerous Overlook Hotel has become one of the most beloved horror films ever made. Its 2019 sequel Doctor Sleep has earned King’s approval, as elements of the novel are more prevalent than in the 1980 film. The Shining has also been adapted as a miniseries (1997) for the opera and a stage play is reportedly in the works.
Carrie (1974) by Stephen King
This critically acclaimed classic about an outcast telekinetic girl brought King into the spotlight and horror into the mainstream. Its first adaptation in 1976 was the most successful and well received, meanwhile the sequel adaptation in 1999 was not as well received. The musical adaptation in 1988 had a substantial amount of issues with its production and eventually became known as one of Broadway’s biggest failures. The 2002 made-for-television adaptation was more faithful to the novel than the original 1976 version, though it also received negative reviews from critics. Its latest adaptation in 2013 has followed the trend and, like other versions, was not well received. I leave it to you to decide how the adaptations hold up compared to the original.
Rosemary's Baby (1967) by Ira Levin
This novel, which tells the story of a woman who’s unborn baby is more than meets the eye, was first adapted as a movie in 1968, with a television sequel being made in 1976. A two-part miniseries was made in 2014. There's also an upcoming prequel adaptation, Apartment 7A, that was produced by Paramount. An official release date for the prequel has yet to be announced.
Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker
From Nosferatu in 1921 to Castlevania to The Last Voyage of the Demeter released this August, Dracula has been adapted many times over the years in various films, games, shows, and more. To list them all would take too much time, but if you want to watch more faithful adaptations, I recommend starting with 1977’s Count Dracula and 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Psycho (1959) by Robert Bloch
Bloch’s 1959 novel about the murderous Norman Bates and his twisted relationship with his mother was adapted in 1960, with sequels being released in 1983, 1986, 1987 (ignoring the previous sequels), and 1990 (ignoring the 1987 version). A nearly shot for shot remake of the original film was released in 1998. A prequel television series that is loosely based on the novel and other adaptations, Bates Motel, was released in 2013 starring Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga, and was met with much critical acclaim.
Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (1818) by Mary Shelley
Frankenstein is practically the godfather of scifi and horror. Many films, shows, and more have been inspired or adapted from the tale of an ambitious student and his unfortunate creation. However, many do not know that the very first adaptation was a silent film made by Edison Studios (yes, that Edison) in 1910. Perhaps the most famous version of Shelley’s work was Universal Picture’s adaptation in 1931, though the most faithful adaptation seems to be Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein from 1994. Another faithful adaptation, though nonlinear in its storytelling, is Frankenstein: A New Musical, which was originally a 2007 off-Broadway production, and has since gone international.
The Silence of the Lambs (1988) by Thomas Harris
This psychological horror was adapted into an Oscar winning film in 1991, after the 1986 adaptation of its prequel Red Dragon (a.k.a. Manhunter). Lesser known is the 2005 off-Broadway musical adaptation that parodies the film, and the 2021 television series, Clarice, that takes place three years after the novel.