Welcome to The Last Horror Blog, a biweekly column on all things horror.
Hollywood may be mostly interested in rebooting and remaking popular horror films these days, but some of the genre’s best titles were actually adaptations based on books and short stories. The Haunting (the 1963 original) was a film version of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby were both inspired by the works of William Peter Blatty and Ira Levin, respectively. Before Stephen King became so vocal in his disdain for Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, the author was thrilled to have one of the icons of moviemaking adapting his novel.
Fiction has given us the framework for some really great horror cinema – and it still does in the world of low-budget indie horror movies (where Jack Ketchum’s harrowing The Girl Next Door was turned into a disturbing film). Hollywood, though, seems relatively uninterested in adapting dark novels and short stories these days – which is sad, because there are some really great books out there that would translate quite nicely to the screen. With that in mind, here are some of my top picks for books that are all but begging to be turned into films. Hopefully some studio boss is reading this and taking notes…
The Rising by Brian Keene
Horror novelist Brian Keene and I have been friends since the days when we were both willing to write for “exposure” and “contributor’s copies,” but even if we didn’t know each other, I’d say that Hollywood has really dropped the ball in not adapting Keene’s work.
The author has had several indie films made from his fiction (including his novel Ghoul), but the one book really crying out for the big-budget treatment remains his zombie novel The Rising. Keene’s book was really an important piece in the whole zombie renaissance of the past few years, and it’s a great story to boot. A father must traverse the zombie-infested American landscape to find his son in the book, which also introduces many of the author’s recurring characters and locations.
The Rising and its sequel were optioned way back in 2004 (for film and video games), but we’re still waiting for the movie. Hopefully I’ll see Ob and his minions on the big screen before I die.
The Song of Kali by Dan Simmons
Some places are too evil to be allowed to exist. Some cities are too wicked to be suffered. Calcutta is such a place. Before Calcutta I would have laughed at such an idea. Before Calcutta I did not believe in evil—certainly not as a force separate from the actions of men. Before Calcutta, I was a fool.
And thus begins Dan Simmons’ debut novel, the absolutely haunting Song of Kali.
American poet Robert Luczak has taken an assignment from a literary magazine that requires him to travel to Calcutta and retrieve an epic cycle poem that has recently turned up. What makes the poem so interesting to Western publishers is the fact that it was reportedly written by Indian poet M. Das. Das was one of India’s leading bards -- but he’d vanished eight years prior and was presumed dead. However, the Indian authorities are claiming that he’s alive, well, and has written this new piece about Calcutta and Kali.
As Luczak investigates, he learns the truth behind where Das has been for all these years and finds himself embroiled in an all-too-real nightmare with life-altering repercussions.
I’m stunned no one’s ever attempted to bring Song of Kali to the screen, because it’s one of those projects that could easily be marketed at an audience that doesn’t generally go to horror films. I often picture an adaptation turning out like Alan Parker’s version of Angel Heart (also based on a good book). Heck, the screenwriter and director wouldn’t even have to work too hard – Simmons’ prose is so descriptive (and disturbing) that reading the novel is sort of like watching a movie already. Please, for the love of Kali, someone make this movie!
At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft
H.P. Lovecraft wrote a lot of great stories – and a few of them have already been adapted for the screen (the best of the bunch is Call of Cthulhu – which was an indie silent film released several years ago by a fan group known as the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society). However, the one story I’ve always wanted to see on the big screen – with a big budget to boot – is At the Mountains of Madness.
The book is a novella about an expedition to Antarctica that uncovers some very disturbing things. Like all of Lovecraft’s fiction, it’s dense and wordy and would have to be tweaked for modern audiences, but the effort would almost assuredly be worth it as the tale of intergalactic terror would surely delight a generation of fright fans who’ve never read the source material.
As you may recall, Guillermo del Toro was set to make this project a reality before he made Pacific Rim, but Universal got cold feet over the cost and story at the last minute. The film adaptation is not totally dead – del Toro is continuing his efforts to get it made. I’m rooting for him to succeed.
The Long Walk by Richard Bachman aka Stephen King
Author Stephen King has had the bulk of his work adapted for the screen – with varying results – but the one book that many fans really want to see is the author’s early novel The Long Walk.
The Long Walk was one of the novels King wrote under his Richard Bachman pseudonym early in his career. I had the following to say about the book and an adaptation in a piece I wrote for MovieFone a few years back.
The story finds King straying outside of the horror genre. In this dystopian tale, 100 young men are chosen to take part in an event that requires them to walk continuously at a four mile per hour pace. Falling below the threshold three times leads to death. When one walker remains, he wins the ultimate prize – whatever he wants for life.
The story centers on 16-year-old Ray Garraty. Garraty squares off against 99 other young men, but soon finds himself forming bonds and friendships with many of them. This serves as the novel's emotional core, watching young men who've willingly applied to enter this lottery forced to confront their own mortality -- and that of people they've come to care about.
The Long Walk would be a character piece featuring an ensemble of young actors and infused with themes about life, death and how young men (who think they're invincible) are willing to risk it all for a shot at a fantastic prize. Frank Darabont has optioned the novel, and insists he'll get around to making the film one day. He says his version of The Long Walk will be "weird, existential and very self-contained." Sounds pretty exciting to us.
Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite
With so many films made about serial killers, it’s surprising to me that no one’s ever brought author Poppy Z. Brite’s novel Exquisite Corpse to the screen.
Brite’s book would be a tough sell with mainstream America, given its extreme gore, but if Mary Harron can make Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho resonate with moviegoers in the Midwest, then I’ve little doubt that Brite’s novel could work too.
The novel features an alternating point of view – one that rotates between two serial killers (inspired by Jeffrey Dahmer and Dennis Nilsen), their intended victim, and the victim’s gay lover who’s trying to find him. Like all of Brite’s fiction, it’s the prose that’s exquisite – which makes each atrocity committed in the mad dash to the climax all the more powerful.
Hopefully, if this novel ever does get the big-screen treatment, the director will stay faithful to the source material. One of my biggest disappointments with American Psycho was how the book toned down some of the rougher bits – but those parts are a vital component of why Brite’s book works so well.
Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk
Fight Club scribe Chuck Palahniuk has written plenty of dark things over the years, and several of his books have been translated to the screen, but nothing in his oeuvre can really top Haunted when it comes to flat-out insanity.
A short-story collection masquerading as a novel, Haunted finds a group of wannabe writers stuck together in an abandoned theater for three months as they attempt to write their greatest works. However, their egos get in the way and lots of death and mayhem ensue instead.
Adapting Haunted for the screen would be a bit of a challenge, as the book features 23 short stories that also tie back into the main framing device of the narrative – but the effort would be worth it, as Palahniuk’s collection has plenty of interesting things to say on his usual topics of existential ennui and sexual deviancy, as well as some pretty pointed observations about our reality TV-obsessed culture.
Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
The debut novel from Joe Hill features a weird premise – an aging rock musician with a taste for the macabre buys a haunted funeral suit (that arrives in the titular heart-shaped box) that comes with the malevolent ghost attached. Don’t let that put you off, though – because Hill’s tale is a classic ghost story that creates an aura of menace and suspense with each turn of the page.
Hill (insert obligatory mention that he’s the son of Stephen King here) will see his novel Horns adapted by French filmmaker Alexandre Aja (with Daniel Radcliffe in the lead) for a release in 2014. Heart-Shaped Box, meanwhile, languishes in development hell. Warner Bros. acquired the option on the book in 2007 with plans for Neil Jordan to direct, but the adaptation appears to be completely stalled at this point.
Hopefully, a successful adaptation of Horns will inspire Warner Bros. (or another studio) to finally bring this mesmerizing ghost story to the screen.
The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker
Like Stephen King, British author Clive Barker is no stranger to seeing his works translated from the page to the screen. And like King, the results have varied greatly over the years (as anyone who sat through Rawhead Rex can attest – although I find it to be a guilty pleasure) – but there are still titles I’d like to see Hollywood take a shot at making – and The Great and Secret Show sits at the front of the line (just ahead of Weaveworld and Imajica).
The First Book of the Art (part of a trilogy that Barker has yet to complete) revolves around two men with mystical abilities who are at odds over a sea of dreams known as Quiddity. The lengthy battle wages on for decades and affects (in subtle and not-so-subtle ways) all of mankind. Okay, that’s just the very basic gist of it. The Great and Secret Show is really hard to synopsize, which is probably why we haven’t seen it turned into a film.
That being said, this is a series that would never really work as mainstream entertainment (without some severe dumbing down, anyway), but feels like something that would have been right in Jodorowsky’s wheelhouse. Plus, it features Barker’s occult detective Harry D’Amour (who was the main character in Lord of Illusions) and some really neat ideas about mysticism and humanity. And hey, Barker made the Cenobites a household phenomenon, so who’s to say he couldn’t bring Jaffe and Fletcher’s exploits to a wide audience? I’d certainly be up for seeing someone in Hollywood make the attempt.
MORE FROM AROUND THE WEB: