The book is always better than the movie. You’ll never convince me otherwise. However, that doesn’t mean that certain books are just begging to be properly adapted (see: THE GODFATHER, IT, THE GRAPES OF WRATH, and so on). When that movie magic happens, you either get an achievement in cinematic excellence, like THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION for example, or a true clunker that doesn’t deserve space in the clearance bin of your local Wal-Mart. Here’s looking at you, Will Smith’s I AM LEGEND.
The horror filmmaking landscape has never been more lush with creative minds and opportunities for films of all budgets to be made, and made effectively. While the natural inclination is to imagine every film as a big-budget blockbuster that features an A-list cast of Oscar hopefuls, I’m always more interested in projects that feature an independent or up-and-coming filmmaker.
A truly good horror novel does all of the things that a truly good horror film can do, only better. It’s the character development, the unsettling descriptions and the emotional rip tide that sucks the reader in and keeps us invested from start to finish. To make an excellent film adaptation from a novel, you need a filmmaker that gets the “little things” that are actually very big things- mood, atmosphere, dialogue and such. Some filmmakers are better at these things that others and when things don’t shake out properly, we get things that make us wish a film had never been created. When it’s done right, we get the cinematic excellence described above.
Below are five horror novels that I believe are ripe for a good film adaptation, complete with my suggestion a filmmaker that I believe would do the project justice. I refuse to offer up spoilers, so do yourself a favor and check out these books. You can thank me later.
Those Across The River by Christopher Buehlman
Evidently, many people think this novel should be made into a movie because it’s been in pre-production purgatory for the better part of seven years.
The novel centers on Frank Nichols, a WWI vet who is picking up the pieces of his life and moves into a recently inherited home in Georgia. Frank hopes that relocating and whipping up a sensational historical book about the family land he now owns will give him and his soon-to-be wife the golden ticket he so desperately wants in the middle of the Great Depression. Of course, things don’t work out quite like Frank had hoped. See, Frank’s inherited land is a plantation surrounded by woods. The woods just so happen to be inhabited by something menacing, something alive. This is a richly dark book, practically brimming with dread. Think haunted house meets terrible town secret, with a little bit of history and a whole lot of paranormal activity. Robert Eggers (THE VVITCH) would be the first call I’d make to direct this one.
The Fisherman by John Langan
In this Lovecraftian nod, Abe is trying to cope with the loss of his wife and takes up fishing. It doesn’t take long before he’s fishing with a friend named Dan who is also dealing with the repercussions of an unimaginable tragedy in his own life. The two venture out to Dutchman’s Creek, which is kind of like the waterway you’d imagine finding in the middle of Pet Sematary, if you catch my drift. The novel had me captivated from page one and I would love to see the story unfold on the big screen. The key to making this adaptation work would be to squeeze out every drop of palpable sadness that Abe and Dan hold with them and mix that with the desperate uncertainty that the two head to Dutchman’s Creek with. I’d also love to see what Der Fisher looks like in the flesh. I can only imagine what horror fan favorite Jennifer Lynch (AMERICAN HORROR STORY, THE STRAIN, THE WALKING DEAD) would do with this script!
The Cipher by Kathe Koja
This book is about a hole in the floor. Not just any hole, however- a living hole. Perhaps Satan’s very own rabbit hole. We meet a young couple who discover the hole and being doing what human beings are wont to do when they find something mysterious- they dumbly screw with it until things get very, very bad. Cue the physical and emotional terror, complete with a ROSEMARY’S BABY-esque paranoia about the outside world. What has always gotten me about this book is just how grimy it is. While I’m not a fan of found footage, there’s one part of this novel that is just begging to be done in that style and, if done right, could be one of the most deliciously tense scenes in a recent horror film. There’s a very urban feel to it (at least in this reader’s opinion) and I’d love to see how it would work as a film. There will be no happy ending here, but holy hell what a ride it could be. Award-winning director Karen Lam (EVANGELINE, THE MEETING) has the ability to create the nightmares this novel so rightfully deserves to show.
Penpal by Dathan Auerbach
Ironically, what started as a wildly successful “No Sleep” Reddit creation, Penpal is the psychological mind screw that will render you more than just a little sleep deprived while reading it. Offering more than a sentence or two of plot summary on this one would be revealing too much, so I’ll keep it short- a chilling obsession leads to a living nightmare for two young boys and their families. When everything is sorted out and the twist is revealed, the reader is left with pieces of their blown mind oozing out of their ears. This one is haunting, unnerving and downright vicious at times. To truly bring this terrifying tale to life, I’m tapping Jeremy Saulnier (GREEN ROOM) to direct.
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
‘But there’s been adaptations of this!’, you say? I nod with a smirk and suddenly find myself wondering if you truly are someone I need in my life. Arguably the greatest post-apocalyptic novel ever written, Matheson’s masterpiece has been sadly torn apart and half-assed over the course of a few sad attempts at adapting it. The story of a man seemingly all alone in the world after a vampiric outbreak has rendered Earth a giant graveyard, I AM LEGEND is a book that belongs on every Must Read list. Loaded with paranoia, character development and heart, this is one that deserves a proper film treatment. You don’t need a big budget, you don’t need to change the ending, and you don’t need a big name actor in the starring role. I’m thinking a Blumhouse film with somebody like Mike Flanagan (GERALD’S GAME, OCULUS, the upcoming DOCTOR SLEEP adaptation) at the helm.