Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Book-To-Movie: Who Makes the Grade?

When I tell someone I’ve seen a horror movie, I often get people asking if I’ve read the book it was based upon. I admit that I read a great deal of horror in the 70s, 80s and early 90s, but then I got distracted by other genres and drifted away. I was, however, left with a good deal of books I’ve read and movies I’ve seen that were based upon them. I wish I could tell you what it takes to make a book go to movie in a flawless manner, but there are a few that did it perfectly and a few that absolutely flopped and quite a few that took creative license and no longer seemed like the book they were based upon. As a writer, I’m not sure how I’d take my book going to movie, except to say—keep the essence/mood/atmosphere there and give them the five senses that I could only write about. And, for God's sake, please don't cast Paris Hilton!

I won’t even delve into “Frankenstein,” and “Dracula,” and other such classics because they were so excessively revised in movie form that they’ve lost the essence of the original writings in most cases. When they do seem to hit the mark, there’s nothing original sounding about them. I’d prefer someone takes a concept, like vampires, and then goes into a whole new plotline than to try and copy the original book. A great example of this was in my recent write-up about “Let The Right One In.”

Here’s the categories and the book/movies below.

Most repeatedly made into movies: “Turn of the Screw” (Henry James in 1898) and “I Am Legend” (Richard Matheson in 1954). There are so many versions of these movies that it’s hard to keep track of them. Admittedly, some are very weak, others very strong. “Turn of the Screw” had such followings in movie form as “The Innocents” with Deborah Kerr (the best portrayal perhaps) and “Turn of the Screw.” “I Am Legend” had the Vincent Price version “Last Man on Earth,” Charlton Heston did “Omega Man,” and of course Will Smith did that miserable rendition in the recent “I Am Legend.” When you see so many versions of a book-gone-to-movie, you have to ask yourself—was this book so good that people thought it should be made again and again into a movie? Probably. So, read the book. Try to avoid the movie, unless it has a worthy cast and director and recommendations from other lovers of the book.

Book equal to movie: “The Haunting of Hell House” (book by Shirley Jackson) and the movie version by Robert Wise in 1963 entitled “The Haunting.” It was a seamless and beautiful crossover, even using many of the same lines from the book. I just adore them both as the best horror renditions of all time. “The Exorcist” (by William Peter Blatty) and the movie version “The Exorcist” starring Linda Blair were of equal tension and both terrifying to read/watch in the dark. “Amityville Horror” (by Jay Anson) was a pretty fair match on the fear scale with the movie, but I preferred the book a bit more because it was less distracting with big actors doing horrible acting jobs and rough editing.

Book better than movie: All of Stephen King’s works, except “Carrie” and “The Shining” (Jack Nickolson) because they didn’t depend on cheesy special effects. His books are fantastic character studies and it’s a shame when they’re put to movie because they become kind of whiny imitations. Without the written motivations behind the characters, it’s impossible to bond with them and with horrible last minute special effects at the end to put the movie to a tidy stop, it loses all credibility (think “The Langoliers”-flying biting orbs and “It”-spider).

Movie better than book: "The Incubus” (by Ray Russell) wasn’t a bad book at all, but the movie really captured a mood and a flow that the book just didn’t have for me. “Jaws” (by Peter Benchley) went from being a very suspenseful bedtime read to a life-long fear of the ocean. The characters coming to life in the movie were truly amazing, actually making “Jaws” my favorite movie of all time and any genre! It obtained a visceral feeling and a storytelling that just couldn’t come across in the written word.

Book and movie very different: “Sleeping With the Enemy” (awful book by Nancy Price), movie version with Julia Roberts “Sleeping With the Enemy” really took the basic ideas from the book and made them into something cohesive. “Hell House” (by Richard Matheson) made into the movie “The Legend of Hell House” was vastly different (there was a lot of sexual graphicness that was taken out and moving around the plot a bit). This, however, resulted in a book and movie on equal footing even though they were vastly different. I appreciate both versions very much (though I’d like to have seen the NC-17 version personally).

One thing I know about the super intelligent readers on this blog is that you will all have your own personal favorite book-to-movie suggestions. I can’t wait to hear them, so please give me your fav’s.


  1. Man Autumnforest -we couldnt be on more of the same wavelength-as far as the books and movies I know about-in fact I was shocked to the degree I agreed with you-especially on the Stephen King and Amityville items-you couldnt be more correct in my opinion!! The Shining will forever be one of my favorites as a movie-whereas stuff like the Langoliers-It-left me cold-loved your description of the acting involved with Amityville-man o man am I gonna have to think-I haven't seen near as many movies as you and other folks here have-but have read tons of books-as I read this article so many books that i would like to be seen made into movies went through my mind-but because they werent i dont have my vote yet. Let me wind up my own "way-back" machine and see what i can come up with. This answer should have been so easy for me if I had seen more movies! all the best to you!!

  2. Hey Devin;
    Glad you enjoyed it. I know more times than not I've seen the movie first, then read the book. Usually, I see a movie and go "hey, I wonder if that came from a book?" and then I look for the book. That's the lazy person's way to do it, but I often times am not alerted to a new horror story until it's come to film. I've fallen off the horror reading wagon because now that I write horror, I'm terrified I might adopt styles of other writers which I really don't want to subconsciously do. Glad we jived about the movies/books. If you really want to read a cool one and see the movie, I'd suggest "Hell House" (movie "Legend of Hell House") or "The Haunting of Hill House" ("The Haunting" movie). I'm guessing about your style, but I think those two would really hit the spot.

  3. I totally agree with you as well. My favorite was The Haunting of Hill House. I read the book and thought the movie was well done. I remember being pleasantly surprised that many lines from the book made it into the movie. This is one of my most favorite stories.