6 spooktacular horror books that now haunt your TV and cinema screens


  • Books
  • Tuesday, 30 Oct 2018

By TERENCE TOH, DINESH KUMAR MAGANATHAN and ROUWEN LIN

Books are amazing things. They can educate and enlighten you. A novel can take you to other worlds. They can fill your head with ideas, or inspire you to make a difference in your life or society.

They can also scare the hell out of you.

Books have been the stuff of nightmares for centuries, introducing readers more recently to such pleasant characters as Dracula, Frankenstein and Hannibal Lecter. And almost as soon as a visual storytelling medium was invented, horror books began the transition to film, beginning with the super creepy silent movie Nosferatu (1922) that was based on Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula (1897).

Ahead of Halloween tomorrow, we take a look at some of the most successful film and television adaptations of horror books.

Movie-wise, we had a scary number to choose from. There is author Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby (1967), Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (1986) and Koji Suzuki’s The Ring (1991) among many, many others. Indeed, the whole list could be just filled with adaptations of Stephen King books (though we recommend Carrie, Pet Semetary, The Mist and The Shining movies in particular.)

When it came to TV series, we had less of a choice – albeit no shortage of quality. There’s The Strain series based on the eponymous 2009 novel by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan that is the first in a trilogy, as well as Castle Rock, based on the works of King. Bates Motel is based on Robert Bloch’s Psycho, while Hannibal comes from the books by Thomas Harris.

Modern horror fans are having a ghoulishly good time with so many great shows on their screens!

Here are some of our favourites. Do share yours with us at star2@thestar.com.my.


The horror novel versus the horror movieThe Haunting Of Hill House (2018 TV series)

Also: The Haunting (1963 movie), The Haunting (1999 movie)

Based on the novel: The Haunting Of Hill House (1959) by Shirley Jackson

SHIRLEY Jackson’s Hill House is probably the grandfather of all good haunted house stories.

Since it was first written, The Haunting Of Hill House has been made into two feature films and a play, and has been named one of the best literary ghost stories of the 20th century. The television series based on it just came out this month and has been making waves, hailed by many viewers and critics as a truly chilling television experience.

The story in Jackson’s novel differs from the TV series, which involves a modern day family. Jackson’s novel centres around Dr John Montague, a supernatural researcher who invites three strangers to Hill House, a mansion built by the deceased Hugh Crain. The three are the reclusive Eleanor Vance, the flamboyant artist Theodora, and Luke Sanderson, the heir to the house. (Yes, a lot of the names are reused in the TV series.)

The visitors soon begin to experience supernatural phenomena. Just like the TV series, many of the thrills come from a slow buildup of terror, and the effect of the strange events on the characters’ psyches. The Haunting Of Hill House will keep readers unsettled long after they’ve finished the book. Don’t blame us if you keep looking over your shoulder after reading it!


The horror novel versus the horror movieIt (2017 movie) and It Part Two (coming in 2019)

Also: It (1990 miniseries)

Based on the novel: It (1986) by Stephen King

DO you think clowns are creepy? Strangely, this seems to be a widespread phobia, so much so that there’s an official name for it: Coulrophobia. Stephen King taps into this fear masterfully when he introduces us to Pennywise the Dancing Clown, one of his most famous horror villains. Appearing as a sadistic, wisecracking clown, Pennywise is actually an ancient, shapeshifting evil who enjoys preying on children’s fear.

It is a massive book – over 1,000 pages! – which tells of the efforts of the Losers Club, a group of kids from the town of Derry, Maine, to stop Pennywise. They defeat him once as children, but must face him again as adults after he returns 27 years later.

What follows is an epic tale of good vs evil, with some really horrifying scenes as Pennywise wreaks havoc. Werewolves, flying leeches, blood spraying everywhere ... expect the worst in this book.

Pennywise has been played by Tim Curry (the TV miniseries) and Bill Skarsgard (the movie and the upcoming Part Two), both of whom were praised for their performances. All screen adaptations of King’s book have been relatively faithful to their source material, except for omitting a controversial scene in the climax of the first part of the book. (It’s too controversial to print here, you’ll just have to read the book to find out. Mind you, King handles it pretty sensitively.)


The Woman In Black (2012 movie)The horror novel versus the horror movie

Based on the novel: The Woman In Black (1983) by Susan Hill

LET’S make one thing perfectly clear: There is nothing more terrifying than a woman – or anyone, really – clad entirely in black, who appears unannounced in the night and wears a very pale face. English author Susan Hill masterfully weaves this spectral figure in funerary garbs into her eerie Gothic horror novel, so much so, you dare not lift your eyes off the pages of the book for fear of finding the woman in black standing right in front you.

The chilling story revolves around lawyer Arthur Kipps who’s summoned to Crythin Gifford, an old market town on the north-east coast of England, to attend the funeral of Mrs Alice Drablow, a widow who lived alone in the secluded Eel Marsh House. It is at the funeral Arthur first encounters the woman in black and this horrifying figure, whose appearance is said to presage the death of a child, continues to haunt poor Arthur when he stays over at Eel Marsh House to sort out the estate’s legal matters. Arthur takes it upon himself to find out who this terrifying lady is and what awaits him is an even more horrific and tragic tale.

In the 2012 movie adaptation by James Watkins, Daniel Radcliffe plays Arthur. While the film deviates slightly from the source material, it still retains the eerie trappings of a good ol’ Gothic horror. The brooding film will definitely send shivers down your spine and you’ll be desperately hoping for Radcliffe to pull out a wand and cast a Patronus charm.

Born in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, the 76-year-old Hill has written many other Gothic novels; some of her notable works are The Mist In The Mirror (1992) and I’m The King Of The Castle (1970), for which she received the Somerset Maugham Award in 1991.


The horror novel versus the horror movieLet The Right One In (2008 movie)

Based on the novel: Let The Right One In (2004; English translation 2007) by John Ajvide Lindqvist

THIS vampire fiction by Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist may not necessarily be scary, save for some murderous scenes peppered throughout the novel. But the book tells a compelling tale of an unlikely friendship between Oskar, a 12-year-old victim of bullying and Eli, a child of the same age, who moves in next door.

Eli lives with Hakan, a disgraced school teacher fired for having child pornography in his possession. Eli becomes Oskar’s saviour, keeping him safe from the bullies.

But Eli is a vampire who was turned as a child. What’s even more shocking is that Eli is not a girl at all but a boy who was castrated after turning into a vampire and has for the past 200 years lived as a girl. The real monster and horror of the story is not the vampire at all. The true monsters are the regular people.

Essentially, the novel deals with the darker side of humanity, delving into paedophilia, alcoholism, school bullying, violence and murder. And while the author does force the reader to confront some uncomfortable situations, there is something poetic and beautiful and innocent about Oskar and Eli’s friendship.

The 2008 film adaptation by Tomas Alfredson is pretty faithful, and is equally haunting, beautiful and disturbing – perhaps because Lindqvist himself wrote the screenplay for the movie. The film received critical acclaim and won several awards, including the Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival, a renowned indie film fest in New York City.

Let The Right One In marks Lindqvist’s debut in the literary world, one that immediately garnered critical acclaim worldwide when it was translated into English in 2007. His second novel, Handling The Undead (2015), deals with another terrifying creature: zombies!


The Night Watch (2011 movie)The horror novel versus the horror movie

Based on the novel: The Night Watch (1998, translated into English 2006) by Sergei Lukyanenko

YOUNG magician Anton knows the dangers that lurk in the Twilight, that realm that lies just under the surface of the reality we know. It is in this place that an ancient race, the Others, roam. Born human, these beings must choose a side to swear allegiance to when they come of age.

Thus the Light and Dark sides coexist, albeit locked in an uneasy truce. And defenders like the Night Watch stand guard against the Dark, and the Day Watch against the Light, to ensure that all is balanced in the world.

But what happens when someone with the power to shift this balance comes out of the shadows?

This is The Night Watch by Russian science fiction and fantasy author Sergei Lukyanenko, who paints a dark and picturesque world where good battles evil. His characters will haunt you – and not necessarily the bad guys but rather, the characters who are inherently good and will have their limits tested in a harsh world where it is a struggle to do the right thing and stand strong at the same time.

Moral dilemmas, as it turns out, can sap the strength out of you just as quickly as dark forces.

Not many of Lukyanenko’s books have been translated into English. What seemed to have spurred the English translation of Night Watch was the success of the films. The films, titled Night Watch (2004) and Day Watch (2006) are based on the first part, and second and third parts of the novel, respectively.

There is also a video game of the same name that is based on both the novel and films.


The horror novel versus the horror movieThe Exorcist (1973 movie)

Based on the novel: The Exorcist (1971) by William Peter Blatty

YOU know the drill: girl is possessed with the signs manifesting gradually, so by the time the other characters are alarmed enough to seek help from a professional, her eyes are rolling back in her head, she’s speaking in strange voices and scrawling creepy messages all over the walls and herself.

(Not to forget arguably the most famous scene, as pictured in the lead image at the top, of the head-on-backwards moment. Photo: Warner Bros)

She is just throwing a fit, her mum thinks. What with her parents’ divorce and other such new developments in the family, what young girl wouldn’t be traumatised?

But things take a sinister turn when it becomes obvious that there is something more mysterious at play here.

William Peter Blatty’s take on demonic possession and exorcism in this well-loved book is riveting, as was the first film adaptation in 1973, which was directed by William Friedkin. Often named in “best of” movie lists, it was the first horror movie to be nominated in the Best Picture category of the Academy Awards (though it didn’t win).

Four other films followed, expanding the story and introducing new characters and showing to generally mixed reviews. The original movie was banned from theatrical release in Malaysia but became available on video eventually.

The novel, though a work of fiction, was inspired by a recorded case of demonic possession in 1949. Blatty heard about this while he was a student at Georgetown University in Washington DC, hence the setting of the book in an area not far from where the university is located.

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