13 Horror Movies From Book Adaptations

Interview with the Vampire

Image from: Interview with the Vampire 1994, Warner Bros. Pictures

A movie that makes $224M box office and convinces Oprah that it is a conduit for dark forces deserves to be on any horror movie list. In addition to this, 1994’s Interview with the Vampire sent Tom Cruise into a deep depression, launched Kirsten Dunst’s career, and contained enough blood and gore to satiate Caligula.

Anne Rice’s 1976 novel “Interview with the Vampire” is a somewhat different experience from the movie. Firstly, Claudia, played by Dunst in the movie, is younger. This makes sense, as it would be hard to find a six-year-old with the acting abilities of a 12-year-old Dunst. Several parts of the plot are omitted for time. Lastly, the film scrubs away many of the homosexual undertones present in the book.

The Silence of the Lambs

Image from: The Silence of the Lambs 1991, Orion Pictures

Anthony Hopkins’ performance as Hannibal Lecter in 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs was chilling and definitive, even prompting his then-girlfriend Martha Stewart to break up with him after watching the movie, calling him “scary.” Along with the terrifying Lecter, the non-stop thrills and pointed crime horror earned the film $273M at the box office.

Fans of the books and movies may know that the film was adapted from the second of Thomas Harris’s series of novels about Hannibal Lecter, also titled “The Silence of the Lambs.” The movie drops some subplots and characters and changes around some details (it might have been difficult to find an actor with maroon eyes and six fingers on each hand, as Lecter is originally described), but it retains the tone and themes explored in the movie and is definitely worth the read.

Pet Sematary

Image from: Pet Sematary 1989, Paramount Pictures

Despite being almost universally panned by critics, Pet Sematary earned $58M at the box office. In more recent years, the movie’s quirky horror has earned a cult following. Why wouldn’t it? With zombies; a soundtrack featuring an original song by the Ramones (the director knew them personally); and my personal favorite creepy old man to warn horror protagonists not to do something stupid in a long, long list of creepy old men, there isn’t much for horror fans not to love.

In the plot, the movie stays true to Stephen King’s 1983 novel of the same, probably because he wrote the screenplay himself. In tone, however, the book is much darker. Perhaps it is the bit warmth the actors give to the movie or the insight King’s narration brings to their psyche, but if you want horror, especially of the existential sort, the book is the way to go.

The Shining

Image from: The Shining 1980, Warner Bros. Pictures

To call The Shining a good horror movie is like calling Freddy Krueger temperamental. But like many of Stanley Kubrick’s films, it took a while for people to catch on. After the resounding success of Stephen King’s 1977 novel, the movie was a modest success, making $44M at the box office. King was even quoted as saying that the movie was one of the only adaptations he “remembered hating.”

This is understandable. The movie was not a faithful adaptation of the book. Instead of delving into the mind of a deeply disturbed writer, it becomes a series of images that are horror and insanity. Readers of the book will learn about a disturbed and horrifying character while movie-watchers will learn what is disturbing and horrifying in themselves.


Image from: Candyman 1992, Tristar Pictures

If you’re a fan of horror, you’ve probably heard of Clive Barker. Stephen King has called him “the future of horror,” and he has lived up to the name. In 1992 his short story, “The Forbidden” was adapted into a film, making $26M at the box office, spawning several sequels and becoming a cult classic.

While the movie stays true to most of the short story, the title character, who is originally white, gains a deeper, more racially charged backstory, which only serves to tell a more complex and unsettling story.


Image from: Hellraiser 1987, New World Pictures

Clive Barker not only wrote “The Hellbound Heart,” the 1986 novella on which Hellraiser was based, he learned to direct to make it. Initially, the results received mixed reactions. In Britain, critics praised it as American audiences gave it a shrug, if anything. Hellraiser made $14M at the box office. While this wasn’t exactly a flop, the movie has done far more after leaving theaters, becoming a saga and an icon.

As expected from a movie whose director wrote the story, the changes are few, and are made so that the story will work better on the screen. A major difference is that the daughter character of the book is instead a family friend, which actually makes the sexual aura of the film less creepy.

Let The Right One In

Image from: Let the Right One In 2008, Sandrew Metronome

The color-starved backdrop of suburban Stockholm is the perfect setting for a vampire story. After a half-hour of beiges and white snow, the audience, like the centuries-old vampire in the body of a twelve-year-old girl, is starved for blood. The film received immediate critical success, but its $11M at the box office may say more about the European market or American audience’s unwillingness to read subtitles, than the actual quality of the movie.

John Ajvide Lindqvist’s 2004 novel of the same name was also a success, becoming a bestseller in Sweden. The film and the book are basically the same story. The filmmaker simply dropped anything that wasn’t important or would be clumsy to commit to film, making reading the book an expansion of the movie and vice-versa.

American Psycho

Image from: American Psycho 2000, Lionsgate Films

American Psycho is well known for its over-the-top violence and Christian Bale’s equally manic performance. The gory romp is hard to get out of your head and the box office reflected this with $34M.

It’s hard to believe that Bret Easton Ellis’ 1991 novel of the same name was actually toned down for the screen. In addition to omitting some of the less palatable displays of violence, the book is told from Patrick Bateman’s point of view, spending more time on his obsession with appearance and health.

The Exorcist

Image from: The Exorcist 1973, Warner Bros. Pictures

The Exorcist seems to be the exception to the rule that horror movie classics must underperform at the box office. In 1973, America was obsessed with the then-shocking movie and that showed in $441M box office performance.

William Peter Blatty, who wrote the 1971 novel of the same name (it was based on a possession story he heard about while attending Georgetown University) also worked on the screenplay. The result was a movie with passages taken almost verbatim from the book. The major difference is that, in the book, the possession takes place over a series of months, making the possession all the more excruciating.


Image from: Psycho 1960, Universal Pictures

What would a horror list be without at least one movie by the father of the thriller, Alfred Hitchcock? It's hard to choose from all the great classics, but we will stick with his most famous one, Psycho, which earned $50M at the box office in 1960.

The previous year, Robert Bloch, wrote a novel of the same name. Though most of the action remains the same, the biggest change from the film to the book were the characters, resulting in the movie having a more sympathetic Marion (or Mary, as the book calls her) and a less alcoholic, more childlike, but still equally psychotic, Norman Bates.


Image from: Ring 1998, Toho

Fans of 2002’s The Ring may be confused by the screenshot and the omission. Let me assure those fans that the Japanese version of their favorite movie is much better. Though the American movie made more money ($249M box office versus $9M in Japan) Ring is one of the most terrifying and well-told horror movies of all times.

The story started with “Ring,” a 1991 novel by Koji Suzuki. The Japanese movie was the basis for the American adaptation, so many of the book’s points will be unfamiliar. Primarily, while the movie is more of a supernatural ghost story, the book depends on sci-fi elements for its scares, employing a virus rather than a creepy little girl.

Rosemary's Baby

Image from: Rosemary’s Baby 1968, Paramount Pictures

Rosemary’s Baby was not only ahead of its time when it came to horror, but it also broke ground in feminist themes, producing a story that remains disturbingly relevant today. It performed well at the box office, making $33.5M, and received universal praise from critics.

Roman Polanski, who directed the film, had an almost manic obsession with Ira Levin’s 1967 novel of the same title, from which the film was adapted. There is a story that Polanski couldn’t find a specific New Yorker ad and called Levin, only to learn that he had made it up. Because of this, the scenes, the dialogue, and the characters are reimagined almost identically.

IT (2017)

Image from: IT 2017, Warner Bros. Pictures

2017’s It is only half of an adaptation; the sequel, which tells the last half of Stephen King’s 1986 novel, is set to premiere September 6, 2019. If it lives up to its predecessor, it might be the definitive adaptation of King’s horrifying tale. It spun a terrifying tale and used the heartfelt coming of age vehicle, making the horror movements all the scarier. The audience picked up on this and It made $700M at the box office.

The heart of King’s novel is kept alive, but there are several differences. In adapting for the big screen more action sequences were added. There is no mention of a mythical turtle, which played a large role in the novel. Finally, (and this is probably for the best) the pubescent protagonists do not all have sex with Beverly to magically find their way out of the sewers.