It’s the perfect time to dim the lights, grab a bowl of popcorn, and give yourself a bad case of the heebie-jeebies by watching these unnerving film adaptations of famous books. To qualify for this list of shivery cinema, the adaptation must do one of the following: scare you out of your shoes, leave you feeling profoundly disturbed, or keep you looking over your shoulder as the house creaks in the night. So read on if you dare—and, obviously, spoiler alerts!
“The Chronicles Of Young Satan” from The Adventures of Mark Twain
The Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain
A scene from the novel fragment “The Chronicles Of Young Satan” was adapted for the animated film The Adventures of Mark Twain. In it, Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and Becky Thatcher are asked by Satan to make people out of clay. The Claymation style and Satan’s obfuscated voice make this selection decidedly creepy indeed.
The Shining by Stephen King
While there are clear differences between the film and its source material, Stanley Kubrick masterfully wedded the narrative with a subtle, sinister ambiance that permeates the film, assisted no doubt by the chilling score. Add to that Jack Nicholson’s slow descent into madness—and the horror waiting in one of the hotel guest rooms—and you have a sleep-with-the-lights-on scary adaptation.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Okay, this children’s book may not seem like the typical source for a terrifying story. But there’s something decidedly odd about the mysterious chocolate factory, and you never feel quite convinced that the children have escaped permanent harm. Plus, from a child’s perspective—and even a few adults—Gene Wilder singing while traveling through a demonic tunnel has to be one of the most bizarre, unsettling scenes on film.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
This ain’t your typical Disney-fied version of the Alice in Wonderland story. Jan Svankmajer’s surrealistic interpretation of Carroll’s classic children’s tale combines live action and jerky stop-motion animation. In this unusual film from the Czech Republic, a young girl travels down an elevator and is chased by a white rabbit, a fish skeleton, and other mind-boggling, creepy creatures. At one point, Alice drinks a potion to make herself small, and the actress is replaced by a disturbing porcelain doll. You’ll definitely have trouble sleeping with this film’s nightmarish imagery bumping around in your skull.
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
Jackson’s chilling story of mindless conformity created such an uproar when first published in The New Yorker that shocked readers canceled their subscriptions. Later adapted for radio, TV, and film, The Lottery contrasts small-town wholesomeness with blind dedication to a dark, ancient ritual carried out to guarantee a good harvest. The townsfolk’s willingness to kill in the name of tradition will leave you genuinely troubled.
Our list here just scratches the surface of frightening film adaptations based on books by famous authors. We challenge you to see how many more creepy book-to-film adaptations you can find!
QUESTION: What’s your favorite creepy book-to-film adaptation?
SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, by Ray Bradbury
Though, as usual, not fully faithful to the book, this Disney version is pretty damned good. This 1983 version has a pretty good cast (Jason Robards and Jonathon Pryce) and feel to it.
DRACULA, by Bram Stoker, was pretty well done (for its time anyway: 1922), under the title “NOSFERATU: A Symphony of Horror”. This German Expressionist movie was directed by F. W. Murnau and stars Max Schreck as the vampire Count Orlok. There are some truly creepy scenes (especially the use of shadows), especially if you can transport yourself back to the age of a more innocent film-making style. This is not even close to the Bela Lugosi version.
The scariest book I’ve ever read is The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. One of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen is the film version, The Haunting. It’s a black and white, no blood, no reliance on special effects masterpiece.