People enjoy being scared. Of this, we have no doubt. There is just something about the night that beckons us. This has been the case for years and years, before movies, before television, before Netflix. Horror fiction goes back centuries, with modern tropes tracing back to the publication of the first Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto, written by Horace Walpole. That book was first published in 1764 and it initiated an entirely new literary genre. What started out as Gothic, soon turned to Horror. Other writers, such as Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker soon published works of their own (Frankenstein and Dracula, respectively) and the horror genre was given life for decades to come.
Frankenstein and Dracula are two of the most well-known horror novels ever to be written. They are also two of the most well-known horror movies. But they are far from the only ones. Edgar Allen Poe, Shirley Jackson, Stephen King, and Dean Koontz have all etched their names in the horror genre. Many of their works have been turned into movies or television shows. There are 5 films, however, that have become classics. When one thinks of a classic horror movie, these are the films that come to mind. The kicker is, they were books first!
5) Jaws (published in 1974)
Jaws was a landmark film when it was released in 1975. The killer shark movie from director Steven Spielberg is still heralded as the “first summer blockbuster.” It was a monumental film and one of the greatest horror films ever made. But before it was a movie, it was a terrifying novel, written by Peter Benchley. The book was originally published in 1974 and released by Doubleday, one of the leading publishing houses back in the day. While the movie changed a few minor things and omitted a few subplots, both the book and the film focus on a great white shark that is attacking beachgoers of a small, coastal town. After a number of shark-related deaths, three men are called upon to hunt the shark and end the massacre in Amity, Long Island.
When it was first released, Jaws was a huge hit for Doubleday. It caught the attention of film producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown, who bought the rights and selected Steven Spielberg to direct the film version of Jaws. When the film was released, it became the highest-grossing movie ever up to that point, which only furthered interest in the book. Jaws has become such a seminal film that many people forget it was a book first. But it was and it was just as terrifying as the film.
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4) The Amityville Horror (Published in 1977)
Speaking of Amity, there is the town of Amityville which is also located in Long Island, New York. Amityville gained notoriety in 1974 when Ronald DeFeo Jr. shot and killed six members of his family at 112 Ocean Avenue. A year later, George and Kathy Lutz, along with their three children, moved into the house. 28 days after that, they fled, citing terrifying occurrences that occurred during their stay. The Lutz’ argued that the house in Amityville was haunted and they never wanted to return to their Amityville Horror. Writer Jay Anson wrote a book that was released in 1977 and it took the country by storm. Horror novels had existed before, but none of them have been true. The Amityville Horror, as it came to be known, was true. At least, most of it was, according to Anson and the Lutz family. The book was released and it wouldn’t take long before the horror of the Lutz family was explored on film. 1979 saw the release of The Amityville Horror film and a host of sequels, remakes, reboots, and documentaries would soon follow. The films reached varying levels of success but it is still the book that remains the truest, and the scariest account of the horrors of Amityville.
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3) Psycho (Published in 1959)
Psycho is, arguably, the ‘granddaddy of the slasher film.” When the film was first released in 1960, it was a true landmark moment for horror on film. Alfred Hitchcock had delivered something that was more than just a “horror movie.” Psycho was a great movie, period. But it was a book first. Writer Robert Bloch published Psycho in 1959. He couldn’t have known that his book would be turned into one of the greatest movies ever put to film. He just wanted to tell a good story and he did exactly that with Psycho. The plot of the book is pretty similar to that of the movie. Norman Bates is a middle-aged bachelor that runs the Bates Motel, along with his mean, bickering mother. When Mary (Yes, in the book she isn’t named ‘Marion’) shows up at the hotel, seeking solace after stealing $40,000 from one of her clients, Norman is immediately smitten with her. He takes her in and offers her dinner, something that Mother clearly does not approve of.
Most people know the plot of Psycho. It’s terrifying in its simplicity, but it’s somehow even scarier in the book. While Alfred Hitchcock was a masterful film director, even he can’t compete with the images from our own imaginations. That is the beauty of Psycho, the novel — it allows the reader to retreat into their own minds as the horrors on the page reveal themselves.
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2) The Exorcist (Published in 1971)
The Exorcist is still, arguably, the scariest movie of all time. The image of Linda Blair’s Regan MacNeil twisting her head all the way around has become one of the most well-known images in horror history. There was also the spitting up of green pea soup, the spider-crawling down the stairs, and the masturbation via cross that viewers remember with great timidity. The Exorcist, as a film, is terrifying. But it was a book first. That book came courtesy of author William Peter Blatty. In 1971, Blatty released his book onto the world. Two years later, the movie was released and horror would never be the same again. But for as scary as the film adaptation of The Exorcist was, the book was even more terrifying. It was hard enough spending two hours in the world of Regan, her mom and the two priests determined to exorcize the demon, Pazuuzu. Imagine spending days (or nights!) in that world. We shudder at the thought.
It makes sense, then, that the film would be almost as scary as the book. Blatty himself wrote the screenplay for the film, which would be directed by William Friedkin. Together, the two created one of the most horrifying experiences in modern history.
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1) The Haunting of Hill House (Published in 1959)
The Haunting of Hill House, it seemed, was destined to be a story that translated much better on the page, than on screen. While the original film was somewhat of a success, they remake was laughable. Both films, however, failed to encompass all of the gothic imagery that The Haunting of Hill House offered. That was until Mike Flanagan created the limited series for Netflix. Everything that Shirley Jackson, author of The Haunting of Hill House was trying to convey in her book was captured by Flanagan’s series. The series was a watershed moment for Netflix and it is one of the greatest limited series of all time. But it was a book first. It wasn’t just a book, either. It was one of the greatest gothic horror novels to ever be written. Shirley Jackson etched her name in granite, alongside those of Shelley, Stoker, and Poe. The Haunting of Hill House is a novel that must be read on a cold, rainy night. It must be read alone. More than anything, The Haunting of Hill House must be read at night, preferably in the dark.
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