October Takeover: Literature in Horror Films – from Book to Scream

~posted by The Spoiler

October is synonymous with horror movies, but horror is a tricky label to apply to literature. Often relegated as less legitimate, horror injects itself seamlessly into many genres – literary fiction, sci-fi, erotica or paranormal. In honor of the scariest month of the year and a genre that refuses to be narrowed down, here are some of the best films that link horror to the slipperiest character of all: the author.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970 Dario Argento). Some may call this Argento film tame in comparison to his later horror masterpieces, and they may be right. But the master’s first feature film is full of frightening images, trickery and above all art. The story centers around a British author in Italy trying to work on his latest book. Totally unsuspecting, he witnesses an attempted murder (at night but in bright floodlights and behind clear glass). Everything about the film is a puzzle and misleads the character and the audience numerous times. The scares are fleeting but intense, and sets the stage for more meaty scenarios to come.

Gothic (1986 Ken Russell). The ultimate “one night in a haunted house” also imagines itself as the origin story for Mary Shelley’ Frankenstein. Gothic follows the writer and her poet companion as they explore an evening with games, hide and seek, and various supernatural intrusions. Many old school scares (thunder and lightning) are here, and the atmosphere couldn’t be more authentic. It would have to be a pretty terrifying night to inspire one of the most famous works of literature.

Naked Lunch (1991 David Cronenberg). Naked Lunch could be called slipstream, sci-fi or dystopian, but horror? For any writer who has ever had writer’s block or suffered some kind of guilt, this is a nightmare. Instead of ending in murder, the story starts with an accidental one and unravels from there. From a typewriter that is an alien bug that demands special powder to a Roy Scheider bodysuit, Cronenberg never lets up in the uneasy and unreliable world of words, drugs and deceit.

And now for the most obvious two, from the twisted, brutal mind of Stephen KingThe Shining (1980 Stanley Kubrick) and Misery (1990 Rob Reiner). On opposite sides of victimhood, these two films are perfect bookends for the paranoid novelist. In The Shining, Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is not shown to be a huge success, and has a new problem with concentration, in part possibly due to his new role as a father. In any case, he is led down the path to violence and destruction, by outer influences and inner demons. In Misery, Kathy Bates is brilliant as Annie Wilkes, who is not so much taken with the writer Paul Sheldon (James Caan) as she is infuriated at the impending death of one of her favorite characters. Here the writer is the victim (though you could say Torrance is a victim as well to a force beyond his control) and the work of fiction is his own nemesis.

Also, check out the excellent titles available by the recently-departed Wes Craven. Many theaters around town are honoring his passing with A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, Swamp Thing, The Serpent and the Rainbow, just to name a few. Craven was a man who unflinchingly embraced the genre, and was successful at not only reinventing it, but sustaining it as well.

Happy Haunting all you writers out there!

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