Maybe we’re biased, but some of our favorite horror films happen to be about writers; here are ten of the best well worth taking note of.
They say to write what you know, so it’s not surprising that some of the most prominent genre screenwriters have written films centered around characters who are also writers. Because they intimately understand the mind of a writer better than anyone, they can craft characters that are compelling, complex, believable, and well-developed.
Writing can be a daunting craft. And writers — from novelists to bloggers, journalists, critics, and even pro essay writers — are often plagued with loneliness, self-doubt, fear of rejection, and bouts of crippling writer’s block.
As a result, stories about writers become fertile ground for tales of solitude, obsession, anxiety, and existential dread that perfectly translate to the world of absorbing horror.
Here are ten of our favorite horror films about writers — from the widely celebrated to the woefully unsung, and everything in between.
1. The Shining (1980)
Based on the beloved novel by Stephen King, The Shining is a classic horror film about a novelist who goes insane while isolated in a snowbound hotel that happens to be haunted.
Widely considered one of Stanley Kubrick’s finest films, and perhaps one of the best horror movies ever made, it was infamously shunned by King who hated the liberties taken with his source material. But there’s no denying the cultural influence of this still chilling, technically flawless work of cinematic art.
Jack Nicholson gives an unforgettable performance as Jack Torrance, the deranged caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. The film is terrifying enough on its own as a masterful work of horror, a manifestation of hell on earth. But its real power lies in its ability to explore deeper themes about humanity, abuse, and the monster within.
2. Misery (1990)
Stephen King is one of our time’s most prolific and successful authors, but he’s also no stranger to having his work adapted for the big screen (as proven by this list). One of his most famous novels, Misery, was successfully adapted in 1990, and it’s widely considered to be one of the all-time best King adaptations — as well as one the best movies about writers.
King himself has stated that Misery is one of his top ten favorite film adaptations, and for good reason. It’s also the only film based on a King novel to ever win an Oscar.
The story follows writer Paul Sheldon who is kidnapped and held captive by a deranged fan, Annie Wilkes. When Annie discovers Sheldon has killed off his favorite character in his latest manuscript, she subjects him to all sorts of torment, both physical and psychological.
The film contains one of the most infamous, hard-to-watch scenes in all of horror. Additionally, the performances by the late James Caan and Academy Award-winning Kathy Bates (in her breakout role) are outstanding, and the tension is palpable throughout.
3. In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
This is the kind of film one could write entire essays about.
In the Mouth of Madness is a 1994 supernatural horror film directed and scored by the master of horror John Carpenter. It stars Sam Neill as John Trent, an insurance investigator who visits a small town while looking into the disappearance of a successful author of horror novels — whose books have begun to drive people insane.
As the lines between reality and fiction begin to blur, he starts to question his own sanity.
Inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft, this meta-horror masterpiece features great practical effects, a strange but captivating story, and (as you might expect) a wonderfully chilling score. Literary lovers will adore references to Lovecraftian mythos and cosmic horrors like the ancient race of monstrous beings called “The Old Ones” that are intent on reclaiming the Earth.
Carpenter considers this the third installment of his “Apocalypse Trilogy”, preceded by The Thing (1982) and Prince of Darkness (1987). Though it didn’t get much love upon initial release, it has rightfully become a cult classic.
4. Bag of Bones (2011)
Bag of Bones is a film adaptation of Stephen King’s 1998 novel of the same name. Directed by Mick Garris, it first aired as a television miniseries (released on A&E in two parts). However, when it was shown on British Channel 5, it aired as a single 2 1/2 hour feature film.
Bag of Bones tells the story of a successful writer, Mike Noonan, who is struggling to cope with the death of his wife. Noonan retreats to his summer home in Maine, where visions of his late wife haunt him. As he tries to make sense of her death, Noonan discovers that she was involved in a terrifying secret.
Bag of Bones is a deeply atmospheric movie that masterfully builds tension and scares. It is also a heartbreaking portrait of grief, loss, and love.
5. Images (1972)
Images is a riveting psychological thriller about a schizophrenic writer named Cathryn (Susannah York) whose hallucinations become deadly while secluded in a house trying to finish her next book.
Directed by the renowned filmmaker Robert Altman, it premiered at Cannes in 1972, where star Susannah York won the award for best actress.
Technically exquisite and gorgeously shot, this chilling film is a great example of how horror can be used to explore deeper themes and ideas. By using Cathryn’s fears and anxieties as a metaphor for the creative process, Images demonstrates the power of horror to illuminate the dark corners of our psyche.
6. Castle of Blood (1964)
Castle of Blood is a 1964 Italian horror film directed by Antonio Margheriti.
Set in 1885 London, the story follows journalist Alan Foster who meets famed horror writer Edgar Allan Poe in a London tavern on All Souls’ Eve. Lord Blackwood accompanies him and backs up Poe’s claim that his writings about the living dead are not fiction. The two men bet Foster that he cannot survive one night alone in the supposedly haunted Blackwood Castle.
Foster accepts the bet and realizes he’s in far graver danger than he ever imagined. The legendary Barbara Steele, as one of the living dead, tries to aid Foster’s escape from the ghastly castle.
7. Twixt (2011)
Twixt is another film revolving around the pioneering master of gothic horror, Edgar Allan Poe.
This lesser-known, experimental film from celebrated director Francis Ford Coppola stars Val Kilmer as a washed-up horror writer. After having a vision of Poe, he decides to make his next project about a strange town he visits during his latest book tour. He then gets caught up in a murder mystery involving a young girl.
Coppola said the inspiration for the film came from a nightmare featuring gothic romance imagery.
Although it boasts an all-star cast that includes Bruce Dern, Tom Waits, and Elle Fanning, the film received mostly negative reviews and was barely screened outside of film festivals. However, it has received considerable praise from some outlets due to its humor, wonderfully surreal dream sequences, and lush black-and-white visuals.
8. Barton Fink (1991)
For film journalists, cinephiles, scholars, and academics (like those from collegessaywriter.com) who love to dissect deeper themes, allegories, and references in cinema, Barton Fink is a dream subject.
This black comedy, psychological thriller film about the horrors of Hollywood comes from the wildly talented Coen brothers — the brilliant brothers behind classics like Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and No Country for Old Men (among others).
Set in 1941, it stars John Turturro in the title role as a successful Hollywood screenwriter struggling to write a script for a new B-movie while being pulled deeper and deeper into the dark underbelly of Hollywood. Plagued by a series of disturbing events and battling a nasty case of writer’s block, his life begins to spiral out of control.
The film has been praised for its exploration of thought-provoking themes, including the writing process itself and the often horrific conditions of labor in creative industries. It’s a brilliantly scathing satire of Hollywood that is masterfully written and directed.
The Cohen Brothers allegedly wrote this genre-bending gem about writer’s block to break their own real-life writer’s block while drafting Miller’s Crossing.
9. Sinister (2012)
Many horror movies feature writers as their main characters, but few capture the terror and paranoia of the writing process as effectively as Sinister. The film follows Ellison Oswald, a true-crime novelist struggling to find continued success after his career-defining bestseller.
Desperate for another hit, Ellison moves his family into a new house where the previous owners were horrifically slaughtered — failing to inform his wife and kids about the true nature of their new residence. He quickly becomes obsessed with the case he’s researching. As he digs deeper, he realizes the killer is still at large and may have even more sinister motives than previously believed.
Sinister is a masterfully crafted horror film that expertly builds tension and unease, leading to a truly unforgettable climax.
10. 1408 (2007)
1408 is an adaptation of Stephen King’s 1999 short story of the same name. It tells the story of an occult writer, Mike Enslin (played by John Cusack), who decides to spend the night in an infamously haunted hotel room as part of research for his next book.
Although skeptical of the paranormal, he makes his living selling sensationalized ghost stories. His latest subject is Room 1408 of the Dolphin Hotel, a room the hotel manager warns is one no one can last inside for more than an hour. Despite the manager’s pleas that he reconsider, Mike insists he is allowed to stay in the room.
At first, Mike is convinced the room is completely ordinary, just as he suspected. But he soon begins to experience bizarre and frightening events. When he tries to escape, he discovers he’s trapped inside.
The movie is full of suspense and surprises, and it is sure to keep horror fans on the edge of their seats.