Whether you want to curl up with a book that will send shivers down your spine or have a literary-inspired movie marathon, this list has you covered.
It’s amazing how well an author can make you feel uneasy just by using their words; it’s equally impressive when a filmmaker can repeat those original feelings of terror as if they’re brand new. That may be why so many film adaptations of short stories, novellas and full-length books exist. Looking for your next rental or streaming movie? How about a book or story recommendation? Just keep reading!
1. The Shining
Stephen King’s “The Shining” was published in 1977, and large hotels — especially those in the mountains — have never felt safe since. The prolific author based the novel on an experience he had at The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. His meshing of the worlds of the real and the supernatural made for a scary tale. When Stanley Kubrick decided to bring the story to life on film, King was (and is) famously unhappy with the result. But even though Jack Torrance sports an axe on screen instead of a croquet mallet, and even though the film doesn’t contain terrifying topiaries, the movie has an audience consisting of book fans and film-only fans alike.
2. Color Out of Space
Let’s get this out of the way: H.P. Lovecraft was a problematic writer (even for his time). His short story “The Colour Out of Space” had more racist undertones than overtones, thankfully, making it one of his more bearable stories. But soon enough, you won’t have to read it to get to the good part of this story. Richard Stanley recently directed the movie version, starring none other than Nicolas Cage. If you’re into cosmic horror and weird stuff (think “Annihilation” and “They Remain”) this one’s for you. And, as a bonus, it features gorgeous colors and great cinematography from Steve Annis.
Looking to have some fun for the whole family? Both R.L. Stine’s seemingly never-ending “Goosebumps” book series and the movie of the same name fit the bill. While the wraparound story about a new kid in town isn’t super memorable, both Jack Black as Stine himself and the creatures that show up are. I mean, who could forget Slappy the evil ventriloquist dummy (“Night of the Living Dummy”) or the titular monster in “The Werewolf of Fever Swamp”? You won’t after watching this one!
4. Bram Stoker’s Dracula
As the title of this film adaptation implies, it’s based on the classic “Dracula” by Bram Stoker. While the movie often doesn’t provide the same scares as the novel, the performances by Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves are something to behold if you haven’t yet seen it. Actually, the makeup effects alone are something worth seeing. And if you haven’t had a chance to screen the unauthorized version of “Dracula,” 1922’s Nosferatu, you should check that one out too — it might just surprise you.
5. The Amityville Horror
The book of this name supposedly tells the true story of a family living in a haunted (or maybe possessed) house. It comes as no shock that the 1979 film would also pride itself on being based in truth. A room full of flies may not sound the peak of horror, but the visualization of it will unsettle you to your core. And then there’s the Jack Torrance-esque patriarch who seemingly wants to kill the whole family. (Side note: I wouldn’t scoff at the 2005 version starring Ryan Reynolds, but it’s also been a while since I’ve seen it.)
6. The Legend of Hell House
Supernatural occurrences don’t have to happen without science. In Richard Matheson’s “Hell House,” a physicist, his wife and two mediums investigate a haunted house to learn about the truth behind ‘life after death.’ The Legend of Hell House, released in 1973, is a fairly straightforward adaptation of the story, in which there is a throughline of erotic content as well. The movie may feel slow by today’s standards, but the last act is wild.
Neil Gaiman’s imaginings of horror and fantasy have been the muse for many adaptations. But this stop-motion feature from Laika stands out for the animation style that adds even more to the dark narrative. Though this film is probably safe for most children above the age of 6 or 7, the predicaments that Coraline finds herself in are horrifying, and the consequences of her failing to escape are dire.
8. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Almost like a story from The Twilight Zone, the novel “The Body Snatchers” envisions a world in which humans are being replaced by exact replicas of themselves. This venture into sci-fi horror is interesting because it seems as though the invaders don’t have a strategy or plan; they’re just here to ruin things for humans. How long would it take you to notice if your neighbor, your boss or even your spouse were replaced with something so close to the real thing? While there have been multiple films based on the book, the definitive one seems to be the second, which was made in 1978 and stars Donald Sutherland.
9. The Little Stranger
Author Sarah Waters did plenty of research into post-World War II England while writing this gothic novel. In it, a man returns to the town in which he grew up as a doctor, caring for a family in a large 18th Century estate. As he is caring for the wounded son and courting the daughter, strange things begin to happen. The 2018 on-screen adaptation stars Domhnall Gleeson as the doctor and Ruth Wilson, Will Poulter and Charlotte Rampling as the estate’s inhabitants. Without a doubt, this one will stick with you for a while.
10. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
The 2019 film based on the trilogy of controversial children’s books has its weaknesses, sure, but it’s overall a strong entry in the pantheon of horror movies for kids (or maybe preteens). It takes stories from different books, and the creatures they created for the film so closely resemble those of Stephen Gammell’s iconic illustrations for the Alvin Schwartz books — you wouldn’t believe it if you didn’t see it for yourself. If you grew up in the ‘80s or ‘90s and you’re looking for a nostalgia boost, this is one you can’t miss. It’s scarier than Goosebumps but still a family movie overall.