In a world of prequels, sequels and remakes, the fact remains that there are thousands of original horror novels as yet untouched by Hollywood hands. Since the powers that be seem to neglect reading books, leaving the public to moan about inept remakes, I thought it might be handy if I were to point out five American horror novels that would make excellent films.
Here are five prime candidates yet to make that transition from page to screen… and while you wait, please take the time to enjoy the novels, themselves — they are all great reads.
THE CELLAR by Richard Laymon
This is the first book in Laymon’s “Beast House Chronicles,” which consists of four books: THE CELLAR, THE BEAST HOUSE, THE MIDNIGHT TOUR and the novella FRIDAY NIGHT IN BEAST HOUSE. Originally published in 1980 with the rise of the “Splatterpunk” movement of extreme horror fiction, the series managed to be both outrageous and fun storytelling at the same time. A true “monster in the basement” tale, THE CELLAR sparked the imaginations of both horror readers and writers. A real waste to leave this one sitting on the shelf.
BOY’S LIFE by Robert McCammon
Prolific author McCammon penned this coming-of-age horror tale in 1981, and promptly won the Bram Stoker Award and the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. BOY’S LIFE lays out a labyrinth of mysterious clues following a murder, which lead a boy and his father into the depths of horror. Visually stunning, this tale of growing up and losing one’s innocence rings true from start to finish. McCammon stated: “BOY’S LIFE is first and foremost about people, as seen through the eyes of a young Southern boy; some of these people I knew, some of them I wish I had known. This is where fiction and biography get all mixed and mingled, and what was real and what was wished share the borderland of imagination.”
GOOD TIMES/BAD TIMES by James Kirkwood
This is a CATCHER IN THE RYE/A SEPARATE PEACE-inspired horror tale about a murder at a private school initiated by a discovery of homosexuality. In what could become a textbook copy of all boarding school tales, this horror story explores the entire adventure as written by the accused murderer from his prison cell. Disturbing, provocative, harrowing and funny, this book would make a fine screenplay. The late Mr. Kirkwood rose to fame for his stage play A Chorus Line; now the James Kirkwood Literary Prize honors new generations of fiction writers for their literary achievements; this competition is hosted by the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program.
SUMMER OF NIGHT by Dan Simmons
Another coming-of-age tale set in the early 1960s in the Midwest, as opposed to the Southern setting of Boy’s Life. The story moves from a slow burn to shocking incidents that leave you gasping for air. It is the tale of five boyhood friends who are about to discover a history of horror in their very own playground. It’s the ultimate evil and the loss of innocence may mean the loss of life.
LADY by Thomas Tryon
This 1974 novel by the actor-turned-author behind bestsellers THE OTHER and HARVEST HOME is a cross between the gothic horror of A ROSE FOR EMILY by William Faulkner and the Southern relationships that exist in a book like THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER by Carson McCullers. More emotional horror than anything visceral, this story leaves an ache in your gut.
These books all have central characters that are young people facing the trials of adulthood, but the tales are approached from different angles. They travel from monsters to murders to moving love tales, but they all hold elements of horror we don’t often see explored. I recommend you read them, but more than that, I hold out hope that visionary filmmakers will transform them into the powerful cinematic tales they could become.