Come on, admit it: Your high school book reports were little more than regurgitated back-cover-plot-synopses, or, at the most, owed a great deal to CliffsNotes. Don't kick yourself; the truth is, in this digital age, the majority of fiction junkies get their fixes from television or the movies (and cheat using Wikipedia). Still, ardent book hounds—such as your fam here at Complex—know that the best stories are usually told in literary form. Frankly, authors can get away with far more than directors, especially in the fantastic free-for-all that is the horror genre. For example, this weekend's new vampire flick Let Me In, with its suck-free child actors, is quite good (if not one of the best horror movies of 2010), yet its source material, Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindqvist's 2004 novel Let the Right One In, still reigns supreme. It's not the first time a scary book has outshined its big-screen adaptation. Maraud through the nearest Barnes and Noble's "horror" section and you'll discover that several classic flicks were initially embraced in paperback or hardcover formats. Here, in no particular order, are 25 of the best horror books that eventually became films. And, the last time checked, only two of them (Dracula and The Turn of the Screw) are available in CliffsNotes editions. Take that, slackers.
by Matt Barone
AMERICAN PSYCHO (1991), BRET EASTON ELLIS
Synopsis: As the 1990s approach, Manhattan investment banker Patrick Bateman grows tired of his inferior peers and neighbors. Instead of simply leaving the Big Apple, though, Bateman entertains his violent urges and goes on a below-the-radar killing spree.
Why it's scary good: As a scathing parody of late '80s yuppie culture, American Psycho is top-notch. It's also an unexpectedly brutal slasher tale, though, saving its most vivid murders through many a chapter before finally unleashing Bateman's ax-wielding fury.
Movie adaptations: American Psycho (2000)
THE STEPFORD WIVES (1972), IRA LEVIN
Synopsis: Jessica, a young photographer, suspects foul play after moving to a postcard-worthy Connecticut town where all the women adhere to their husbands' commands. Jessica begins to wonder if the town's females aren't all obedient robots programmed by their spouses.
Why it's scary good: You don't have to in touch with your feminine side to feel Jessica's pain and anxiety throughout Levin's psychologically dense novel. True, its themes of misogyny and "get in the kitchen, woman" gender woes hit harder if you're packing estrogen. That's why Levin's knack for gut-kicking climaxes (see Rosemary's Baby) is his secret weapon—he might've mastered lady-centric horror, but that doesn't mean he's quick to let his heroines off the hook.
Movie adaptations: The Stepford Wives (1975), The Stepford Wives (2004)
A STIR OF ECHOES (1958), RICHARD MATHESON
Synopsis: Out of nowhere, Tom Wallace's hidden psychic abilities take shape, allowing him to hear people's thoughts. Not just those of flesh-and-blood individuals, though—he begins to receive messages from the deceased.
Why it's scary good: In Tom Wallace, Matheson created a great everyman. His sudden ability to communicate with the dead is presented informally, more like a secondary plot device. Matheson's primary focus is Wallace's teetering marriage to the mother of his unborn child. As Tom believes in his otherworldly skills more and more, his wife further rejects the possibility. The book's underlying message: Stay single as long as you can, fellas.
Movie adaptations: Stir of Echoes (1999)
BURNT OFFERINGS (1973), ROBERT MARASCO
Synopsis: A man, along with his wife, son, and elderly aunt, relocates from Queens, N.Y., to a country mansion in Long Island. The new crib seems to be picturesque at first, before the supernatural takes over and, eventually, all hell breaks loose.
Why it's scary good: Burnt Offerings only seems like a obvious cross between The Shining and The Haunting of Hill House in plot description. Marasco separates his contribution to fiction's haunted house canon by giving the house a puppetmaster's control over the characters. As the house regenerates itself (dead flowers bloom without water, for instance), the family's attempts at hauling ass away from the grounds are repeatedly halted by unseen forces (such as trees falling onto roads). And you thought your constantly overflowing toilet was annoying.
Movie adaptations: Burnt Offerings (1976),
THE SENTINEL (1974), JEFFREY KONVITZ
Synopsis: Aspiring model Allison Parker moves into an aged NYC brownstone after her father passes away. All goes well until she discovers that her new building is actually a gateway into Hell, a fact that her realtor neglected to mention.
Why it's scary good: Here's an example of an idea that's better in conception than execution. Konvitz's central plot is a doozy, as is the story's bonkers, demon-filled climax. You'll just have to push through some stilted dialogue to reach the showstopper of an ending, but damn if the coda isn't a knockout.
Movie adaptations: The Sentinel (1977)
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