Read it First Halloween Edition: 13 Classic Scary Movies Based on Even Scarier Books!

Christa Deitrick, Librarian, Literature & Fiction Department,
5 spooky movie covers

There’s not much going on this month in terms of new movies based on books. There’s Joker and The Addams Family, but those are based on comic book/cartoon characters, not book-length works of fiction. So we thought it might be fun to take a look in the rearview mirror at some of the scariest movies of all time that are based on books. This list is completely subjective and you may have read some of these novels, but if you haven’t now is the time to get your goosebumps on! Then you can watch (or rewatch) the films to double your fiendish fun!

Here are the 13 movies in order of theatrical release.

Nosferatu (1922)

Magnificent German silent film based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The book is a masterpiece of nerve-wracking suspense, so if you haven’t read it, do! And the film holds up really well. Lots of guys have played Dracula in the last hundred years, but none have managed to surpass Max Schreck, winner of the all-time award for Freakiest Silhouette.

Book cover for Dracula
Stoker, Bram

The Bad Seed (1956)

In a story that makes the case for nature over nurture, a seemingly angelic 8-year-old girl turns out to be a murdering sociopath! The book and the movie have different endings, which makes it fun to compare/contrast. And the movie boasts an excellent cast. Young Patty McCormack as the titular character is eerily outstanding. Based on the novel by William March.

Book cover for The Bad Seed
The Bad Seed
March, William

Psycho (1960)

Robert Bloch’s novel is a short, sharp read that really fleshes out the character of Norman Bates. It greatly enhances the experience of watching Hitchcock’s iconic film, even if you have already seen it once or many times.

Book cover for Psycho
Bloch, Robert

The Haunting (1963)

Stunning performance by Julie Harris as the girl who comes undone in this quietly sinister black-and-white film directed by Robert Wise. It’s based on The Haunting of Hill House by author Shirley Jackson, who is the all-time Grand Mistress of literate alienation.

Book cover for The Haunting of Hill House
The Haunting of Hill House
Jackson, Shirley

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

More than a haircut. Mod yet timeless cinema adaptation of Ira Levin’s witchy meditation on the banality of evil. Just for fun, you could also screen the 1976 film version of The Stepford Wives, also based on a book by Levin.

Book cover for Rosemary's Baby
Rosemary's Baby
Levin, Ira

Book cover for The Stepford Wives
The Stepford Wives

Book cover for The Stepford Wives: A Novel
The Stepford Wives: A Novel
Levin, Ira

The Exorcist (1973)

In my opinion, the scariest movie of all time. A 12-year-old girl, possessed by a demon, looks and acts a mess. William Peter Blatty’s novel was purportedly based on a composite of several verified cases of demonic possession. Whether you buy that or not, both the movie and the book will keep you up at night!

Book cover for The Exorcist
The Exorcist
Blatty, William Peter

The Omen (1976)

When their baby dies in childbirth, Jeremy Thorn (unbeknownst to his wife) switches it out with the creepiest boychild ever. Is this kid the antichrist? (Spoiler alert: he sure dresses like it.) Based on the novel by David Seltzer.

Book cover for The Omen
The Omen
Seltzer, David

The Shining (1980)

Stanley Kubrik made some changes to Stephen King’s novel, but his film about a haunted hotel was an instant classic. King’s book contains some cool stuff not seen in the film (e.g., an evil topiary). So the obvious solution is to check both of them out!

Book cover for The Shining
The Shining
Kubrick, Stanley

Book cover for The Shining
The Shining
King, Stephen

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Thomas Harris’s novel walks a very skillful line between a detective story and flat-out horror. If you haven’t read it, you should. The movie is also great. I mean, what’s not to like? Mandatory moisturizing! Jodie’s Southern accent! And, of course, Hannibal Lecter—one of the most urbane monsters in 20th century lit.

Book cover for The Silence of the Lambs
The Silence of the Lambs

Book cover for The Silence of the Lambs
The Silence of the Lambs
Harris, Thomas

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

Starring ‘90s kool kidz Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Geller, and Ryan Phillippe (with bonus Johnny Galecki)! Based on the novel by Lois Duncan, an absolute goddess of YA horror whose work you must check out.

Book cover for I Know What You Did Last Summer
I Know What You Did Last Summer

Book cover for I Know What You Did Last Summer
I Know What You Did Last Summer
Duncan, Lois

The Ring (2002)

I was obsessed with this movie when it came out, maybe because I’d just had a baby and a story about the unspeakable horror of raising a child that never sleeps was not lost on me. Based on a trippy, twisted book by Japanese novelist Koji Suzuki.

Book cover for Ring
Suzuki, Koji

In Koji Suzuki’s terrifying book Ring, the mysterious and simultaneous death of four teenagers sends reporter Kazuyuki Asakawa on a doomed investigation to find the cause. When he discovers an unmarked videotape that warns of the impending death of any who watch it, Asakawa must find a way to break the curse. Suzuki’s horrifying tale has spawned over a dozen film adaptations. You can check out the original Japanese film adaptation Ringu or the 2002 American adaptation using our Library to Go service today!

Let the Right One In (2008)

Quietly menacing vampire film about the agony of adolescence. Atmospheric, gorgeous. Later remade in English but the Swedish one is best! Based on the novel Let Me In by John Ajvide Lindqvist.

Book cover for Let the Right One In/ Lat den ratte komma in
Let the Right One In/ Lat den ratte komma in

Book cover for Let the Right One In
Let the Right One In
Ajvide Lindqvist, John

Bird Box (2018)

I’m on a Josh Malerman bender right now, having just finished reading Bird Box, Unbury Carol, and A House at the Bottom of a Lake. All three books are interesting takes on the nature of love, evil, regret, and the possibility of redemption. I haven’t seen the movie version of Bird Box, but it was a huge hit for Netflix last year, so I’m guessing it’s good? Malerman is worth a read if you enjoy the genre. I heartily recommend Bird Box and especially Unbury Carol.

Book cover for Bird Box
Bird Box
Malerman, Josh

Book cover for Unbury Carol: A Novel
Unbury Carol: A Novel
Malerman, Josh

Book cover for A House at the Bottom of a Lake
A House at the Bottom of a Lake
Malerman, Josh

All right, Angelenos, you have your work cut out for you—read some terrifying novels and watch some scary films. Let’s all sleep with the lights on this month. Happy Halloween!