In cases of most classic horror novels, movies have done and redone the stories to death…so to speak. Should a lover of these classic movies seek out the original source material, or is it best to just see the movie and call it good? Check out these recommendations on which classics are worth the investment to read, and which are frighteningly boring.
Dracula, by Bram Stroker
The novel is told in an epistolary manner, which means the story plays out through journal entries, news, medical reports, letters, etc. At times, this works really well. It almost lends a historical feeling of accuracy and belief to the unfortunate interactions the characters have with Dracula. At other times, the action and excitement can seem a bit dulled by the format of writing. Yet, for someone who likes horror, this is a must read. The book feels more real than a movie ever can, and the novel is packed with far more information than a movie can convey. The novel gets across the idea that Dracula is not sexy, not about a cheap scare or computer animated fight scenes. Dracula is a predator, and what he hunts, is humans.
Recommendation level: 10/10 spooky ghosts
Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Lewis Stevenson
Although this story hasn’t been in mainstream movies for a while, it was part of the original wave of horror movies primarily popularized in the 1930s. The book has inspired many adaptations, and yet the book does lack something. For one, it’s not exactly frightening. Sure, the concept of someone losing control and turning into a rampaging beast is terrifying, but the book doesn’t really capture the terror of Mr. Hyde. Much of the short novel focus on the rumor and gossip around Dr. Jekyll, and the scenes with Mr. Hyde are primarily told in an after-the-fact summary. Yes, it’s a classic and all. Just as far as a horror novel goes, it’s not worth sifting through all the other stuff just to get to the scattered bits on Mr. Hyde.
Recommendation level: 3/10
The short stories of H.P. Lovecraft
Hollywood has missed some opportunities when it comes to Lovecraft. He creates a really amazing lore of secret religions and bizarre places beyond the beaten path of the world. Not many of his stories have become mainstream movies. Perhaps it’s because some concepts would just be difficult to translate into a visually frightening experience. Lovecraft’s stories remain in a sort of niche following. His stories just aren’t for everyone. Not all of them are fun to read either, and sometimes the writing can get a little boggish. Still, there are real standouts in his best collections, like The Dunwich Horror, or The Shadow Over Innsmouth. His stories are at least worth a shot and you may even become one of his hugely converted fans.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving
Call it either a long short story, or very short novel, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow takes place when America was new and a legend such as a headless horseman seemed real. The book has been adapted into animated films, made for TV movies, and of course, the big-budget Tim Burton movie. Slight spoiler about the book, there isn’t a real headless horseman. This isn’t so much a horror story dealing with a monster, as it is a running prank and about the people involved with the prank. This is great read from the literary standpoint, but it’s not exactly horror. This is one case where a movie took liberties and actually made the idea into more of a horror story than the source material.
Recommendation level: 5/10
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
The movies and media have really taken liberty with the original source material—with the most notable mistake being that people often refer to the monster as Frankenstein, rather than to the doctor. This means the novel can seem extremely fresh, even for readers who have seen some of the movies. Frankenstein is a dark and brooding story that sets a rather frightening mood. It might not give one nightmares, but it can set someone on edge if up reading late into the night. Readers will be pulled into the perspectives of the doctor and monster, and will find both to be sympathetic, and essentially, monsters in their own right. Frankenstein is a must read for fans of traditional horror.
Recommendation level: 10/10
The Phantom of the Opera, by Gaston Leroux
Talk about divulging from source material, The Phantom of the Opera is probably best known today for the live musical. The musical is great, and it presents the story in a vastly altered art form than the original novel. The silent-era movie adaption from 1925 is creepy, and far closer to the original source. The novel is very well-written, and it definitely paints a vivid world in which the opera takes place, but the book tends to meander at a slower pace. Readers may also be surprised to see the phantom of the novel is nowhere near as sympathetic as he is in the musical. In the novel, he is definitely more villain than tragic hero. This one is worth a read for fans of the Phantom, but there are certainly better horror-oriented novels that can be enjoyed first.
Recommendation level: 4/10
The stories of Edgar Allen Poe
One of the most celebrated and influential writers of horror, Poe set a precedent for what could make a great horror story. Not all of his stories are horror-based though. In fact, he wrote many stories that don’t involve any horror elements. And here might be one of the problems in seeking more Poe. Many people may have already read some of his most famous stories in school. There are still many good ones out there, and some of the less famous: The Black Cat, Murder in the Rue Morgue, and Casque of Amontillado, can be just as chilling as the famous Telltale Heart, or Fall of the House of Usher. The only drawback might be sifting through his other stories if you are particularly only interested in the horror.
Recommendation level: 8/10