Classic horror films, from what novels came these great flicks?
By Doug Gibson
Ever taken the time to read Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein?” Or Bram Stoker’s “Dracula?” You’d be surprised at how both, particularly Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” differ from the iconic movies with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Film scholar Rob Backer provides an entertaining look at the literature behind much of horror cinema in “Classic Horror Films and the Literature that Inspired Them,” McFarland, 2015, 800-253-2187).
Besides the perennials, such as the above-mentioned and “The Mummy,” “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” “The Phantom of the Opera” and much of Edgar Allan Poe, Backer, a lawyer and self-described avid fan of classic horror films, has added literature and films that may escape the casual fan’s notice. I had never heard of “The Viy,” by Nikolai Gogol, although I have seen the film, “Black Sunday,” that many believe resembles “The Viy,” a tale of a man trying to avoid a fatal encounter with a witch. As Backer notes, though, “Black Sunday,” while a fine film, has virtually nothing to do with the book. He directs readers to an obscure, 1967 Russian film of the same name, which, he writes, “is one of the closest adaptations of a horror story ever filmed.”
I note this because horror films rarely follow closely the literature of which are based. Much of Backer’s book details the similarities, and differences, between the written word and what’s on the screen. As the author frequently stresses, this is not always a negative. In many cases, the shifts in plot are necessary. The mediums are distinct; books allow us insight into the thoughts of major characters, and more clues into how society and culture has shape them. Film has an hour or two to tell a good story. Often in the book, Backer laments the “boring” parts of a horror novel, the reading detours exploring mood swings of characters. Film appropriately bypasses these sections.
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