Guest Post by Billy Russell
Ghost Diaries regular Billy Russell lists his 6 favorite horror movie adaptations…
Oh, sweet Jaws. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…
1. The direction and editing on the beach scene climaxes with a child turning into a tornado of gore and a vertigo shot is nothing short of masterful.
2. Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider all give performances of a lifetime in this movie. Everyone is likable. You care so intensely about what happens to them. The groundwork is laid so perfectly that by the time they hit the open seas, you’re wringing your hands in nervous anticipation, hoping they all make it out okay.
3. “Smile, you son of a bitch!”
For all intents and purposes, I’m an adult. Technically, I am, even though I don’t feel like it. Even still, to this day, I will never, ever look into a mirror and chant, “Candyman, Candyman…” turn off the lights, “…Candyman.” I just don’t think my heart could take it.
Clive Barker’s works are difficult to adapt because the images he paints with his nauseating descriptions can sometimes be too harsh for celluloid, but Bernard Rose finds this amazing middle-ground with gore, terror and some genuine sensitivity for its subjects.
How do you even go about taking one of the scariest, most popular horror novels of all time and making a movie out of it that won’t disappoint? How do you make William Peter Blatty’s masterpiece and somehow create another masterpiece in another medium based on it? Easy, you hire William Friedkin during the absolute heyday of his career, sandwiched in between The French Connection and Sorcerer, while he’s crazy enough to actually fire guns on the set and put his actors in physical danger to ramp up the fear. You wind him up and let him loose to create a movie that is elegant and nightmarish in equal measure.
The Exorcist is scary because of its plausibility. For all the pea soup vomited and beds that levitate, what’s really scary is the hopelessness a mother feels for her child in danger.
The Thing (1982)
Howard Hawks (who was coincidentally behind the 1950s original) believed that what made a great movie is at least three great scenes, and no bad ones. If that’s true, John Carpenter’s The Thing contains no bad scenes—the omnipotent computer scene is the corniest, but it’s eerily done—and three great ones: 1) The dog kennel scene with the horrifying transformation, 2) the now-infamous blood testing scene, and 3) the beautiful, beautiful open ending. What is the thing? If you ARE that thing, would you know it? Does it imitate life that well?
The Thing is actually twice removed from its original source, based on Howard Hawks’ The Thing from Another World, which in turn is based on the novella “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, Jr.
This movie makes me sad to see practical effects eschewed in favor of CGI.
The Silence of the Lambs
On its surface, The Silence of the Lambs seems like little more than an excuse to meld the most macabre elements known about serial killers. Hannibal Lecter’s assistance to the FBI is reminiscent Ted Bundy’s to Bob Keppel in his pursuit of the Green River Killer. Buffalo Bill himself is a twisted combination of Ted Bundy, Ed Gein and his inescapable pit was inspired by the tragic story of Gary Heidnik and his victims.
Somehow, from all this despair and ugliness is an intense and emotional story of feminism first penned by Thomas Harris and then brought to life by Jonathan Demme, who at that point had primarily directed concert films, exploitation films and comedies. It was an unlikely pairing, but with their solid storytelling strengths and the brilliant performances of Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster, Hannibal Lecter was launched into the cultural zeitgeist where he shall remain (despite appearing in Silence on screen for only 16 minutes or so). But, this movie belongs to Clarice Starling in the end. This was her triumph. [you may also want to look at Manhunter, which precedes this movie and was directed by Michael Mann, with Brian Cox in the Lecter role]
To sort of borrow something that film critic Roger Ebert said about Halloween, you don’t so much as see this movie as you feel it. Kubrick is a master of setting the mood. The set design, sound editing, location, performances, dialogue and discordant musical score all work cooperatively to put you ill at ease as you see a man driven mad and attack his family.
Stephen King, author of the original novel, famously hated this film adaptation when it first premiered, but has since warmed up to it over the years. I enjoy the novel and the film equally, and I’m glad that they’re so different because each has its own strengths. In the novel, Jack Torrance is a broken man trying to pick his life up, piece by piece, in his pursuit of redemption for the terrible things he’d done to his family. In the movie, he’s pretty much crazy from the get-go and driving him mad isn’t all that difficult. In the novel, hedges trimmed and sculpted to look like beasts move closer and closer each time you turn an eye away from them. In the movie, these are replaced by an intricate, beautiful maze that’s equally horrifying.
Both works exist in their own universes. The novel is one of King’s best. The movie is one of Kubrick’s best. They both bring surprises that neither work would have expected.