Wait—sorry. What we meant was Frankenstein is LIVE, on stage, in the Olivier-winning production of Frankenstein by the National Theatre of Great Britain. The production, which starred Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller (both of whom have played Sherlock Holmes on TV), ended its run in 2011, but not before it was filmed for broadcast to cinemas around the world. This week, it’s being re-broadcast for a special encore presentation—check your local theaters for show times.
Frankenstein’s return to the big screen reminds us that some of the scariest films of all time were based on classic horror novels. So this Halloween, when all the candy is gone and the trick-or-treaters have deserted the streets, curl up under a blanket and watch one of these timeless Hollywood movies. Then, when your house mysteriously looses power, light a candle and read the books that spawned these tales of terror. And then…when a gust of wind comes from nowhere and blows the candle out…you’re on your own!
The granddaddy of horror films, director Tod Browning’s classic (certified “Fresh” with a Tomatometer score of 91 percent by the cinematic website Rotten Tomatoes) is the wellspring of virtually every vampire tale we know (including this year’s Dracula Untold). Bela Lugosi’s iconic portrayal of the Count was a performance which Lugosi would never escape, and it still resonates throughout our cultural conscience. Like Bram Stoker’s 1897 gothic novel, the film tells the story of Dracula’s terrifying seduction of the innocent and Van Helsing’s pursuit of the vampire throughout Victorian England.
On the heels of the success of Dracula, Universal Studios released Frankenstein, based on the 1818 novel by Mary Shelley. Certified Fresh with a whopping 100 percent Tomatometer score, the film, like the book, features a scientist who creates a grotesque creature out of the parts of dead bodies. The movie made a star of Boris Karloff, whose lumbering portrayal of Frankenstein’s monster haunts us even today. The book is remarkable for the manner in which Shelley structures the story—it’s a tale within a tale within a tale told from the points of view of multiple characters. A great book to huddle up with on a dark and stormy night.
Jack Finney’s 1955 sci-fi novel The Body Snatchers was the basis for not one, but two films: 1956’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the 1978 remake of the same name. Both movies were hits with the critics, earning Tomatometer scores of 98 percent and 96 percent respectively. In each movie, Earth is invaded by alien spores that grow into pods, which then spit out emotionless reproductions of sleeping human victims. The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a sci-fi/horror classic, and the remake, starring Donald Sutherland at his creepiest (the movies final scene still gives me chills!) is just as intense. Don’t fall asleep watching this one!
Hmm…now where did I leave that copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting Satan’s Baby? Rosemary could have used it in this 1967 novel by Ira Levin, which was adapted for the screen by Roman Polanski. Mia Farrow played Rosemary, who, along with her husband Guy, moves into an ominous Gothic Revival New York City apartment building. Soon, Guy begins keeping company with some rather eccentric neighbors and when Rosemary becomes pregnant, she begins to suspect that they have nefarious plans for her and her unborn child. The novel sold more than four million copies, and the movie (with a 98 percent Tomatometer rating) garnered two Academy Awards.
I’m going to make a confession. I was a child in 1973 when The Exorcist debuted and commercials for the film saturated television and radio. Back then, the voice of the demon who possessed the 12-year-old girl in this movie scared me so far out of my wits that to this day, I haven’t been able to watch the film from beginning to end. The special effects of The Exorcist may be somewhat outdated, but the sheer horror of watching two priests battle the monster inhabiting the body of Regan McNeil still produces some of the most shocking and terrifying moments ever captured on film. The Exorcist, based on the novel by William Peter Blatty and certified Fresh at 87 percent, has been named the scariest film of all time by numerous entertainment publications, and was the first horror movie to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. So you go ahead and watch it. I’ll be in the next room covering my ears.
If we can choose only one Steven King story for this list, let’s make it his first: Carrie, the story of a painfully introverted high school student who uses her emerging telekinetic powers to exact a horrendous revenge upon the classmates who bully and abuse her. Future Oscar winner Sissy Spacek played Carrie, a girl who has the worst senior prom EVER. King’s novel has also inspired a sequel, a remake, a television movie, and even a Broadway musical (no, really) that received about the same kind of reception from critics as Carrie did from her high school classmates.