Disturbing Books Made into Movies or TV Shows That are Perfect for October 🎃

Do you ever get panicked because you feel like watching a movie cuts into valuable reading time? Whether it’s 90 minutes or 180 minutes, movies make me nervous. TV shows are worse, especially now that Americans demand a story-driven, continuous plot over sitcoms. With my shoddy memory, I find myself forgetting what I watched last season and having to start all over again. More time pulled away from reading! However, there are some great spooky, haunting, disturbing, and even scary novels made into movies that are perfect for October, and the bookish connection lets me cut myself some slack.

#6 Strangers on a Train

A noir psychological thriller by Patricia Highsmith, Strangers on a Train (1950) will give you the creeps. Murder, stalking, the perpetrator insinuating himself into his victim’s life . . . Check out my review.

The film, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, loses some of the bite of the novel, making the good guy/bad guy divide so much clearer, likely in an effort to appease those morality goons in charge of movies back when it came out in 1951.

Hitch gives it a good go, even if the script feels like a bunt, landing this movie at #6.

#5 Alias Grace

Margaret Atwood sure spun a tale with Alias Grace (1996). Whether Grace is a murderer, she certainly presents a sympathetic case to the doctor who visits her while she’s incarcerated. Going through her history moment by moment, from her arrival in Canada to her time in prison, Grace’s personality slips around, and it’s hard to tell if she’s an innocent or a manipulative murderer.

The limited Netflix series (2017), directed by Mary Harron, sticks to the book nicely, so if you’re a fan of recreation and not interpretation, you’ll be happy. Viewers loved this miniseries so much they’re demanding a second season so they can learn more about Grace’s innocence or guilt. Did I mention she’s based on a real person whose trial and verdict were debated for ages?

It’s easy to forget the brutal double homicide and subsequent hanging of a possibly innocent man — despite repeated flashbacks of brutal slaughter — and focus on Grace’s sob story, so Alias Grace the show lands at #5.

#4 The Haunting of Hill House

One of Shirley Jackson’s best known novels, The Haunting of Hill House (1959) is a horror novel that has undergrads scribbling away essays about the main characters being lesbians, or arguing that the house is a character itself. But it’s the odd psychology Jackson sprinkles in everywhere that gives you the creeping dreads, and that ending may surprise you. I read this novel pre-Grab the Lapels, so no review to link.

Such a famous novel gave birth to a few screen adaptations. We will not speak of The Haunting (1999), an abomination that tried to make Jackson’s horror have a motive and be able to wrap up the end. Nor will I discuss The Haunting of Hill House (2018) on Netflix, because though it took the name of the novel, it is nothing like Jackson’s story (a great show to watch on its own!). I turn to The Haunting (1963), directed by Robert Wise. Following the novel fairly closely, Wise captures the odd characters you want to but can’t trust, and the simplicity of scaring yourself. . . or was that the house?

Because Jackson’s novel is so hard to pin down on screen, The Haunting, a solid effort and the best version, is at #4.

#3 We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Okay, so it’s another Shirley Jackson title, but can she ever do wrong? We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962) is another did she/didn’t she kill someone story. Apparently, I like those. An atmospheric novel that practically becomes a fairy tale at the end — one of Jackson’s best. Need a push? Read my review.

The film, which just came out on Netflix (2019), captures the atmosphere of the setting and the slightly off, somewhat janky, characters beautifully. Directed by Stacie Passon, the movie follows the book closely and is beautifully acted.

#3 on the list for Passon’s ability to capture Jackson’s work better than most books adapted for screen.

#2 Rebecca

Daphne du Maurier’s most famous novel, Rebecca (1938) is funny, creepy, and haunting. As the unnamed narrator tries to make a go of being a lady in the footsteps of the perfect, unforgettable previous wife — you guessed it, Rebecca — she begins to fall apart. The narrator’s attempt to run from her life and directly into it makes you feel like she’s about to crash into a mirror. And the sinister housekeeper doesn’t make things easy. I loved it.

Alfred Hitchcock is known for changing a writer’s story drastically to make his own thing. So producer David O. Selznick needs loads of applause for hanging around the set and making sure Hitch stuck to du Maurier’s masterpiece. Instead of being an interpretation or recreation of the book, the film (1940) is more like a companion piece. Hitch sets the tone and gets amazing performances from his actors, but it’s that first-person narrator from the book who’s missing. Read and watch Rebecca for the full package.

This award-winning classic film comes in at #2 for being a breathtaking work of cinema.

#1 Interview with the Vampire

Anne Rice made a splash in 1976 when she came out with a book from the perspective of a vampire. Louis’s tell-all is emotional, inquisitive, and horrifying as the vampire who made Louis tortures him with assertions about death, souls, and demonstrates a neediness that would scare anyone afraid of commitment. These characters know how to emotionally destroy each other while they kill humans nightly. I recently read and reviewed the first three novels in The Vampire Chronicles, but here is what I thought about Interview with the Vampire.

A movie (1994) I have watched again. And again. And again. Director Neil Jordan puts art over CG and acting over gimmicks, and the result is a dark masterpiece. It doesn’t hurt that Rice adapted her book into the script. An atmospheric, sensual film starring all of the biggest actors of the early 1990s that leaves viewers horrified by the prospect of living forever, of dying, of choosing who should die, of murder. Pay attention to the music, too. I own the soundtrack, which is largely instrumental pieces that evoke strong emotions. Did I mention that the weekend Interview with the Vampire opened in theaters, a few fans reportedly attacked other people and drank their blood?

There was no contest: Interview with the Vampire is my #1 horror book-to-screen adaptation.

33 comments

  1. Have to confess the only one of these I’ve read/watched is Interview with the Vampire. I used to be a huge Anne Rice fan and read all of her books around that time. I have to admit though, Interview was one of my least favourite in the series. Louis was a little dull for me. I much preferred the books centred on Lestat. Although have you watched the Queen of the Damned movie? It is truly awful. Interview was actually a really good film. I’m kind of tempted to watch it again now.

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    • Louis can be a challenging character to follow because he’s concerned with religion and feels more like a philosopher than a character. I do enjoy Lestat’s stories better, especially since you learn that he’s not this totally corrupt character like Louis portrays him.

      I watched Queen of the Damned when it came out in theaters. I didn’t hate it the way most people do largely because I was the right age to be taken with that film. The music, the clothes, the make-up, the culture — I was completely in the thick of it. The problem with Queen of the Damned as a movie is that, yes, it cuts out loads from the books, but it’s also seriously dated and will not age nicely. Interview with the Vampire, however, feels timeless. Neil Jordan did a great job.

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  2. Great list! Rebecca and Strangers on a Train are both excellent adaptations. I love both of the Shirley Jackson novels you mentioned, but I haven’t seen the screen versions yet (except the largely unrelated Netflix take on Hill House), so I’ll look into those! 😊

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  3. I adore Penny Dreadful, which takes cues from Dracula, Frankenstein, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Penny dreadful stories like Varney the Vampire. It is less about jump scares and more about the Gothic atmosphere and morally gray people fighting evil. All three seasons are available on Netflix.

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  4. Useful post! I didn’t realise there was a film adaptation of We Have Always Lived In The Castle – I find it hard to imagine it working? I also struggle with film and TV, especially films – totally agree that 90 minutes is a long time to sign away to a single thing…

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    • We Have Always Lived in the Castle just came out. It was actually really well done and captured the book beautifully. The whole movie feels just a bit off, capturing that haunted feel of the novel, even when “normal” things are happening. I hope you give it a try.

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  5. Fun list! And I agree, there’s something about the idea of committing a movie-chunk of time that niggles me too…although, sometimes the individual episodes back-to-back aren’t any more minutes, but somehow they seem shorter? Because you can choose to stop between the two and not carry on? *shakes head at self*

    Ohhhhh, I loved those Anne Rice books. And I’ve seen the movie, but only a couple of times. It holds up well enough though…it’s just that there’s a lot of good scary stuff to watch nowadays. Although there is something really fun about rewatching horror films…so you’re scared, but safe-scared, y’know?

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    • Interview with the Vampire TOTALLY stands the test of time. Even though it was made with the biggest actors of the early 1990s, it just carries on wonderfully.

      Last night I finally decided to watch Train to Busan, which is a South Korean zombie movie. I’m not sure what kept me from watching it, but it honesty had the best zombie acting I’ve ever seen, and I cared about the characters. They weren’t complete zombie canon stereotypes, so I wasn’t sure who would die or survive.

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  6. Some of my favorite books in this post!

    The only movie I’ve ever walked out of was Interview with the Vampire! I was a high schooler and I was struck by a very scary and pervasive feeling of evil, and I couldn’t take it. I felt panicky. I’m not religious or terribly superstitious but I just had to get out of there. I haven’t tried to watch it since.

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    • The new Hill House show was so riveting, especially the sister who could “see” things when she touched people. I kept wanting to root for the brother suffering from drug addiction, but there’s always that fear that most drug addicted people succumb to it repeatedly until their death.

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  7. Great post, I love this list! I’ve actually only seen the Netflix version of The Haunting of Hill House so far, which, I agree, is nothing like the film but interesting in its own right. I am planning to read and watch the new adaptation of We Have Always Lived in the Castle next week, though! And while I loved Rebecca (the novel), I have not yet gotten around to watching the film- thanks for the reminder! I’m hunting down a copy now in hopes of fitting that in this month as well. Alias Grace I will want to read at some point before watching, but it’s good to know there’s a decent adaptation to watch afterward. Great recommendations!

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    • Thanks! Rebecca is actually one of my favorite movies, stop. I’ve seen it SO many times. Alias Grace is a big chunky book, so if you’re looking for a good story but short on reading time, I’d say it’s safe to just watch the show. They’re so very similar.

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  8. Thanks for highlighting the release of We Have Always Lived in the Castle – that will be a Saturday night treat this week I suspect.

    I’ve watched the Hitchcock version of Rebecca countless times but never read the book, so it’s interesting to see that the two are not identical.

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