These days, when you see a trailer for a movie, you can pretty much assume it was spawned from a book — this year alone saw more than 20 book-to-film adaptations. That’s why it’s shocking that they’ve missed some classics that could really spice up the Halloween season and blow audiences’ minds. Classics like …
There have, in fact, been many Dracula adaptations, and a lot of them are rather famous. That’s why it’s shocking that not a single one has been even close to the book. Sure, Nosferatu is a classic, but it totally misses the novel’s emphasis on technology. Even though it was written in 1897, Dracula has an innovative structure, jumping around to different characters’ points of view. Some chapters are their notes and diaries; some are ship logs; one character speaks his thoughts into a recording device. It was, for its time, a truly cinematic novel — think what a halfway decent filmmaker could do with it! Instead, we have films that ignore it or films that try to make Dracula into some tragic lovelorn hero.
Other incarnations have given Dracula brides and children and cousins and neighbors (Dracula’s Daughter, Son of Dracula). Bram Stoker’s novel is innovative, with byzantine plotting, a cast of characters who include a cowboy, a vampire hunter, a resourceful modern Victorian woman, a tragic damsel in distress, a lawyer, a possessed guy, and a Dracula who is a terrifying lone wolf. Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote Bram Stoker a letter in which he said, “I write to tell you how very much I have enjoyed reading Dracula. I think it is the very best story of diablerie which I have read for many years.”
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle recognized it, but modern filmmakers keep fucking it up.
2. E.T.A. Hoffman’s “The Sandman”
No, wrong sandman — although Hoffmann was the first to give the Sandman from folklore a sinister spin, so every subsequent reference goes back to him.
This chilling 1816 short story, which you can and should read here, provoked Freud so much that he used it as an example in “The Uncanny”, his essay examining human fear. Although The Sandman is a short story, it has three distinct sections that just beg to be expanded upon as three acts in a film. It centers around Nathaniel, who is tormented by his childhood recollections of an alchemist who used to work with his father. He equates him with the figure of the Sandman who steals children’s eyes at night, and as the reader, you’re never sure if this guy really is a creep or if Nathaniel has an overactive imagination. As the story progresses, it gets stranger and stranger, complete with an automaton being passed as a human, a Stepford family, some good old-fashioned madness and murder, and a twisty enough plot to put peak M. Night Shyamalan to shame.
It would make a fascinating and chilling movie, and the story has a timeless quality, which would give a filmmaker plenty of room to stretch. But in spite of inspiring operas and ballets and references in works like Blade Runner, The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Hoffmann’s “Sandman” has never actually been made into a feature film.
Every horror movie that has villains without defined motives owes to “A Good Man Is Hard To Find,” but the 1953 short story surpasses its imitators. Like many of the best horror stories, it’s a simple tale: a family driving in the South encounters an escaped convict called the Misfit, and things don’t go too well. The Misfit is chillingly polite and even-tempered as he terrorizes them; discussing manners and the Old South with an old Southern lady. Every movie with psychos who like to pair polite discussions with their motiveless murder can say thank you to Flannery O’Connor.
Filmmakers disillusioned by how many lousy movies make it onscreen needn’t look far for the next great Halloween chiller on your hands. A provocative thriller with an actual story is simply not that hard to find, if only you look in the right places.