Guest Author - Chris Willis
Movies are a principal enjoyment for many and most tell a good story. We all have preferences as to whether we favour the movie or the book. Some like the atmosphere of the theatre whereas others prefer to curl up with the book and enjoy following characters through many days of adventure and getting to know them on a more personal level.
With the horror genre, the novel has a great advantage over the film. Fear is conveyed on screen through its characters and scenes of shock, gratuitous violence, and the countenances of many scared men and women. There are inevitable scenes of people screaming as a friend suddenly appears or a sudden instance where something happens: the cat jumping out of a closet (which usually precedes a death scene), or the scream as a face appears at the window. They are all sudden and intended to make the watcher jump. How boring.
There are certain rules to the film which donít apply to the novel. People donít usually walk backwards in the novel. Every horror lover knows that walking backwards is a sure fire way to be killed! The book does not convey the emphasis of a frightening situation to be how somebodyís face looks, either. Instead, the novel takes us deeper into the psyche of the characters so we have a clearer understanding of how they react in certain situations and gives us enough information to understand why they may not have reacted in the way we thought they would. Itís called character development.
There are many good movies around but there are better novels. Many great films are born from novels, such as Frankenstein and The Shining. The list is endless and I am constantly on the lookout for novels which became great movies. Itís a short list and perhaps Iím too pedantic to add to it. However, I will use The Shining and Frankenstein as examples for the purpose of this article.
The Shining has as its main protagonist turned antagonist a man named Jack Torrance. He is one of my favourite characters in horror literature. The correlation between Jack Nicholson who plays Jack Torrance on screen and the Jack Torrance on paper is very distinct. I feel there is no other person who could play Jack Torrance as successfully as Jack Nicholson with that broad smile of his. The connection is made instantly if you read the first pages of chapter one.
I have read The Shining many times and find the resemblances between the book and the movie character very interesting. However, the novel is not the same as the movie. In fact, my favourite part in the movie does not exist in the novel where the cook is sent a mental message from Danny asking for help. The cook, through hell and high water, manages to brave the elements and make his way up to the isolated Overlook hotel. As he gets there, he is murdered in the back by an axe. All that hard work and storyline Ė and heís killed when he arrives! I thought it genius. In the novel, however, the cook is a generous character and made to be well liked. He is not killed off. I wish he was. It is the one thing I would change.
The book entertains us with the spooky goings on at the Overlook and gives us more background on Jack Torrance and why, perhaps, the Overlook wants him. The book enriches the storyline by giving us a history on Jack Torrance and the hotel itself which becomes a character in its own right. In the movie, the hotel is a place; a destination where people go on holiday. The book makes the place come alive with its own personality.
The movie contains no evil hedge monsters or walls spattered with viscera. We all remember the blood pouring down the walls, donít we, but the book goes much further. Do you remember the boiler? No. It appears only in the book. The boiler is essential to the ending of the story. Thereís no running through a maze and freezing to death like in the movie. Itís sad to think they wrote that part out. I liked it.
I think a movie tries to get us involved with characters very early because there is limited time to do so. A reader doesnít connect with their favourite characters; they hook up with them. They share their experiences and understand them. The movie Frankenstein for example, popularised the Frankenstein monster. Victorís role was solely as creator, and what a tragedy! Mary Shelley wrote about how twisted Victor had become since creating the monster. Since that first breath of life, after all his trials and research, Victorís first reaction was not of eureka or celebration. It was of horror. What have I done? Why did I do this? From that point on, the story at least for me, is born.
Of course, a film is entertaining. It is constructed to be. There must be action and adventure in the genre to pull the crowds, but what of the characters? It removes many of them and turns them into people we donít know. I again hired out a version of Frankenstein starring Robert de Nero as the monster for this article. It was difficult to watch as de Nero is a great actor and the story is a great story. Yet, the movie didnít work for me. It lacked Victorís essence. There was little internal conflict to feel for him and I had no sympathy for the monster because the story moved too quickly. There wasnít much to be sympathetic about. As far as movies go, it was poor. I donít know how well it did at the box office Ė maybe Iím wrong. Itís just an opinion.
Historically in the Frankenstein movies, there has been so much emphasis on how Frankenstein was created. Everybody remembers the bolt of lightning, the cries of triumph, the rising of the monster as it comes to sit or stand. Yet, for all these sound historical memories, it leaves out the important part. As I said before, the story starts when the monster is created. I donít care much how he was created because thatís not the story; it is the precursor to the story which is about the separate lives that Victor and his creation have to face after the monster takes that inevitable first breath.
Movies have no beat. They have little substance and rarely stay with me after it is over. There are very few horror movies which I distinctly recall as being great. The list is small yet the number of books continue to grow. Iím a Texas Chainsaw fan so I am happy with the recent movies that have come out, but as far as horror literature turned into movies go, I am not a fan.
So: if youíve read a good horror novel and found the movie to be better, let me know the details. Your opinion may be different than mine, or, I may have missed a film which was a great film, perhaps even better than the book. Iíd be interested to hear about them. After all, weíre all unique and have our own perspectives. I doubt mine are the same as yours but your thoughts will be appreciated.