When horror makes an impact on the page, that impact is almost always translated to the screen. And if it doesn’t make it that far, there’s at least an attempt. Film adaptations of horror novels are still just as common as sequels and remakes, if not more so. Stephen King has become a one-man industry of adaptations. Even though they’ve tapered off of late, we have three coming this year alone, so they haven’t slowed down much.
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The thing people don’t tend to realize about horror fiction is that it can be, well, really violent. Horror novels go to extremes that, as much as one may complain about the levels of gore and shock value, most movies just don’t reach. When audiences were particularly disturbed by the “torture porn” of the mid-late 2000s, there had been horror novels decades older than that that went way further.
Extreme horror fiction is out there and it can be incredibly good if done right. Some of this type of material has been adapted successfully, such as Jack Ketchum adaptations like The Girl Next Door and The Woman.
Others, however, I just could never see making the leap to the screen. They go to lengths most mainstream—heck, even most indies don’t dare to go. On the page, you can get away with pretty much anything. These authors took that idea and ran with it.
Apeshit by Carlton Mellick III
Perfectly described as “Friday the 13th meets Visitor Q,” Apeshit is a send-up of the classic slasher/grindhouse tropes. It’s almost like if Cabin in the Woods went to Takashi Miike levels of disturbing gore. Luckily, everything’s handled with a much needed sense of humor, as the levels of depravity it reaches would be hard to stomach otherwise.
This one also sells itself perfectly with the quote “You’ve seen Cannibal Holocaust. You’ve seen Salo. You’ve seen Nekromantik. You ain’t seen shit!” This is actually a collection of stories, not technically a novel, but there’s not a single story in the bunch that could be brought to the screen. Sexually-charged werewolves, vomit fetishists, you name it, Lee’s got it.
The Devil Next Door by Tim Curran
This is a wholly disturbing post-apocalyptic tale that deals with cannibalism, murder, rape—all more bluntly and perhaps even more nihilistically than The Road. While the novel does boast some interesting character development, it’s entrenched in some seriously screwed up set pieces. This whole book is just dripping with blood and seed. Maybe not as much as the next installment on this list, though.
Zombie Bukkake by Joe Knetter
Okay, don’t look at me like that, but this is kind of a surprisingly sweet story. A man’s addiction to adult films is driving him apart from his family, but he learns that his wife and daughter are more important than blowing his load on a stranger’s face when zombies rise up to attack the graveyard set of an adult film. As the undead start spreading throughout town, he races his naked butt home to save his family.
Urban Gothic by Brian Keene
I would put Ghoul down as an extreme Brian Keene book that can’t be adapted, but it’s already been brought to the screen—and not particularly well, although the novel remains a favorite of mine. This book’s an almost direct cross between Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes and The People Under the Stairs. But it’s way more disturbingly sexual than even those two.
The Cellar by Richard Laymon
Most of Laymon’s work could never be adapted to the screen. But at the start, The Cellar seems perfect for a small monster movie. A woman takes her daughter on the run after her ex-husband breaks out of prison, but she takes a stop at a local tourist attraction known as The Beast House. The house is indeed home to a Beast, and its one that goes to greater lengths than most. Definitely for stronger stomachs than Cellar Dweller.
Stranglehold by Jack Ketchum
For years, I’ve said that Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door was the scariest, most disturbing book I’ve ever read. But last year I read Stranglehold and that might actually top it. I think it might be the one Ketchum book I could never see getting adapted to film. It’s about a woman who is regularly raped by her husband, a man who’s beloved by most who meet him. But then she starts to notice her own bruises and changes in behavior on her young son and realizes that her husband’s been doing the same thing to the child that he’s been doing to her. For years. It’s a disturbing, frightening and almost hopeless novel that just knocks you to the floor and kicks you while you’re down.