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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

31 Days of Horror-- Day 8: Best Horror Movie Novelizations

Today I have asked my friend, fellow librarian, AND  published horror author Jack Phoenix to contribute to the conversation this month with a post on the very best horror movie novelizations. The post originally appeared on his tumblr here, but I have also reposted it with his permission.

And if you are looking for a satisfyingly terrifying read that also supports a good cause, click here to learn more about Jack's novel, The Tormentors.  I really enjoyed it.


Scene Stealers: Horror Movie Novelizations Worth a Read

If you work in a public library, you know someone who reads them. Mayhap you even bite your thumb at them, and don’t consider them real books. Or maybe you have fond memories of them from your childhood. You may not think much about them, but every now and then something happens to remind librarians of the existence of movie novelizations (like, say…the recent Godzilla novelization becoming a New York Times Best-Seller) and their long and rich history.
Though their publication has slowed a bit, mostly coinciding with PG-13, tent pole, sci-fi and fantasy fare, novelizations still happen for the horror fans. Be careful not to overlook these books, because what you may have on your mass paperback rack is a readers’ advisory goldmine. That lady over there, obsessed with all things horror? Offer her the novelization of that scary Blu-ray she’s checking out. That dude who is a pure cinephile? Explain to him that novelizations are often crafted from early versions of screenplays and challenge him to see what could have been from what actually made it to the screen. Package the movies and the novelizations together on a display and watch them fly out your door!
Here are my recommendations for horror movie novelizations that are worth some attention. Heck, some are even better than their movies! I chose these because they are fairly recent and therefore easily attainable…but also good, of course! And fret not, there be no spoilers here.
The Cabin in the Woods by Tim Lebbon
The Skinny: Based on the critically-praised, Joss Whedon-attached screenplay, this is the story of five college kids who venture to an abandoned cabin in the woods (OMG so THAT’S why they call it that!) only to find their worst nightmares come to life. Subverting and inverting the horror genre and its clichés, this story is simply a must for horror fans in either format.
What It Brings to the Table: Though the humor doesn’t translate quite as well in this novelization as it does in the film, this version of the story is surprisingly darker. A more horror-and-sci-fi-centric blend, we are treated to more elaborate details of how and why a certain organization conducts their business. It’s a well-paced read for those who are looking for something quick and enjoyable. (Note: the eBook version suffers from some editing errors, such as some confusing dialogue format issues).
The Lords of Salem by Rob Zombie and B.K. Evenson
The Skinny: One day Heidi, a radio DJ and recovering addict, receives a mysterious package. The package contains a record from an unknown band who call themselves “The Lords”. After playing the record and its strange music on the air, horror awakens and centers itself on Heidi and other women of Salem.
What It Brings to the Table: This novelization is unique to our list because it and its screenplay share an author, Rob Zombie (with help from Evenson, of course). To be frank, the film is a bit of a head-scratcher. Many who saw it appreciated its style, but the story itself left many of us saying, “Yeahbuhwhat?” Well, here is the novelization to save your experience! I would recommend this be read before seeing the movie, since this book fills in a lot of gaps and answers many questions. Why are only women affected by the song? Who are those witches and what is Heidi’s connection to them? What exactly is happening in those flashbacks? WHAT, you call that an ending??? All the answers are within these pages. You’re welcome.
House at the End of the Street by Lily Blake
The Skinny: Elissa and her mother have moved to an upscale, isolated neighborhood. Adjusting well, Elissa learns a terrible secret that the town tries to keep quiet; the house next door to her was once the scene of a brutal murder. A young girl massacred her family (sound familiar?), sparing only her brother Ryan, and then disappeared. As Elissa begins forging a friendship with Ryan, she finds herself being drawn into something sinister, and her dream home may become a house of nightmares.
What It Brings to the Table: This book brings the suspense and twists that the Jennifer Lawrence-starring film doesn’t. Mind you, many of the twists will only be, uh, twisty if you don’t watch the movie first. But this is a better executed tale than its film counterpart, and an easy read that is sure to please young adult readers because Katniss is on the cover. It also has lots of unspoken, awkward sexual tension and longing glances which are so popular with the teenage crowd nowadays.
Darkness Falls by Keith R.A. DeCandido
The Skinny: Matilda Dixon, though horribly scarred, was a kindly old soul who used to gift the children of Darkness Falls with coins in exchange for their baby teeth, and the townspeople dubbed her the “Tooth Fairy”. Wearing a mask to hide her disfigurement, she was accused of a crime of which she was innocent, and executed without trial. Vowing revenge, she cursed the town, and decreed that all children who should look upon her would be taken. Now in present day, children go missing from Darkness Falls every year, and a young man named Kyle Walsh knows why…
What It Brings to the Table: Okay, for this one, you may want to just read the book and skip the movie altogether. The novelization takes what was merely lazy opening credits narration, and turns it into a whimsical ghost story with a classic feel. In the more contemporary settings of the story, the action and the characters are better developed, and the reader feels far more sympathy for the hero and the monster. There is some imagery in this writing that may make you hide your face from that shadow in your bedroom. Just maybe.
The Wolfman by Jonathan Maberry
The Skinny: While visiting his family home, Lawrence Talbot is bitten by a mysterious, wolfish creature and cursed to become a wolf when the “wolf’s bane blooms” and why am I telling you this, surely you know this story! This book is fun because it’s the novelization of a remake of a classic which has its own novelization (up top). That’s four different versions of one awesome story, people! Take your pick!
What It Brings to the Table: Jonathan Maberry. It brings Jonathan Maberry to the table. If you don’t know who Jonathan Maberry is, I recommend you explore the RA for All: Horror blog thoroughly. All the stuff in the movie that the critics were “so-so” about, this book completely nails with full effectiveness. More intensity, a steadier and more even plot, a more thoroughly examined relationship with Talbot’s father, a more elaborate chronicle of the Wolfman’s adventure in London, this book surpasses the film, which was a noble effort on its own.
The Frighteners by Michael Jahn
The Skinny: Frank Bannister can communicate with the dead, and he uses this ability to make a profit; by enlisting ghosts to “haunt” unsuspecting victims, he is then paid to “exorcise” them. But when a dark force descends, one which has “put the fear of death in the living, and sent the dead running for their lives”, the usually selfish Frank discovers that he is the only one who can see it…and stop it.
What It Brings to the Table: Okay, so I’m lying a bit. This book is not recent, and it may not be easy to find at a library (though you can buy a copy on Amazon for a penny. No, seriously). But this is the first movie novelization that I ever read, and I simply had to share it. This book is derived from a screenplay by Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame. It features more of everything; more zany ghostly hijinks, more horror and violence, more backstory, as well as some colorful characters which were cut from the film, like the cherub-like Gatekeeper. It is a spirited story (ha!) in the vein of Beetlejuice, and if you ever get the chance, grab it. It helped foster my love for horror and film!
In closing, keep your eyes and mind open for these novelizations and those like them as they pass your way through the cataloging process. Give them a try. You may find something bloody enjoyable.
For further reading, check these out:
Cheney, Jen. “What Does the Future Look Like for Movie Novelizations”. Yahoo Movies. June 18, 2014: https://www.yahoo.com/movies/movie-novelizations-keep-writing-a-new-chapter-89164640792.html
Collins, Brian. “Terror Tuesday: The Horrors of Movie Novelizations”. Badass Digest. April 5, 2011: http://badassdigest.com/2011/04/05/terror-tuesday-the-horrors-of-movie-novelizations/
Hendrix,  Grady. “The Joy of Horror Novelizations”. Lit Reactor. September 22, 2014: http://litreactor.com/columns/the-joy-of-horror-novelizations
Suskind, Alex. “Yes, People Still Read Movie Novelizations…and Write Them, Too”. Vanity Fair. August 27, 2014: http://www.vanityfair.com/vf-hollywood/2014/08/movie-novelizations-still-exist

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