Unfaithful Horror Movie Adaptations

Horror movie The Turning opens January 24.  Aware moviegoers may notice the connection to the Henry James novel The Turn of the Screw.  However, aside from a basic premise (a nanny is terrorized by her two charges), the film has little to do with the book it’s based on.  This often happens in Hollywood.  Here’s a look at some other horror movie adaptations that strayed from their source material.


“Watch Avengers: Endgame over and over?”

I Know What You Did Last Summer

In the 1973 novel, four teenagers accidentally run over and kill someone after a party.  They decide to keep it a secret.  This premise is the only similarity between the book and the movie  The young adult suspense novel is rather tame compared to the gorier film.  While everyone survives in the book, there’s a much higher body count in the movie.  The teens eventually confess at the end of the book.  However, in the movie they remain mum, setting up future sequels.  Kevin Williamson definitely did audiences a favor by spicing up Lois Duncan’s book.

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Sleepy Hollow

In Tim Burton’s re-imagining of the classic Washington Irving short story, Ichabod Crane is no longer a school teacher but a police constable.  He’s been sent to investigate a series of murders.  Brom is still a bully but less of a threat than in the original story.  Ichabod has flashbacks of his strict Protestant father who tortured his mother.  The movie adds elements of witchcraft and satanism, with the Headless Horseman being controlled by another character.  And this time, Ichabod gets the girl in the end.  While the film is completely unfaithful to Irving’s ancient tale, I much prefer it.  I’ve had to sit through countless plays, puppet shows, and retellings of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”  It was time someone like Tim Burton injected new life (or should I say death?) into it.

Not to be confused with The Lady in Red.

The Woman in Black

In the novel, Kipps loses his wife and his child as a result of being haunted by the title spectre.  In the movie, Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is already a widower when he comes to Eeel Marsh House.  The movie keeps the premise that seeing The Woman in Black foretells the death of a child but pushes it into more horrifying territory.  The book is about Kipps uncovering the truth about the ghost.  The movie is about Kipps and the village being terrorized by the ghost and Kipps trying to break the curse to save his son.  The movie uses the book’s premise as a jumping off point to go to even scarier places.

The Island of Dr. Moreau

The H.G. Wells novel is about a shipwrecked man who winds up on the island of a mad scientist and his human-animal hybrids.  There’s a great 1932 adaptation called Island of Lost Souls starring Bela Lugosi and Charles Laughton.  Then there’s the cult classic from 1996 starring Marlon Brando as said mad scientist.  And man, is it strange!

For starters, Dr. Moreau has a mini-me that accompanies him everywhere.  He’s dressed all in white with his face painted white as well (or else completely slathered in sunscreen).  The creatures call him Father.  He uses a remote control to send pain signals to implants under the creatures’ skin.  The movie also invents a cat-like daughter for Moreau played by Fairuza Balk.  In both the movie and the book, the main character eventually escapes from the island.  In the movie, the creatures choose to regress back to their natural state rather than be “cured.”  I’m not sure that a dogged faithfulness to the original text would have saved this movie.  (It bombed at the box office.)  It may have resulted in an even less interesting film.  All I can say is that this is one of the craziest movies to come out of the ’90s.  For more about the troubled production, you can check out the documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau.

Sometimes straying from the original is a good thing.  Sometimes not.  What horror adaptations do you think Hollywood got right or wrong?  I can think of at least one author I could write a whole other post about.  Can you guess who it is?

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