Can a short story really be scary enough to inspire two hours of terror? The answer is a resounding YES. These short stories might be small in size, but they’ve made it to the big screen. From the earliest days of silent film up into the present, here are five full-length horror movies inspired by famously spooky short stories.
1. The Avenging Conscience (1914)
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This early silent horror film draws inspiration from Edgar Allen Poe‘s famous short story, “The Tell-Tale Heart.” In the film, a young man in love plots the murder of an uncle who stands in the way of his would-be marriage. As in Poe’s story, the guilt comes with some nasty side effects… mysterious noises, strange apparitions… but are these just the unfortunate dreams of a troubled conscience, or is something else really going on?
2. The Body Snatcher (1945)
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Robert Wise’s film, famously starring cultural icon Bela Lugosi, shares its name with its source of inspiration: Robert Louis Stevenson‘s “The Body Snatcher.“ Stevenson authored many prolific works that brought him fame in his lifetime, including Treasure Island and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And while Stevenson’s story inspired director Wise, real events inspired Stevenson. The true source material of “The Body Snatcher” is the gruesome tale of murderous surgeon Robert Knox. Until the Anatomy Act of 1832, the only bodies permitted for scientific research were those of criminals the courts condemned to death and dissection. It was common to snatch bodies of the recently deceased (from houses or graves!) in order to keep up a fresh supply of corpses. Knox took it a step further, hiring thugs to murder the homeless and wayward drunks. If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself…?
3. The Birds (1963)
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The name The Birds is immediately identifiable as a Hitchcock film, one of the most classic and widely-known thrillers. Fewer people know the film draws upon a horror novelette of the same name: “The Birds” by Daphne du Maurier, which first appeared in her 1952 collection The Apple Tree. A British writer, du Maurier wrote this story as a metaphor for the Blitz, the infamous and devastating air raids over England during World War II. Though the film counterpart is set in America and lacks the same meaning, Hitchcock’s film is still culturally significant with its preservation in the National Film Registry.
4. Children of the Corn (1984)
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This cult classic horror film is notable as perhaps the best of many film adaptations of Stephen King‘s short stories. Other King short story adaptations include “1408,” “Apt Pupil,” “The Boogeyman,” “The Mist,” “Graveyard Shift,” and many, MANY more— not to mention adaptations of his full-length novels. (You can read the best of King’s short stories here.) A large number of King’s film adaptations are faithful to the original. In this case, both the film and the short story depict a cult of children living in a cornfield in Nebraska, murdering anyone over the age of eighteen at the order of their sinister deity.
5. The Tournament (2009)
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This indie British film, starring Lost and The Vampire Diaries‘ Ian Somerhalder, takes inspiration from classic short story “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell. A source of fear and delight for students across the world, Connell’s 1932 story describes a castaway’s chilling fight for survival as an unhinged aristocrat hunts him for sport. The film adaptation reinterprets this struggle as a televised competition between wealthy human-hunters. While The Tournament itself didn’t achieve much box office success, it’s notable as one of nearly twenty film adaptations of this dark and thrilling story. It’s also made its way into TV pop culture, inspiring episodes of hit shows Supernatural and Law and Order: SVU.
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