By Brittney Perkins
Spoilers for Doctor Sleep and Bird Box
While trying to pick from the endless horror theme streaming through my mind, I couldn’t think of anything to write, and my mind went to all the worst possible scenarios. Then like a well-aimed baseball bat named Lucille, a thought struck me. Why is it that when you read a horror novel, you hate the movie? There are numerous reasons, but the ones I want to talk about are the visuals. The visuals you conjure within your mind when you give life to a scene as it unfolds. The way you visualize the hair-raising struggles and how these visuals, when brought to your local movie theater or streamed on your favorite electronic device, more often than naught leave a bitter taste in your mouth.
A good example would be Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep. I want to preface that I am a fan of the 2017 adaptation from writer and director Mike Flanagan. The mental imagery of the battle between Rose the Hat and Abra (the filing cabinet scene) is phenomenal. From ‘seeing’ Abra on the bike, the alarms, and then the jousting duel between them had me drawn in. Although the movie showed us the flesh on Rose the Hat’s hand being peeled off like a boiled tomato, the rest of the scene can be described as leaving much to be desired for those with the book’s imagery stored in their mental archives.
The ending of the cultural phenomenon that is Susanne Bier’s “Bird Box” would be another case. At the conclusion of the film, Malorie, Girl, and Boy have finally reached a sanctuary where they can live safely within their community. As they walk into the School for the Blind, they pass the smiling faces of the community members as they take in all of the beautiful sights. However, Josh Malerman’s book takes it to another level. When the trio finally makes it to the sanctuary, Malorie discovers the facility’s gruesome past of consensually blinding to have “absolute protection” and the complexity of choosing to remain and reside within a “safer” location. So, when comparing the two, you have the “that’s it” look stamped on your face as you finish the film that completely ignores an arguably necessary part of the story.
Transferring these novels into the physical world, using film/television as the vehicle for avid book readers is like cutting on the lights to brighten a dark room. We see that it’s not as bad as we imagined, the figures that terrorized our minds have become tangible, and there is no need to fear this version. Budgets, runtimes, and writer/directing differences give the film constraints that the mind doesn’t have. Movies must focus on creating a film that is appealing to general audiences and cannot financially sustain creating all the complex imagery bound within the spine of its source material. The novels freed from these restraints allow for our minds to interpret the events under the umbrella of our own perception creating the sometimes-haunting imagery that scares us, lingering in our mind like the faded outline of a burn. While movies must focus on creating a film that is appealing to the general audience
I would argue this is the same logic as to why scenes in horror where the kills happen off-screen, and all we can hear are someone’s dying screams, the wet sounds of a blade, and the distinct crunch of bones breaking that terrify some of us the most. It’s all because our imagination and the potential possibilities our mind dutifully creates for us are terrifying, and films can’t match the personal terrors that each person’s mind has crafted.