In college, I developed an obsession of horror movies. Not the gory ones meant to shock and appall you, but the slow burning ones that creep under your skin and exploit your perception of what is safe and comforting. Many people like to be scared for kicks, I just prefer to do so within the solace of my apartment.
Anyways, I was jonesing for a good scare last weekend and without anything better to do, ended up reading two books that were written in the 60s/70s and promptly had successful movie adaptations that are considered classic horror films. Have you figured out what those books are?
Of course, The Exorcist, the movie that spawned a whole franchise of demonic possession films. Most people are familiar with the story: a sweet girl Regan, who is the daughter of an actress becomes possessed after talking to an entity she calls “Captain Howdy.” After exhausting all other options, her desperate mother calls upon a Jesuit priest to help her daughter.
The movie is frightening in that you see a very innocent young girl turn into a projectile vomiting, swearing, cross desecrating, head turning all the way around being. The book however is even more terrifying in that there is more of a build up of the characters, so Regan’s decline into possession is gradual and ultimately shocking. Also, if you thought the movie was bad, the book describes in detail some more disgusting things the demon makes Regan do, which ultimately would not be appropriate at all to be shown in a movie.
Besides containing more horror than the movie, the book is better in that the characters have time to become more developed, and thus the motivations and actions shown in the movie are better understood. For example, Karass, the priest that determines Regan is possessed, is shown to be a man full of guilt for abandoning his mother and feeling responsible for her death. This is touched upon in the movie, but the book does a better job of showing the scope of his emotional baggage. Compared to the movie, his ultimate action to save Regan in the book seemed more natural and satisfying.
The last great thing about the book versus the movie is the build up towards the exorcism. In a movie, if they spent screen time covering all the events leading to the exorcism, it would quickly become boring as it would be a string of scenes involving Karass doing research. In the book, it was a logical string of events that created eager anticipation for the climax. Karass is very careful in the book to admit that Regan is possessed. He actually spends most of the book convinced that she is suffering from some sort of mental disease. It is only when he carefully considers her actions and eliminates any clear sign of mental illness that he decides to propose exorcism. I actually appreciated this attention to detail because it seemed realistic to me.
Watching the movie before reading the book did not make this horror story any less enjoyable. Of course, the book is always better so reading the novel made me appreciate the movie that much more. I give this book five out of five stars for great character development, and a good mix of shocking and slow building horror.
What if you found out the person that had vowed to love and respect you til death do you part, was actually a member of a satanic cult and let the Devil have his way with you? Yeah I don’t know what I’d do either, but that is the very situation Rosemary finds herself in in this book that went on to become a successful horror movie in the late 60s.
The horror in this book isn’t your typical serial killer or monster/ghost situation. Rather what makes it scary is the idea that the people you think are your friends and the person you think you love are actually conspiring against you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Poor Rosemary, she married the man she loved and for that her parents cut all ties with her. All she wanted was to have a happy life in New York with her husband and have three children. After moving into a fancy new apartment and making friends with her new neighbors, the Castevets, she finds out she is pregnant. From there, the horror starts to sneak in as she realizes something is wrong with her pregnancy, and her husband and neighbors might not be the devoted husband and nice old people they seem to be. Furthermore, her husband suddenly starts to become more successful in his acting career. Is she going crazy or is there some deep dark secret the Castevets and her husband are hiding?
Of course, many people have seen the movie already or already know the ending. I had already seen the movie myself but I enjoyed the book a lot more. I realized that Roman Polanski did a great job adapting the book and casting the characters, but overall I feel that Rosemary’s Baby is more effective as a book rather than a movie. My biggest issue with the movie was that not a lot happened. In the book, you get more into Rosemary’s mind and psyche and that drives you to keep reading. The only thing the movie added to the story was showing how the pregnancy affected Rosemary’s health.
I give this book five out of five stars because it is a good mix of camp and horror, and hooks you from the first page (I ended up reading this in less than 24 hours).
Overall, I highly recommend both of these books to the lovers of classic horror. After watching the movies, you will enjoy the great writing of these two books. After going back and reading the novels, you will then have a greater appreciation for the films.