Here's a fun little treat: the introduction to my book Terrors: Reel Monsters - The Original Short Stories That Became 8 Classic Horror Films. Enjoy!
I like monster movies. ...No, wait, that's not completely true. I love monster movies.
Aside from sweet memories of laying on the carpeted floor, a sanctuary of Creature Features and Saturday Afternoon Marathons from the dreaded hours of elementary school, these films have always spoken to me: the carefully constructed stories dovetailing with direction, nuances of acting, the beauty of a perfect screenplay...or even the ones with cruddy plots, sloppy cinematography, laughable performances, or horrible dialogue... there's always something, somewhere in both the best and the worst, that I've enjoyed.
Suffice it to say, I'm not a snob. Sure, I admire directors like Wim Wenders, Cronenberg, Kurosawa, Mamuro Oshii, and Frankenheimer, but I have a particular fondness for movies made in a hurry with a zero-dollar budget—yet still managing to create something truly memorable.
This book is a kind of celebration of those bootstrap classics of horror and science fiction: Stuart Gordon's playful gorefest, Re-Animator; Browning's shuddering nightmare, Freaks; Robert Florey's atmospheric The Beast with Five Fingers; even the playfully ridiculous Invasion of the Saucer Men; Robert Wise's steadily creepy The Body Snatcher; The Twilight Zone's “It's A Good Life,” and so many others. Take it from a true fan: get some popcorn, a soda, and settle in for a fantastic afternoon of amazingly creepy cinema—or at least the stories that inspired some of its biggest classics.
And if there's one thing I actually like more than the movies, it’s the stories behind the movies.
It's a sad fact that while a lot of people—who aren't cinema junkies—don’t know that the movies they know and love had their origins in some equally (if not more) incredible works of fiction. They don't realize that behind so many of their favorite—or just guilty—pleasures on film or TV, there isn't just a director and producer, actors and the crew, but an author whose novel or story was the true creative force behind it all.
Re-Animator? It came from the one and only H.P. Lovecraft's story of the same name. “One of us...one of us,” (of course I'm talking about Freaks) was taken from “Spurs” by Tod Robbins. The Beast with Five Fingers came from the same-titled story by W. F. Harvey. Invasion of the Saucer Men started as “The Cosmic Frame” by Paul Fairman. “Wish him into the cornfield,” (from, naturally, “It's a Good Life“) was originally from the famous Jerome Bixby story of the same name. Black Sabbath was from “The Curse of the Vourdalak” by Alexis Tolstoy; The Monkey's Paw came from a story by W. W. Jacobs, and The Body Snatcher came from Robert Louis Stevenson.
There are, of course, other authors whose work has been adapted into horror movies—but the stories in this anthology were picked because the ideas and stories behind these playful cinematic treats have nearly disappeared into obscurity. Lots of people, for instance, know the origins of Soylent Green (Make Room, Make Room by Harry Harrison or 2001: A Space Odyssey (The Sentinel by Arthur C. Clarke); Blade Runner (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick), but very few know the origins of the films listed on our Table of Contents...even if their authors are extremely well known. Aleksey Tolstoy, Robert Louis Stevenson, Lovecraft anyone?
Fame aside, these writers deserve some recognition not just for the works that have been turned into silver screen horror classics, but for all the other great novels and short stories they created. Consider this, then, not just a celebration of the stories herein, but a gateway to the wider world of these authors’ literary creations.
Take Jerome Bixby (1923–1998) to start. It's truly tragic that far too few people know of Bixby's work and wide-ranging contributions to science fiction. Putting aside some of his more famous short stories—like “It's a Wonderful Life,” featured here—he also wrote the story that became the 1970's SF classic Fantastic Voyage as well as the screenplays for some of the most well-received, and fan-favorite, Star Trek episodes: “By Any Other Name,” “Day of the Dove,” “Requiem for Methuselah” and “Mirror, Mirror.” By the way, Digital Parchment Services recently released the definitive Jerome Bixby collection, Mirror Mirror: Classic SF by the Famed Star Trek and Fantastic Voyage Writer.
Paul W. Fairman (1916–1977) is similarly a tremendously respected author and editor of 14 novels and some dozens of short stories. Fairman wrote under quite a few pseudonyms, establishing himself as a well-respected author of both science fiction and detective tales. Like Bixby, he also saw his work being adapted many times for both the big and the small screens: “People are Alike All Over” (Twilight Zone) came from his story “Brothers Beyond the Void” and—of course—his tale “The Cosmic Frame” became Invasion of the Saucer Men (and later, painfully, remade as The Eye Creatures).
Tod Robbins (1888–1949) is the author of seven novels, including The Unholy Three, The Master of Murders, Close Their Eyes Tenderly and the sadly unreleased To Hell and Home Again. Robbins is viewed by many as a master of the truly strange tale. After remaining in France during the Second World War he served time in a concentration camp—passing away a few years after the war had ended.
William Fryer Harvey (W.F. Harvey, 1885–1937) was another brilliant short story author, penning The Beast with Five Fingers as well as 15 separate volumes' worth of other work. In the First World War, Harvey was awarded the Albert Medal for Lifesaving, though the injuries he sustained during the rescue affected him for the rest of his life.
William Wymark Jacobs (W. W. Jacobs, 1863–1943) is one of those authors whose work has become a true landmark. “The Monkey's Paw” (which has been adapted numerous times) first appeared in his collection, The Lady of the Barge (1902). Jacobs was also the author of many other very well received short stories, though most of them were much less...terrifying, and in a much lighter and more humorous tone.
Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy (1817–1875), aside from being Leo Tolstoy's second cousin, is a literary genius in his own right, having written the classics The Death of Ivan the Terrible, Don Juan, Tsar Boris, and—of course—“The Curse of the Vourdalak” (which first appeared in 1839).
As for H.P. Lovecraft and Robert Louis Stevenson ... come on, who doesn’t know about them? But then this is, after all, a book celebrating the stories that became films, so maybe a little introduction is due, for those who were totally napping during English Lit.
H.P. Lovecraft (1890–1937) is still, years after his passing, the master of unnamable dread and madness. Hell, even the word “Lovecraftian” has entered our vocabulary. His books and stories—many featuring his nightmarish cosmic entities such as Cthulhu—have been turned into to film, TV shows, video games, and even plush toys. His tale, “Herbert West—Reanimator,” first appeared in Weird Tales in 1922. The film adaption, directed by Stuart Gordon (1985), and starring the delightful Jeffrey Combs, has become a modern horror classic.
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894) is, of course, is a pure and absolute legend. The author of classics such as Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Treasure Island (both staples of film and stage adaption), Kidnapped, and The Wrong Box—and many others. Stevenson had the fortune of being a celebrity author during his lifetime and, according to the Index Translationum (UNESCO's authority of book translations), is the 26th most translated author in the world.
There they are—at least in capsule form. But I hope these brief biographical sketches serve as an introduction to a group of authors whose terrifying work was transformed into amazing pieces of film and television history.
So, absolutely, make some popcorn—and be sure and put lots of butter and salt on it—get some soda, make up a pillow fort, and settle in to read the stories behind the great monster movies. Notice which parts of the original story were kept, which weren’t, what worked better on the printed page and what was more fun on the big or small screen.
And the next time you watch a horror flick, remember that behind those reel monsters there may very well lurk even more terrifying creatures: the original beasts, ghouls and eldritch beings from the stories at the heart of each film.