10 Great Horror Books That Will Never Be Movies

Most classic horror novels have already been turned into films, with many of them having been subjected to that treatment more than once. The fact is that a lot of great horror authors seem to have the ability to write novels that easily translate into movies. Stephen King, Richard Matheson, Brian Keene, and, more recently, Paul Tremblay and Adam Cesare all belong to that group. However, especially when it comes to hardcore horror, there are some novels that have received rave reviews and/or have a cult following but will never be turned into films. Wait...maybe someone will attempt it at some point, so let's rephrase that: some horror novels should never be turned into films because they are simply too brutal, too pornographic, or simply too weird to successfully adapt for the big screen. In other words, putting these narratives in visual form, given the limitations of the medium (reading is better than watching in some instances, deal with it!), would drain them of some of the elements that make them outstanding as books. I won't bore you with long synopses of all of these (please, go check them all out), but I will share with you ten favorites that deserve your attention but will probably never be turned into movies.

10. '400 Days of Oppression' by Wrath James White

This is a thousand times better, dirtier, smarter, and sexier than Fifty Shades of Grey, but it's also infinitely more hardcore, features an interracial couple, and was written by an author who actually knows what he's talking about when it comes to BDSM. Hollywood would probably be okay taking this level of sexuality and toning it down, but race is at the center of the narrative, and that's just too controversial for the big screen, especially because the main character, Kenyatta, makes his beloved, Natasha, learn about the oppression, abuse, pain, and humiliation African Americans have had to endure by using sex/roleplaying/BDSM as a teaching tool. This is superb novel about race that's packed with social commentary and hardcore sex, so go read it now, but don't sit down and wait for the PG-13 version to come out any time soon.


9. 'Last Days' by Brian Evenson

This is probably my favorite Evenson novel, which is saying a lot, but it's also one that contains too many elements the movie industry at large is not ready to tackle. On the surface, this is a detective novel, a superb noir with enough tension and mystery to make for a great film, but then there is, like in a lot of other Evenson narratives, a strong religious element...and a hell of a lot of mutilation.


8. 'The Baby Jesus Butt Plug' by Carlton Mellick III

Mellick is one of the most inventive and perhaps the most popular bizarro author, so all of his books have been optioned for film. That, unluckily, doesn't mean they will all be made into movies. The Baby Jesus Butt Plug, like half a dozen other Mellick novels, is bizarro with heavy horror influences. While the dystopian vibe and graphic descriptions of a future in which people are slaves to corporations and copied instead of born would make this a superb movie in the right hands, the thing suggested in the title makes this an impossibility. Try to put anal sex and Baby Jesus on the screen and you'll watch the country erupt in violent protests (you know, the kind religious folks are known for). This is a cult classic that will never see the inside of a multiplex.


7. 'The Fisherman' by John Langan

This is one of the best horror novels of 2016 and, like all others on this list, something I'd love to see on the screen. Unfortunately, Langan took full advantage of the freedom writing offers and created a sprawling novel that covers family history, changes time constantly, is a narrative wrapped in a narrative about two heartbroken men, has giant monsters, and is packed with dark magic, evil beings, and stunning vistas of cosmic horror. The best way to explain this one is by comparing it to H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness, which, even though it contains less elements and would be easier to shoot, still hasn't been turned into a movie.


6. 'Genital Grinder' by Ryan Harding

Like Mellick's book, this one more or less gives the reasons it won't be turned into a movie right in the title. Harding is a master of gross stuff, and this is his most brutal book so far. In fact, some of the scenes in this novel-in-stories are so far into the sickest corner of hardcore horror that describing them here would get me hateful comments. The day they start putting sex and maggots on the big screen...they will probably still think this is too nasty to turn into a movie.


5. 'Endless Night' by Richard Laymon

Endless Night is a favorite of mine that also changed the way I look at horror. For many horror authors in the last couple of generations, Laymon is one of those formative voices that showed us what brutal, vicious, bloody, and tense really meant. In the case of this fast-paced novel, the sadistic atmosphere would be impossible to recreate and the goriest parts would, in the case of a big studio release, be toned down so much that they would stop being Laymon's. Books have auras, and this one is so mean-spirited and violent that no one would touch it.


4. 'Sociopaths in Love' by Andersen Prunty

Prunty's writing style is filmic and thus most of his books read like great cinema, but this one would make American Psycho look like a children's movie. Violence, insanity, severed body parts, excrement; if it grosses people out or is taboo, this novel has healthy doses of it, and that will keep it off of the screen forever.


3. 'Exquisite Corpse' by Poppy Z. Brite

Don't get me wrong, I would love to see this made into a movie, but it won't happen. It's simply too brutal, too honest, too rich in its descriptions of murder as art. This book is too unrepentantly morbid and gruesome. Brite is brilliant at what he does, and horror lovers will eat up anything he puts out, but offering his twisted visions to mainstream audiences via film? The world is not ready for that.


2. 'Ritualistic Human Sacrifice by' C.V. Hunt

Editor Ross E. Lockhart told me this book, for him, invented a new country: The Republic of What The Fuck?! It's also a book that impressed horror legend Brian Keene in all the right ways. Gruesome elements are part of every Hunt book, but she pushed against all previous stops this time around, and the result is an instant hardcore horror classic that would make most directors leave a paycheck on the table.


1. 'Santa Claus Conquers the Homophobes' by Robert Devereaux

Poppy Z. Brite once said "I wish I could hope to ever attain one-thousandth the perversity of Robert Devereaux's toenail clippings." That should give you an idea of why none of Devereaux's books will ever be turned into movies. This man writes things that would make adult performers blush and turn their eyes away. With an incomparable richness of vocabulary and a penchant for kinkiness, Devereaux is perhaps the dirtiest author this side of Ed Lee, and that's why we have a few Ed Lee movies and no Devereaux movies, now or ever.

What about you? Got any favorite horror novels that can't possibly ever be turned into a movie?
Gabino Iglesias

Column by Gabino Iglesias

Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. He’s the author of ZERO SAINTS, HUNGRY DARKNESS, and GUTMOUTH. His reviews have appeared in Electric Literature, The Rumpus, 3AM Magazine, Marginalia, The Collagist, Heavy Feather Review, Crimespree, Out of the Gutter, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, HorrorTalk, Verbicide, and many other print and online venues. 

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David Hayes's picture
David Hayes November 18, 2016 - 2:46pm

Damn. I was hoping "Cherub" made the list, lol. Time to try harder.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading a lot more during the quarantine November 18, 2016 - 3:26pm

I think a young David Cronenberg would be perfect for Last Days.

Michael Switek's picture
Michael Switek November 18, 2016 - 4:57pm

Poppy Z. Brite is a woman. These all sound like wonderful reads.

Beverly Bambury's picture
Beverly Bambury November 18, 2016 - 10:31pm

Michael, Poppy is a trans man named Billy Martin. "He" was correct usage on Gabino's part. 

Lile Abatyse Geōrgios's picture
Lile Abatyse Ge... November 21, 2016 - 4:57pm

Hm, I'll be adding a few of these to my TBR. Especially 400 Days of Oppression. Sounds fascinating.

helpfulsnowman's picture
Community Manager
helpfulsnowman from Colorado is reading But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman November 22, 2016 - 1:07pm

I'm always looking for a holiday read. Thanks!

Edward Sung's picture
Edward Sung December 2, 2016 - 10:57pm

Kinda puzzled to be honest by the praise for "Ritualistic Human Sacrifice." Unless my copy was missing a few chapters, very little actual "hardcore horror" occurs in this book until almost the very end! For most of its length, it's a sort-of comically dark tale of a thoroughly unpleasant fellow whose plan to divorce his wife is thwarted by her unexpected pregnancy. What should have been a short story is padded out to novel length with hilariously superfluous scenes like: narrator meets with boss about working from home; narrator checks out a house he's considering buying, and criticizes the previous owners' interior design choices; narrator and wife visit the supermarket; narrator complains about having to wear skinny jeans.


When we finally do get to the horror, it mostly ends up being erotica with gross-out elements, and it's all over pretty quickly. Yeah, there is in fact some "ritualistic human sacrifice," but frankly I found the scenario underwhelming and completely ridiculous if you think about it at all. (Let's just say that it's like if a baker decided to go around town stealing loaves of bread from people's houses and selling them, instead of just, y'know, baking some bread.) Anyway, I actually found the book kind of weirdly compelling, if only because of how egregiously I felt trolled by the author, but I'm genuinely mystified at the reviews I've seen that go on and on about how "extreme" it is. I guess if you condensed the first 75% of the story and the denoument into a few pages and left in all of the gross bits, the resulting short story could stand up there with a typical Wrath James White tale. But as it is, this book is a great deal of buildup to an underwhelming payoff.