As early as the classic Hammer monsters of Dracula and Frankenstein, horror cinema has been inseparable from literature. In the past year alone, horror movie heavyweights like IT, Annihilation and The Ritual have all brought to life the nightmares of the page.
But not every book claws its way to the silver screen. Be it because they’re too drenched with gore, too dark, or just too damn weird, a host of horror writing stirs silent and underappreciated. These are The Unadapted.
The legend foes that over the course of reading his story ‘Guts’ across the world, Chuck Palahniuk caused sixty-seven people to faint. Following a sex-starved teenager in search of the ultimate orgasm, ‘Guts’ ends with the youth’s trip to a swimming pool suction system, and the story earning its name. Yet, this infamous tale is far from the main course, instead serving only as an appetiser: the first of twenty-three gruesome works which make up Palahniuk’s ‘novel of stories’, Haunted.
Told by a group of dehumanised stereotypes named the likes of Comrade Snarky and the Earl of Slander, these stories are connected by the framing narrative of a writing retreat: “abandon your lives for three months”, declares the advert. It is here, isolated and slowly descending into insanity, that each character pens their story.
Far from the splatter of ‘Guts’, however, these stories span the full breadth of horror. ‘The Nightmare Box’ and ‘Obsolete’, for instance, are pure existential dread. In ‘Obsolete’, humanity discovers that human souls achieve immortality on Venus. The imperfect, meanwhile, are doomed to live out cyclical lives. The global population then commits suicide en masse, with the belief that with no more bodies to carry souls, everyone will emigrate to Venus. The story focuses on the final four people on Earth: a family, suffocating themselves in their car.
However, like all the greatest works of horror, Haunted seethes with social satire. First published in 2005 during the peak of reality TV like Big Brother, Haunted‘s framing narrative skewers the fame-hungry culture of modern celebrity. Trapped within the writing retreat, the characters start to compete to create the best personal narrative arc for when they are eventually rescued and exposed to a media storm. They turn to self-mutilation and murder, all with the goal of marketing themselves as the most sympathetic survivor of the writing retreat from Hell.
Likewise, the individual stories of Haunted lampoon society through a horrific lens. In ‘Speaking Bitterness’, the fine line preventing social justice from tipping into injustice is exposed. At an all-female victim support group for sufferers of male violence, a transsexual woman attends. The original group, unable to accept her as one of their own, viciously attack her in a frenzy of transphobic violence. “From the minute we sat down, we tried to explain…” the narrator rationalises, in turn misgendering the woman and echoing a culture which can work against its own social progress.
‘Slumming’, meanwhile, predates the later craze of ‘poverty porn’, showcasing the rich and famous’ fetishisation of the poor: sleeping rough and faking homelessness just for the thrill of it. “Anonymity is the new fame”, one character declares. “Social divers are the new social climbers”. When a serial killer of the homeless starts including these nouveau-poor in his spree, however, the social divers are appalled to find themselves with no avenue for help.
So why has Haunted yet to be adapted into film? Perhaps the narrative is too fragmented, blending a novel, short stories and poetry in one. Or, perhaps its satirical take on celebrity culture would require updating a decade on. But the best explanation may lie with the author himself: “a film has to maintain a certain decorum in order to be broadcast to a vast audience. No one really gives a damn about books. No one has bothered to ban a book in decades. With that disregard comes the freedom that only books have”.