Weekend Reads #120: Horror Movies vs. Books — Which Is Scarier?

Weekend Reads is a post in which I discuss a variety of topics and mention the books I’m currently reading. (I haven’t done it in a while but, hey, who’s keeping track anyway?)

For this week, I’ve decided to participate in the Let’s Talk Bookish meme hosted by Eternity Books and the Literary Lion. A discussion topic is given each week for participants to post about. This week’s topic is… well, it’s last week’s topic, actually, but I was lazy on Friday and didn’t feel like posting. Anyway, the topic is

Can books be effective horror?

Some people love to be scared — others not so much. When it comes to reading do you think books can be scary? Are you less scared because there are no pictures? Do you feel other mediums such as film are more effective for horror? Have you ever been kept up at night by a book?

I think this is an interesting topic since most people I know are inclined to say “no” in reply to this question. However, I think books can be scary. Sometimes, I think they are more frightening than what we seen in movies and TV shows.

I enjoy the horror genre; however, I’ve watched more horror movies and TV shows than read such books. I’m quick to jump at the suggestion to watch a horror movie or TV show and often do so to discuss it with my cousin who also enjoys the genre. However, when someone recommends a horror novel to me, it takes a while for me to pick it up, if I ever do.

To me, what I cook up in my imagination as I read is oftentimes scarier than what’s presented on screen because in movies, we are given someone else’s interpretation of the horror whereas when reading books (at least, for me) what the author writes depends on my imagination to come alive (seem believable) in the story, and my imagination LOVES to play with such fodder to terrorize me. I also find the buildup and anticipation in books to be much more intense than what I experience when watching a movie or TV show. Sometimes it’s so intense that I have to skip to the end of the book to see what happens to try to assuage it. That hardly ever happens to me when watching a movie.

Unfortunately, I do not have many examples to provide a comparison between my experience reading a horror book and then watching the film adaptation, or vice versa. I haven’t read the books of horror movies I’ve seen. The only comparison I can think of is Stephen King’s The Shining, which I read and liked and found spooky and unsettling. Unfortunately, my experience with the movie was not the same. I was bored and unimpressed. But this is a poor example. The Shining movie was made in 1980 (I wasn’t even born yet) so, of course, the quality made it unimpressive to my modern sensibilities (I watched it maybe 3 years ago for the first time).

As for horror books or movies that have kept me up at night… the movies outweigh the books here simply because I’ve seen more of them. I also scare easy, so it doesn’t take much. The Exorcist and the Ring, both of which I saw when I was younger (in middle or high school), kept me up at night after watching them, and even the Chucky movies too, which I liked and now think are funny but really scared me back then. As for more modern movies, Insidious scared me so bad that I had to sleep over at my friend’s house after watching it, and the Paranormal Activity movies scared me too, although I also thought they were silly. But… to me, horror movies from the past, early 1990s and beyond, are a lot scarier than the modern ones, 2000s to more recent. The modern ones seem to rely a lot more on jump scares and special effects, whereas the ones from back in the day took the time to build up to the scare, relying more on the pacing and anticipation and playing with the viewers’ perception.

I wish I could talk more about horror books, but I’ve read less than a handful that were truly scary, and that was intentional. Stories from books stay with me a lot longer than TV shows and movies, so I’d rather not have horror ones sticking around for long. That’s why the majority of horror books I read lean more toward thriller than straight-up scare-your-pants-off stories. So the really scary ones, so far, have been the King ones. Parts of The Shining creeped me out so much that I was a little scared to look in the bathroom of the hotel room I was staying in shortly after reading the book. And King’s short story “Jerusalem Lot” got to me too and made me fearful of the entry to the attic in my room (I forgot why).

Although my post doesn’t provide enough examples to prove that books are scarier, I’ll always stand by that statement. To me, reading a book is more personal and intimate and makes the scary a thousand times worse than watching a movie would.


What I’m currently reading

Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray

It’s the third novel in the Diviners series, a YA supernatural/horror series set in the 1920s in NYC. I’m buddy-reading it with Rachel at Life of a Female Bibliophile and should be wrapping it up soon.

The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Hanrahan

It’s the first novel in the Black Iron Legacy series, a grimdark fantasy series. I’m in an epic fantasy mood, so I’m leaning more toward such books at the moment. So far, I’m enjoying this. It’s a little slow (or maybe I’m reading it too slowly… I keep getting interrupted when I sit down to read it), but I don’t mind because I’m amazed at how many different creatures are in the city it’s set in. Those Tallowmen really fascinate me.

Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan

I’ve decided to continue reading the Wheel of Time and just picked up from where I left off in this one, which wasn’t THAT far in. I was still in the prologue, which is long as fuck (72 pages!!!). WHY is this prologue so damn long?! Anyway, I’m actually not as annoyed as I thought I would be when I return to this book.

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

Again — fantasy mood + wanting to listen to a book = reread Game of Thrones. It’s one of my favorite books so, of course, I’m enjoying the reread. It’s so weird, but this time, I notice little nuggets of similarities to the Wheel of Time books, like when Tyrion said he will “roll the dice” when he tried his luck in the Eyrie and called for trial by combat and hoped Bron would take the bait. That made me think of Mat from WOT! Was that a call out to WOT or am I reading too many fantasy books at once?

World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments by Aimee Nezhukumatathil, illus. by Fumi Nakamura

I started this for a book club (I’ve only read the first sentence), but I’m really not feeling it. The fantasy mood is too strong for this.


WHAT ARE YOU currently Reading?

20 thoughts on “Weekend Reads #120: Horror Movies vs. Books — Which Is Scarier?

  1. I can read scarier stuff than I can see, because I find it really hard to forget horrific images I’ve seen (I can still see in my mind’s eye a news image from Yugoslavia from the 1990s). But I’m not good at scary stuff in general so I tend to shy away from it. I can read more violent stuff from Iceland than anything else, because I grew up with the mythology and then read the sagas, so I’ll often tolerate worse from there for really no reason at all!

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  2. Mhm, I’m not a fan of horror so I don’t watch horror at all, and barely read it. I can get nightmares even from Stranger Things, lol! I did read Salem’s Lot but I wasn’t much scared by it – thought it simply a weak book. Though Odd Thomas was a bit scary, can’t deny it 😉

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    1. Lol, oh dear, nightmares from Stranger Things. Those are the types of horror shows I can handle — the creature stuff. Anything with hauntings or possession will really scare me.
      Aww, I like Salem’s Lot. I also didn’t find it scary, but the edition I read had a short story called Jerusalem’s Lot that did get to me.
      I intend to try those Odd Thomas books. They’ve been on my tbr for a while now.

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  3. This is an interesting question! Weirdly, I feel like a movie is scarier for me because the images are right in front of me. With a book I can turn off or compartmentalize better and I find it easier to convince myself that there’s nothing to be scared of because I didn’t see the story play out in front of me.

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    1. That’s an interesting take on it. The images and sounds in movies can make the horror bits very convincing. I think that’s cool you’re able compartmentalize when reading horror books. I wish I could do so too to make it less scary.

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  4. I absolutely believe books are just as capable of being scary and horrific as are movies, but I think each has its strengths. I think movies excel when the visual is part of the horror (gore, etc), things that shock us to look at it. Not that books can’t also do well with this but I think movies have the advantage. I think books have the advantage when it’s more of a psychological horror than a visual horror. That’s when our own imagination combined with the words of the author can really throw us for a loop, taking us down a deep and dark well and leaving us there alone, so deep no one can hear our screams. Granted, movies can also be very good at this, but I think books have the lead. Most of my horror reading was long ago when I was younger, and perhaps that’s part of why I feel as I do, as I was far more easily scared when younger than now (though it’s still possible now). I loved anything Stephen King or Clive Barker at the time, and there might have been others I don’t recall. But an even better example is a story you mentioned: The Exorcist. I believe the book is far scarier than the movie, though I thoroughly enjoyed and was freaked out by the movie. But the book took me to a far darker and scarier place and kept me there far longer, which is another advantage of books, their length. And I think all of this will vary from person to person based on whatever terrible things they can conjure up in their own minds from the words of another. Some will be far more scared at something than others. Some are more easily able to suspend their disbelief, and even completely embrace the story, whether book or movie. I think I need to start reading horror again, see if it still moves me as it once did. 🙂

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    1. I totally agree with you on the distinction between them: psychological horror works best in books and horror that relies on the visual works best in movies, and I think that’s because of how we interact with these media since (I think) reading is more of internal thing whereas watching a movie occurs outside us. That’s how I think of it.
      I haven’t tried any of Clive Barker’s work, but I’d like to. The Exorcist scared me so bad as a kid, I didn’t even want to look at book. I knew it’s be much scarier.

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  5. An interesting question for sure. Movies have the advantage of using visuals and sound to really amplify horror but books, written by the right people, can leave it all to your own personal experience (how relatable it is) and your imagination to really scare the f**k out of you hahah Great post! 😀

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