10 Best Horror Movies About Writers
Stephen King once said, “We make up horrors to cope with the real ones,” and horror movies about writers like The Shining or Goosebumps offer a fascinating psychological exploration of themes at the crossroads of literary and visceral. With an author at the center of their thrills and chills, these horror movies find a delightful sweet spot between a writer’s wish to discover the creatures that live in the darkness and actually encountering them.
As the terror mounts and the narrative takes a truly winding path, reality begins to shift and morph, until the central character doesn’t know what exists on the page and what has found a way into the world of the corporeal.
The Shining (1980)
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Based on King’s infamous novel of the same name, Stanley Kubrick’s interpretation of The Shining might not be the purest adaptation, but its mind-bending production offers a terrifying look at what happens during a crippling case of writer’s block. It focuses on Jack Torrance, an author who accepts a job as the caretaker of a hotel during its off season because it will offer him a sanctuary from which to write with very little distractions – or so he thinks.
Jack finds himself writing very little as the hotel begins to encroach upon his sanity, slowly turning him against his wife and son until finishing his manuscript is the least of his concerns. He constantly places his needs above those of his family, and in the end, his selfishness threatens to doom them all. Come for the hypnotic imagery and tour de force performances, stay for the unexpected bits of dark humor and surrealism.
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Based on real horror author Shirley Jackson, Shirley introduces audiences to the author when she’s in a bad place – uninspired, sophomoric, and craving something to ignite her muse so that she doesn’t go through another heavy depression. When a young couple stay with her and her husband, Shirley suddenly finds the motivation she needs to complete her novella, no matter how sordid.
A psychological thriller as much as a horror film, it plays with themes about gate keeping in genre fiction and literature by punching them up with wit as cutting as Shirley’s meat cleaver. When faced with finding the meat of her new plot, Shirley takes the old adage “Write what you know,” surprisingly literally.
Secret Window (2004)
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Writers might go looking for windows inside the mind hoping to unlock hidden depths, but if Secret Window is any indication, some windows should remain shut. It begins with a young writer headed to a remote lakeside retreat in the hopes of getting the perfect ending for his novel. What he gets is the beginning of a relationship with a terrifying stalker.
With plenty of red herrings and plot twists, the narrative of the movie begins to resemble the narrative on the page, and soon what’s fiction and what’s reality is no longer discernable. It will keep fans guessing right up until the last chilling moments.
In The Mouth Of Madness (1994)
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Acclaimed horror novelist Sutter Kane (seemingly based on writers like Stephen King and Dean Koontz) goes missing, and an insurance investigator must track down his unreleased manuscripts and deliver it to his publisher. This requires spending time in the small New Hampshire town where he was last seen, where not all is what it seems, and the veil between the corporeal and supernatural is suspiciously thin.
As he reads more of Kane’s books, he begins to be immersed in an eerie world of hallucinations so vivid that they might as well be real, and he finds himself truly In The Mouth of Madness. With nods to horror author H.P. Lovecraft and directed by horror legend John Carpenter, this fright fest is full of top-notch visual effects and even manages to get in a few jokes about horror writing and its “rabid” fanbase.
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Misery is the story of what happens when a writer’s Number One Fan gets him all to herself in the dead of winter, with a nearly fatal road side accident the proginer of circumstances that put her in the right place at the right time to help him recover. Until of course he tries to leave and finds himself under lockdown.
Even though it’s set during the holiday season, and takes place during bright days with fresh snow on the ground and sun twinkling in through the windows, Misery manages to be as tense a horror movie as anything that takes place in the pitch black of midnight, and is one of King’s most solid adaptations.
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Writers often go to great lengths to get material for their next bestseller, and after a drought of ten years, one author decides to move into the scene of a horrible crime to get inspiration. In Sinister. his gruesome research ends up forcing his family to live among something vengeful in the house, and he realizes at the eleventh hour that the price exacted for greatness might include other lives than just his.
Those uncomfortable with the subject of snuff films might find this entry a little too gruesome, but it inspired a long-standing collaboration with actor Ethan Hawke and writer/director Eli Roth that continues to this day. Some consider it a movie too scary to watch twice.
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When an author who makes his living telling avid readers the most haunted places in America to stay, it takes a lot to get under his skin. After years traveling to the country’s spookiest inns and hotels, nothing sets off his ghost hunting equipment, and he fears his career is headed for an early grave. Luckily, a chance stay at room 1408 changes everything, but anyone who checks in has a habit of never checking out.
Some consider it to be one of the best adaptations of a Stephen King short story, particularly the way it gets into the mind of its protagonist as he begins to lose his grip on reality. Considering it’s almost completely a two-hander between John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson, with Cusack carrying the movie for entire scenes alone in the room, it manages to never have a dull moment.
The Dark Half (1993)
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The Dark Half presents yet another King analogue trying to write books his fans will love, first as Thad Beaumont, then as George Stark when he wants to write thrillers. When people start dying in ways similar to his Stark novels, he learns his alter ego might not just be real, but a homicidal maniac.
Directed by George A. Romero, famous for Night of the Living Dead, this underrated early ’90s horror film provided the inspiration for recent movies like Malignant, and features enough twists and turns to keep fans guessing until the end.
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Goosebumps is an adaptation of popular children’s horror books and incorporates various characters from myriad stories in the series. It features Jack Black playing R. L. Stine, the real author of the Goosebumps books, trying to stop his monsters from terrorizing his town after they’re unleashed by a group of unwitting kids.
While much more of a horror comedy, there’s a lot to recommend the movie not only for fans of its source material, but anyone looking for a light-hearted movie that isn’t focused on gore or themes that will make it necessary to sleep with a light on.
Bag of Bones (2011)
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This two-part television movie stars Pierce Brosnan as a novelist and widower who moves into his lakeside cabin to forget about the death of his wife. While he’s there, he becomes intrigued by a custody battle involving a widow, her daughter, and the child’s powerful grandfather. The locals are reluctant to let an outsider know too much about the situation, especially as it exposes secrets that taint the town’s past.
The movie’s longer running time allows for a more thorough unfolding of this mystery, and it remains gripping and thought-provoking until the final revelations are unearthed like so many bodies buried skillfully near the lake shore.
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