10 best horror movies based on short stories

Although adaptations of novels have featured prominently in filmmaking since the media’s inception in the last decade of the 19th century, adaptations of short stories are still quite rare. While big hits like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Everything must go to prove that it is doable, more often than not films based on news are either quickly forgotten or fail to be finalized.

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That said, some of the best horror movies are adaptations of short stories. From flagship works of HP Lovecraft to the well-known writings of Stephen King, these quick snippets of fiction have made exemplary conversions to the big screen.


1408 (2007)

Based on a Stephen King short story of the same name, 1408 is a 2007 John Cusack vehicle involving a little writer trapped in a supernatural hotel room. Disturbing, dark, and full of twists and turns, it’s perhaps most memorable for including three separate and distinct endings.

Playing on fears of paranoia and claustrophobia, Cusack gives an intense performance and, despite the narrow reach, is masterfully paced. It greatly expands on the very short work it was based on, and it’s one of the most remarkable horrors to be adapted from the pen of Stephen King.

The Fly (1986)

Although he is generally known for Cronenberg’s magnum opus of 1986, Fly in fact first appeared as a short story in a 1957 pulp fiction magazine. Written by French writer George Langelaan, it tells the story of a revolutionary scientist who turns into a fly after an experiment has gone horribly wrong.

These events are portrayed fairly faithfully in the 1986 film, but the film adaptations lean much more towards horror. Cronenberg is often considered a body horror author, and Fly is perhaps the most important film of this sub-genre.

Dolan’s Cadillac (2009)

Dolan's Cadillac is one of Stephen King's most forgetful adaptations of this century.  Screenrant by Evan J. Pretzer.

When his wife Elizabeth is killed by human trafficker Jimmy Dolan, Tom Robinson sets in motion a plot to claim horrific revenge. Digging a massive hole in some roadway and covering it, he waits for Dolan to drive his Cadillac into the trap and bury it alive.

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Originally a short story from horror master Stephen King, the 2009 adaptation starring Christian Slater adds a new angle of intense psychological horror and makes Dolan’s drastic and prolonged death as dark and agonizing as it gets.

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (2019)

The Pale Lady of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

An adaptation of the 1981 work by author Alvin Schwartz and illustrator Stephen Gammell, 2019’s Scary stories to tell In the dark adapts several short stories, combining them all into one frenzied and surprisingly gruesome PG-13 offering.

Original children’s stories are best known for their surprisingly disturbing artwork, and many of the movie’s monsters are well-known enough to look like they’ve crawled straight from the page. The movie itself is pretty much everywhere, but it’s a great place to start for burgeoning horror movie lovers.

Duel (1971)

A photo of the tractor trailer from the 1971 Steven Spielberg movie Duel.

Even though he was going to direct some of the most defining films of the twentieth century, Steven Spielberg’s first film was the relatively modest film. Duel, a 1971 television movie about a maniacal truck driver determined to chase after a motorist.

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Duel was actually an adaptation of a short story Spielberg wrote himself, and years later remains a masterclass in unbroken tension. Much of the terror comes from the faceless and patternless villain, and the empty trailer horror of the story would prove to be a first draft for the doll-eyed shark of Spielberg’s 1975 release. . Jaws.

1922 (2017)

A dirty man standing in front of a cornfield

A man enjoys living on a farm owned by his wife’s family, but when his wife asks to move out, he leads his son into a murder plot that ultimately leads to chaos.

Yet another adaptation of a short story by Stephen King, 1922 is a slow burn that seeks to evoke a feeling of creeping terror rather than outright horror. A laborious story that slowly goes from bad to worse, it’s the kind of nightmare that will put clouds over the heads of audience members for days to come.

Re-host (1985)

Herbert West deserves to be back on the big screen

HP Lovecraft’s original tale, titled “Herbert West-Reanimator,” was a rather morbid tale of the horrors manifested by a scientist too eager to play God. The 1985 adaptation, however, was a ridiculous and overblown reinterpretation of events that were more like Sam Raimi’s. Diabolical death than anything from the pages of the father of cosmic horror.

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That’s not to say it’s not worth watching, however; all stupid, Re-Animator is a savage and gruesome production that is a must have for any gory dog. It lacks the subtle dread of the original story, but it makes up for it with its buckets of blood and almost slapstick humor.

Candyman (1992)

Bees flowing out of Candyman's mouth in the 1992 horror film of the same name.

Based on “The Forbidden”, a story in the fifth volume of famous horror writer Clive Barker Pounds of blood anthology, Candy is a dark and austere tale that will shock and provoke for more than one reason.

The 1992 adaptation fleshes out the titular antagonist and constructs him as some sort of demonic presence a la Freddy Kruger. Her iconic brown cape and booming voice are instantly memorable and, despite her somewhat niche origins, Candy went on to become one of the most important horror films of the 90s.

The Thing (1982)

John W. Campell Jr.’s 1938 dough fictional novel “Who Goes There” has been adapted several times over the years, but the most impactful version of the story was the film directed by John Carpenter. The thing from 1982. When an alien capable of perfectly reproducing organic matter breaks loose in an Antarctic outpost, a group of researchers must work to stay human and stave off the threat from another world.

By today’s standards, the original text is incredibly tame. The 1982 film, however, remains one of the bloodiest things ever to be seen in cinema. It’s body horror work for the ages, and arguably one of the best examples of cosmic horror unattached to Lovecraft.

Children of the Corn (1984)

the chief of the Children of the Corn, a little boy wearing a big black hat, looking at the camera meanly

The children of the corn was never one of Stephen King’s most popular tales, but the 1984 film generated incredible buzz and a lingering fan base that grew. When a cult led by children slaughters an entire city, it’s up to hapless Burt Stanton to get to the bottom of it.

In the same vein as that of Tobe Hooper The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The children of the corn manages to make wide open, well-lit plains and quiet rural towns spooky. It hasn’t aged particularly well in the last thirty years or so, but there is still a palpable fear present in this 1984 production.

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