Nerd Blerp

7 Novels that are Screaming to be Adapted for the Screen

by graves

 

It seems to me it’s every other day that a popular novel gets the big budget Hollywood treatment.  No less than six of the nine Best Picture nominees are based on a previous work, be it a play or a novel.  And that’s not even including The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.  This is further proof (if any was even needed) that Hollywood is completely and utterly devoid of new ideas.  Hell, Dragon Tattoo had already been adapted faithfully (and with much more skill) by Sweden.  And let’s not forget that Tinker Tailor was previously a British miniseries with Alec Guiness in the lead role.  So not only is Hollywood out of fresh ideas, but they are also so desperate for good stories that they find themselves green lighting movie versions of works that have already been fucking adapted.  Hey, I love a good adaptation as much as the next guys but there are still plenty of great novels out there that Hollywood hasn’t touched yet.  Here are seven of the finest:



 

 

7. The Alienist by Caleb Carr

What’s it About?

 

A historical thriller set in New York City at the turn of the century; The Alienist follows a controversial psychiatrist named Dr. Lazlo Kreizler as he and his rag tag team of investigators hunt for a brutal child killer.  His team includes two Jewish police detectives called the Isaccson brothers, a police secretary named Sara who dreams of becoming the first female officer on the force, a drunken reporter named Moore (who also serves as narrator), the doctor’s bodyguard and cab driver, Cyrus Montrose, and a wayward youth and amateur pickpocket named Steve Taggart whom the doc rescued from the streets years ago.  Their investigation is forced to operate in shadow because the victims are young males who worked primarily as prostitutes before their untimely demise and the public officials do not want to waste a lot of time and manpower on such a seedy investigation.  The other thing that hampers their search is the fact that their methods are seen as dangerous, unconventional, and silly.  This is because they decide to use new techniques (such as fingerprinting) that have not been proven successful yet.  Kreizler also creates the first criminal profile of a serial killer and his guesswork and assumptions make many powerful people uneasy no matter how accurate they turn out to be.  Kreizler and his team travel all throughout the state in search of their monster and stake out several of the seediest brothels and dive bars in the city, brining them into conflict with gangsters and pimps in addition to morally bankrupt public officials and crooked cops.  The only reason they’re able to operate at all is because the current police commissioner is a close friend of Kreizler and has faith in the man’s controversial techniques.  The commissioner’s name? Teddy Roosevelt.

 

Why Should it be Adapted?

 

It’s Sherlock Holmes in America, only with a lot more blood, carnage, and wicked humor.  Carr moves the novel along at a fast pace and never gets bogged down in historical details despite his rich understanding of the time period.  He was an author of historical non-fiction before writing this book and he is able to describe the city, it’s buildings, roadways, carriages, and inhabitants, with such quick but thorough detail that much of the novel feels like a blueprint for a series of storyboards.  The way he plays with history is also delightful and never over-bearing.  His discussion of the new investigative techniques and the idea of the first ever psychological profile of a criminal is equally informative and entertaining, particularly because the characters are never quite certain if these methods will actually work.  The addition of Teddy Roosevelt as a main character is a terrific one that feels inspired but never gimmicky.  All the characters are engaging, with the drunken reporter, Moore, and pickpocket, Stevie, being my two favorites.  Moore, while a good reporter, is a bit of a dimwit when it comes to investigating and serves as the readers’ surrogate for all of their burning questions.  But it’s Kreizler, with his odd German accent, quick but astute observations, and wonderful sense of humor, who is the real star here.  He’s a Sherlock who wishes to embrace the modern world and change the way we look at criminals, the mentally ill, and society in general.  Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock movies are great entertainment but aren’t exactly the most intelligent films in the world.  The Alienist would be an antidote for people who want historical thrillers to focus on mystery, atmosphere, investigation and intelligence rather than on glorious action and large set pieces.  Not that the novel does not contain terrific action and great set pieces (the climax occurs on a water tower) but they are merely the icing on a cake that is rich with psychological insights, eye-opening historic detail, and intelligent, warm characters.

 

Who Should do it?

I’d like to reunite Gary Oldman with his Tinker Tailor director, Thomas Alfredson.  Alfredson’s two previous credits (Tinker and Let the Right One In) are two of the best adaptations of recent years so Alfredson clearly knows what he’s doing when it comes to translating books to the screen.  And he showed with Tinker that he (like Carr) has a keen eye for historic detail.  Oldman, with his piercing eyes, wry humor and chameleon like acting skills, would make a terrific Kreizler.  In fact, much of the Tinker cast would be good here.  Mark Strong is too often typecast as villains so let’s give him a chance to play the good guy with the drunken narrator, Moore.  As for Roosevelt? Well, I think Paul Giamatti could easily look like the President and we know he’s got the chops to pull off just about anything.  And I’d like to see Tom Hardy in the small but pivotal role of the serial killer.  I’m sure Hardy is going to scare the shit out of us in The Dark Knight Rises and we know from Bronson that he has no problem with doing horrific things on the screen, so it’d be cool to see him take another monstrous, demented turn in this.  I should also mention that Carr wrote a sequel, The Angel of Darkness, which is as good if not better than The Alienist so this could easily become franchise material.

 

6. Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin

What’s it About?

A beautiful, poetic, mythic fantasy once again set in turn of the century New York, only this times it’s a New York that is markedly different from our own.  Winter’s Tale follows Peter Lake, an orphan and petty thief who falls for a wealthy socialite named Beverly Penn after breaking into her home.  Beverly is dying of consumption and Peter wishes to find a way to beat death.  He is hampered by a local gang called the Short Tails that wants to see him dead and protected by a powerful white horse called Athansor.  Athansor acts as Lake’s guardian angel and indeed may be just that as the animal has the ability to fly and travel through time.  After Beverly succumbs to her condition, Athansor breaks through a mythical cloud wall with Peter on his back transporting the two of them decades into the future.  Peter struggles to regain his memory in the future and is helped by a powerful bridge builder named Jackson Mead who may or may not be trying to build a bridge to Heaven.  As Peter’s memory resurfaces, he embraces his destiny as a modern messiah who can perform miracles and, yes, resurrect the dead.

 

Why Should it be Adapted?

 

Because it would be a fantasy movie unlike anything we have even seen on screen before.  Unlike most fantasies, it does not exist in a fictional land of dragons and wizards but in a world that manages to be at once familiar and completely alien to us.  I must confess that of all the novels on this list, this is the once I most wish to read again as I believe that one reading is simply not enough to fully comprehend its beautiful allegories, striking imagery, fantastical settings and complex characters.  The world that Helprin creates for us is simply too vast and gorgeous to be held forever in your mind by one reading and is crying to be brought to life on the big screen.  The novel is also hilarious so don’t think it’s all magical horses and Christ like characters.  Helprin is to smart for that.  This is the story of a new messiah, one who is petty, crazy, romantic and even a little foolish, all of which manages to make him all the more relatable and sympathetic. 

 

Who Should do it?

Is there any director who understands New York City better than Martin Scorsese? I have yet to see Hugo but am told that it is a sweeping, beautiful, historical fantasy so this would be the perfect follow up for Scorsese.  The religious allegories would no doubt appeal to the director of The Last Temptation of Christ and I’m sure he would relish turning his favorite city into a fantastical realm of beauty and grace.  Also, if there’s any book on this list that could be made in 3D, it’s this one.  Helprin’s imagery is so striking that it practically jumps off the page so it would be no great stretch to see it jump off the screen as well.  As for casting, give me Hugh Jackman as Peter Lake and Rachel Weisz as Beverly Penn.  They worked beautifully together in the overblown but entertaining The Fountain and are both actors who can be grounded while playing larger than life characters.

 

5. One Rainy Night by Richard Laymon

What’s it About?

 

A bloody, sadistic, riveting horror novel that follows several residents of the small town of Bixby as they struggle to survive a night from Hell.  Following the brutal murder of a black high school student by several of his peers, a black rain begins to fall on the previously peaceful town causing anyone who is touched by it to transform into bloodthirsty, misogynistic, homicidal maniacs.  Our heroes include a small town deputy who covers himself in plastic to stay sane, his girlfriend who is trapped in a house with three of the boys who murdered the other kid and were crazy maniacs before the rain even began to fall, and a local woman who gets affected by the rain but manages to control her murderous urges.  All three fight to stay alive and uncover the mystery as to why their town has suddenly become cursed. 

 

Why Should it be Adapted?

 

In recent years, horror movies have lost their teeth.  We’ve suffered through pussified PG-13 garbage, R rated but uninspired and unnecessary remakes, boring found footage flicks, and zombie movie after zombie movie.  So this would be good because it’s brutal and suspenseful as all hell and because it’s an original and inspired spin on the classic zombie story.  The rain is a terrific device as it causes the heroes to not only have to avoid gangs of murderous psychopaths but also the very idea of going outside to get away from the madness.  This would create a sense of claustrophobia and panic unrivaled in most modern horror flicks.  Author Richard Laymon wrote over forty horror novels before his untimely death in 2000, all of which read like screenplays.  Many of them are good, many of them are trashy garbage and some of them, like One Rainy Night, are demented masterpieces.  Hollywood is soon going to run out of Stephen King novels to adapt so it’s time to find a new go-to author for intense, balls to the wall horror and I believe that Laymon is more than worthy.

 

Who Should do it?

James Gunn proved with Slither that he is one of the few filmmakers working today who still understands what horror should be.  He also proved with his brilliant follow-up, Super, that he is not afraid of any kind of taboo.  Which is good because this movie should break about a hundred of them before the opening credits are over.  Gunn would be able to give the story an appropriately trashy vibe while elevating suspense and character work at the same time.  I’d like to see him cast Nathan Fillion again as the heroic deputy and Liv Tyler as the troubled girlfriend.  Tyler is a criminally underrated actress and while I did not care for The Strangers, she still made for a terrific and intelligent heroine.  The movie contains lots of deranged villains but I’d like to see Kyle Gallner (from Red State) as the ringleader of the gang of boys who killed the black kid.  Gallner has a quiet intensity and a fierce energy that would make him menacing at the start of the film and terrifying as his villain becomes more and more demented as the rain continues to fall.  And if they do make this movie, I want to see a lot more Laymon adaptations.  Up next should be The Traveling Vampire Show.  Look it up on Wikipedia.  Like One Rainy Night, it’s subversive, perverse, terrifying, hilarious and original.

 

4. Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King

What’s it About?

 

A classical fantasy novel set in the realm of Delain, Eyes of the Dragon follows the sons of the slain King Roland, Peter and Thomas, and the evil wizard, Flagg, as he schemes to control the kingdom and bring it to ruin.  Peter, smart and intelligent, is destined to be ruler while Thomas, meek and naive, is a jealous but faithful sibling.  Flagg knows he cannot control Peter so he frames him for the murder of his father and condemns him to eternity locked away in a tower called the Needle.  After Flagg puts the easily controllable Thomas on the throne and starts to bring about an age of death and destruction, Peter begins to plot his escape.  Meanwhile his butler, Dennis and best friend, Ben Staad, believe Peter innocent and begin to search for a way to free their friend.  They are aided by the young girl Naomi and her dog Frisky who are part of a growing group of rebels.   Will Flagg rule in an age of darkness forever? Or will Peter be able to escape with the help of his friends and restore the kingdom to glory?   Well, what do you think?

 

Why Should it be Adapted?

 

I know I just said that Hollywood is going to soon run out of Stephen King books to adapt but that does not mean there are not still several that deserve a shot on the big screen.  The Shining, Salem’s Lot, and Carrie have already been adapted twice and a second adaptation of The Stand is coming down the pike even as I write this.  Come on! The man has lots of great novels and a few that have not yet received the big screen treatment.  Give one of those a shot before recycling something that was already done! Fucking Hollywood assholes!! But I digress.  One of the many things that Huey and I agree on is that Eyes of the Dragon is one of King’s best novels and definitely the one most unlike everything else he has written.  It’s a smart, clever, children’s fantasy novel not unlike Harry Potter, except that it’s a lot better.  The young characters, Peter, Dennis, Ben, Naomi, and even Thomas, are smart and resourceful but they are very much kids, which is a good thing.  Too many novels and movies (I’m looking at you Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I didn’t and won’t see the movie but I tried reading the book only to throw it across the room in rage) feature child characters who are way too intelligent and resourceful for their age.  It’s as if the authors have forgotten completely what it was like to be a kid and compensate by giving their kid characters quirky attributes and phrases that still don’t mask the fact that the kid is clearly an eleven year old with the adult mind of the author.  That is never the case with King.  He writes children with such pitch-perfect accuracy it can sometimes be painful to read because you will find yourself transported back to your own childhood and the result can be revelatory, depressing and uplifting all at the same time.  Such is the case with Eyes of the Dragon.  Now that Harry Potter is done (finally), its time for a sharper, more fully realized children’s fantasy film to hit the screen.  Oh, and Flagg would wipe the fucking floor with that nose-less pussy Voldemort.

 

Who Should do it?

Obviously, everyone is going to say Peter Jackson and who am I to argue despite my misgivings?  See, I did not like the Lord of the Rings films.  I found them to be overblown, overlong, and far too self-important.  His earlier work featured a much more heedless zeal and manic energy.  However, if the trailer for The Hobbit is any indication, it looks like Jackson may have found that manic energy again.  Also, The Hobbit, like Eyes of the Dragon, is a children’s novel and Jackson has said in several interviews that he took a more playful approach to adapting the story.  If that playful approach works for The Hobbit (and I really hope it will) then he’d be the perfect man for Eyes of the Dragon.  As for casting, well that’s a tough one.  I hear that Hugo kid is pretty good but I really don’t know so I can’t say.  However, Chloe Moretz has to play Naomi. Simply has to. 

 

3. Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy

What’s it About?

 

An unrelenting chronicle of violence in the Old West as only Cormac McCarthy can tell it, Blood Meridian follows the awful escapades of a real life group of scalp hunters known as the Glanton Gang.  Their story is told through the eyes of the passively violent protagonist known only as The Kid.  The Kid joins the gang because his own horrid upbringing has made him a person for whom bloodshed is the only possible trade he could ever hope to make a living with.  In the gang, he encounters and gets into conflict with The Judge, a seven-foot tall hairless monster who is more demon than man.  The gang finds the Judge sitting on a rock in the middle of the desert as if he had been waiting for them forever.  The Judge is a creature capable or shocking sadism and depravity but also of terrifying insight into the human psyche.  The battle of wills between the Judge and the Kid goes on for a decade before reaching it’s horrifying but inevitable conclusion.

 

Why Should it be Adapted?

 

Simple: to de-romanticize the Western and bring the grittiness and brutality of Deadwood to the big screen.  Also, McCarthy is no stranger to Hollywood as No Country for Old Men and The Road were dark masterpieces.  Blood Meridian is darker and more disturbing than both but that does not mean we should be afraid to see it on the screen.  The Judge is perhaps the greatest, most fascinating villain since Shakespeare’s Iago and he deserves to shout his philosophy to the heavens for all the world to hear.  I love Westerns and last year’s True Grit was a lot of fun but it was a classical Western through and through.  Blood Meridian would be something different.  It would change the way we look at Westerns and the glorification of violence for decades to come.

 

Who Should do it?

The movie version has actually been stuck in development hell for years with the last person attached to direct being Todd Field, who previously gave us Little Children and In the Bedroom.  No doubt Field and his producers are struggling to figure out how to adapt this level of violence to the screen.  It’s one thing to read a description of the Judge raping and murdering children and entirely something else to actually see it happen.  My advice? Don’t pussy out on anything.  I’m not saying I need to see the Judge rape a child but the movie needs to at least let us know that is what the man is doing.  Peter Jackson made a critical error when he chose to not suggest that Stanley Tucci raped the protagonist in The Lovely Bones.  He did not need to show it but he at least needed to suggest it in order to give the movie it’s full, emotional weight.  That’s what should be done with Blood Meridian.  The story would have no power otherwise.  I think John Goodman would be perfect casting for the Judge, that is if he’s not opposed to playing a hairless demon from Hell.  And Michael Pitt (especially now that he’s off Boardwalk Empire) would be an excellent choice to play the Kid.  Off all the novels on this list, this is probably the one that has the most chance of seeing the light of day but it is also, without a doubt, the hardest one to adapt.  Many people simply won’t be able to handle it.

 

2.House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

What’s it About?

 

Oh boy. At the start of the novel, we are introduced to Johnny Truant (how witty), a drug addled employee at a tattoo parlor.  He rents an apartment previously owned by a now deceased blind man named Zampano.  In the apartment, Johnny finds a manuscript written by Zampano that chronicles a documentary called The Navidson Record.  The documentary tells the story of the Navidson family and their new home in Virginia.  Not long after moving in, they discover that their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside and contains a series of seemingly endless labyrinthine passages.  Will, the owner,  and his brother Tom film their exploration of the passages with some professional explorers and they all succumb to madness and are driven to murder each other.  The novel shifts back and forth between Johnny’s endless drug fueled ramblings, Zampano’s tedious rambling in the manuscript and the actual description of what happened in the documentary.  The novel contains many pages with just one word (supposedly to simulate events that are happening at a rapid pace) and many pages that are so cluttered with footnotes and scribble scrabble that they are all but impossible to actually read.  But maybe that’s the point.  Or maybe it isn’t.  I don’t fucking know.

 

Why Should it be Adapted?

 

In case my snarky synopsis didn’t make it clear to you already, I should inform you that I actually think this novel is kind of a piece of shit.  It’s long, pretentious, boring and weird for the sake of being weird.  People have called it a satire on literature in general but that does not excuse Danielewski from writing a book that is simply not entertaining to read.  It’s like a chore with no reward.  That being said, I do think it could make an excellent movie.  I like the concept quite a bit and bad novels have often made good movies in the past.  I thought the Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons worked far better as silly adventure films than as serious literature.  The central concept of House of Leaves (the house) is so good that I think it would make for an extremely compelling, frightening tale on the big screen.  However, a lot has to go.  First of all, Johnny Truant should be cut considerably (he’s an insufferable louse and the novel grinds to a halt whenever it jumps back to him) and be used as little more than a framing device.  Ditto Zampano.  The focus should be on that mysterious house and it’s endless passages in order to play off the fear of what may or may not be lurking at the bottom of the labyrinth.

 

Who Should do it?

Last year, Quentin Dupieux exploded onto the scene with the brilliant, hilarious, and infuriating Rubber, the movie about a killer tire.  He immediately established that his movies will forever exist in a universe of No Reason (see the trailer for his latest film, Wrong, for the proof of that) making him the ideal candidate to adapt a novel of No Reason.  With Dupieux at the helm, I’d be down for whatever he wants to do.  He could change the book entirely and I wouldn’t give a rat’s ass just as long as he sticks to the central concept of that house.  If he wants the walls and stairs to start talking, I’m fine with that.  William Fictner is starring in his latest film and Jack Plotnick starred in both so let’s cast them as the homeowner and his brother respectively.  They both look like they know how to handle themselves in a universe where the very idea of logic, common sense and rationality is not only viewed as pointless but as stupid as well.

 

 

The Passage by Justin Cronin

What’s it About?

 

In the year 2018, a young girl named Amy is sought after by a shadowy government agency searching for a way to achieve immortality.  A few years ago, some scientists discovered a virus in the Amazon that seemingly cures all diseases and gives the recipients super strength.  What they failed to notice was that it also turns the recipients into incredibly strong monsters who crave human blood, dislike sunlight, and are only vulnerable near their heart.  In other words, yeah, it turns people into vampires.  The government has secured twelve death row inmates for experimentation and is struggling to develop a strain of the virus that will contain all the benefits and none of the adverse side effects.  They send an FBI agent named Brad Wolgast to bring Amy to them but he is taken with the girl and assists in her escape from the facility even as the virals escape and begin to take over the world, killing half the population and infecting the other half.  Amy and Brad retreat into the mountains where they believe that they are safe and it is here that the novel jumps nearly a full century into the future.  The world is overrun with virals but a small colony in California has managed to survive.  They’re protected by high walls and powerful lights but, after a century, the batteries are starting to run out and they know they will soon be overtaken by virals.  It’s then that Amy, miraculously still alive and only a few years older, arrives and leads a chosen few to Colorado where they hope to find the facility where the virus originated and start a new world on their own.

 

Why Should it be Adapted?

 

Because it’s fucking epic.  Author Justin Cronin borrows ideas from The Stand, A Song of Ice and Fire and The Road and yet manages to make them entirely his own.  The Passage is the most exciting book I’ve read in years and the fact that it is simultaneously a horror novel, sci-fi thriller, fantasy story and spiritual journey only makes it all the more exciting.  There’s something here to please just about everyone.  Fans of Stephen King will love the virals, particularly their leader, an evil man called Babcock.  Fans of George R.R. Martin will love the colony in California where residents patrol their walls scanning for virals and one particularly resourceful Watcher, a woman called Alicia Blades, uses a deadly array of knives to kill viral after viral.  Post-apocalyptic stories are a dime a dozen these days but this one feels completely new because of it’s well-developed characters, clever spins on classical lore, careful eye for detail, and terrific, riveting action (two words: train escape).  Cronin plans this to be the first part of the trilogy so Hollywood needs to get in on this as soon as possible.

 

Who Should do it?

I know it’s a lot to ask and lord knows these guys have enough on their plate already, but David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have done such a terrific job adapting Game of Thrones that I simply cannot think of anyone else for the job.  The novel, with its huge cast of characters and jumps in time, would be ideal for an HBO mini-series so maybe when they’ve got some time off from Thrones, they could work on this.  They clearly know how to handle a large cast and a variety of different locations.  And hey, why not just bring the entire cast of Thrones over to this?! Sean Bean would make a great Brad Wolgast, the girl who plays Arya would be a great Amy, and the kid who plays John Snow would be terrific as Peter, the most important leader of the Watch, and the role wouldn’t be a stretch for him at all!  Come on guys, get cracking on this, you know you want to.

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