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The recent release of M. Night Shyamalan’s Old has introduced many American audiences to the story of various beachgoers mysteriously aging rapidly, which French writer Pierre Oscar Levy and Swiss illustrator Frederik Peeters originally dreamed up for their graphic novel Sandcastle in 2013. While the influence of comics on cinema is indisputable with the popularity of superhero movies, it is less often that the medium’s scarier titles get the same treatment, with Steve Niles and Stuart Beattie’s 30 Days of Night, the upcoming adaptation of sci-fi teen drama Black Hole, and the aforementioned latest of the M. Night Shyamalan movies, of course, being prime exceptions. The following are a few other unforgettably chilling horror graphic novels that many readers will agree also deserve to be made into horror movies, such as this recent acclaimed title from DC’s Vertigo Imprint.
Gail Simone is known for writing superhero stories featuring the likes of Batgirl and Deadpool, but arguably her most impressive accomplishment to date is a clever and alarming dip into the world of self-help. In Clean Room, a series she created with British illustrator Jon Davis-Hunt, reporter Chloe Pierce begins to unravel a horrifying truth behind the strange preachings of successful horror novelist turned self-help guru Astrid Mueller. The series, which ran in DC Vertigo from 2015 to 2017, is not the kind of horror that relies on aesthetic for a quick shock, but a disturbing, Hereditary’s Ari Aster-style slow burn that leaves you in a lasting state of dread and, perhaps, forced contemplation of the dark secrets are hiding in plain sight in the world.
The Black Monday Murders
Dark secrets hidden in plain sight are another major theme of this eight-issue supernatural noir drama from Image Comics, the same publisher behind Robert Kirkman’s series that inspired The Walking Dead on AMC. However, Jonathan Hickman and Tomm Coker’s The Black Monday Murders is based in historical fact - taking place around the aftermath of the devastating, eponymous stock market crash in 1987 - but reimagines it with a more deadly aftermath as the result of power-hungry financiers making a pact with the Devil. Marrying the events that inspired the Showtime comedy Black Monday with and old school detective movie aesthetic and sinister occultist themes would make an adaptation of this comic one intoxicating treat.
If you would prefer to dig even deeper into America’s history for a good scare, perhaps you should try this World War II-era haunted house story self-published digitally by writer Phillip Sevy and Drew Zucker, which was recently acquired by Dark Horse Comics (which Hellboy fans will recognize) to be released as a single volume. The story follows a group of soldiers forced to take refuge during a blizzard at an abandoned house, unaware that a nightmare worse than the violence they have endured on the battlefield awaits them. If 2018’s Overlord was not the exact combination of war and horror you were hoping for, I imagine a cinematic exercise in existential dread based on The House would exceed expectations.
Through The Woods
Something that we do not get enough of these days (if you ask me) are good anthology horror movies, and perhaps it is because filmmakers are not looking in the right places for inspiration. An entire film’s worth of chilling segments can be found in this critically acclaimed collection of twisted fables from the mind of award-winning writer and artist Emily Carroll. The five increasingly creepy and visually haunting stories in Through the Woods (which include a father-son monster hunt and a woman tormented by strange noises in her new husband’s mansion) will keep you up at night - not just out of fright, but out of a pressing desire to see these stories brought to life.
The Drifting Classroom
This manga from the early 1970s about an entire school transported forward through time and into a strange, dangerous environment after an earthquake has actually been brought to life on screen multiple times, including a Japanese 1987 film, an American TV movie from 1995, and a limited series for Japanese television. However, none have really been able to hold a candle to author and artist Kazuo Umezu’s influential vision that is part coming-of-age drama, part post-apocalyptic survivalist odyssey. Perhaps The Drifting Classroom is due for an English-language reboot that could help introduce it to a new generation, just like Old has for Sandcastle.
I would especially love to see an adaptation of Colder, which follows a former insane asylum patient whose body temperature is dropping at an alarming rate as he is pursued by a boogeyman, whether it was for the big screen or the small screen. However, as much as the chance to Paul Tobin’s demented, suspenseful supernatural mystery dramatized is titillating, the challenge of bringing Juan Ferreya’s terrifyingly surreal artwork to life is what really captivates my interest. If the best Tim Burton movies, the paintings of Salvador Dali, and the influence of psychedelics were combined and translated onto celluloid, an adaptation of this five-part miniseries from Dark Horse is what it might look like.
There are few writers who are more influential to the horror genre than H.P. Lovecraft, whose work has inspired the likes of the 1985 horror-comedy Re-Animator and the eponymous, Emmy-nominated HBO series Lovecraft Country most recently. There are also few writers who are more influential to the comic book medium than Alan Moore, whose work has inspired the likes of the 2005 action-packed satire V for Vendetta and the Emmy-winning HBO miniseries Watchmen most recently. If you ever wanted to know what might happen if you put these two profoundly creative heads together, check out Moore’s four-part meta expansion of Lovecraft’s repertoire (especially the Cthulu mythos) in Neonomicon, which should definitely be HBO’s next attempt at a fantasy horror if Lovecraft Country Season 2 really never happens.
Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth
Alan Moore is also noted for writing one of the most shocking Batman comics of all time with Batman: The Killing Joke, but if I were to name the scariest Batman comic, it would have to be Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth. Featuring vivid illustrations by Dave McKean, Grant Morrison’s 1989 one-shot (his first time writing for the Dark Knight, too) exploring the titular mental hospital’s torrid history is what the first of the Batman: Arkham video games series is loosely inspired by, and I say “loosely” because even that game never gets as dark. A proper retelling of this haunting, visually arresting psychological thriller only disguised as a superhero story could make for one of the most unforgettable Batman movies ever made.
One other great comic that has struggled for a long time to be adapted is the Dark Horse classic The Goon, a Depression-era horror-comedy about a brutish carny at odds with a variety of strange creatures. Last we heard, Deadpool director Tim Miller was developing a film for 20th Century Fox before it was dropped in the midst of the Disney merger. Perhaps Old could be the film that convinces another studio to pick it up and other studios to also look to the graphic novel medium to inspire their next horror hit.
Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in just about any article related to Batman.
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