What’s Scarier? Books vs. Films


I started reading It last week- the movie version helped restart my interest in the horror genre. Unsurprisingly like most of the King books I’ve read from that era I can’t put it down.

And reading it while awaiting the final chapter and thinking on some of the other scary movies I’ve watched or am interested in made me wonder about the age old question: What’s scarier in the horror genre: books or films?

Growing up my parents and family always went with the age old chestnut there’s nothing scarier than your imagination. Which I do find mine to be pretty wicked. Yet on the other hand my brain does an okay job of blocking out the things it can’t handle pretty well.

You would think I’d fall on the side of books being scarier.


Yet I do consider myself to be highly suspectible to visual images- although there’s limits. Like an alien ripping through someone might get an ew, yuck out of me but I can also shrug that off more easily than something (slightly) more low-key.

The quick beginning image of the twisted pretzel of a body in It Follows still makes me shudder. Even knowing what was coming with Georgie I had to turn away at him trying to crawl away after his arm was torn off. There’s a scene in Black Swan where her legs suddenly break and I have to turn away every single time. Nothing in the recent Alien films bothered me (or annoyed me honestly) so much as Elizabeth’s fate and what happened to her body.

So in that regard I’d give it to films. I can’t block a visual image as easily. But then again that’s probably a personal response and everyone has a threshold.

Film is scary because it puts you on the scene and makes you a witness but books- at least the ones that really get to me put you into the minds of the victims. Be it a woman being stalked by a deranged lunatic, a child’s last minutes as a terrifying clown kills him, etc.

Georgie meets his fate

You’re actually in their heads. Which is one of the reasons I always agreed with the Red Wedding chapter in A Storm of Swords being horror as well as the epilogue and Brienne’s chapter when she’s brought before you know who…

Of course there’s also a pull to a good horror book where you can’t put it down until you finish. Or at least I can’t stop reading until I know how and why the monster was defeated or the bad guy went to jail. At least movies are quicker or you can fast forward (I can never read ahead in a book) but you have to know how it ends because you have to know how to beat them!

A Storm of Swords

So for that reason I come down on the line of books, at least the good ones, being scarier than films for me.

Although I think the case by case test comes into play after you’ve read the book or watched the film and are lying in bed in the dark and your imagination really starts to take over and you won’t get out of bed to make confirm that the crash you heard was really just the cats playing around and not some terrifying clown waiting for you.

Because obviously the bad guys aren’t going to get you if you just hide under the covers 🙂



13 thoughts on “What’s Scarier? Books vs. Films

  1. That’s a good point – when you say movies make you a witness rather than books have you in the head of the victim, i didn’t thought of that.

    Although I haven’t found any horror book *yet* to scare the sh*t out of me .. i’d go with books too. Because with movies, you see it and there’s that. No imaginating what the monster might do or look like. Though with books, you can go on and imagine basically all you want! (Or rather, what you dont want) and I feel it’d be easier to have your mind reeling and imagine the worst happening while trying to sleep

    1. Agreed about seeing the monster I feel like its always such a let down to especially when they hold the big reveal until the end of the film. It never really lives up to your expectations!

  2. Great post, and I agree, books are scarier than films for me as well. Because honestly the mind can conjure up images that are more scary than anything ever put to film😊

  3. I’d actually say video games have got an edge over both books and films when it comes to horror because it makes you an active participant in the proceedings. That said, I do think horror benefits from a “show don’t tell” approach to storytelling, hence why I think films have a leg up over books in that regard. Then again, horror is a pretty difficult genre in general given how subjective it is; guess it always boils down to the quality of the writer, huh?

  4. Haha fun post! I’m gonna say film is scarier because there are certain images that stick with me, more so maybe than books. The Red Wedding of course was bad enough on page, but seeing it, for me is worse. Same with Martin’s stuff in general. I often thought they went a little overboard on the show, and people say well the books are graphic!. and I’m like yup they are, but SEEING it for me is worse. Another reason why I don’t watch a lot of horror, and why I like more left to the imagination than it being all thrown out there, you know? Might just be me though.

    1. I definitely think that’s why what I do like tends to be more psychological/story based in some ways. You couldn’t pay me to watch Saw or a lot of those slasher pics!

  5. For me it’s books. There is nothing more fucked up than what imagination can create as you are reading. And how idiotic are D&d seriously if there is one chapter from ENTIRE series that screams for an adaptation it’s that epilogue. The only director who can scare me with visuals as well as my own mind does is David Lynch

  6. I agree. I think books are scarier because you create the image in your mind and I think it’s harder to get rid of that. Though in general, I don’t like horror movies or books.

  7. Have to agree that books are scarier, I’ve never read a horror book and the only one I think I will read is IT, but I’m probably underestimating how horrifying it is because I mean it’s clowns, right? Plus, like you said, films it can go through it quickly whereas with reading it, it’ll probably feel like torture.

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