Fun fact: Christopher Nolan’s Inception was originally written as a horror film. After the success of Insomnia, Nolan sent an 80-page treatment for Inception to Warner Brothers, who weren’t quite ready to go all in on Nolan’s vision. The project was put on hold, and in the meantime, Nolan would direct Batman Begins, The Prestige – another original concept that was reasonably successful – and the massive The Dark Knight. Between The Prestige and The Dark Knight, Warner Brothers gained full confidence that Nolan would deliver, but by this time, Inception’s script had undergone significant changes.
Whatever you think of Inception, you have to admit that the premise of travelling into others’ dreams, whether to steal secrets or for other purposes, would potentially make for a promising horror film. A lot could have been done to exploit the fears of characters whose dreams are invaded. With that in mind, here are some other non-horror films whose premises have some truly terrifying potential. SPOILERS TO FOLLOW.
17 Weekend at Bernie's (1989)
For a comedy as wacky and goofy as Weekend at Bernie’s, it is deceptively dark in concept. Imagine finding your own boss sitting dead on his own couch, and then suddenly a mass of people appears expecting another crazy weekend shindig. In spite of these unfortunate circumstances, your first reaction might be – and should be – to call the police. Thankfully though, none of you are Larry (Andrew McCarthy) and Richard (Jonathan Silverman), so you don’t have to worry.
The charade these two keep up is unbelievable, yet understandable considering how insanely naïve every character in the film is. An extensive web of lies can only be maintained for so long, and at some point, it can only crash down violently – especially when the mob comes calling after the startling "realization" that Bernie hasn’t died. Additionally, emphasizing the darkness of the film’s premise would make certain plot points especially upsetting, including the off-screen necrophilia scene.
16 The Matrix (1999)
Many dystopian sci-fi movie premises are tailor-made for horror, and the iconic The Matrix is an exceptional case. Though in the case of The Matrix, it is only the premise that makes it qualify, and almost everything else should be changed. Most importantly, either the Wachowskis would need to be replaced with a seasoned genre veteran, or the Wachowskis would have to completely change their vision for the film.
The Wachowskis have made a name of themselves for their action films and the set pieces within, and the dated sequences from The Matrix served as their introduction to notoriety. They are, however, primarily known for their innovative, high-flying action, scenes which certainly do not indicate traces of anything horror-appropriate. After that particular aspect is updated, you are left with a premise that, on its own, is a terrifying thought. Additionally, like Truman in The Truman Show, one could focus on the psychological aspects of Neo’s introduction and struggle to deal with the erosion of what he thought was reality.
15 Mean Creek (2004)
Mean Creek is anything but a happy movie. Pranking gone wrong has been a common theme amongst many horror movies, particularly slasher films of the early 1980s, and even I Know What You Did Last Summer depicted what happens when those who commit an awful crime pay for it later on. Those routes, however, would be a little too generic for Mean Creek to go down if it were made into a horror feature.
First of all, we’d have to skip straight to the kids taking George (Josh Peck) on their little excursion of payback. While that may cut out the important character development for some, certain aspects could be revealed through dialogue. As soon as the first act ends with George being killed, what’s left of the film could be used to examine the deteriorating trust between those involved until one or a couple of them snap and start killing the rest. Mean Creek is already a rough, often uncomfortable movie to watch, and these transformations might exacerbate that quality to a delirious degree.
14 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is one of those animated films you grow up with, in spite of its being petrifyingly scary for almost any small child. There’s not much else one could expect from an adaptation of a Grimm brothers fairy tale. Disney may be working on a live-action spin-off feature about Snow White’s sister Red Rose and her quest to save Snow White from her death-like slumber, but it will no doubt be more geared towards all-ages entertainment.
The original Snow White had more than a few moments that scare the dickens out of any child, and could do well to have those scenes intensified in a live-action remake. First, Snow White’s encounter with the Huntsman could be built with a creepy atmosphere, and it would all lead to an effective scare when she sees all of the eyes in the forest staring at her. Additionally, imagine what could be accomplished with practical effects during the Evil Queen’s transformation sequence.
13 Moon (2009)
This inclusion may be controversial given the film already delves into the psychological fallout concerning the revelations of its central protagonist. The film, however, is only a psychological drama, at best, and doesn’t quite fall under the strictest definitions of horror. But thankfully, the film is close enough to the genre that not many alterations would need to be made to the existing script.
In fact, the only change necessary would be to how it treats the idea of clones. The film touches lightly on hallucinations, and considering its psychological roots, it could have further utilized them to an effective degree. As the lifespan of the current Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) comes to its end, his deteriorating physical state could cause hallucinations that become more severe as he nears his eventual demise. During that time, the younger Sam Bell could be obedient to the wills of Lunar Enterprises and do anything possible to keep him from abandoning his post.
12 The Prestige (2006)
Not only could Nolan’s Inception have been a decent horror film, so too could have his previous original feature, The Prestige. In this adaptation of the 1995 novel of the same name, two competing magicians, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) keep attempting to one-up each other in performing the greatest illusion, though unfortunately their games result in serious consequences for the both of them.
In this case, the best approach for turning this film into horror might be by taking away the aspect of one-upsmanship, but still holding onto the idea of Bale’s Borden trying to sabotage Angier’s act and his life, ultimately kill him in doing so. Of course, many other characters in the film would have to die for that sake. Fortunately, what gave the film its impact was the twist ending involving Borden’s twin. Even with a new premise more geared towards horror, its impact wouldn’t be stunted, and even possibly be amplified thanks to the genre’s typical thrills and chills.
11 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Listen, we all know how Stanley Kubrick’s influential 2001: A Space Odyssey could be easily turned into a horror film. Though HAL’s (voice of Douglas Rain) role as the film’s antagonist is relatively understated compared to other science fiction films, his – or its? – enigmatic qualities lend a magnetism that draws in the viewer in spite of some disquietingly psychotic behavior.
Though turning 2001 into a horror film might severely cut down on its thought-provoking themes of human evolution and existentialism, sacrificing those internal discussions for a chilling take on sci-fi might be well worth it. To be fair, the part of the narrative when HAL demonstrates evil tendencies is horrific in and of itself, but the fight to deactivate him could prove compelling. He/It already has one of the most quotable lines in cinema history, and his coming clean to Dave (Keir Dullea) is just as chilling as Frank’s (Gary Lockwood) death.
10 Compliance (2012)
Let’s get this straight; the premise for Craig Zobel’s Compliance is horrifying enough, and it's made even more unsettling by the fact that it’s inspired by a series of similar phone call scams. The film may not fall under the strictest definitions of horror, but thanks to its content, one could certainly make a case for it as a different sort of fright flick. As disturbing as the film is, it still could have gone further -- even if it wouldn’t have been absolutely necessary.
In fact, delving deeper into demented subject matter would place the film in a category currently occupied by movies like Saló; depraved on the surface, yet at its core, calling attention to a deeper message. Before his murder, Pier Paolo Pasolini provided his own retelling of Marquis de Sade’s infamous novel by rehashing Italy’s dirty history of fascism, especially significant in an era of global history marked by social unrest. Even with more emphasis on the perturbing mistreatment of an innocent young woman, Compliance would still effectively cast a light on the horrors of a patriarchal society that still routinely exploits women for one purpose or another.
9 Face/Off (1997)
We all know how infamous Nicolas Cage is for losing his mind and acting berserk, but if his (arguably) most comically maniacal performance in John Woo’s Face/Off were put through the horror movie gauntlet, we could have received even more Nic Cage gold. Like the Wachowski’s The Matrix, however, the film would need a total overhaul in terms of directorial vision. Woo’s Face/Off is a hyper-stylized, ultra-kinetic action flick with more machismo thrills than bone-chilling scares, and such aspects would need to be stripped down.
Otherwise, the premise is quite intriguing, if absolutely mind-boggling. What if Sean Archer, as Castor Troy, had never escaped the prison, and under those circumstances, if Castor Troy, as Sean Archer, personally saw to it that Archer’s life would fall apart and that the mission would fail? Or maybe, as Sean Archer, Castor Troy would go on a murderous rampage of Archer’s department at the FBI and allow himself to be caught so Archer’s name would be sullied. Either way, it certainly wouldn’t make for a happy ending.
8 Home Alone (1990)
Do you remember the film You’re Next? Do you remember how it completely flipped the script for home invasion thrillers by having a protagonist who is surprisingly adept at evading and dispatching psychopathic home invaders? Not only that, but also how inept these home invaders really are was used to provide the fun black humor backing up many scenes? Just replace Sharni Vinson with Macaulay Culkin and the three masked home invaders with Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, and you’ve got Home Alone.
If you think about it, if you just changed the tone of Harry and Marv unsuspectingly encountering each diabolical contraption from wacky hijinks to legitimate pain and suffering, you’d probably have a horror film already. Between Harry’s head being lit on fire with a blowtorch, and Marv’s getting crushed by a iron and stepping on a nail and broken Christmas ornaments, this movie is well on its way to borderline torture porn. Just imagine if the kid McCallister had taken a few pages out of Jigsaw’s playbook.
7 Timeline (2003)
To be fair, to say that Timeline isn’t the best adaptation of a Michael Crichton novel is nothing short of an understatement. Not only was it poorly received on release, it financially flopped worse than a soccer player trying to earn a penalty near the end of the match. It could only make back just under $44 million globally on its $80 million production budget, not to mention however much was spent on marketing and advertising. But as a film about time-travel, one can only imagine the limitless possibilities as far as historical horrors go.
Even though they might be entertaining choices, perhaps selections such as Jack the Ripper, Vlad the Impaler and Elizabeth Bathory are a little too obvious. Given the source material’s focus on a medieval era, specifically medieval France during the Hundred Year’s War, one interesting era of human history to explore would be the Spanish Inquisition. Even though torture porn wouldn’t be firmly established as a subgenre until a little later in the decade, this 2003 film could have had the potential to be a more intelligent example of it, as the students attempt to find their missing professor while escaping punishment themselves.
6 Heathers (1988)
Slasher films had been on the decline since 1983, but by the latter half of the decade, the state of affairs was mostly pathetic – all you have to watch is the unbearably cheesy Cutting Class and the lazy Jason Takes Manhattan to understand that. Heathers seemingly contains all of the necessary ingredients for a solid late ‘80s slasher film, though to make the scares more effective, screenwriter Daniel Waters might have had to dial back a smidge on the sharp, black humor.
In fact, aside from just a mere slasher film, perhaps it might be interesting to see Heathers as a darkly funny, yet still predominantly scary murder mystery. Given the film’s protagonists, it would be intriguing to see how each of the "Heathers" clique react towards each other as their numbers dwindle, in addition to the other nameless students who fall at the hands of the killer. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the girls turn on each other, and that’s where you might have some quippy, clever dialogue with sardonic wit to back everything up.
5 Stranger than Fiction (2006)
Quite a few of the films in this particular list depict protagonists who are placed within an internal struggle with their own reality, and Harold Crick’s (Will Ferrell) reality is certainly a strange one. The film itself may be comical, but the premise of realizing your life is in the hands of an unknowing novelist (Emma Thompson) rather than your own is akin to The Truman Show in terms of psychological and existential second-guessing.
Sure, the filmmakers could dive into Harold’s deteriorating mental state as he grapples with the construct of his life, but there are so many other places the writers, including Thompson’s Karen Eiffel, could go if they were more devious. Perhaps Harold could be thrown into a more adult slasher-type of environment, survival horror or even a home invasion that would disrupt his precise, mathematical life. Either way, just as the film already does, Harold would have to come to grips with his own mortality, which is most terrifying of all.
4 Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (2013)
To be fair, the original might work just as well if either Flint Lockwood were a mad scientist looking to wreak havoc on his tiny home island, or some other villain got their hands on the technology to rain down dangerous foods like peanut brittle or pineapples. But, in theory, almost any food could have been dangerous. What would have been a most entertaining perversion of this family film would be to use the more predatory "foodimals" as part of a killer animal horror movie.
Killer animal horror movies are in relatively short supply these days, with most of them being populated by either sharks or, to a minor extent, bears. The film may be populated with cutesy foodimals like susheep and the fruit cockatiel, but lest we forget the dangers the cheespider, apple piethon and tacodile possess. Not to mention the hippotatomus – they made seem cuddly on the exterior, but bear in mind how fast they are for their mass and their bite force.
3 The One I Love (2014)
Almost anything written by or inspired by Charlie Kaufman is bound to have potential as a horror film, and such is the case for The One I Love. Starring Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss, this psychological rom-com depicts a couple trying to revive their marriage by heading on a weekend getaway, only to find that the mysterious guesthouse on the property creates idealized doppelgangers of each other. The film’s Critics’ Consensus on Rotten Tomatoes claims it “doesn’t take its… premise as far as it should,” so we’re here help.
There are plenty of avenues to take this film’s concept down, and jealousy plays a big role in quite a few of them. Jealousy is a theme lightly touched upon in the film, but a horror version would even more adequately take advantage of the possibilities. For example, either one of the doppelgangers could kill all but the person they wish to be with, or the original couple played by Duplass and Moss could be replaced altogether in an act of manipulation and betrayal in order to give the appearance of a successful getaway.
2 Non-Stop (2014)
Liam Neeson is a more than capable action star, in spite of his age. Non-Stop, his second collaboration with director Jaume Collet-Serra, shows the Northern Irishman in mid-season form, so to speak. Serviceable as Collet-Serra’s film is as an action flick, there are a couple of reasons why Non-Stop could have made for a top-notch horror film. First of all, for the most part, the movie takes place in a single location, specifically an airplane. Given the premise, the cinematography could have utilized the constricting confines to its favor and increased the tension through setting alone.
Secondly, its premise already serves as a simplistic take on a murder mystery morphed for the purposes of an action movie. The film already has a pretty diverse cast of characters, and the plot could use multiple red herrings in addition to plenty of twists. The small single location of an airplane would only make such a film that much more intriguing, especially because many of the deaths would have to be pre-planned in an environment where all can be seen.
1 The Truman Show (1998)
Coming to the realization that your entire existence has been fabricated for the purposes of mass entertainment is more than enough to make anyone feel distraught. But unlike The Truman Show’s eponymous character, what if you were never allowed to leave? Sure, they tried their best to keep him inside of his artificial reality, but as soon as Truman (Jim Carrey) reached the door to the outside world, nothing would stand in his way between him and his desire to attain a life where he is the master of his fate.
During Truman’s first attempt at escaping, instead of men in white hazmat suits containing him and taking him back, he could escape and hide from the confine’s cameras in its wilderness, introducing elements of survival horror that could see Truman systematically fighting Christof’s (Ed Harris) henchmen and extracting information about how to escape before dispatching them. Additionally, one could take a psychological horror route, as Truman struggles to grasp what is real and what isn’t.
What other non-horror movies could be dementedly transformed to fit the genre? Let us know in the comments!