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Top 7 psychological thriller movies based on novels

Writer: Casey Chong



Emily Blunt in "The Girl on the Train".

When the then-unknown British author Paula Hawkins' psychological thriller novel, "The Girl on the Train" debuted in 2015, it quickly became a best seller for months and sold millions of copies worldwide.

Famously touted as the next "Gone Girl", "The Girl on the Train" eventually turned into a major big-screen adaptation produced under the DreamWorks Pictures banner.

Directed by Tate Taylor, best known for his Oscar-nominated work in "The Help" and featuring Emily Blunt as the title character, "The Girl on the Train" has been garnering heavy buzz following its well-received trailer debut back in April.

As we are anticipating the upcoming release of "The Girl on the Train" this October, here are our seven best picks of psychological thriller novels-turned-acclaimed movie adaptations throughout the decades in Hollywood.

1. "Manhunter" (1986)

Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the renowned psychiatrist-turned-cannibalistic serial killer was first introduced by Thomas Harris in his 1981 novel "Red Dragon". Despite the novel's favourable reviews, the subsequent movie adaptation released five years later under the title of "Manhunter" failed to ignite the box office. Although the movie was sadly overlooked at the time of its release, "Manhunter" was gradually restored as a critical success over the years, particularly after the memorable success of Jonathan Demme's Oscar-winning thriller "The Silence Of The Lambs" (an adaptation of Thomas Harris' 1988 follow-up of the same name) in 1991.

While it is true that the overly-stylised "Manhunter" divided many audiences and critics back in the day, director Michael Mann's unique visual blueprint which made his "Thief" such a stunning feature debut remains a must-see for every thriller fan. Working alongside cinematographer Dante Spinotti, Mann cleverly incorporates the use of blue hues to evoke a dreamy yet moody atmosphere of the movie's overall cold and disturbing matter. Apart from Mann's praiseworthy methodical direction, the three male leads delivered strong performances in their respective roles including the then-unknown pre-"CSI" star William Petersen as the FBI profiler Will Graham, Brian Cox as Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (as opposed to the novel's original last name of "Lecter") and Tom Noonan as the psychotic killer "The Tooth Fairy".

2. "Dead Calm" (1989)

Believe it or not, Charles Williams' 1963 novel "Dead Calm" was actually first adapted into a movie by Orson Welles (yes, that legendary late director who made "Citizen Kane" and "Touch Of Evil"). However, the movie -- which titled as "The Deep" -- was never completed. It wasn't until the mid-1980s when Australian production company Kennedy Miller (best known for the "Mad Max" movies) brought over the film rights and finally managed to adapt the Charles Williams' novel into a movie in 1989.

Directed by the then-unknown Phillip Noyce, who later became one of the most sought-after Australian-born Hollywood director in the '90s with hits like "Patriot Games" and "Clear And Present Danger", "Dead Calm" was surprisingly underrated at the time of its release. While it didn't make a killing at the box office, the movie is one of the great thrillers of the 1980s that deserved lots of praises. First of all, the small cast of three (Sam Neill, Nicole Kidman and Billy Zane) each give an excellent performance. While Zane is spot-on perfect as the charismatic madman, it was Nicole Kidman who exceled the most in her layered performance from a vulnerable and ordinary housewife to an unlikely survivor forced to use her sexuality to outwit Zane's character. Noyce's direction is airtight and claustrophobic as he made great use of the movie's limited setting, which happens to set entirely on the boat in the middle of the ocean.

3. "Misery" (1990))

Based on Stephen King's 1987 bestselling novel of the same name, "Misery" was successfully adapted into a movie three years later to both critical and financial hit. The story itself is equally terrifying that poses the very question: How do you stop a deranged psychopath like Annie Wilkes when you can barely move following a car accident? While Rob Reiner's direction delivers an efficient value surrounding the twisted relationship between Paul Sheldon (James Caan), a bestselling author held captive by Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) as he tries to outwit and manipulate Annie in hopes for survival. It was Bates' frighteningly obsessive portrayal that elevated most of the movie. Her unpredictable mood swings throughout the movie was so memorable that she deservedly won an Oscar for Best Actress.

4. "The Silence Of The Lambs" (1991)

Who could have thought the Oscars, famously known for overlooking genre pictures, would award a psychological thriller like "The Silence Of The Lambs" five golden statuettes? And those five Oscars happens to be for the most important award categories including Best Picture, Best Director (Jonathan Demme), Best Actor (Anthony Hopkins), Best Actress (Jodie Foster) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Ted Tally). Based on Thomas Harris' novel of the same name, "The Silence Of The Lambs" sees the return of Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) as he assists rookie FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) in order to catch a notorious serial killer known as "Buffalo Bill" (Ted Levine). Unlike "Manhunter" (the first movie adapted from the "Red Dragon" novel prior to this sequel) and subsequently the Ridley Scott-directed sequel "Hannibal" as well as two prequels "Red Dragon" and "Hannibal Rising", "The Silence Of The Lambs" remains the finest movie adaptation ever made that revolves around the iconic Dr. Hannibal Lecter. In fact, it's easy to see why Jonathan Demme's version is so commercially popular: Hopkins' frighteningly ominous performance contrasts well with Foster's strong but vulnerable female protagonist, while Demme's direction is taut and meticulous who understands the thriller genre well enough.

5. "Cape Fear" (1991)

Where "The Silence Of The Lambs" got most of the credit as a must-see psychological thriller of 1991, that same year also saw the release of Martin Scorsese's starry remake of "Cape Fear". Based on John D. MacDonald's novel "The Executioners", "Cape Fear" was adapted once before in 1962 starring Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum. Despite this being Scorsese's first foray into the psychological thriller territory, he shows great creative control throughout the movie. From the well-calculated yet creative camera angles to a quartet of stellar performances including Nick Nolte, Robert De Niro, Jessica Lange and Juliette Lewis, "Cape Fear" proves to be such a captivating thriller. De Niro is particularly a standout here, whose terrifying performance as the tattoo-bodied former convict Max Cady won him a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

6. "Single White Female" (1992)

From "Basic Instinct" to "Unlawful Entry", 1992 was certainly a banner year for many acclaimed psychological thrillers. Then there is "Single White Female", which centres on a New York-based software designer Allison Jones (Bridget Fonda) who lives a happy life with her fiance Sam Rawson (Steven Weber). Everything changes when she discovers that Sam is sleeping with his ex-wife and decided to kick him out of her Manhattan Upper West Side apartment. Desperately wanting to hold on to her apartment, she gets a roommate in the form of a shy-looking Hedra Carlson (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Both of them become good friends until Sam reappears in Allison's life which in turn, makes Hedra increasingly jealous of their relationship and she then starts to show the true nature of her ugly side.

Adapted from John Lutz's novel of the same name, "Single White Female" is among the best psychological thrillers involving the then-popular "tenant-from-hell" subgenre in the early 1990s alongside "Pacific Heights" and "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle". The movie works, thanks to both Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh's excellent performances. Barbet Schroeder, best known for his Oscar-nominated work in "Reversal Of Fortune", shows subtle directorial flair in the vein of Hitchcockian-like filmmaking style. Not only is the movie well-crafted with suspense, but it is also bold enough to elevate the provocative theme of lesbianism hinted between Allison and Hedra for a major Hollywood production.

7. "Gone Girl" (2014)

No stranger to the thriller genre, David Fincher has aced everything from his groundbreaking "Se7en" to the underrated but captivating Hollywood remake of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo". In "Gone Girl", Fincher has successfully turned Gillian Flynn's bestselling novel of the same name into a unique cinematic experience that subverts the usual expectation of a Hollywood thriller. Whereas every technical point-of-view from Fincher's meticulous visual flair to Jeff Cronenweth's atmospheric cinematography and Kirk Baxter's razor-sharp editing are praiseworthy, what makes "Gone Girl" such an intriguing thriller is the genre-bending plot itself. At the beginning of the movie, we learn about Amy Dunne's (Rosamund Pike) mysterious disappearance and her husband, Nick (Ben Affleck) who is trying his best to find out the truth with the help of two police detectives (Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit). From here, it looks as if Fincher revisits his "Zodiac"-like police procedural, but as the investigation deepens further, the movie's original tone subsequently shifts into a Hitchcockian-like mystery thriller as well as a mixed satire that mocks the nature of media obsession and the misanthropical aspect surrounding today's meaning of a so-called "perfect" marriage. All actors here are great, with Rosamund Pike stealing the show as Amy Dunne.

"The Girl on the Train" opens in cinemas nationwide on 6 October 2016.

Cinema Online, 25 September 2016


Related Movies:
The Girl On The Train (06 Oct 2016)
Gone Girl (09 Oct 2014)

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