I'm partial to stories about ghosts and the supernatural. Supernatural literature goes back centuries; it's a rich source of themes and ideas for modern entertainment. Here are three of my favorite stories-turned-into-movies.
So he put his hand into the well-known nook under the pillow: only, it did not get so far. What he touched was, according to his account, a mouth, with teeth...
M. R. James, "Casting the Runes", in More Ghost Stories (1911)
The opening to "Casting the Runes", quoting three letters of regret to a Mr. Karswell, suggests that it will be an epistolary story, and a great deal of what happens is conveyed in an indirect, old-fashioned style. "This much is in the way of prologue," and "The next scene that does require to be narrated is a conversation..." We discover ourselves in a supernatural murder mystery, a compelling example of Victorian horror. James Hynes, who includes a pastiche of "Casting the Runes" in his collection Publish or Perish, describes James as "author of the the greatest ghost stories in the English language."
James's story became Night of the Demon, or Curse of the Demon, with Dana Andrews and Peggy Cummins. The 1957 movie is probably best known for its director, Jacques Tourneur, who directed Cat People in 1942. The story is filmed in a much more direct style, and a few details have been filled in (some to good effect, others less so). The tension in the movie is similar to that of the short story: Will all end happily?
"You were too late," the voice said. "You were a minute too late."
Fritz Leiber, Conjure Wife (1943)
In Conjure Wife, Norman Saylor is a young sociology professor at a college in the northeast. Early in the story, Norman discovers that his wife Tansy is a witch. Being a modern sort (for the 1940s, at least) he persuades Tansy to give up her witchcraft, not foreseeing the consequences.
Leiber's novel became the movie Night of the Eagle (in the UK, retitled Burn, Witch, Burn! for the U.S. market). The setting was moved to England, which works quite well, in the 1960s, also a good move. The movie simplifies away much of the plot, but it retains the same flavor. Witchcraft is just superstition... isn't it? There's a rational explanation for the odd things that are happening. And what's the worst that could happen if we simply disbelieve?
"Died?" I almost shrieked.
She seemed fairly to square herself, plant herself more firmly to utter the wonder of it. "Yes. Mr. Quint is dead."
Henry James, "The Turn of the Screw" (1898)
"The Turn of the Screw" is one of the most famous literary ghost stories in history, though there's been some debate about whether it really is a ghost story. A governess is hired to care for two young children, Miles and Flora, at their country estate. Unexplained figures come and go across the property; the governess must unravel the mystery as well as she can.
The story became The Innocents (1961), with Deborah Kerr and Michael Redgrave. (Peter Wyngarde, Norman in Burn, Witch, Burn! plays Peter Quint here.) The Innocents is considered a psychological horror movie; it's also considered one of the best movies of its time.
The Thing cannot be described—there is no language for such abysms of shrieking and immemorial lunacy, such eldritch contradictions of all matter, force, and cosmic order. A mountain walked or stumbled. God!
H.P. Lovecraft, "Call of Cthulhu" (1928)
I forgot to mention H.P. Lovecraft's 1928 story "Call of Cthulhu", which in 2005 was turned into a marvelous short film by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society: a black-and-white silent movie, following many of the conventions of 1920 film-making. While Re-Animator, From Beyond, and In the Mouth of Madness are all worth watching, for Lovecraft afficionados, Call of Cthulhu is remarkable, the best of all the adaptations of his work.