Horns: Book vs. Movie

Nov 04, 2014 3 Comments by

As a very big fan of Joe Hill’s sophomore novel Horns, I was awaiting Alexandre Aja’s film adaptation with much anticipation. Piranha and Haute Tension are great movies, showing a diversity of ability.  Even his weaker efforts such as Mirrors and The Hills Have Eyes remake are never dull, and his direction is always exciting and unique.

Horns follows Ignatius (Ig) Perrish after he wakes up hung over after desecrating the memorial placed where his ex-girlfriend, Merrin, was raped and murdered one year ago. He was never tried for her death, but nearly everyone in town believes Ig’s guilty of the crime.  The physical discomfort of his hangover is compounded by the horns now emerging from his forehead.  Ig soon makes a startling discovery, no one truly notices the horns, yet they now feel compelled to burden Ig with their most horrible thoughts when they see him.

As with Hill’s novel, Aja’s film centers squarely on Ig’s journey beginning with the discovery of his new horns, and soon learning the effect they have on others. The horns elicit confessions from all those he encounters.  The confessions at first are simple.  From “I’ve been unfaithful,” to “I want to have more sex and take drugs.”  Ig amuses himself with these confessions until he develops his purpose; discovering who raped and killed his girlfriend the night she broke up with him.

Condensing all the information from Joe Hill’s well regarded novel is a very difficult task. The novel is a deftly woven mystery.  Nearly every scene contains a human element that adds to the whole and never detracts from the pacing.  The residents of Hill’s Gideon, New Hampshire are alive in their condemnation of Ig, the only suspect in Merrin’s torture and murder.  The town of Gideon is best compared to that of Twin Peaks—a distinct location with an unmistakable feel.  The town is populated by unforgettable characters adding vibrancy and life.  With his new power, Ig is forced to confront truth in Gideon; not only the truth of what happened to Merrin, but the truth of how he is perceived by others.

The detailed nuances of the book are wholly lost in the film version. The town of Gideon is nowhere near as vibrant in the film as it is in the book.  The residents of Gideon are reduced to caricatures of their literary counterparts.  While this leaves Aja’s film with some of the more humorous moments intact, the genuine human touches are missing.  Many characters are completely removed from the book for pacing reasons.

Of all the missing elements, it is the backstory between Ig and Lee Tourneau that’s hurt the most. The relationship between the two is a key element of the book that the film reduces to a pair of flashback sequences.  While I understand the running time of a film is a key concern, the ending of the film, like the book, dragged.

Once Merrin’s killer is revealed and his or her motives are established the film runs for another 30 minutes while the audience awaits a physical confrontation between Ig and the killer. In a two-hour movie spending 30 minutes on the inevitable is a poor choice.  While this section of the book also drags, Hill had already established a fully realized world and has earned this, Aja’s film does not.

Despite these flaws, Horns is still a really good genre film and it’s a damned shame that it’s only playing in limited release (while Saw is re-released and Ouija also get a full national release).  Honestly, I would have enjoyed the Horns movie more had I not read the book first.  So if you’re new to this story, find a way to check this film out.

horns-book-vs-movie

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About the author

M.R. Gott is the author of Rising Dead and Where the Dead Fear To Tread and has had short stories published with Grinning Skull Press, Short Scary Tales and Easkey Castle Books among others. You can visit M.R.’s website Cutis Anserina at WhereTheDeadFearToTread.blogspot.com. He can also be found expressing his inner nerd at Unleash the Fanboy. M.R. lives contentedly in central New Hampshire with his wife, and their pets Lucy and Porter. Aside from writing M.R. enjoys dark coffee, dark beer, red wine, and fading light.

3 Responses to “Horns: Book vs. Movie”

  1. ShadowsofTime says:

    I saw the film, then read the book. It was one of those rare cases where having seen the movie first actually helped the book, because, like you said, there was a hint of a pacing issue. Not that either were particularly slow or anything, but seeing the movie first definitely helped set the tone and feel of the book better.

    • justAreader says:

      I can’t agree with you there in respects of watching the movie helps set the tone and feel for the book at all, I felt the movie was completely inferior to the book in almost every aspect granted it was entertaining to watch, but that in itself shows how amazing horns the book actually is, I don’t want to give out spoilers to those that haven’t read the book or possibly watched the movie but the film completely misses the depth of characters and crucial plot points in the story for as Mr gott has said run time of the film itself which is usually the problem when great or amazing books get made into movies

  2. Jak says:

    The book was perfectly paced, the movie was not so at all, it had a continuous rushed feeling and didn’t have enough care in setting up anything, with things being thrown in, lines being shot out way to quickly where it felt unnatural. Daniel did very well, but I think the screenplay should of been redone.

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