Down a Dark Hall to be Adapted
Entertainment Weekly posted last week that Lois Duncan’s book Down a Dark Hall will be adapted by Stephanie Meyer, creator of He-Who-is-Shiny Edward and the rest of those people. Like many, I was excited to see a book I enjoyed in my teens being thrust back into prominence. But I am anxious about Stephanie Meyer and what her influence will do to it. (Shuddering at the thought.) Serendipitously when I discovered my cache of Lois Duncan books in the attic, I decided to sit down and see what I had in store – and how Hollywood would likely adapt the story for our modern age and movie-going expectations.
My obsession with Lois Duncan books fell sometime in between devouring everything Nancy Drew and scouring used bookstores for Christopher Pike titles. My version of I Know What You Did Last Summer ties in with the movie version as the cast from the film is on the cover. That’s right, the film led me to the novel, but at least it was the gateway to more Lois Duncan fun.
Apparently (disclaimer: my source is Wikipedia), Duncan was none too pleased to see her YA novel turned into a horror movie. Which actually makes sense because (spoiler alert) I was stunned when reading the book that neither Helen nor Barry (Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Phillippe’s characters in the movie) die. As a SMG obsessive at the time, I was actually pleased with this alternative narrative. Her book Killing Mr. Griffin was adapted into film in 1997 and again under the title Teaching Mrs. Tingle in 1999. I remember the previews for the Katie Holmes and Barry Watson-helmed Teaching Mrs. Tingle well, but do not remember Helen Mirren playing the titular Mrs. Tingle. I haven’t see it, and why, Helen, why?!
But if true, her outlook is sort of a shame: even if they are gearing toward the Twilight crowd, Down a Dark Hall has all the ingredients necessary to pull off a spooky, atmospheric horror film. In fact, throughout the book, there are many elements reminiscent of horror movies that came out after Down a Dark Hall was published. What jumps out immediately? Suspiria; in fact, I could almost see some people (not knowing it was a book) thinking of DaDH as a modernized take on Suspiria, although the film came out 3 years after the book. If a script, and director, could put together a film as creepily haunting as Argento did with Suspiria, this could be awesome. In Suspiria, an American ballet dancer travels to an elite academy in Germany only to discover it is run by a coven of witches. Like main character Kit in DaDH, Suspiria’s Suzy is often woozy and falls asleep unexpectedly while strange events happen around her.
Some aspects reminded me of Evil Dead. One girl in particular, Lynda, appears possessed by the spirits that compel her to paint. Similarly, a possessed Kit throws a broken pencil at her friend Sandy, evoking memories of this scene in Evil Dead and this scene from The Faculty. Pencils are deadly. Similarly, when Ruth throws her notebook on the fire and howling voices emanate from it, I couldn’t help but think of the Book of the Dead when Ash throws it onto the fire. Briefly, I also thought of A Nightmare on Elm Street, if only because of the evil that awaited when the characters slept. Kit repeatedly fails to stay awake to prevent the spirits from taking over – if only she took a page out of Nancy’s book and kept a coffee pot under her bed (I remain envious of this).
My takeaway: I identify – a lot – with Kit. She looks around the small town (that she doesn’t even get to visit) and remarks “There isn’t even a movie theater!” (When I went to college, the sight of the local Regal made me feel instantly better about life.) And her newly remarried mom and step dad dropping her off at boarding school so they can take an extended European honeymoon?: that is straight out of my worst fears as a child. This quote in particular from new dad Dan, annoys me: “I know your position in the family has been different from that of most girls; with just the two of you, your mother has treated you as an equal rather than as a child. You’re strong-willed and independent and very used to running things. But you are not going along with us on our honeymoon”. All of that uttered as if it is a bad thing! To be fair, I think Duncan wants us to feel as slighted as Kit; the real perpetrators of evil in this book almost seem to be Kit’s mom and Dan: guardians surreptitiously pointing Kit towards Blackwood and ignoring her fears because their honeymoon was so damned important. I would feel so much satisfaction from being able to tell my mom how wrong they both were and how miserable I was in part due to their inattention. To think my mom would let anyone talk to me like Dan talks down to Kit is just unfathomable. Thankfully, I also believe that my mom would never have left me anywhere for that long of a time, especially if I voiced misgivings about it and pleaded to leave immediately.
There are only a few things I think Stephanie Meyer should change in the adaptation.
- Kit should be older than fourteen. She certainly acts older than that in the book and any flirtation that she will get to have in the movie with Jules, a recent graduate of a European music conservatory will be less creepy. Duncan does a pretty good, Stephanie Meyer-esque, job of describing Jules as the hottest guy, like, ever. But as Kit faces some tough revelations about Jules, she re-evaluates and no longer finds him attractive – not sure if this is in Stephanie’s wheelhouse.
- There is the obvious need to update technology. One of the biggest reveals in the book that something is up at Blackwood occurs when Kit notices neither her mom nor her best friend are receiving her letters anymore. This will not fly in this day and age, especially with Skype. How can the movie get the students so isolated for so long? And the whole “ugh, no signal” trope will not work for many parents.
- I Know What You Did Last Summer, at the end of the day, was a horror movie, making the deaths of two of the characters all but necessary. Had the book been adapted in the vein of Twilight, they could have stuck to the main plot instead of creating the Ben Willis character. With Stephanie Meyer taking the reins on DaDH, I assume (and hope) that there will be little derivation from the book in this regard.
- Finally, the book stops abruptly: we know that Kit has escaped and she will be rescued almost immediately after the conclusion. It is fairly satisfying but — at the risk of book purists getting up in arms — I would love an epilogue to these events. The book ending denies us the chance to see Kit’s mom’s reaction to what happened at Blackwood. We fail to find out what happens to Madam Duret and if her deceits, forgeries, and abuse are uncovered for the world to see. Would Kit forgive Jules after he stands up for the girls against his own mother? Questions I would love to see answered on the big screen.