It's not uncommon for movie and TV stars to make the jump from the screen to the printed page; many well-known actors have capitalized on their name recognition to help boost their profiles as emerging authors. Notable examples include Viggo Mortensen (Lord of the Rings), who found success with his self-published poetry; James Franco (This is the End) recently rolled out a well-received short story collection entitled Palo Alto; and Ethan Hawke (Sinister, The Purge) has won acclaim for the novels The Hottest State and Ash Wednesday. While we don't hear nearly enough about actors from the world of horror and sci-fi making a successful transition to those same genres in print, it's not as rare a phenomenon as you might think.
Let's examine the literary legacies of three notable horror stars who carved out thrilling new careers as horror writers...
Genre Role: I Married a Monster from Outer Space
Books: The Other; Harvest Home; Night Magic
With his chiseled good looks and smoldering gaze, Tom Tryon forged a memorable career in movies and television beginning in the mid-'50s, appearing in everything from westerns to soapy melodramas. But it was his starring role as an alien invader disguised as a human newlywed in the 1958 sci-fi hit I Married a Monster from Outer Space that endeared him to genre fans (the scene of his alien guise temporarily exposed by a bolt of lightning is still unsettling today). Tryon's acting career wound down in the late '60s, and by 1970 he had all but retired from movie roles. But when he hit the typewriter to craft his chilling debut novel The Other, his name became an even bigger household word in the years to follow.
That book became a runaway bestseller (due in part to the furious buzz surrounding the jaw-dropping twist ending – a plot device which wasn't as commonplace as it is today), and an equally popular feature film followed in 1971, not even a year after the novel first hit store shelves. He followed that success with the haunting gothic melodrama Harvest Home in 1973, which became a hit TV miniseries starring Bette Davis in 1978. While Tryon didn't limit himself purely to genre fiction in the decades to come, his dark, twisting thrillers would remain his greatest legacy. His final novel, Night Magic, a slick, modern retelling of “The Sorcerer's Apprentice,” was actually published four years after his death in 1991.
Genre Roles: The Vampire Lovers; Countess Dracula; The Wicker Man
Books: The Ingrid Pitt Bedside Companion for Vampire Lovers; The Ingrid Pitt Book of Murder, Torture and Depravity; The Ingrid Pitt Bedside Companion for Ghosthunters; Dracula Who?
Fans of classic horror were devastated by the passing of this lovely gothic cinema legend in 2010, but we can take some comfort in the many entertaining and enlightening treasures she left behind. Not only did she carve her name in the annals of Hammer Horror history with her supernaturally sultry lead role in 1970's The Vampire Lovers, she managed to keep her acting career afloat for nearly two decades, and even revisited it from time to time after that: her final screen role was the Hammer-style gothic homage Sea of Dust, which was filmed in 2006 but released just before her death. What you may not know is that Pitt's writing career had been running parallel to her acting work since the early '80s.
After two non-genre novels set in South America, Pitt entered the realm of fantastic fiction with the Doctor Who teleplay The Macros, based on tales of the infamous “Philadelphia Experiment” (a paranormal legend later dramatized in the film of the same name), and though it never went before cameras, it was finally released as an audio drama in 2010. Alongside her well-received autobiography Life's a Scream, Pitt's more notable writings to follow were The Ingrid Pitt Bedside Companion for Vampire Lovers, The Ingrid Pitt Book of Murder, Torture & Depravity, and The Ingrid Pitt Bedside Companion for Ghosthunters (based on her own experiences with the paranormal), and she frequently contributed to genre periodicals like Shivers and Monster-Mania. Her final novel, Dracula Who? was a sequel of sorts to Hammer's 1971 Countess Dracula, in which Pitt plays a fictionalized version of serial killer Erzsabet Bathory. A film adaptation was also scripted, but sadly it hasn't found any takers so far... still, with Hammer back on the rise today, there's a chance it might see the moonlight after all.
Genre Roles: Soultaker; Future Shock; Toys in the Attic
Books: Quietus; Sacred Prey
While the casual horror viewer may not be familiar with Schilling's screen career, she found new recognition (welcome or otherwise) among fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 when that show's movie-riffing trio tore into her 1990 film Soultaker, a low-budget horror fantasy based on her own screenplay, in which she starred alongside Joe Estevez (of the Sheen/Estevez acting clan) and genre regular Robert Z'Dar (Maniac Cop). Basically a horror spin on Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire, its depiction of Grim Reapers as frustrated, under-trained collections agents predates the comic scenario of the Showtime series Dead Like Me. After appearing with Bill Paxton in the 1994 sci-fi thriller Future Shock, Schilling's screen star seemed to wane, ascending at last in 2012 with Toys in the Attic, which she co-directed with acclaimed Czech animator Jirí Barta, supplying voice talent alongside Forrest Whitaker, Cary Elwes and Joan Cusack.
By that time, Schilling's literary career was well underway, as her 1996 debut novel Sacred Prey had garnered critical praise and introduced her work to a new legion of fans. Set in New Orleans, the chilling gothic tale of supernatural body-swapping was compared favorably with the works of Anne Rice (some reviewers say it surpasses them), and a feature film adaptation is currently in development. Schilling returned to fiction in 2003 with Quietus, a dark metaphysical thriller which, oddly enough, plays a bit like an unofficial sequel to Soultaker. While the previous two authors on this list have left us, we can expect more fine work from this multi-talented Renaissance woman... and considering her stunning good looks, I'd wager she could make a memorable return to the screen tomorrow.
Have any of your favorite horror stars also made the jump to the printed page? Share with us in the comments!