I saw the film based on this book back in 1972 when it was first released. That was forty years ago and it has still stayed with me. I’ve seen other horror movies since, but this had an impact.
I was surprised to see it on NetGalley, since the book was published in 1971, but I had to read it to see if I got that frisson from the book that I had from the movie. Edith Wharton referred to the “fun of the shudder.” I got that from the book, too.
Of course, this time I knew what the mystery was. Neither the book nor the movie is supernatural, but psychological. In the NetGalley edition, there is an afterword by Dan Chaon which compares the book to Henry James’s Turn of the Screw and Shirley Jackson’s Haunting of Hill House. I would compare it more to Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle; we learn the truth in the Castle, while we are left to wonder the identity of the evil in the Hill House.
Chaon rightly calls this an “undervalued” horror novel, just as Tom Tryon was probably an undervalued actor. I also saw his one major film, “The Cardinal,” and thought he was terrific. I have read in a couple of sources that he was constantly humiliated by Otto Preminger. From what I have read about Preminger, I can believe it.
The book gives many more hints than does the movie. In the book, there is a first person narrator who interrupts the story two or three times. He is clearly an inmate in an insane asylum and he is telling the story. In the story itself, an attentive reader can work out from the clues the identity of the evil in this story.
Chaon calls the book “a tour de force of design, a cunning, tricked-out patchwork of thriller tropes …” Tryon creates a truly horrific world from what should be an idyllic one. (Reminds me a bit of David Lynch and the beginning of “Blue Velvet”.) His images are somehow distorted and nothing is what it seems.
According to IDMB, Tom Tryon was disappointed with the film, despite having written the screenplay himself. When asked about the film in a 1977 interview, Tryon recalled, “Oh, no. That broke my heart. Jesus. That was very sad… That picture was ruined in the cutting and the casting. The boys were good; Uta was good; the other parts, I think, were carelessly cast in some instances–not all, but in some instances. And, God knows, it was badly cut and faultily directed. Perhaps the whole thing was the rotten screenplay, I don’t know. But I think it was a good screenplay.”
I don’t know whether to recommend seeing the movie and then reading the book, or vice versa. At any rate, don’t do what I did – wait forty years in between. You’ll have that “fun of the shudder” either way.