As horror goes, it’s worth pointing out that I like horror fiction every bit as much as film. For one thing, some stuff just doesn’t translate well to the screen despite some noble efforts. It’s also frequently the case that the screen version does something to, well, screw up the source material. On a scale of 0-10, 0 being inconsequential, 10 being an enraged “How is this even remotely related,” most adaptations hit me at about a 6. Just high enough on the scale to be irritating.
To be fair, some fiction seems like it was made to be on a screen. Richard Matheson is a good example of this. Robert Bloch and Ray Bradbury often fit into this category as well. But above them all, to me, stands Roald Dahl. The man was dark, especially in his short stories, but also in such classics as James And The Giant Peach, Matilda and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. If you didn’t see any darkness in either of those, I’m not sure what you were reading.
Dahl has shown up on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and, of course, Tales Of The Unexpected (which often featured, of all people, Elaine Stritch). He also briefly hosted a Twilight Zone type show of his own called Way Out. Dahl is macabre and gleefully cruel in ways very much akin to the likes of Charles Addams and Gary Larson. Here then are my Top 5 Roald Dahl Stories (along with some adaptation comments here and there).
#5 Royal Jelly
This one is about as close to actual horror horror as Dahl generally gets. Mabel is worried about her newborn daughter who doesn’t seem to be thriving. Her husband Albert, a beekeeper, starts dosing the tyke with royal jelly (this being apparently what the queen bee lives on in the hive). The effect is, well let’s just say it’s, uh, “transformative.” The Tales Of The Unexpected version doesn’t portray the particularly horrifying bits, but the guy who plays Albert is creepy as hell. Also, though he’s up there in years, I’d love to see what David Cronenberg could do with this.
#4 The Landlady
This one’s also a more traditional kind of horror though not quite to the extent of “Royal Jelly.” No this time we have a young man looking for a room to rent, and he finds one, cheap, at a B&B run by a woman often described by commentators as a little old lady. The story itself describes her as 45 or 50. Hmph. Anyway, her new arrival has an uneasy feeling about the other two names in her guest register. Rightly so it turns out. Come to think of it, take away the woman’s mild manner and add some Saw type gore, and you end up with Jaume Balagueró’s To Let.
#3 Dip In The Pool
This is one of my favorites and is much more like a twisted little Charles Addams joke than a horror story. Probably why I enjoy it so. Whilst on a cruise, Mr. Botibol plays along in the nightly betting pool in which the captain estimates how far the ship will go in the next 24 hours. Closest number wins. During a stormy evening, Mr. Botibol secures a low-field number thinking the weather will work in his favor. It don’t. So he concocts a plan to force the ship to turn around and lose mileage. That plan? Jump overboard (making sure someone sees him) and wait to be rescued. What could go wrong?
#2 Man From The South
Lotsa folks are probably familiar with this one that all hinges on a simple bet. A young man bets the little finger of his left hand that he can light his lighter ten times in a row. Waiting to claim his prize should the lighter fail is an older man who has bet his car against the little finger. If you’ve never read this, that’s all I wanna say about it.
Mr. Botibol, Mrs. Bixby And The Colonel’s Coat, My Lady Love My Dove, Skin, Taste, William And Mary
#1 Lamb To The Slaughter
This is not just my favorite Roald Dahl story. It’s also one of my favorite short stories ever. I mean seriously. Patrick Maloney tells his wife Mary he’s leaving her for another woman. Mary brains him with a frozen leg of lamb then cooks it and feeds it to the cops investigating Patrick’s murder. It’s beautiful. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents version with Barbara Bel Geddes and directed by Hitchcock himself is by far my favorite, but even that misses out on the what is by far the best part of the story which is the chilling final sentence: “And in the other room, Mary Maloney began to giggle.” Brrr…
And that’s my small helping of Dahl stories…a Dahllop if you will. How about you? What’s in your, um, Dahl house? Let me know in the Comments my Dahlings.