#3. Jaws - the Mafia Plotline
Peter Benchley's Jaws is the novel that alerted America to the fact that sharks are terrifying and unstoppable and the ocean is just filled with them. Steven Spielberg's film version was so awesome it spawned the summer blockbuster, a genre that 15 Michael Bay movies hasn't yet been able to kill.
How did Spielberg do this? By bringing in likable, well-defined characters? By being an expert when it comes to shooting incredibly tense shark-related action scenes? No. It was because Spielberg took the book and did a find-and-replace, getting rid of every account of illicit sex and scheming mobsters, and swapping in an improbable oxygen-tank explosion.
O.G. stands for "ocean gangsta," bitch. Holla.
Let's just say that Peter Benchley's novel needed a good hard Spielberging in order to appeal to a broad audience. Remember how Amity's mayor is so obsessed with keeping the beaches open? In the movie, he just seems like a whiney, tourism-obsessed idiot, but in the book, he's up to his eyeballs in debt to the mob, which is running a complex real estate scam on Amity Island. And this mafia isn't just some forgettable, background annoyance; when Chief Brody is reluctant to open up the beaches for fear of the shark, a dude shows up at his house and snaps his cat's neck.
Beach-related cat murder isn't the only thing Spielberg cut. While the movie does a fine job of showing Brody and his wife as a cute, charming little beach couple, in the book, Brody's wife, disenchanted with her small-town life and presumably distressed by the prospect of imminent shark-murder, jumps into bed with the handsome young shark expert. Hooper.
They meet for lunch in a restaurant, and the conversation quickly gets weird:
"Sometimes I'm in the kitchen in the morning after everybody has left, and a workman from one of the houses next door comes to my back door. He wants to use the phone or have a glass of water." She stopped.
"I let him in the door and he threatens to kill me if I don't do what he wants."
"Does he hurt you?"
"Oh no. I mean, he doesn't stab me or anything."
"Does he hit you?"
"No. He just ... rapes me."
"Is it fun?"
"Not at first. It's scary. But then, after a while, when he's ..."
"When he's got you all ... ready."
So obviously after that the two have a brief affair. Chief Brody suspects that Richard Dreyfuss is boning his wife, which makes his decision to take him out on a boat to hunt the shark somewhat inexplicable ... or does it?
"So basically we just drag him behind the boat. Like 185 pounds of soft pork."
Also, in the book, Hooper tragically dies when the shark eats his cage, and Brody shoots Hooper in the neck while the shark eats him.
The big question is, "Why was this even in the novel?" Fucking, symbolism? We don't know. Maybe in Benchley's mind, the giant shark preying on the town was meant to be a stand-in for all the metaphorical "sharks" that prey on people in real life, like Jaws is REALLY about a mafia-shark and an adulterer-shark (also an actual shark). Whatever the case, Spielberg found the novel's undercurrents far too dark for the movie he wanted to make. He found all the characters so unlikeable, in fact, that as he was reading the novel, he ended up rooting for the shark. Which is not where we, the audience, ended up.
Until about Jaws IV.
We really wished this was a photoshop. It doesn't hurt to dream.
#2. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - the Narrator
Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was the anti-authoritarian opus of the 1960s. The film version gave Jack Nicholson his first Best Actor Oscar and turned the whole world against electroshock therapy, and presumably this is also where we all got our fear of murderous hospital robots.
Nurse outfits were never quite as erotic after this movie.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was narrated from the first-person perspective of the Chief, the 7-foot-tall Indian whose brain had been badly fried by PTSD, too much electroshock and a lifetime of paranoid psychosis. As you can imagine, the novel is fucking surreal in the proper sense of the word. Everything of that world we see is filtered though a crazified lens. Invisible smoke machines fill the world with confusion and terror, and Nurse Ratched and her warders are actually nefarious transforming killbots.
Where the rest of us see normalcy, the Chief sees only gears and horror. When the aides look at him, he can see "the eyes glittering out of the black faces like the hard glitter of radio tubes out the back of an old radio." OK, so they're also subtly racist robots.
And wicked hot.
As for Nurse Ratched, when she gets pissed, all hell breaks loose: "She's swelling up, swells till her back's splitting out of the white uniform ... she blows up bigger and bigger, big as a tractor, so big I can smell the machinery inside the way you smell a motor pulling too big a load."
One of the nurses is so pulsing with pure evil the Chief can see it bubbling up inside her and draining out the corner of her mouth like bile, and at one point the Chief picks up and throws a man, and comments, "He was full of tubes; he didn't weigh more'n ten or fifteen pounds." Apparently insanity is a better shortcut to physical strength that Soviet-grade steroids.
The Chief, seen here throwing a man-size chunk of marble out of a window.
The point Kesey was trying to make is that in fact, it's not the inmates who are crazy -- it's society, man. Kesey contrasts the machine-hell of the psych ward against the simple beauty of nature in order to wake us all up to the cogs and wires controlling our own modern lives. All the smoke-belching craziness is meant to be symbolic.
Kesey wasn't really known for his subtlety.
But here's a fairly big difference between the movie and the book. In the movie, we really buy that a lot of the patients, like the Chief and McMurphy, aren't really crazy; it's just the oppressive society that makes them seem crazy, man (the 60s were weird). We recognize in the film that Mac and the Chief are free spirits who don't belong in an institution, so we root for the Chief when he busts out at the end. And that's where we sort of run into a problem: In the book world, the Chief genuinely believes that robots are plotting against him. That's not a free spirit who got caught up in the system -- he's suffering from a debilitating mental illness.
He's not a quiet, gentle soul who needed Jack Nicholson to teach him how to be free. He's a mentally disturbed individual who murdered McMurphy and then broke out of the institution. We don't know if you've been keeping up, but that's almost exactly how horror stories start.
#1. Stand by Me - Everyone Dies
Rob Reiner's Stand by Me was a classic 80s coming-of-age movie starring four promising child actors, two of whom would ultimately ruin their lives through a combination of drugs and awful career decisions and one of whom possessed such invincible masculine charisma that he could appear onscreen with a rapping kangaroo and still wind up marrying Mystique.
(Note: we originally said "three of whom" but Wil Wheaton helpfully reminded us that he has not in fact ruined his life with drugs -- Sorry, Wil, we once again confused you with Todd Bridges)
The film was based on a novella by Stephen King, and that's your first clue that there's something not-quite-right around the edges of this little fable. The Body is a coming-of-age story, too; the catch is that "coming of age" in this case actually means "dying a horrible death."
"You will come of age, or I will shit a demon into your fucking skull!"
First of all, the movie ends at a pretty convenient moment. Our young heroes find the corpse they'd spent the entire movie searching for, and then they stand up to the vicious bullies who were looking for the same body. The bullies want to steal the body, and our heroes pull out a gun and stand their ground, sending the bullies on their way. The End.
And everything was fine. Because there are never any bad consequences for doing anything, ever.
The book goes on a bit, just long enough to let you know that, a few days after the kids so proudly stood up to the bullies, they all got the ever-loving piss beaten out of them.
But the pain doesn't stop there; King decides to thoroughly explain what happens to every character, and because it's King, you can guess that it's nightmarishly haunting and horrifying beyond all reason. One by one, they all start dying in freak accidents: Vern (Jerry O'Connell) passes out at a party and burns to death when somebody drops a cigarette; he's identified later "by his teeth."
Though we're pretty sure those cheeks could survive a fire as well.
Teddy (Corey Feldman), in a weirdly prophetic twist, turns to drugs and alcohol and ends up burning a car full of people alive (although to be fair, this ending is arguably less tragic than it could have been ...).
As we are told in the movie, Chris (River Phoenix) ends up pulling his life together and going to college with Wil Wheaton; in fact, he's in grad school when whatever twisted curse they unleashed strikes again and River gets stabbed in the throat by an ex-con.
Gordie, the narrator, remarks ominously that "small events really do echo up larger and larger through time," and that if only they hadn't gone along the tracks that weekend, maybe his friends would still be alive. And just as he's finishing up his story, he mentions that he's been getting terrible headaches that the doctors haven't been able to explain ... implying that the curse has come back to claim its final victim.
Much like Sonny Corleone's gigantic dick.
The only thing Stephen King is more terrified of than giant spiders is ending his novels on a positive note. Seriously, if you remember a happy ending from a movie that had "Based on a novel by Stephen King" in the credits, chances are that's the result of some producer taking one look at the source material and saying "Oh, hell no." In Cujo, Tad's mom doesn't save the day; he dies of dehydration in the car. In Christine, the car is still out there, coming back for revenge. In Shawshank Redemption, Red rapes Andy to death. (Probably. We haven't read it.) King never wants anyone for a second to think that death isn't creeping up behind us at all times. That's why in a story where four dirt-poor kids end up getting the shit kicked out of them, they had to end up dead; otherwise, this might come off as optimistic.
John Donegal is a rogue academic. He recently lost a bet with his little sister, so here is her awesome website for you to visit.
The secrets don't stop here, learn more in the Cracked.com book.
For more shows that deviated from the source material, check out The 10 Most Disastrous Saturday Morning Cartoon Adaptations. Or learn about some movies that were better left unedited, in 5 Awesomes Movies Ruined By Last-Minute Changes.
And stop by Linkstorm to see what happened to Smythe.
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