1963 novel and the 1965 film) has the distinction of being cited as being a personal favorite by more than one real-life serial killer.
The story (although relatively bloodless) is chilling for what it says more than what it shows. The story and movie open with a butterfly collector (played by Terence Stamp) kidnapping a 20 year-old art student (played by Samantha Eggar in an Oscar-nominated performance) and locking her in his cellar. The collector's goal is to make this woman fall in love with him. To this end, he has fashioned the cellar dungeon in the style of a lavish apartment and provides her with whatever items she might desire, frequently referring to her as his "guest". In a modern world that includes men like Josef Fritzl (who kept his daughter and the children they had together locked in a cellar for twenty-four years), the story might seem either horribly prophetic or humorously quaint.
Both the film and the first half of the novel follow this strange premise to its logical conclusion, as the woman's attempts to escape grow more intricate and desperate. At first, the collector seems genuinely embarrassed and addresses his captive with an almost endearing shyness. But the cracks in his proper British facade reveal this social awkwardness as a symptom of a psychopathic mind, unable to understand the wrongness of his actions.
The major difference between the film and the novel comes in the second half of the book, which switches the point of view from the collector to Miranda Gray, the art student whom he has abducted. You read excerpts from Miranda's secret diary where she describes her early life and her attempts at making an identity for herself. Both characters are unformed personalities, neither really understanding what it means to love, but we can believe that at least Miranda has the capacity to learn and grow emotionally (unlike her captor). Some fans of the novel complain that the film, in essence, took away the victim's voice by removing her inner monologue. While the film is still effective, I would certainly agree that the novel has more depth because of this section.
This was the first novel written by John Fowles (who later went on to write The Magus and The French Lieutenant's Woman, among others) and the screenplay was adapted by Stanley Mann and John Kohn (which earned them an Oscar nomination). It is both famous for its three Oscar nominations (the third being William Wyler as Best Director) and infamous for allegedly inspiring the works of several serial killers (including Leonard Lake, Christopher Wilder and Robert Berdella). Take a look for yourself and see what it does for you.