The film is based on Horns (2010), a novel by Joe Hill. Joe Hill is better known by his birth name Joseph Hillstrom King and is the son of Stephen King. He began publishing horror fiction in 1997, taking the name Joe Hill seeking to avoid comparisons to his father and wanting to establish his own name. Recognition duly came with his work winning the Bram Stoker Awards, World Fantasy Awards and British Fantasy Awards. Hill was eventually outed as Kings son in an article in Variety in 2007. He has published three novels to date with Heart-Shaped Box (2007), Horns and NOS4A2 (2013), which have achieved some best-selling status.
I havent read Joe Hills book. However, the premise of the man who starts growing horns is one that has been conducted before. There was Gormenghast creator Mervyn Peakes novel Mr Pye (1953) about a man who suddenly spouts angels wings in an effort to get rid of them, he deliberately sets out to do bad, only to then find himself developing horns. This was filmed as the little-seen tv mini-series Mr Pye (1986) starring Derek Jacobi. There was also animator Bill Plymptons rather funny Idiots and Angels (2008) about a man who develops a set of angel wings. You could also maybe draw some analogies between Horns and Stephen Kings Needful Things (1991), filmed as Needful Things (1993), wherein a stranger who may be The Devil stirs up a small town by exposing their guilty secrets.
Horns kicks in with a pleasantly unwholesome bite as we see the various people around Daniel Radcliffe confessing their deepest darkest secrets Kelli Garner wanting to compulsively eat a whole box of donuts; the doctor (Alex Zahara) confessing desire for his teenage daughters friend; the girl telling about keying the car of her cheating boyfriends fling; a mother wanting to hurt her bratty child. About the point of Daniel Radcliffe inspiring a group of tv reporters to turn on each other in a brawl and a barman to set his premises alight for insurance money, Alexandre Aja hits a black comedy vein and the film seems alight with diabolical glee. The film brims over with Biblical imagery and references Daniel Radcliffe gets to hold a pitchfork and command snakes, there is an Eves Diner and a town called Gideon Bay. It is clearly Radcliffe choosing to avoid the typecasting of the Harry Potter films and do something very different.
On the minus side, Horns proves to be half a good film. The main problem is that after introducing the horns concept in the first half, the second half seems more interested in being a smalltown murder mystery as Daniel Radcliffe seeks to solve who murdered his girlfriend Juno Temple, something that takes him on a tangled web back to his childhood. This is semi-interesting although not as interesting as the scenes with people confessing their dirty secrets and the script certainly weaves a well-threaded mystery. It is just that you feel like the second half didnt need the horns concept and could have worked perfectly well as a mundane murder mystery on its own. The result makes Horns feel like two different films competing for screen time.