This is one of my favorite movies and books of all time. I'm going to talk about the book in this blog, but needless to say the movie was a faithful and excellent film version.
From the opening page you are hooked. There is no chance you won’t continue reading, and reading… until the wee hours of the night. I wanted to discover why this book (and movie) works so well. Here are my thoughts.
For one thing, Ira Levin (the author) sets up a number of things that immediately seem off, or odd. It starts right on the first page. It makes you curious and it makes you worry for the main character. These are key ingredients to keep you reading.
For example, the apartment building has a sinister (if not, evil) history. We’re immediately curious (and apprehensive too) to learn more. In an early twist, the young couple get a break and an apartment opens up, even after they'd agreed to lease another place.
Many things that seem perfectly normal on the surface are imbued with a feeling of dread. It’s worry for the main character that keeps you reading long into the night.
I concludes that effective suspense is created by introducing elements to a story that could be, on one hand, minor disturbances, and things to genuinely worry about. Together they create a palpable sense of fear and dread - and nothing makes us want to keep reading more than that.
Read the book. Then find the movie. It’s storytelling at its best.