My favorite horror novels, in no particular order.
Halloween: it’s the time of year when lots of lists pop up, full of recommendations for books and films that’ll scare the pants off of you. I figured that this year I’d join the fun and share my top 10 (in no particular order) of horror novels I thoroughly enjoyed. When I was creating this list I discovered I have an apparent love for books about haunted houses, according to almost half of the titles on there. You learn something new about yourself every day!
1. The House of Leaves - Mark Z. Danielewski. Yes, this is a book that demands hard work. A story within a story, and about a billion footnotes? Typography that goes mad halfway through the book? No way to find out what you should read first, and what information is important? I’m not surprised many give up after 50 pages. However, if you stick with it, this story about a house that is bigger on the inside (and then some!) than it is on the outside will reward you plenty.
2. Skeleton Crew - Stephen King. No horror list can be complete without a Stephen King book on there somewhere. I decided not to go with ‘The Shining’, ‘It’ or ‘Carrie’, even those are great horror novels, but instead I would like to recommend this book of short stories. It contains some of my all-time favorite King stories, such as ‘The Mist’ (Fog will never look the same to you), ‘The Raft’, which made me even more afraid of swimming in water where I can’t see the bottom, and ‘Gramma’, about a grandmother with a payoff that gave me nightmares.
3. The House Next Door - Anne Rivers Siddons. Let me warn you: this book starts out so innocently, so mundane, and almost…boring, and then it brings out the creepy in bucketloads. We are used to haunted house being old, but what if the house was only just built, and not on an Indian cemetery? The story draws its strength more from telling than from showing, but that does not make it any less compelling.
4. The Exorcist - William Peter Blatty. What can I say about ‘The Exorcist’ that you haven’t heard a million times? Perhaps that it’s not wise to quote the movie when you’re not absolutely sure your audience has seen it: you’ll get some strange looks when you blurt out ‘Your mother sucks cocks in hell’. Anyway, the book, about a young girl who is possessed by a demon (who at first goes by the deceivingly innocent moniker ‘Captain Howdy’) when she plays with an Ouija board (is there anyone around who would touch such a thing?) and then has to undergo an exorcism is even better when you read it in dark, alone, preferably during a thunderstorm.
5. Hell House - Richard Matheson. I discovered the genius of Richard Matheson only a few years back, when I found out he is the author of ‘I am Legend’ (a book that’s not on this list, but perhaps should be). I quickly remedied this error on my part by reading everything I could get my grubby little mitts on, and was it ever worth it! ‘Hell House’ is about Belasco House, which appears to be haunted by its former owner. A previous expedition to uncover its secrets ended in slaughter, with only one survivor who now returns for a second go. Psychics, mediums, nudity, demonic attacks: this book has it all!
6. The Woman in Black - Susan Hill. I read this book because I heard it would be turned into a movie starring Daniel ‘Harry Potter’ Radcliffe, and I have this thing about always reading the book before I see the movie. I like to make up my mind about the characters before a director shows me what they are like. The story uses plenty of classic horror elements: hostile villagers, mysterious visions, a skeptic main character who starts to believe in the end, and a twist at the end that actually made me go “Aww, HELL NO”. In a good way.
7. Let the Right One in - John Ajvide Lindqvist. I guess it isn’t a horror list until vampires show up somewhere along the way, so I might as well include them with this excellent book. What I like about it is that it’s not your standard ‘vampires are evil, stake stake STAKE’ fare, but instead the evil lies elsewhere: school bullies and pedophiles, for example. Definitely one of the first books that made me root for the child vampire. Plenty of gore included, which is always a plus!
8. The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson. Shirley Jackson is the queen of implicit horror. Her short story ’ The Lottery’ is a deserved classic. ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ is said to have inspired ‘Hell House’ by Richard Matheson, but I think the comparison is mostly superficial. Yes, this book also deals with the investigation of a haunted house by people who claim to possess psychic abilities, but the haunted house here is subtle instead of obvious, and tries to scare people away instead of brutally mutilating or killing them. Just one tip: never watch Jan de Bont’s movie version of this book, ‘The Haunting’, because it sucks so very hard.
9. World War Z - Max Brooks. I wasn’t sure if I should include this book on my horror list, as I would rank it as a post-apocalyptic novel. That’s not to say that the two genres don’t overlap occasionally (see ‘The Stand’ by Stephen King, for instance), but this is not a book that frightened me. Then I figured: it’s about zombies, and it is one of the best zombie books I have ever read, so I should share it! When the zombie apocalypse starts, you will be very glad to have read this book, as it details the way it will likely go (well, if we end up with slow, can-be-killed-by-taking-out-the-brain zombies. You never know what might happen). The book consists of a number of witness accounts, from the first manifestations to the all-out war. Max Brooks has an eye for detail, and he thinks of every eventuality. Really, even if you hate zombie stories: just read this one. It’s definitely worth it.
10. Rosemary’s Baby - Ira Levin. You are probably familiar with the story: Rosemary moves into an apartment building with her husband, and they get friendly with the neighbors. But her husband starts to act mighty strange, and the friendly neighbors might actually be part of a satanic cult! When Rosemary gets pregnant, she starts to suspect she is carrying Satan’s baby. And that’s when the shit hits the fan! I really love this book, although it was very nearly ruined for me when I read its sequel, ‘Rosemary’s Son’. Now I just pretend that it does not exist, which is for the best.
So that’s my list. Have any recommendations for me? Did I miss out on some genius horror? Let me know!