Halloween is almost upon us, and there is no better time to delve into ten horror novels and short stories to help set the mood. Face it, some of these stories just won’t read the same in January or July because the weeks and days leading up to the end of October are the perfect time to read them.
In case you are wondering what qualifies me to be bringing you this list, I’ll give you a brief background on myself. I grew up on horror. I read The Shining when I was nine, and it made me want to be a writer. Through the years I’ve professionally reviewed dozens of horror films and interviewed horror actors and directors for the likes of Tattoo Savage magazine, Filmthreat.com and other publications and websites. In addition to that, I am the author of Nothing Men, a well-regarded horror novel that is being looked at by a few directors as I write this piece. In other words: I know my way around the subject. So, without further ado, here is the list in no particular order.
- 1. The Shining by Stephen King – Not only is this the book that influenced me to become a writer, it is one of the best fictional haunted house stories ever told. Its sense of isolation and the degeneration of a family already on edge is masterfully orchestrated and offers a boatload of horrors for first-time readers. Scene after scene of disconcerting occurrences build to a conclusion that leaves its audience spellbound and shaking.
- 2. The Dream Cycle of H.P. Lovecraft: Dreams of Terror and Death by H.P. Lovecraft – There are horror writers, and there is H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft is one of the few writers to really get under my skin and give me the creeps. He has created a mythos that remains with us to this day, and in this book there are over twenty tales guaranteed to make you shiver. From “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” to “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” there is something here for everyone. There is a reason Lovecraft has influenced everyone from King to Metallica, and that reason is in every single sentence of each of these short stories.
- 3. Halloween by Curtis Richards – It seems like a given for a second, and then you realize it is an adaptation of a classic horror film and wonder why you should bother. Normally, you’d be correct, but this novelization goes a bit beyond the movie and is a great, quick read that is totally appropriate after a weighty course of Lovecraft. Richards keeps the story moving, and while it isn’t as chilling as John Carpenter’s original movie, it is well worth reading in its own right.
- 4. The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson – If you grew up on the East Coast in the 1970s, you could not escape what supposedly happened in Amityville, New York (and what seems to be experiencing a cultural revival today). The “true story” involves a family that moves into a house where a series of murders took place. Less than a month later the family fled the house fearing it was haunted beyond belief. I was fascinated with this story as a child and later dated a girl whose aunt briefly dated the man who killed his family in the house. The novel, despite the authenticity of the events it covers, is spooky enough in its own right, but if you are a believer (and there are plenty), it is one of the most terrifying things you’ll ever read.
- 5. “Flash Point” by Gardner Dozois – This short story has appeared in a couple of anthologies, but first surfaced in 1974’s Orbit 13. It starts with an abandoned car and ends … elsewhere. The story often seems to meander but then something happens that sucks you right back in. Granted, this doesn’t offer anything that I’d call an “outright scare,” but it is unsettling and unpredictable.
- 6. The EC Archives: Tales from the Crypt – There are a few ways to read the stories from this old comic book series. You can buy the original issues, which is an expensive undertaking. You could buy the reprinted issues, which is economical. Or you could buy these hardcover, oversized editions and experience some of the best writing and art ever to grace horror comics. This collection is the perfect point between reprint issues and the originals. Each volume has the most memorable and disgusting stories ever created for comic books. EC was one of the big reasons comics were attacked as cultural boogeymen in the 1950s. Pick up any one of these volumes and see why.
- 7. “The Midnight Meat Train” by Clive Barker – Originally appearing in the first volume of the Books of Blood, this short story proved to me that all the hype surrounding the British writer was the real deal. It is grisly and terrifying, and if the title alone doesn’t stop you in your tracks, what happens in the story will. Barker has written many books and short stories, but this one is a classic in its own right.
- 8. Shadowland by Peter Straub – While not necessarily a horror book per se, it does have its share of unsettling moments. In my eyes it is Straub’s most imaginative work, and it is also one that some fans seem to have a problem with for one reason or another. It is perfect reading for those days when a shudder is more desired than a full-on jugular grabbing scare. This story of two boys spending the summer with one of their uncles, who may or may not be a real sorcerer, won’t keep you up at night, but it will stick with you days after you’ve finished it.
- 9. “Hop-Frog” by Edgar Allan Poe – Poe has many great stories, but this one, a tale of nasty revenge, is one that always got me in the gut. Hop-Frog is a “little person” court jester, and when the love of his life (another “little person”) is struck by the king, Hop-Frog comes up with a plan that finds him dressing his royal master and seven members of his council as apes and then doing something hideous to them that is best left for readers to discover. It is one of Poe’s most brutal stories, and it is also one of his lesser known ones, perhaps due to the subject matter. Regardless, I’ll take this over any of his other works any day.
- 10. “On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks” by Joe R. Lansdale – Before zombies were the cultural force they are today, this short story appeared in handful of anthologies. Why? Because it is amazing. Lansdale is an incredible writer no matter what medium he is working in, but here, with this tale of handless, dancing zombie girls, he starts off with both barrels blazing and never gives readers a chance to catch their breath. So much of today’s zombie fiction has roots in this story that Lansdale should be earning royalties by the ton. When he wrote this one in 1989, these were original ideas – and they still kick undead butt. If you are a zombie fan and haven’t read this story, you aren’t a zombie fan.
So there you have it, ten stories and books to keep your October frightful no matter what kind of scare you are into. You may be familiar with some of the tales, but it is doubtful you’ve read each and every one. Not all of them are the authors’ most popular work, or even their best work, but they all make for great reading leading up to Halloween.