A horror spooktacular!
I have spent a good portion of my life trying to find a horror novel that actually scares me. It’s not that I’m oh-so-tough or brave, but for some reason I never get scared by books. At least, not since I was a little girl on a long car ride and I found a copy of Stephen King’s Night Shift on the floor, started reading it, and was absolutely shattered by The Boogeyman. And as much as I’ve tried to recapture that “I WILL NEVER SLEEP AGAIN!!!” feeling, it hasn’t happened for me yet. But I keep reading—vampires, werewolves, splatter killers, creepy kids, ghosts, possessed animals—I’ve tried ’em all, and I’ve been entertained, grossed out, sucked in, enjoyed the writing with my brain-parts, but I’ve never felt that truly visceral fear again.
So, while nothing on this list scared me the way The Boogeyman scared me when I was seven, they are all horror books I have enjoyed. And hopefully, you will be less of a robot than me and they will keep you up all night with the lights on and the sheets pulled right up over your head. (Just FYI—sheets are terrible shields and would never actually stop a monster from devouring you. Sweet dreams!)
For the season, I’m also going to be making several horror lists that are more terror-specific: clowns, zombies, ghosts, vampires, serial killers, etc., so you can locate your own personal fear and read all about it!
I always say this book is like Deliverance with monsters. It’s a highly atmospheric piece of historical literary horror, set in 1911 Idaho, that manages to successfully incorporate elements as disparate as Nazi eugenics, a deadly plague, the KKK, creepy hill people, and—yes—monsters. This is the closest a book has ever come to scaring me; chills were felt. It’s a slow build, but it definitely delivers. #notapun
Although he’s never succeeded in scaring me, Nick Cutter is one of my favorite contemporary horror writers. He’s masterful at creating and sustaining a mood of dread; reminiscent of Stephen King at his best. Here, 5 boy scouts on a wilderness survival weekend to an uninhabited island discover the results of genetic experimentation run amok and it gets exquisitely gruesome. Will they earn their mad scientist badges?
If this weren’t such an excellent book in its own right, I might feel awkward about including it here, since I appear as a character in it. But apart from best-character-ever Karen Brissette, this book is an outstanding contribution to the demonic possession genre: it’s cerebral, spooky, ambiguous, playful and original, and it works as both psychological and supernatural horror. Smart, eerie and intense. Also, me.
I think spiders are cool and not at all scary, but if you’re an arachnophobe, this is bound to terrify you. Giant carnivorous spiders breeding very quickly and taking over the world with their hunger for human flesh. Not much more to it than that, but does there need to be? It’s action-packed, bloody, and funny in a syfy movie way, but much better-written. This is the first in a series, so get ready for more mayhem!
This book takes a recognizable horror; hoarding, and adds something extra to make it even more chilling: a parasite that will tunnel under your skin and transform you into a violent host for blood-based organisms, making you want to burrow down in a warm dark smelly place until you pop and set all your “babies” free. After reading this, you will be compelled to deep-clean your place like crazy, so: win/win.
A highly original premise, combining pandemic, vampiric, and ethical/philosophical horror. One day, all pre-pubescent children suddenly die. After 3 days, they come back but can only remain alive if they are fed human blood. Lots of human blood. When it becomes unsustainable to use their own blood, parents must find alternative ways to feed their kids. 420 characters is not enough to do this book justice. Trust me.
A fast-paced, slashery tale with a twist that takes place in a high end hotel with a hedge maze, secret passages, white carpeting, and a cutting-edge security system. So cutting edge that there are the cameras you see, and the cameras you don’t see. But the *cameras* see everything, including that white carpeting turning red over the course of an evening. More than just splatter, this one’s got some surprises to it.
On the other side of the splatter-spectrum is this book, best described as “quietly chilling.” Like Shirley Jackson, the tone is detached rather than showy, and it relates the formative experiences of 5 children from a small, very insular town in Germany, where 4 of them have returned as adults for the funeral of their friend. Both supernatural and human horrors haunt their pasts in this trip down creepy-memory lane.
This book knows the unseen is way scarier than the seen. A mysterious phenomenon occurs worldwide: people see something that triggers violent mania and suicide. No one has lived long enough to describe the “something,” but it causes paranoid panic as people board windows, don blindfolds, and isolate themselves, scared of every sound and what might be lurking just beyond their blindfolds. Intense, claustrophobic fun!
One more for the smalltown horror category, this is pure Southern Gothic with ghosts, Native American curses, a spooky mirror, a haunted lake, and a mysterious disappearance. It’s also got a bank robbery, corporate espionage, and blackmail, so it’s a mashup of horror and crime fiction in which four storylines eventually converge. This is the first book in a trilogy, so prepare to stick around Niceville for a while.