There is nothing more Halloween than a good scary story. In fact it is the most Halloween thing there is. While some of us pretty much treat the entire year like All Hallow’s Eve; October is a fine time to break out the good stuff. If you happen to be looking for a good book, or short story, to get into the spirit, then here are a few of my suggestions. Admittedly, a few of these are fairly standard but that’s why they have stood the test of time. (Of course, Night Shall Overtake should be on your list already. *wink, wink*)
Dracula – Bram Stoker : Read it when I was 11 years old and it creeped me out. Still the standard bearer for the dark and spooky. Victorian horror at it’s best.
Exorcist – William Peter Blatty: One of the few books I have ever read, finished, and them immediately turned back to the first page and read it again. Everything you could possibly want in good horror.
Lost Souls & Drawing Blood – Poppy Brite: Poppy Brite (now Billy Martin) published these two novels full of sex, drugs, and music that profoundly influenced me in so many ways. Both of these novels, while completely separate stories, usually get read together when I pick them up. Bloody and dangerous, these aren’t your daddy’s horror.
Let the Right One In – John Ajvide Lindqvist: Stark, cold, and disturbing. Set in a cold Norwegian winter, it seems as if the sun never emerges to chase away the dark narrative. It reminds us that vampires are not always the tortured romantics we’ve had lately. Both movies are worth a watch, but the novel has a texture that makes it nearly impossible to put it down, or forget.
It – Stephen King: Okay, just hear me out. I know that it is expected now that the movie is out. While I haven’t seen it yet (and I’m sure I will once it shows up on Netflix) it has to be better than the made-for-tv movie. (no disrespect to Tim Curry who gave a generation of kids a fear of clowns) The book, however, is one of King’s best. It’s one of the few that would creep me out as a kid, and still do so as an adult.
Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury: Just a fantastic story. Nice and dark with all that Bradbury goodness. Still a little surprised Disney made a movie out of it. Both should be a seasonal tradition.
The Damnation Game – Clive Barker: I am such a huge fan of Clive Barker’s writing, it’s slightly absurd. Most of his writing is more on the side of dark fantastique, but his earlier stuff, like Books of Blood, were great frightfests. The Damnation Game is a little bit of both and just one hell of a good ride.
Soul Sister – G.W. Wright: Recently finished this novel and it needs to be on a list such as this. Creepy, dark, and poignant; it’s one that will go quick simply because you will be hard pressed to put it down.
The Horror Squad – T.J. Weeks: My current read (sorry T.J., just now getting to it) and you should be thankful that I put it down long enough to write all this. It’s fun, bloody, and action-packed. It’s also spawned it’s own series and a comic adaption.
Masterpiece of Terror series – Edited by Marvin Kaye: These anthologies, edited by Marvin Kaye, and often with covers illustrated by Edward Gorey, were my favorites to check out at the library when I was younger. Stories ranging from Stoker and La Fanu, to more contemporary like Oates and Matheson, filled these with some of my favorite stories ever. Some editions were just supernatural stories, other more thematic, such as the Devils and Demons edition. If you can find them, grab them immediately.
The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson: Do I really need to say anything about this one? THE classic haunted house story.
The Keep – F. Paul Wilson: Yes, the one they made that very avante-horror movie of in the 80’s. Nothing like Nazi’s trying to control the supernatural, only to have the tables turned. The story is fairly standard, but the atmosphere is totally worth it.
Servants of Twilight – Dean Koontz: To be honest, I haven’t read this one. I have it on good authority (my better half, Melody) that it is amazing, creepy, and everything a good horror story should be. Because I trust her taste in the macabre implicitly, I felt this list incomplete without it.
Joyce Carol Oates – Despite her family epics and deep fictions, few realize the Oates can spin a spooky yarn. She has put out more than a few scary short stories and novels. Mysteries of Winterthurn and Bellefluer are great novels, or try The Others for shorter fare.
Short stories: (maybe some tales to tell around the bonfire?)
Dracula’s Guest – Bram Stoker: Published posthumously by Stoker’s widow, I can only assume that it was part of an alternate chapter from Dracula that didn’t make the cut. A great gloomy tale of everyone’s favorite vampire. (You might try The Judge’s Guest, by Stoker, as well. A nice little spine-tingler.)
Carmilla – Sheridan La Fanu: A vampire tale as classic and beloved as Dracula, Carmilla is a delicate and bloody tale that is both subtle and blatant in its LGBT overtones.
The Night Wire – H.F. Arnold: While I’m not sure this is the original, it’s a story that’s been readapted many times. The classic haunted technology story where the dire warnings come from beyond the grave. (I think Dickens may have started this traditional tale with his ghost story No.1 Branch Line – The Signal-Man. Someone should look into it.)
The Sixth Sentinel – Poppy Brite: From her Wormwood collection, a fun little story of cohabitation from the ghost’s perspective.
Shuggoth’s Old Peculiar – Neil Gaiman: A properly slimy and dank nod to H.P. Lovecraft.
The Yattering and Jack – Clive Barker: Squaring off with a demon isn’t all fun and games. You’ll find yourself gritting your teeth along with Jack in this man vs. damnation tale.
Dying in Bangkok – Dan Simmons: From the NSFW anthology Little Deaths, this rather adult tale is another take on the vampire that will stick with you.
Those of you who have been paying attention noticed that I haven’t mentioned any stories from Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, or even Mary Shelly. That’s because these are givens. Poe and Shelly should be mandatory for any Halloween reading, in my humble opinion. Lovecraft, though a favorite, isn’t for everyone.
So there we are, a few suggestions for some October reading. While not even close to complete, it’s a good place to start. Check out my book review page as well. There are even more suggestions there. Happy (spooky) reading!
Remember kids: stay in school, don’t drink and drive, and read something that scares you.