Get your fright fix with Susannah Schenk,
Customer Service Specialist and the Northside resident horror aficionado!
Spooky season is finally upon us, meaning it’s the perfect time to grab a bowl of popcorn and curl up with your favorite scary movie on a dark and stormy night. But if you’re looking to get your spooks another way, horror literature has your back. No matter what sort of scare you’re after, whether it be a haunting or a masked man with a chainsaw, there’s sure to be a book that’ll tingle your spine and scratch that exact horror itch that’ll have you looking over your shoulder or sleeping with the lights on, just like your favorite horror films.
Ever since The Blair Witch Project was released in 1999, the popularity of found footage movies in the horror genre has been on the rise. More than just shaky camera footage, the true horror of found footage classics comes from how the lines of reality and fiction blur, the uncertainty of if what’s happening is real or if it’s one big hoax. So if films like Rec, As Above, So Below, and Paranormal Activity are up your alley, here are some novels that read like you’ve just stumbled on a lost camcorder containing horrors untold on a stroll through the woods.
Episode Thirteen by Craig DiLouie— Told through broken pieces, tapes, journal entries, and correspondence between characters, Episode Thirteen documents the crew of ghost hunters for the reality show Fade to Black as they venture to the holy grail for anyone hunting the paranormal, the Paranormal Research Foundation. Famously haunted and once the grounds for bizarre experiments that date back to the 1970s, the crew has high hopes for their newest episode. But as they learn the house’s secrets, they quickly learn it’s more than they ever could’ve bargained for, and the proof they’re looking for may not be everything they dreamed of.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski— Perhaps considered the definitive found footage novel, House of Leaves details a young man finding an unfinished manuscript of a recently deceased author, adding his own annotations to the work titled The Navidson Record, an academic review of a film that describes all the anomalies of a house in Virginia which is larger on the inside that it is on the outside. If such a film even exists. It’s considered one of the most unique books ever written solely for how it’s written, as its non-linear plot is told through multiple storylines, articles, interview transcripts, and more. It’s also very interactive, sometimes causing readers to have to read upside down text with a mirror or try to decipher clues from fictional footnotes. This novel has a high page count, about 736, and it can take effort to make sense of, but the experience alone can be worth it if you’re up for the challenge.
Last Days by Adam Nevill— Guerrilla documentary filmmaker Kyle Freeman is tasked with shooting a film on the Temple of Last Days, a notorious cult that reached worldwide fame back in the 70s when their leader was killed in a massacre. But as he interviews those involved in the case, breaking their silence for the first time in a long time, uncanny and disturbing events begin happening around him as he explores the paranormal myths that surround the cult as he hits different significant locations for them around the world. And as he begins to uncover what the cult may have managed to awaken, he sees that interest may not be so one-sided.
Sometimes, horror is at its scariest when the threat isn’t so in your face. Psychological horror creates fear not by blood and guts or knife wielding killers, but rather through the more subtle means of suggestion and implication to make the characters, and the viewer, paranoid. If films such as Psycho, The Silence of the Lambs, and Get Out are your cup of tea, these titles should leave you feeling just as unsettled, even with the lights on.
Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk— A novel told in twenty-three stories that center around people who answered an ad reading: ‘Artists Retreat: Abandon your life for three months’. It sounds like the perfect situation for artists to leave real life behind for a while at an ornate old theater and be able to put aside the distractions that are preventing them from creating their inner masterpiece. But it’s not. While isolated from the world, necessities like heat, power, and food grow increasingly short in supply. As they do, the stories told get more and more desperate. And as they do, those telling the stories grow more and more devious in order to become the hero of whatever art and stories will inevitably come from their trials.
Beloved by Toni Morrison— Born a slave, Sethe was able to escape to Ohio. But her past is refusing to set her free. Memories of the hideous happenings at Sweet Home, the farm she’d fled, continue to haunt her home, as does the angry ghost of her baby, who died without a name but whose tombstone reads ‘Beloved’. The past refuses to be left alone, it’s felt and experienced not only by her but by those around her. And then the unthinkable happens. A mysterious teenage girl shows up in her life, calling herself Beloved.
The Last House on Needless Street— A boarded up but otherwise normal house at the end of a normal dead end street at the edge of the woods. A family of three live here, a girl not allowed to leave after last time, a man who drinks a lot to try to ignore what he can’t remember, and a cat who loves to catch a nap and read the Bible. A serial killer. A stolen child. It’s like a story that you may have read before. But it’s not. You may think you have it figured out. But you don’t.
Some of the best horror movies are due to the main antagonists who leave their bloody mark all over them. With many entries into each of their franchises, names like Michael Myers, Jason, and Ghostface leave a trail of bodies in their wake in popular slasher films such as the ever popular Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Scream. Horror novels have also introduced some memorable slashers— and the final girls who come with them— over the years. Here are some titles that’ll have you looking over your shoulder for the boogeyman.
My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones— A love letter to the slasher genre. Jade Daniels’ love of horror movies, especially slasher movies, has always saved her life. She knows all the rules like the back of her hand and even gives a handy Slasher 101 rundown to the readers. But then, her wildest dream comes true. Events are lining up just right. The final girl seems to have shown up in her hometown. And blood starts spilling as Proofrock, Idaho, gets its very own slasher. This is Jade’s story, full of hurt and rage but also hope, as she starts her own journey to possibly becoming a final girl herself.
The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix— What if the final girls of all our favorite slasher movies wind up in a therapy group together to work through the trauma heaped on them by their respective slasher? Though as they try to put their lives back together piece by piece, someone has found out about their group and is trying to take their lives apart again piece by piece. But the final girl is always the one left standing by the end of the movie, no matter the odds against her. And this time, these final girls have each other.
Curse of the Reaper by Brian McAuley— Method actor Howard Browning played the titular killer in the popular horror movie franchise Night of the Reaper for decades. But, as often happens, when the series gets a long-awaited reboot years later, he’s replaced by a younger heartthrob in Trevor Mane. Both men have their issues. Trevor is fresh out of rehab and looking to revamp his image while staying sober, and Howard, deemed too old for the role, is incapable of letting go of the character he gave life to and desires to reclaim his legacy at any cost. But in the fight for the soul of a killer both men have claimed, Howard’s mind begins to unravel à la Jack Torrence in The Shining as he’s pushed to the brink of violence. Is it just madness, or is it The Reaper?
Ain’t afraid of no ghost? Take on these paranormal horror novels filled with ghosts, demons, and haunted places that’ll give you the same spine tingles as titles such as The Conjuring, The Amityville Horror, and The Exorcist if you’re not afraid to face the things that go bump in the night.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson— Jackson’s classic brings four seekers to Hill House. At first, it’s a typical haunting filled with spooky or unexplainable phenomena. But soon, it’ll claim one of them as its own.
My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix—Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since they were in the fifth grade. Though things change when they reach high school, and Gretchen starts acting… different. Abby realizes that there’s only one possible explanation: her best friend is possessed. And she won’t allow even the Devil himself to come between her and Gretchen.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia— Noemí Taboada finds herself heading to High Place house when she receives a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin, claiming she’s in danger from a mysterious doom. Not knowing what to expect since her cousin’s new family are strangers to her, and being an unlikely rescuer herself, she still isn’t afraid as she tries to break open the secrets of High Place. But the more she unburies, the more mesmerized she becomes by this terrifying but alluring world, and leaving High Place may prove to be impossible.
We’ve all ignored the signs to not go in the water or to stay out of the woods at some point in our lives, right? Sometimes, those who venture where they’re not supposed to go aren’t lucky enough to make it back out because of what lurks within. Monster movies have long dominated the horror genre with some of the most popular titles over the years. From the classic Universal monsters such as Dracula, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the Wolfman to iconic titles such as Tremors, Night of the Living Dead, and Jaws, creature features have long captured the attention of scary movie lovers, as other than just being downright fun, the monsters themselves tend to have a way of reflecting the anxieties of society. Likewise, these books will have you battling your monsters and confronting your own deepest fears.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley— Shelley’s classic work of gothic horror brings us the tale of Dr. Frankenstein crafting his own human being and bringing it to life. But playing God has its disadvantages. Hated and vilified for being different and appearing so hideous, the creature is driven to become the monster society wants it to be, and the doctor loses control of his creation. But the fates of these two characters are forever intertwined as they head toward their bitter end in the Arctic wastelands. And for us readers, it raises the ever moral question of which one is truly the monster.
Love Frankenstein? Come check out the traveling exhibit from the National Library of Medicine at Northside Library!
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix— A book club made up of Charleston housewives who share a love of true crime and suspenseful fiction meet to discuss novels, the ups and downs of marriage and motherhood, and whatever the FBI’s been up to lately. Of course they’re intrigued when an artistic, sensitive, and, let’s be real, attractive stranger arrives in town, and speculation about this man soon dominates their regular discussions. However, when children begin to disappear, Patricia Campbell starts to suspect this newcomer and begins her own investigation. To her horror, he’s not just another Jeffry Dahmer. And the only ones who can save their community from the horror they’ve invited in is her book club.
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones— Jones simply owns the genre of monster literature. Whether it be the creatures in his coming of age werewolf tale Mongrels, zombies in the slightly more humorous Zombie Bake-Off, or the Elk-Head Woman in The Only Good Indians, there aren’t many authors who are able to write such good monsters that cause so much dread. In this story, four American Indian men are in a desperate fight for their lives after being involved in a disturbing incident in their youths. This entity is tracking them one by one to have her revenge, and there’s nothing these four friends can do about it as their past, and all the traditions they tried in vain to leave behind, catch up with them in a vengeful and violent way. Just be careful about looking through any ceiling fans.
What’s really out there? For many years, cosmic horror has had us asking that very same question. What makes this subgenre so scary is it deals solely with the unknown, up through the vast, unforgiving expanse of space or down through the deepest, darkest depths of the ocean. We don’t know what’s there, and sometimes those questions can be scarier than the answers themselves. It can make us feel like we’re nothing, that we’re helpless, when there is so much out there that we don’t know about. The Cthulhu mythos created by H.P. Lovecraft is often regarded as the most impactful lore in the cosmic horror genre, expanding well beyond his work and into pop culture through films, works by other writers, and even numerous video, board, and roleplaying games. If films such as Underwater, The Thing, and Nope tend to be your go-to films for spooky season, and you don’t feel up to reading Lovecraft, these titles may also just fill you with dread and serve to remind you of our insignificance in a vast universe that we have no control over.
What the Hell Did I Just Read by David Wong— “They” don’t want you to read this story. “They” are probably right. But if you pick this up, it’s your responsibility to prevent other people from reading it. So tread carefully. It’s a fairly straightforward case of an interdimensional predator, but maybe something weird may actually be going on this time. It’s a truth these characters, and you, don’t want to know. And “They” certainly don’t want you to know it. Or, at least, “They” are hoping that you think this tale is just too unbelievable or dumb to be true. It’s up to you. It’s probably fine. Just be prepared to laugh a bit along the way.
The Deep by Nick Cutter— ‘Gets is the name given to a strange plague that is infecting humanity around the world. People start forgetting small things at first, and then more major things, and finally, their body just forgets how to function involuntarily. There is no cure. But deep in the Marianas Trench, a recently discovered substance named “ambrosia” seems, at least by first reports, to be a universal healer, and could possibly lead to a universal cure, even for ‘Gets. The Trieste, a special research lab, is deployed to study “ambrosia”. But when the Trieste is unable to be reached, it’s up to a few to brave the depths and explore the mysteries of this miracle. But there may be something else waiting for them far beneath the waves, something more evil and beyond what anyone is able to imagine.
Meddling Kids by Edward Cantero— Imagine the Scooby Doo gang grew up and had to face something out of this world. The Blyton Summer Detective Club solved its final mystery in 1997 by unmasking the Sleepy Lake monster, and just like always, it’s a guy in a costume who would’ve gotten away with it if it weren’t for those meddling kids. But the disturbing memories of that final night in the haunted house are haunting each member of the group, causing them to grow apart from each other. Things half-remembered can’t all be explained by the typical man in a mask. In 1990, the team comes back together: tomboy Andy who’s wanted in two states and is tired of running from her demons and wants answers; genius Kerri who’s developed a drinking problem; Tim, the Weimaraner who’s descended from their original four-legged companion; Nate, the horror nerd residing in an asylum; and their handsome jock turned movie star leader Peter, who’s also happened to be dead for years. All together again, they can find the answers that are still to be uncovered at Sleepy Lake, and maybe save the world along the way.