For those of us who aren’t keen on jump-scares, horror movies probably don’t hold much appeal. Sure, there are certain, quality cinematic standouts which are absolutely worth the lack of sleep, but there are also others which are basically elaborate excuses to feature blood and tits on a big screen (which is fine, but, like, I can see boobs without paying admission, y’know?).
But if you’re not one to jump on the gore-filled gravy train of horror movies, that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the creepy vibes and traditions that come to life every October. Instead, just pick up a captivating and frightening book — you’ll get the same excited rush as you would from a horror movie, but without the queasiness of actually having to visualize a gruesome tale.
Here are some scary pieces of work which are guaranteed to have you spooked before you finish the first chapter.
Just don’t blame me if you aren’t able to go to sleep after reading them.
“Had The Blair Witch Project been a book instead of a film, and had it been written by, say, Nabokov at his most playful, revised by Stephen King at his most cerebral, and typeset by the futurist editors of Blast at their most avant-garde, the result might have been something like House of Leaves. Mark Z. Danielewski’s first novel has a lot going on: notably the discovery of a pseudoacademic monograph called The Navidson Record, written by a blind man named Zampanò, about a nonexistent documentary film–which itself is about a photojournalist who finds a house that has supernatural, surreal qualities. (The inner dimensions, for example, are measurably larger than the outer ones.) In addition to this Russian-doll layering of narrators, Danielewski packs in poems, scientific lists, collages, Polaroids, appendices of fake correspondence and “various quotes,” single lines of prose placed any which way on the page, crossed-out passages, and so on.”
2. Gothic Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell
“Gaskell’s chilling Gothic tales blend the real and the supernatural to eerie, compelling effect. ‘Disappearances’, inspired by local legends of mysterious vanishings, mixes gossip and fact; ‘Lois the Witch’, a novella based on an account of the Salem witch hunts, shows how sexual desire and jealousy lead to hysteria; while in ‘The Old Nurse’s Story’ a mysterious child roams the freezing Northumberland moors. Whether darkly surreal, such as ‘The Poor Clare’, where an evil doppelgänger is formed by a woman’s bitter curse, or mischievous like ‘Curious, if True’, a playful reworking of fairy tales, all the stories in this volume form a stark contrast to the social realism of Gaskell’s novels, revealing a darker and more unsettling style of writing.”
3. The Bell Witch: An American Haunting by Brent Monahan
“Known throughout Tennessee as ‘Old Kate,’ the Bell Witch took up residence with John Bell’s family in 1818. It was a cruel and noisy spirit, given to rapping and gnawing sounds before it found its voices. With these voices and its supernatural acts, the Bell Witch tormented the Bell family. This extraordinary book recounts the only documented case in U.S. history when a spirit actually caused a man’s death.”
4. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
“Mara Dyer doesn’t think life can get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there. It can. She believes there must be more to the accident she can’t remember that killed her friends and left her mysteriously unharmed. There is. She doesn’t believe that after everything she’s been through, she can fall in love. She’s wrong. After Mara survives the traumatizing accident at the old asylum, it makes sense that she has issues. She lost her best friend, her boyfriend, and her boyfriend’s sister, and as if that weren’t enough to cope with, her family moves to a new state in order to give her a fresh start. But that fresh start is quickly filled with hallucinations—or are they premonitions?—and then corpses, and the boundary between reality and nightmare is wavering. At school, there’s Noah, a devastatingly handsome charmer who seems determined to help Mara piece together what’s real, what’s imagined—and what’s very, very dangerous.”
5. Handling the Undead by John Ajvide Lindqvist
“Something very peculiar is happening in Stockholm. There’s a heatwave on and people cannot turn their lights out or switch their appliances off. Then the terrible news breaks. In the city morgue, the dead are waking up…What do they want? What everybody wants: to come home.”
6. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
“First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a ‘haunting’; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.”
7. Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson
“S. J. Watson makes his powerful debut with Before I Go to Sleep, a compelling, fast-paced psychological thriller, reminiscent of Shutter Island and Memento, in which an amnesiac who, following a mysterious accident, cannot remember her past or form new memories, desperately tries to uncover the truth about who she is—and who she can trust.”
8. Bird Box by Josh Malerman
“Something is out there . . . Something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from. Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remain, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now, that the boy and girl are four, it is time to go. But the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat—blindfolded—with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. And something is following them. But is it man, animal, or monster?”
9. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
“Ten strangers are lured to an isolated island mansion off the Devon coast by a mysterious ‘U. N. Owen.’ At dinner a recorded message accuses each of them in turn of having a guilty secret, and by the end of the night one of the guests is dead. Stranded by a violent storm, and haunted by a nursery rhyme counting down one by one . . . as one by one . . . they begin to die. Which among them is the killer and will any of them survive?”
10. In the Woods by Tana French
“As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers, and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours. Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad and keeps his past a secret. But when a twelve-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods, he and Detective Cassie Maddox—his partner and closest friend—find themselves investigating a case chillingly similar to the previous unsolved mystery. Now, with only snippets of long-buried memories to guide him, Ryan has the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past.”
11. The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
“Meet Frank Cauldhame. Just sixteen, and unconventional to say the least: Two years after I killed Blyth I murdered my young brother Paul, for quite different and more fundamental reasons than I’d disposed of Blyth, and then a year after that I did for my young cousin Esmerelda, more or less on a whim. That’s my score to date. Three. I haven’t killed anybody for years, and don’t intend to ever again.
It was just a stage I was going through.”
12. Penpal by Dathan Auerbach
“How much do you remember about your childhood? In Penpal, a man investigates the seemingly unrelated bizarre, tragic, and horrific occurrences of his childhood in an attempt to finally understand them. Beginning with only fragments of his earliest years, you’ll follow the narrator as he discovers that these strange and horrible events are actually part of a single terrifying story that has shaped the entirety of his life and the lives of those around him. If you’ve ever stayed in the woods just a little too long after dark, if you’ve ever had the feeling that someone or something was trying to hurt you, if you remember the first friend you ever made and how strong that bond was, then Penpal is a story that you won’t soon forget, despite how you might try.”
13. Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake
“Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead. So did his father before him, until he was gruesomely murdered by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. They follow legends and local lore, destroy the murderous dead, and keep pesky things like the future and friends at bay. Searching for a ghost the locals call ‘Anna Dressed in Blood,’ Cas expects the usual: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, now stained red and dripping with blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.
Yet she spares Cas’s life.”
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