What better time to start reading horror than Halloween? Horror is a far more extensive and versatile genre than it is ever given credit for. On the far historic end of the spectrum, there are the first gothic horror books being published with the likes of Dracula, Jekyll and Hyde, Carmilla and so many more classic Victorian tales of things that go bump in the night.
Fast forward to today and horror looks very different with vampires and other creature features no longer being considered scary. Instead, they sparkle in the sun. Nowadays, authors commonly explore the human psyche by exploiting common plotlines like paranormal activity in old houses and homicidal maniacs that hide in closets.
If you’re really looking to give yourself the creeps this Halloween season then try asking yourself first, what is it exactly that you find scary? Would you be freaked out by an aristocratic vampire in Transylvania? Or are you interested in reading as a man in a hotel slowly goes insane and murders his family? The list compiled below represents a spectrum of these different subgenres within horror- a type of lucky dip, really. So, go on. Stick your hand in.
1. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
My absolute favorite of the Gothic period hands down is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the world’s very first mad scientist. When Frankenstein leaves his hometown for his studies, his own personal science project starts to take over his life. By stealing body parts from the local cemetery, he was able to put together a patchwork human and even bring it to life. However, instead of pride, he finds himself disgusted by the monster he has created.
Frankenstein’s monster has long been given a reputation for being a bumbling, non-talkative, simple monster with bolts in his neck. But upon reading this book I found no such thing. Mary Shelley’s masterpiece was a surprisingly eloquent, emotional and very lonely creature with his own goals and ambitions.
2. Chalk Men, C.J. Tudor
The Chalk Men is the newest piece of horror on this list, published in 2018. And as Stephen King boldly said, “If you like my stuff, you’ll like this”. It starts out a clutching murder mystery: a girl’s body is found, but there is no head. Follow Eddie on his journey from past to present as he tries to work out exactly who and how the murder took place. What part did all his friends play? And why are they being lead to murder scenes by little chalk men? It’s a story that’ll creep you out from start to finish, with a cast of very fleshed out characters in a small town and copious jump scares and twists along the way.
3. The Cask of Amontillado, Edgar Allen Poe
No horror book list would be complete without at least mentioning Edgar Allen Poe, a pioneer of classic horror. If you want a small taster of Poe, then maybe his famous Halloween psychological ghost story The Raven might be a better fit for you. But if you’re interested in finding something a little longer than a poem, then I’d recommend The Cask of Amontillado.
Poe has a particular method of leaving a chill down any reader’s spine. In The Cask of Amontillado, he tells an age-old tale of vengeance that (spoiler!) ends with the narrator entombing someone in the depths of his wine cellar. The extensive grounds for his vengeance are mostly left unsaid, all we know is that the narrator was insulted. And now, his friend must pay the full price. It’s a terrific look into the human psyche and a wonderful maddening fulfillment of the “what if…” question. Is the narrator justified? Or just insane?
4. Hauntings: An Anthology, Hannah Kate (Editor)
If what you’re looking for this Halloween is less of a strict platter of a single novel and more of a smorgasbord of horror, then why not try a collection of horror stories?
Hannah Kate’s collection includes 21 chilling works by many different authors, compiled together for your reading pleasure, like a terrifying Brother’s Grim Fairy Tales book. The best thing about reading through a compilation of stories is that you get to sample a variety of genres and authors to decide what you like, making them perfect for new readers. Hannah Kate’s Anthology mostly dabbles in ghostly and paranormal horrors, but the mix is still extensive.
5. Misery, Stephen King
There were probably 100 different Stephen King books that could’ve gone on this list. But, Misery and Annie Wilkes will always be one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever read. When an author gets into a car accident, he wakes up to find himself in the home of his biggest fan, Annie Wilkes, a humble woman who lives in the middle of nowhere. She tends to his wounds, feeds him, helps him get back to full health. And keeps him locked in her home against his will. It’s a book that delves into mental health, fans taking obsessions to insane levels and expecting creators to cater to their every whim. An idea that is and always will be prominent in any creative media.
6. Coraline, Neil Gaiman
From old to modern, Neil Gaiman encompasses what it means to disturb young people out of their minds. Way to go Neil. Gaiman rarely writes books that are considered ‘for all ages’ and Coraline is probably a good reason why. That being said, it’s perfect for Halloween! Coraline finds a tunnel in her new house, leading to another house just like her own. Only, it’s better. Or so she thinks. Soon Coraline discovers the terrible secrets of her ‘other mother’ and her malicious plans for Coraline.
7. Ring, Koji Suzuki
The that inspired the incredibly successful move Ringu, which went on to inspire the incredibly successfully western adaptation The Ring, The Ring 2, Rings…etc. You get the idea. Much like the movie, the book’s plotline follows a journalist who decides to investigate their niece’s untimely death, which leads them to discover a tape that warns the viewer that they will die within 7 days of watching it. The originality of this book can’t be understated, and the masterful suspense surrounding the idea of knowing the exact time you’re going to die creates a chilling psychological horror like no other. I mean, if you’ve seen the movie, then you kind of get it…
8. The Prince Of Mist, Carlos Ruiz Zafón
If this Halloween you’re more interested in picking up an easy beginner, middle-grade level read, I guarantee that you will devour The Prince of Mist within a couple days. A family decides to leave the city during the wartime and escape to the countryside. But their sunny paradise quickly becomes a nightmare when they realize their house is haunted by the ghost of a drowned boy. Suddenly the kids of the household are sucked into a ‘spirited’ mystery and must work out the true circumstances of the child’s death. The book itself is simple and gripping, and much more deserving of popularity among young horror fans than it currently is.
9. The Rats In The Walls, H. P. Lovecraft
Like Edgar Allen Poe, You can’t have a horror book list and not mention Lovecraft. Known as the father of modern horror, Lovecraft fundamentally invented the now very common idea of having a ‘fear of the unknown’. And also Cthulhu. Most people know him for Cthulhu.
When the descendant of a wealthy family moves back into his ancestral estate, he (and his cat) are plagued by what they think are the sounds of rats running up and down the insides of the walls. What starts off as a quaint haunted castle tale quickly turns into a disturbing underground world when the man discovers an underground city below his new home that feeds on human flesh. Yikes.
10. The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard
Yes, Robert E. Howard. That guy that created Conan The Barbarian also writes incredible horror stories.
Robert E. Howard’s collection of horror stories is a book you can happily sink your teeth into this Halloween. With some of the most original plot lines and stories, you’ll ever read in horror. His tales include everything from exploring the deep unguarded jungles of Africa to venturing around the chilling woods of Paris.