For me, I have always enjoyed anything and everything that falls under the category of horror. There is a sense of freedom that an artist, filmmaker, or writer has within this genre. It is a genre that deeply coincides with rebellion, chaos, and a lack of rules (something that most find to be a terror in itself). With it being Halloween weekend, I thought it might be an opportune moment to explore, in no particular order, ten of my all-time favorite horror novels/novellas/stories:
10. The House on the Borderland (1908) by William Hope Hodgson
This early 20th Century supernatural horror novel paved the way for many notable horror authors – HP Lovecraft in particular – who would utilize the trope of an unaware narrator or character stumbling upon some unspeakable terror. The house in the title refers to an old shell of a home set within the idyllic, but ancient, landscapes of Ireland – just the proper setting for a descent into madness.
9. Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley’s beautiful language often reminds one of a gorgeous landscape painting, de-saturated of its new color through both wear and age – thus showing its beauty and exquisiteness. Often imitated, never successfully, Frankenstein‘s fingerprints remain all over literature – both inside and outside of the horror genre.
8. Haunted (2005) by Chuck Palahniuk
Palahniuk’s somewhat anthological novel is a mixed presentation. While some stories within remain more effective than others, the pieces that really standout are sure to never leave the reader’s mind. The real triumph of Haunted is its overall exploration of the idea of just how much torture and humiliation one is willing to undertake for the sake of becoming famous.
7. Off Season (1980) by Jack Ketchum
Ketchum’s debut novel explores the already established fears of backwoods monsters and cannibalism, but presents them in an entirely new light. Set within the lush Appalachian landscapes of Maine – Off Season pits the beautiful against the gut wrenching as effectively as it pits civilized and uncivilized man against one another. Truly a remarkable undertaking, not for the faint of heart.
6. The 120 Days of Sodom (1785) by the Marquis de Sade
A virtually plot-less descent into sexual deviancy and moral depravity, The 120 Days of Sodom is more of an endurance test than anything else for any reader brave enough to dare pick it up and explore its contents. No matter how far one gets through its pages, the passages read and the horrific stories explored will never be forgotten … no matter how hard one tries to do so.
5. The Colour Out of Space (1927) by HP Lovecraft
As with The House on the Borderland, The Colour Out of Space explores the concept of an unspeakable – and in this case, indescribable – terror through the eyes of an inquisitive narrator. Lovecraft was an expert at playing off of his readers’ fear of the unknown, and with this story, he is at the zenith of that talent.
4. The Tell-Tale Heart (1843) by Edgar Allan Poe
While Lovecraft was always attempting to show his readers the reason for his characters’ madness, Poe took the heavy handed approach of presenting us with a character completely driven by his own paranoia. While this would prove to be difficult for less experienced writers, Poe handles it expertly, even by the end transposing the narrator’s delusions onto his readers.
3. It (1986) by Stephen King
While some have scoffed this gargantuan novel for either its length or arguably unsatisfying conclusion, It has remained one of the most frightening novels ever created for the reason of four words: Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Never again will King – or probably any other writer – be able to create an antagonist that conjures up so much fear within any reader.
2. The Whisperer in Darkness (1931) by HP Lovecraft
Different from his usual tales describing a character’s descent into madness, The Whisperer in Darkness is Lovecraft’s strongest manifesto to the moral that some things are best left unknown. The dread and helplessness of the story’s narrator are so vividly defined within the pages that it is doubtful that any reader did not have those same feelings after completing this eerie story.
1. Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker
Even though vampire stories had been around long before Stoker’s great epistolary novel, Dracula remains such an iconic work of terror largely because of Stoker’s talent for writing descriptive detail. Readers feel as if they are deep within the Carpathian Mountains, entombed in the Count’s abandoned castle, or walking the darkened streets of late 19th Century London. It is a vivid world that easily springs to life within every reader’s imagination, making this classic fantasy story all the more horrifying in its realism.
Connor Bell is a MFA Candidate in Creative Writing at Roosevelt University and serves as a reader/editor for issue 44 of Oyez Review. He earned his BA in Cinema Arts & Sciences from Columbia College Chicago in 2015.