Tis the season for tales of terror! But I have to admit that scary movies just don’t do it for me. Long before corn syrup was used as an on-screen substitute for fake blood, books have scared the pants (or petticoats) off their readers. What to read if you’re not a Stephen King fan? Here are ten novels any horror aficionado should check out.
1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
— The reassembled man is a Halloween classic, but this story has a twist. The monster created by Dr. Frankenstein is not only intelligent, he’s deeply moved by the world around him. While very much a tragedy, murder and mayhem still abound.
2. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
— While there aren’t many surprises in this classic, it’s well written and the characters are unforgettable. Through clandestine experiments, Dr. Jekyll creates a potion that unleashes the ghastly Mr. Hyde. The potion is more supernatural in nature, but the true evil lies in the human condition.
3. Dracula by Bram Stoker
— Long before vampires had the temerity to sparkle, Count Dracula was both frighteningly intelligent and horrifyingly sinister. While the going can get a little slow in a story told solely through diary entries and various letters, the first person narrative leaves your heart pounding right along with Mina and Jonathan Harker.
4. The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde
— Wilde is a hoot to read. Every other line is a memorable quote. His character Dorian, much like himself, believes fully in art for art’s sake and is obsessed with his own beauty. What comes next? A painting, debauchery and a deal with the devil for a portrait that will age instead of himself.
5. The Call of Cthulhu by H. P. Lovecraft
— Famous for the monster of the deep, Lovecraft presents the mythos of Cthulhu — a giant octopus/dragon/human-type hybrid that is certainly no friend to man. While this is a short story and not a novel, it’s worth a read for the impact it has had on the horror genre, if nothing else. Lovecraft is a master of the sinister; it’s little wonder Cthulhu has become a cult classic.
6. Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
— Before vampires sparkled but long after Van Helsing offed the famous Count, Anne Rice wove this gorgeously intricate tapestry of a vampiric life and how decadent and terrible it could be. This story is so rich with details the gore often sneaks up on you. If you haven’t been turned off of vampires by recent mainstream media then Rice is definitely worth a read.
7. Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allen Poe
— Ah, Poe. From the ghastly “The Tell-Tale Heart” to his poems filled with ghostly presence, Edgar Allen Poe is a master of building suspense before a gruesome reveal. If all you know of Poe is “The Raven” you’ll be in for a delight when you read this compilation.
8. Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
— Hannibal Lector is by far one of the best horror villains of all time. A distinguished doctor, Lector also happens to be a cannibal. As you can guess, crazy hijinks ensue. The book is even better than the movie, with the suspense drawn out to an almost unbearable degree. If you enjoyed the movies you must read the book.
9. I am Legend by Richard Matheson
— The films inspired by this book may well be less than stellar, but the original is more than worth your time and effort. Matheson’s book presents a post-apocalyptic setting, in which one man must struggle with issues of alcoholism and depression all the while fending off hordes of undead mutants.
10. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
— Generally considered one of the scariest films ever made, The Exorcist may be ever more frightening in its original 1971 print form. Following the story of a young girl possessed by an ancient demon, this book boasts an uncanny ability to sneak up on you when you least expect it — better yet, sometimes even when you do.