When people think of horror, they often think of horror movies. Slashers, zombies, masked madmen, killer clowns…these are the iconic images that haunt the dreams of movie goers everywhere. Horror is definitely what many would consider a visual genre. The blood, the guts, the screaming; they provide a truly visceral experience that horror fans crave (and non-horror fans cringe at).
For many, finding a novel that re-creates that intensity can be challenging. If you are not an avid reader, heading to the bookstore to find the perfect horror novel can be an overwhelming task. If you are a borderline insane, obsessive, “it’s not hoarding if it’s my book collection” kind of reader, finding something new can be equally difficult. As horror fans, no matter what category you fall into, chances are you know Dracula and are up to speed with The Shining.
And so, if you are a fan of horror movies looking for something unique and modern to read that will bring you the intensity and scares of the films that you love, this list is for you!
- The Drowning Girl by Caitlin R. Kiernan: read if you love Pan’s Labyrinth or Black Swan
This is a great one for fans who love their horror not as hardcore, but blended with a solid dose of dark fantasy. While definitely not the scariest one on this list, it is one of the most beautifully written horror stories I have read. The story is the memoir of a woman named Imp, who is chronicling her experiences in an effort to make sense of her memories. She is schizophrenic, and cannot trust what she sees on a day to day basis. As conflicting stories come out, she finds it hard to decide which memories to trust. A slower buildup lets you enjoy the imagery in this unconventional ghost story with an unreliable narrator.
- HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt: read if you love The Blair Witch Project or Needful Things
This novel was DEFINITELY not what I was expecting. It is the story of a woman killed for being a witch. 300 years later, her spirit still haunts the small town she was killed in. She appears everywhere, lurking in people’s homes, stationed over your bed at night, or standing in the middle of the street. Her eyes and mouth are stitched shut, and for the last 300 years, the townsfolk have been passing down the cardinal rule: her eyes and mouth must NEVER be opened. There are many moments of dark humour, such as a couple covering the witch’s face with a dish cloth as they eat dinner. However, what follows is anything but funny. She is ever present in the story, but as the town’s paranoia increases, she provides the justification for people to show their good sides and their bad. A modern witch story with traditional elements that make it feel grounded, this is a tale of small town horror that has a true Stephen King feel.
- A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay: read if you love The Exorcist or The Exorcism of Emily Rose
Rather than scaring the bejeezus out of me, this novel did one better. It filled me with a creeping sense of dread within the first few chapters and did not let up through the entire thing. This is a horror story with a great mystery. The mystery is engaging, and only one thing is for certain: you know that the endgame is going to be very, very bad. This is a story about a seemingly happy family that slowly unravels as their teen daughter is seemingly possessed. The parents enlist the help of a reality TV show, who chronicles the girl’s experience. The story is told from the point of view of her younger sister, fifteen years later, who may remember things a little bit differently from what was recorded. Part exorcism tale, part exploration of metal health, and part exploration of reality TV shows, this is a great read for fans of exorcism or found footage horror flicks.
- Brother by Ania Ahlborn: read if you love Chained or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Ania Ahlborn is one of my favourite horror novelists. Brother is the novel that drew me in to her stories. It is the story we have heard before many times, but told from an unexpected perspective. This book chronicles the life of a family living way, WAY off the grid, who has taken to hiding their proclivity for murder. The unique part? Rather than being told from the perspective of the victim, it is told from the perspective of Michael, who does not enjoy his family’s activities, but is uncertain of how to break away from his brother, Rebel. This is a spellbinding read, with a gut-punch ending that will leave your heart pounding. The author actually credits Chained as the inspiration for this book in her acknowledgements (and if you haven’t watched it, it’s definitely worth viewing).
- The Troop by Nick Cutter: read if you love 28 Days Later or Stand By Me
The Troop is a novel that will scare, disturb, and possibly traumatize you. Nick Cutter is a Canadian horror novelist, and I am proud of the fact that he shows that while Canadians are definitely a friendly bunch, we are very capable of some seriously dark thoughts. It is a masterful story about the dangers of bioengineering, the consequences of which are unleashed on an unsuspecting boy scout troop on Prince Edward Island. The style is very engaging, with the story interspersed with articles and court room transcripts that happen after the events take place. It is a unique slant, as this approach makes this story feel all too real. I took great pleasure in recommending this to a friend, who was then franticly texting me at 3am because she could not stop reading but also so desperately wanted to look away. To me, that is the greatest endorsement that I can give. If you love gore and tales about the loss of innocence, this is the one for you.
You can find this article and other awesome horror content in this month’s issue of Popcorn Horror magazine!