This is my month. Although I was haunted in my childhood by a certain scene from A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4, I have grown incredibly difficult to scare, and, as an added benefit, I may or may not any longer have human emotions. Yay!
The upside is that I feel comfortable recommending things that have a macabre flavor to them. That’s not to say that horror needs to rely solely on how “terrifying” it can be (that, dear friends, is almost purely based on someone’s personal taste). On the contrary, the horror that sticks most with me usually didn’t terrify me, but I might have been thoroughly entertained or chilled by it. Or, I might have laughed hard at it. To be frank, when it comes to the genre and the subgenres of Horror, it tends to be the sort of thing you love, hate, or are indifferent to almost immediately. Sometimes you don’t feel a liking for a certain style or subgenre of Horror, and that’s okay. But, does it hurt to experiment with some new styles?
In that spirit, I have decided to offer a sampler of some of my favorite books that I feel are a great place to start with their specific subgenres. Each cover and title have been linked to the ACPL catalog, so feel free to check out all of these for yourself. I focused on underrated or cultish pieces, so hopefully even if you’re already a connoisseur of the macabre, you’ll find something to enjoy this season. Dive in below for a surface level list of recommendations, tailored for the horror-curious.
A taste test of the best that Americans have to offer - American Gothic Tales – A collection of short pieces, curated and edited by Joyce Carol Oates. As the title implies, this collection focuses on the subgenre of Gothicism, with a chronological bent towards the American fixation on the genre. You got your Poe and Lovecraft, but you’ll also get some Thomas Ligotti, Shirley Jackson, and favorite short stories of mine by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Sylvia Plath. I could not recommend a better starting place for anyone interested in the genre, let alone Gothic Horror.
Pure strange and disquieting nightmare fuel – Fragments of Horror – If you’ve never had a chance to experience the work of Manga artist Junji Ito, then allow me to welcome you to a voice in the genre so potently, truly imaginative in how he terrifies and entertains you, that you might find it hard to be affected this thoroughly by anything else you’ll come across. This is an artist who taps into the deepest vein of nightmare logic, body horror, and at times bizarre, laugh-out-loud comedy that intermingles tragedy, disgust, and farce. This collection of shorts is a great start for someone new to the artist, but it doesn’t include the show-stopper for which he is perhaps best known for, “The Enigma of Amigara Fault”. Still absolutely chilling!
Sometimes your memories are too eerie to re-examine - The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Although I find Neil Gaiman’s work to be on the bloated and somewhat emotionally drab side, I have to admit that when the man is pressed to be succinct, he can make something beautiful – or truly disturbing – happen. Although his best known work, the comic book series The Sandman, is something that cannot be ignored (or at your own peril), after having read the more recent piece by the man, I have to admit to being inspired by his light touch with the scary elements.
The American Dream of matrimony is sometimes a nightmare - Rose Madder – Although King is already a household name – and growing more so, with the recent, popular re-make of It – to me, his best, most poignant work has always featured strong female protagonists. The books that, unfortunately, do not seem to get as much attention as his others. Among those books that I have had the chance to read, this one has stuck with me the strongest. Carrying themes of marital abuse and a hope for recovery in the face of an overpowering spouse, this book rings out with much the same themes presented in The Shining, but with a much more disquieting, unflinching focus on being the prey for a disturbed, predatory individual.
Terrifying children since before I was in grade school - Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark – This is the first book in the series, and I recommend this collection, with the caveat that you get the older editions, with the original art by Stephen Gammell, whose work is often replicated, but is ultimately irreplaceable. Although most of it is suited perfectly for children, some of the short stories – “Harold” and “The Dream” - still haunt me to this day. Short, elemental, this is work that anyone who wants to create horror should learn from.
Sometimes we’d do well to fear what awaits us… - Through the Woods – This particular collection of short pieces does what a short visual narrative does best – it presents a haunting, sometimes punchy collection of parables that feel like nightmares you would have after having read one too many Grimm’s brothers fairy tales. The art is simply too beautiful at times, providing a bounty of color that clashes and meshes with the dark subject matter and the shadowy depths presented in the pieces. “His Face all Red” is a short piece that has thoroughly earned a reputation in and of itself.
The vampires are just the start of Robert Neville’s nightmare - I Am Legend – It’s hard to beat a classic, and although I haven’t read this one myself, my S.O empatically swears by this novel. It’s a parable of loneliness and coping in the face of overwhelming nihilism, and it happens to be a trail blazer in the arena of sickness-caused apocalypse stories. It’s an end of the world caused by the aftereffects of a war that birthed a sickness whose symptoms mirror the fabled ones of Vampirisim and has transformed all but a single man into animalistic, predatory herds. If the story began and ended with its premise, it alone would make the story worth reading, but that is not even scratching the surface on everything going on in this dark tale.
Who says horror can’t be absolutely hilarious? - John Dies @ the End – The progeny of Cracked.com’s Jason Pargin, whose pseudonym is David Wong, this novel is a bizarre thing that has taken inspiration from so much and wears it proudly. A combination of stoner, scatological, bizarre, and horror humor, this comedy/horror hybrid goes as high concept and as down in the dirt with its subject matter as can be imagined. I would also not be doing it justice if I did not mention how witty the writing is – in between descriptions of foul-mouthed demonic entities harassing our anti-heroes. This recommendation is also a glad one for me to make, as the latest book in this series, What the Hell Did I Just Read?, has quite a few copies in circulation as well.
She’s not as innocent as she looks - Let the Right One In – Another recommendation, not from me, but from my S.O. And yes, it’s vampires again. This one comes from Sweden, and deals with a thoroughly unflinching look at the lives of two children – one of whom is no longer much of a child – and a brutal series of events that brings them close together. It’s a story of devotion, innocence, absolute reliance, and shocking cruelty. I would not recommend this story to the faint of heart!
Kayla loves all things weird, wonderful, and macabre. Her soul’s in writing, and her hobbies include gaming, watching movies and television shows, and reading anything and everything. Her black cat’s TOTALLY, 100%, not evil.