Only two writers have been able to achieve such a horror in my adult life that I have had such terrible nightmares in the middle of the night that I have woken up in a cold sweat willing to take the risk of keeping my eyes open until the comfort of the morning sun relieves me from the horror that is somehow wrapped around my brain because of their prose. Obviously, the number one person on this list will be one of those writers, but the other one is one of the best satirical voices of this era, Chuck Palahnuik. Haunted is the story that he wrote that gave me these tremors. Now, I will place the disclosure before I continue on with my discourse about his brilliance that what he wrote is not for the feint of heart, and if you are young, there is no way that you should ever consider reading this book. Keep in mind, I am an adult who enjoys exploring the dark side of the soul, and this book gave me nightmares. Just imagine what it will do to an individual who is not ready for these ideas. If you are still curious I would suggest you read “The Nightmare Box” first before you explore the rest of the book. It is in the middle of the book, and it is okay to read that first because the book is actually a frame story, much like a haunted version of The Canterbury Tales. Palahniuk wrote a series of stories that are tied together with one common idea in this book, and some of them are so dark and disturbing that you will start to wonder if they are really about you. “The Nightmare Box” gives you a glimpse of what will happen to you if you believe you are strong enough to look into all of these stories. They are not your typical horror tales of monsters lurking under the bed. Instead, they are the monsters haunting us from the inside. If you believe that you are strong enough to take that peek into the Nightmare Box, then start back at the beginning, but understand that what you see there you can not take back. Reader beware, this is one of the most horrifying experiences of your life.
A lot of the books that I have included on this list so far have been pretty obvious, so it is probably pretty surprising that I would include a book that many people have never heard of and at such a high position on the list. But that is the problem with this book; more people need to know about this story. Around the turn of the nineteenth century in New England lived a man who studied the monsters of the world, and used his knowledge of them to keep the rest of society safe. The sad thing is his decisions have caused the death of many of the loved ones around him including his father and his faithful apprentice. Because of his guilt, he takes his deceased apprentice’s son as his new ward even though he is barely a teenager. When a gravedigger shows up at his house in the middle of the night with the corpse of a anthropophagi (see Shakespeare’s Othello for a description), a story starts to unravel that will leave you breathless. The book asks the question of what a monster really is and how we can decide for ourselves. Mix in some incredible language, dynamic characters reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes and some daddy issues and you have one of the best horror novels ever written. It has won the Michael Prinz award for literature and has spawned one of the most unique series ever written. You can not pass up this book because it will instantly become one of your favorites. Some day when they get around to making it into a movie, you will be able to say you knew this story when it was the incredible book that it is now.
I used to teach a horror literature class, and I would start the year off by talking about the history of this genre. Even though there were some instances of horror before Edgar Allan Poe sat down to craft his unique brand of literature, most modern writers of this genre can trace their roots back to this man. His exploration of the gothic side of our nature and the things that haunt us the most have created some of the most iconic moments in all of literature. His poetic ability also creates a melancholy mood while lyrically creating a sound unique to his style. When thinking of the month of October, Edgar Allan Poe’s name is synonymous with all of the classic creatures that decorate people’s houses to let us know that this holiday is just around the corner. With stories such as “The Cask of the Amontillado”, “The Tell Tale Heart”, “The Fall of the House of Usher”, “The Pit and the Pendulum”, and “The Masque of the Red Death”, people would have a hard time making an argument why Edgar Allan Poe’s complete works should not be included on this list.
You knew that Stephen King would make this list somewhere. What would a list of books about getting in the Halloween spirit be without his name. Some might not agree with the selection of the book that I chose. They might think that there are many more scary stories that he has written and this is the obvious choice. But stop for a second, and think about where I come from. This story speaks to me at another level than any of his other books. Being trapped in a Colorado snowstorm is something that has always terrified me. Going stir crazy because of the lack of alcohol and any outside contact is another thing that speaks to me. Add in the fact that it is set in one of the creepiest hotels I have ever spent the night in makes this story really come to life. Yes, that is the Stanley Hotel on the cover of this book, and it really does exist in Estes Park, Colorado. It is still open and for a few extra dollars, you can spend the night in Room 237. They will even run the Stanley Kubrick film twenty-four hours a day on their television station, but still reading the book is scarier than the vision that this director had for this horror classic.
Ray Bradbury has long been considered an American treasure, and his stories would play with reality in such a way to reveal the truth about the world we live in. Most of the time, he delved into themes set in science fiction worlds that only his imagination could have created, but one special story set a darker mood that haunted anyone who read the story, Something Wicked This Way Comes. Yes, the title comes from Shakespeare’s Macbeth in reference to the title character entering right before he speaks with the three witches. It makes the viewer wonder who should be the one that should be trusted much as Ray Bradbury does with his carnival that visits a small American town. What secrets does the traveling freak show hold? Why are so many people interested in what appears to be cheap displays and rides? How are two boys’ lives changed by what they find there? These are the questions that this amazingly dark and creepy tale tells, and there is no way that anyone can read this book without getting creeped out by what happens.
Forget the fact that this book won the Newberry Award. I would tend to agree with the assessment of most people that any book that wins this award tends to be mushy, predictable and only worthy of the time of the people who inhabit the grades five through eight. There are some exceptions to the rule, and Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book is a great example of this. From the opening line you know this book is going to explore some dark subject matter that might not be suitable for a younger audience. But that is the brilliance of this book. Neil Gaiman takes his usual love of mythology and magic and blends together a tale that doesn’t speak down to its audience, but instead treats them as the intelligent human beings that they are. Because of this, the story that is told not only appeals to the middle school crowd, but also to lovers of a good horror story as well. Neil Gaiman is one of the best writers practicing the craft right now, and this book is an example why.
When I placed this book on the list, I thought long and hard about which cover I would include for the post considering there are so many of them out there. The one I chose was the one that spoke to me the most when it said, “The book that inspired the hit motion picture.” Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the movie, but there is not a lot of similarities between that story and the one that Richard Matheson wrote. Yes, there is a character Robert Neville in both and he thinks he is the last person left on earth. A dog dies tragically in both stories as well. Beyond that, there is no other real connection. Robert, in the book, is plagued with vampires that hang outside of his house and taunt him, and the twist at the end of the story really sends your mind racing. The whole meaning of the title changes because of this twist, and it makes for a more profound story. If you have enjoyed the movie, you still need to pick up this short read because it is really different than the original. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, watch that first before reading the book because it will only anger you with how much they changed the story to meet their needs. Either way, you will come away thinking that I Am Legend is one of the best horror novels ever written.