Scary Halloween book picks from EW staffers
Though no zombie or Kim Kardashian costume could be more frightening than Hurricane Sandy, a terrifying book can give you a dose of fun-scary before Halloween. I asked some of my esteemed colleagues at EW to name some of the books that gave them nightmares. Of course, some old standbys came up, including some by horror master Stephen King, but others were a little unexpected.
Click through for some bone-chilling recommendations!
FIRST UP: Books editor Tina Jordan chooses a novel by the author of “The Lottery”
Tina Jordan says: Hell House by Richard Matheson and The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Both Salem’s Lot and Red Dragon scared the pants off me, but maybe I’m a lightweight.
NEXT: Anthony Breznican (passionately) recommends a horror novel that goes beyond simple scares
Anthony Breznican says: Lots of horror stories deal in death; it’s the best and bravest that also deal in grief. The deep, desperate heartbreak of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary elevates that 1983 novel to one of his most frightening, disturbing, but also meaningful works. The misspelled title refers to a place in the woods where generations of children have buried their beloved and departed pets. It’s a slightly weird, but peaceful place, where innocent minds build memorials to their first experience with death and loss. Beyond it, however, is another burial ground, far more secret and sinister, where the earth doesn’t reclaim the deceased, but spits them back out on the earth to walk again.
In less sophisticated hands, this would be a standard zombie story, but the reason King’s works endure beyond the best-seller list is his ability to reach down into our psyches and grab hold of the thing that makes us say, “Oh, please God, no, no no.” When Louis Creed’s three-year-old son is struck by a truck and killed, we know this is what he’s saying because it’s what we’re saying. And when that strange place beyond the Pet Sematary becomes not just a temptation, but a necessity, a salvation from this mind-fracturing grief, we are pushing with him as he digs that shovel into the ground. When life is so unfair, how can you not try to cheat it back?
We know, as Louis does, that there really is no defying death. As a child, it’s easier to do — you feel so far away from it. The Pet Sematary in the woods is a manifestation of that. But as one grows older, faces it more and more, even sometimes — horribly — in the loss of a child, we fear and fight it more. In this novel, King lays bear the reason death terrifies us. It is inevitable. And final.
NEXT: Ken Tucker on “the scariest guy in America”
Ken Tucker’s picks:
Off Season by Jack Ketchum The original 1980 edition, paperback, was so intense sections were edited out by publisher; it got a 2005 unexpurgated edition, with Stephen King saying Ketchum — a pseudonym — was “the scariest guy in America.”
By Reason of Insanity by Shane Stevens The best psycho-killer novel. So creepy it feels like you’re reading porn.
Clive Barker’s Books of Blood Still the best stuff he’s ever done.
NEXT: A beastly best-seller
Thom Geier says: American tourists wander into an off-limits archeological site and get trapped by some of the creepiest wildlife ever.
NEXT: Vampires — the terrifying kind, not the sparkly kind
Tara Fowler says: Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain is absolutely terrifying. Vampires with six foot long stinger tongues? *Shiver*
NEXT: A big-name author delivers big scares
Melissa Maerz says: Not exactly “literary,” but when I was little, my dad used to read me Dean R Koontz’s Midnight before bed. It scared the daylights out of me. (Which, of course, I loved.)
NEXT: An unexpectedly scary children’s book
Erin Strecker says: Bar none the most terrified I’ve ever been reading a book was The Witches by Roald Dahl when I was 8.
NEXT: A novel that inspired a kind-of-famous horror movie
Josh Stillman says: Everyone’s familiar with the 1973 movie, but they don’t always realize that it was based on a novel by William Peter Blatty from two years earlier. The book delves deeply and graphically into the psychological and physical elements of possession, at times reading more like a firsthand medical account than a work of fiction. It’s that sense of unnerving documentary realism — along with, of course, the brutality of the events — that make the novel so disturbing. The movie made you think, “This might be real”; the book tells you, “This is real.”
On a side note, when I first started reading the book (I was around 14 or 15), I cozied up on the couch in my living room next to a bunch of huge bay windows overlooking the back yard. I hadn’t gotten more than a page or two in when a bolt of lightning struck a tree outside, maybe fifteen feet from the house. It was one of the most terrifying moments of my life. Any sane person would have taken it as a sign and immediately dropped the book and joined a convent, but I persisted and finished it. Talk about an omen.
NEXT: Can dinosaurs be as scary as monsters and murderers? Adam Vary thinks so…
Adam Vary says: You know, Jurassic Park scared the living daylights out of me when I first read it. I remember racing to the bathroom, terrified velociraptors were waiting for me. Of course, I was 12, but still…
NEXT: High school can be horrifying
Tim Stack says: I found Carrie really disturbing because it’s feels very raw. It’s about the pain of being a teenager and being bullied. That to me is more terrifying than the bloodshed. Imagine that and having telekinesis and a psychotic religious mother on top of that.
NEXT: A short story that really gets inside your head…
Emily Rome says: My pick would be the short story “Enoch” by Robert Bloch, the same writer who inspired Hitchcock’s Psycho. It’s one of those where I don’t want to say too much and spoil it, but I’ll say this: It’s a must-read for Halloween or any day of the year when you’re looking for a particularly creepy and cringe-inducing story. It’s about a man named Seth who is plagued (or protected?) by a little creature named Enoch who resides on his head. The story, like Enoch, refuses to leave your head, as you are left wondering what you would do if the little thing found its way to you — would you obey his gruesome orders, or refuse and be left to a fate far more horrible?
NEXT: And of course …
Rob Brunner says: I haven’t read a ton of scary books, but The Shining scared the crap out of me when I was 15.
What books scared the crap out of you?