It’s the best time of the year! The days grow darker, nights are longer, and there’s a crispness in the air that all point to the spooky season we’ve waited for all year long. We all know we’ll busy ourselves with planned horror movie marathons to keep us glued to the screen long into the wee hours of early morning, but there’s just something special about a good scary book to enhance the eerie needs around this time of year.
Perfect time to pick out that blood-curdling spine-chiller to curl up with under a warm blanket . So warm your apple cider, grab a goody to go along with it, and join us over here at the Nightmare as we go over some terrifying choices to haunt your dreams for weeks to come.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelly
The gothic classic that’s ravaged the psyche of generations ever since its grim release. The infamous story of grave robbing and the perpetual pursuit of mankind’s need to tamper with things only God is meant to wield. Arrogantly death itself is challenged by the book’s titular character as he slips further away from the lighted world of his friends and loved ones and entraps himself in a world of darkness and isolation as the insidious work of his own hands rises from the slab to hunt down and pay revenge upon all Victor Frankenstein holds dear. No one is safe from the monster’s relentless grasp.
I read this back when I was 17 and instantly fell in love with the narrative and cinematic scope its writer, Mary Shelley, seized in words and tone. It remains one of my top 5 absolute favorite books and is a true loss to any horror reader who has yet to discover its black magic. The movies this single book has inspired is in the hundreds so why not come into the dark with Victor and me to see true mastery of the written craft at work. You may not leave the same though.
Not only is it one of the earliest among gothic horror but it’s heavily influenced genres such as body horror and science fiction alike. Highly influential and violently poetic.
The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
This book is chilling and it’s no wonder the movie adaptation scared the devil out of the world and earned the title of ‘scariest movie ever made.’
The devil is real, at least between the covers of Blatty’s book. Upon its publication, people were not ready for the sorcery presented herein. Surely the Devil could not exist in a world of science and education. These aren’t the Dark Ages after all. But Blatty reintroduced Satan – and all his foul little ways – back to the human psyche.
Certainly the Devil was not a new concept and this wasn’t the first book to give Satan the spotlight, but there was simply something authentic, yes, indeed very real about Blatty’s presentation of evil. One that poked a cold and bony finger into the lower spine of society.
One of my professors at seminary went to question Blatty about this book and challenge him for falsely handling the topic of exorcism. The very opposite thing happened though as my professor left (after meeting with the writer) entirely convinced the man was well aware of the occult and the supernatural dangers surrounding it.
The Exorcist took Satan out of the boiling pits of Hell, a vivid image everyone had in mind since the release of Dante’s Inferno, and also away from robed and darkly cloaked covens, a thing typically associated with the Prince of Darkness, and dropped him right inside the everyday home of any family. The Devil’s target is not the rich and powerful, but the young, the innocent, and, most importantly, the pure in heart. This was a Devil you couldn’t kill with a stake through the heart, holy water, or prayer. The message was Satan is far greater than we are ready to deal with. And it doesn’t matter if you believe in him or not. If he’s invited in – no matter how innocently – he will not turn down the invitation.
Upon its publication, the whole tone of horror books changed for the following two decades to come.
Doubtless, you’ve watched the movie. It may be time to pick up the book and let its haunting merits enter your mind.
The Rats by James Herbert
It’s nothing short of a travesty that James Herbert is not talked about more among horror bookworms. When’s the last time you saw a book boasting his name? Can you believe this guy was all the rage back in the ‘70s? This guy was taking the world by storm with his macabre visions and graphic details.
They say the devil’s in the details and they’re right! Especially when it comes to the grotesque mastery of this one man’s writing skills. He just knows the perfect spot – the one that that’ll hurt the most – to stab and get under your skin. Not only that, but he will gleefully start scraping a nerve before you can beg for the whole nasty ordeal to stop. And he’ll do so with a pleasant smile – one only the English can muster – on his face. He’s a lovely chap but a true sadist with a typewriter.
In The Rats, we are given exactly what we’re expecting from a title like this. That is if you’re expecting to read a book about legions (I mean legions too) of greasy overgrown rats set upon tearing the citizens of London to weeping bloody shreds. No one is safe from these violent, blood-thirsty terrors either.
Think a sweet old woman is gonna make it just because, well, she’s an old woman? Well, that’s rich. She gets it pretty bad. And, if memory serves me correctly, she gets taken down and torn apart because she had the audacity to rush over and help some other poor soul being attacked. That’ll teach ya for being nice!
How grizzly is this book? Well by the time you get to chapter three a baby has already been flooded by a living flow of red eyes, yellow teeth, and no mercy. And just for good measure, as if a fine fuck you especially from the writer, in the same instance the rats kill a puppy as they chew the bones away from the baby. That’s the kind of book you’re getting yourself into.
It’s brilliant stuff for the gorehounds out there. It’s messy and it’s almost smelly like you can sense the filthy sewers these giant feral things swarm out of. And this book has nothing in common with the Bruno Mattei film, Rats: Night of Terror. In case you were wondering.
Just imagine yourself sitting at a red light when suddenly – and for no good reason – your car is gnawed through by rats. You are trapped. Your instinct is to get out but when you look out the window the whole road is alive with flesh-hungry rats. You cannot escape and can only sit and wait for the pain the stop as you slip into the embrace of the Abyss. That’s the genius of The Rats. I guess it bears similarity with a zombie plague, that overwhelming sense of ‘escapelessness.’ Something about knowing we, human beings, are victims to nature really has a way of chewing us up.
Not for the faint of heart but is perfect for a great creepy feeling as the world hides in shadows… what else might be hiding out there with the night? Be wary of things that can scurry across the floor and climb up into your bed and glide like phantoms under the sheets.
James Herbert needs to be more recognized by us horror fans. The man was brilliant.
Off Season by Jack Ketchum
Let’s keep it nasty, shall we? Many fans might be surprised I didn’t go with his The Girl Next Door and I do recommend it. But Off Season fits the fall mood more, kind of like the title suggests.
It’s the perfect time to go relax at that cabin by the lake. Or so our cast of characters think. What awaits them though is a painful and agonizing fate wrought by a feral family who lives in secret out in the woods and who hungrily stalk any poor soul who has the shit fortune to pass by.
The book opens with a Good Samaritan (the Hell is it with these stories punishing folks for being nice?) stopping her car to help a seemingly injured young girl. It’s all a sickening ruse as the kind woman soon finds herself in a ring of dirty, smelling, inbred teenagers who see her as less than human. They came to play and she’s the toy. The ruthlessness depicted at the story’s beginning lets the reader know that the main cast of unsuspecting characters (to come) is in for Hell.
Jack Ketchum was my mentor and I miss him dearly. The man is the reason why I’m writing today and it all began with me picking up this book from (get this) Wal-Mart of all places! I like to think some soccer mom also picked up a copy and threw it away in disgust once she realized just what the fuck she purchased.
This is splatterpunk kind of stuff and proves that pain is scary and the human body has very little worth in the eyes of psychopaths.
Psycho by Robert Bloch
I feel it fitting to end this first part with the book that creeped out the master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock. The man could not put this book down and it drove him to make the one horror film that would dare change the tone and attitude for horror movies for ever. Much like, I might add, The Exorcist did.
We’ve all seen the movie (I mean assumedly) and know the story very well. However, and very interestingly, unlike the movie’s adaptation that follows Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane, the book makes us follow Norman Bates. It gets uncomfortable too as poor dumpy Norman casually talks with Mother come morning to night. It had to have been fun for early readers not to know (SPOILERS!!!!!!!) Mother is in fact dead and he’s interacting with dried-out husk.
Like I said we have to tag along with Norman Bates. If you read this book there’s simply no choice. We become unwilling voyeurs into the daily routines of a man who is not at all right in the head. And there is no reflection of Anthony Perkins in this Norman Bates. None of that handsome and clean-shaven man of mystery.
The book did inspire sequels, just like the movie did, but I’ve not had the chance to read those yet. Although I’ve heard that they greatly differ from the cinematic continuation. Speaking of which I do strongly recommend the film sequels. They have no business being as good as they are and I think horror fans get cheated for not giving the movies a chance. I snubbed my nose at them because, well, how dare they make a sequel to Psycho? But to my surprise, the films really hold up. Ok tangent over… I guess I should get copies of the book sequels too.