Weekend Roundtable: Favorite Horror Novel

The Halloween season is upon us. In addition to watching horror movies, now is a good time to read a scary book or two. What are your favorites?

Mike Attebery

It’s impossible to beat Stephen King’s ‘The Shining‘. I first bought that book about 25 years ago, started reading it, got too freaked out, and returned it to the bookstore. In 2006, I bought it again, read it in the middle of the day on a sunny beach in Florida, and it STILL scared the hell out of me. If you’ve only ever seen the movie, you’ve got to read the book. It’s a whole different world of terror, with so much more humanity and heart, which makes things much scarier.

Luke Hickman

Although he didn’t used to be, Chuck Palahniuk has become somewhat pegged in the horror genre for his disgusting stories. Not all of his books feature horrific elements, but one is so creatively bloody and graphic that it’s far more terrifying than most scary films. ‘Haunted‘ is a crafty tale about more than 20 aspiring authors who are willing to enter a secret anything-goes contest to improve their skills and find instant success. A shady bus picks up the “winners” one-by-one and takes them to the secret location of their writers retreat: a shady, windowless, completely inescapable and rotting theater. Once there, they’re locked in and encouraged to write their masterpieces.

Of course, awful things start to happen and it gets nasty – but there’s more to ‘Haunted’ than just this narrative. Nearly every other chapter is a short story written by one of the contestants while locked inside. The first of these short stories, ‘Guts’, allegedly caused lots of people to pass out during a live reading. While I’m not sure if I buy that nice piece of publicity, it’s surely a story that you can’t erase from your mind after reading it.

M. Enois Duarte

Anyone who knows me personally knows that, to my mind, nothing beats Mary Shelley’s seminal classic ‘Frankenstein‘. Along with Polidori’s ‘The Vampyre’, the book essentially brought the horror genre to popular mainstream success. Yes, there are thousands of other, more recent books to choose from, but the highly intelligent and expressive Creature has grown into one of the best-known horror icons. Worldwide, he remains an emblematic figure of our collective nightmares after nearly two hundred years since his creation.

Since I was a kid, I was always attracted to this particular monster. That was the result of both James Whale’s 1932 film adaptation and the classic TV series ‘The Munsters’. It wasn’t until I was a teenager and finally read the original novel that I really started to develop a fascination with him. To this day, if you ask me about Shelley’s book or why I love it so much, you had best clear your schedule because I’ll go into a great amount of detail explaining what it makes one of the most significant masterpieces of literature.

Brian Hoss

Stephen King may have jumped the shark too many times to count in this millennium, but he nevertheless is an enduring horror icon. With ‘Misery‘, the author-turned-character-turned-captive-author not only makes for a horrific read, but its re-readability is off the charts. Sadly, the movie couldn’t or didn’t try to capture the dangerous things going on in mind of the main character, but those sequences of starvation (of all kinds) are not to be missed.

Aaron Peck

I recently read a book called ‘The Boy Who Drew Monsters‘ by Keith Donohue. It’s about a young autistic boy whose horrific drawings somehow come to life. The story is told from two main points of view. First, you have Jack’s point of view. He’s the kid who draws monsters. His world view is frightening, but also enlightening given his condition. The other point of view is that of Nick, Jack’s lone friend. But Nick is more a friend of Jack’s because his parents make him, not by choice. Nick is deathly afraid of Jack, understands Jack has some sort of supernatural powers, and provides a completely different view of transpiring events.

There’s a scene in the book in which Nick peaks out of Jack’s bedroom window because he hears shrill screaming. When he looks out, demonic babies are scuttling around on the outside of the house, screaming and twisting their heads all ‘Excorcist’-like. Right then, I felt like Guillermo del Toro would be the perfect director for a movie adaption.

Josh Zyber

I went through a big Clive Barker phase back in my college days, but my favorite of his books (‘Weaveworld’, ‘The Great and Secret Show’) are better classified as fantasy than horror. Of his genuine horror work, I most liked the short story collections called ‘The Books of Blood‘. I was such a fan, in fact, that my film school senior project was a totally unauthorized adaptation of one of Barker’s stories. In retrospect, had I been smarter, I would have focused my energies onto making something original that I owned outright, rather than a short film that would only ever have a single screening within the school, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

The story in question, called ‘Dread’, was eventually licensed by someone else and made into a direct-to-video feature that I’m sure you’ve never heard of. My own short film is likely also best left lost to time.

Recommend some more good scary books in the Comments below.

15 comments

  1. Chris B

    Stephen King’s “It” blew my mind when I read it in my teens. I had seen the two-part TV movie countless times so I was somewhat familiar with the source material but reading the novel made me realize how much of King’s writing had been condensed or cut out to allow for a four hour runtime. King preys on most people’s natural fear of clowns and creates one terrifying monster in the child-murdering “Pennywise”. “It” is undoubtedly a frightening book, but it’s so much more than that once you dig in, it’s full of themes that are instantly relatable to almost anyone. Feelings most of us experience growing up like loneliness, anxiety about the future, the power of friendship, courage, loss, redemption etc. It’s an amazing piece of writing…

  2. Even HP Lovecraft’s longer works are not quite novel length, but my favorites are SHADOW OUT OF TIME, AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS, THE COLOR OUT OF SPACE and THE SHADOW OVER INSMOUTH.

    I can’t quit Dean Koontz, although I think he peaked quite a while ago. My favorite is WINTERS MOON, also Lovecraftian.

    Let me second Barker’s BOOKS OF BLOOD. I had to put it down several times and take a break.

    -Bill

    • EM

      In the past month I have discovered Gruselkabinett (“Cabinet of Chills”…or something like that), a German series of audio CDs presenting radio-style dramatizations of mostly classic (read: older, public-domain) horror novels and short stories. Normally I don’t trust my German skills enough to listen to an hour-long story, but I have acquired episodes based on stories I’ve read in the original English or French, and that familiarity helps my comprehension tremendously, as do the sound effects, musical cues, and actors’ skills. Among the new acquisitions I look forward to listening to are episodes whose titles my fellow HPL enthusiasts should recognize even if they don’t know a lick of German: “Der Tempel”, “Pickmans Modell”, and the double-length “Der Schatten über Innsmouth”. I’ve already been enjoying some non-Lovecraft episodes such as “Das Phantom der Oper” and “Der Untergang des Hauses Usher”…

      • EM

        Um…perhaps I should have also mentioned Dark Adventure Radio Theatre, a similar series in English devoted to adapting the works of Lovecraft, including all the stories you mentioned above. It’s an excellent series, but I’m afraid I let my enthusiasm for my new discovery (thank you, depreciated euro!) bubble over this other venerable source of splendid Lovecraftian audio craftsmanship.

        • EM

          Well, Germanified. Gruselkabinett does have some adaptations of works originally written in German, but not among my acquisitions (yet).

  3. Thulsadoom

    I’m glad somebody else mentioned H.P. Lovecraft. His best works tower over the others, and that’s not to put them down (After all, most of them are heavily influenced by him). He’s one of the ONLY horror authors I’ve ever read who genuinely sent a chill down my spine by sheer words. Richard Matheson comes close with I Am Legend, but that’s by the atmosphere of hopelessness and despair, rather than outright creepiness.

    Dean Koontz always used to get me when I was younger, and is my favourite of modern horror authors (if he can still be classed as such), but he’s unfortunately a man of some great books, and lot of merely good/okay ones and some that are just downright disappointing, like he had a deadline to hit.

    The most well-known, Steven King, never drew me in. I’ve always found his stuff made for better films or mini-series than books, oddly enough.

  4. Deaditelord

    I have to admit that I’ve never read anything from Clive Barker which is odd considering how much I love the movies adapted from his novels (Hellraiser, Nightbreed, Candyman, Lord of Illusions and Midnight Meat Train). I think I’ll try reading the Books of Blood this Halloween.

    As for books I have read, I love Watchers by Dean Koontz, although I suppose it falls more in line with the thriller genre than horror. The movie adaptations… not so much.

    Stephen King is another author I’ve not read much of (I really need to read his novel It), but I did read Needful Things and it ranks pretty high on my list of great horror novels. The movie has a bad reputation, but personally I think it’s a pretty solid adaptation with a terrific performance by Max Von Sydow.

  5. Csm101

    Yeah I’m going to have break down and read some Lovecraft as he seems to be a strong influence on alot of horror aficionados. I just brought it up the other night on the Christine bluray forum that I was a really big fan of that book. I’ve read reviews that say it’s too long and that they didn’t like switching between narrators, but it really worked for me. I found it extremely entertaining from beginning to end. That was several years ago, and I don’t know if I’d still feel the same reading it now, but I m thinking about revisiting it in the near future. The Shining has one scene in it that made me put the book down and sent shivers down my spine. Pet Sematary gave me an extreme nightmare experience that was very much like those sleep paralysis episodes. The nightmare experience was nothing directly from the book, but it set the tone for my uneasy sleep that night.

  6. My favorite horror novel is “Summer of Night” by Dan Simmons with “Carrion Comfort” a close second from the same author. “Summer of Night” has a similar vibe to King’s “It” in that it concerns a group of youngsters facing a great evil but what I feel sets it apart is the way it draws you in to a coming of age story before gut punching you with the horror. He has an uncanny ability to tap into those things that really scared us as children.

  7. EM

    I think the novel (of any genre) I have reread the most, both beginning to end and in excerpts, is Dracula. ’Nuff said.

    I’m looking forward to the Fathom Events ’31 Dracula double feature (English and Spanish) later this month. Of all the film adaptations, Tod Browning’s starring Béla Lugosi remains by far my favorite.

  8. Charles M

    Shirley Jackson’s ” The Haunting of Hill House”. But I love Lovecraft’s works. He could be a sloppy writer at times, but stuff like the “The Colour Out of Space” is brilliantly written in my opinion.

  9. Dean Curry

    Mark Z. Danielewski’s ‘House of Leaves’. Never has any book drawn me in and left me so utterly in awe and terror at the same time. A twisty, labyrinthine book that goes as deep as the titular house. The most unique reading experience I have ever had.

  10. Chaz

    Most books by Edward Lee, one of the most messed up minds in horror today, extremely wrong and extremely graphic with violence and sexual body horror. Other than him, nothing really stands out in the genre, books dont scare me in the slightest, never once have I ever quit reading, or got freaked out at night or something. But I’ve read some great ones by Bryan Lumley (not actually any from his Necroscope series), Clive Barker (Weaveworld in high school was great messed up stuff), Brian Keene is a current favorite of mine and of course the aforementioned Lee. I’ve never read any Stephen King other than his Dark Tower series as his books just go way too long IMO. Reading something like the Shining or IT now wouldnt bother me at all but it would take me forever to get through, I’m a very slow reader and honestly dont have the time to take to read books all that often, which is a shame because I do like reading quite a bit

  11. Ryan

    My recent fav is Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill (Stephen King’s son) Musician buys odd objects involving the dead. Buys a suit that contains the spirit of someone’s dad/grandfather that her son keeps seeing. Hoping that selling the suit will allow him to rest easier as she didn’t believe him. Sure enough a spirit comes with the suit shipped in a Heart-Soaped Box and goes on to haunt, kill and torture the loved ones/friends of the musician

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