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Top Ten Favorite Horror Novels

Halloween is almost here, so let’s get spooky together with this list of my favorite horror novels of all time!

10. Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark – Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell

If you were a child from 1981-1991, there is a good chance your nightmares are still haunted by the stories and illustrations found within this series of books. I don’t know what sadist thought this was okay to read/show to kids, but it messed me up for YEARS. I’m not sure all the stories hold up, but after doing research for this article, I can tell you the illustrations still make me want to sleep with the light on.

9.  John Dies At The End – David Wong

Forget the movie, it does little to no justice to this phenomenally written novel that is equal parts terrifying and hilarious. The story, characters, and horror are handled with a certain care that the adaptation lacked, leaving the movie feeling a bit hollow, especially compared to the book. If you love this, please check out the sequel: This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously Dude Don’t Touch It.

8. Heart Shaped Box – Joe Hill

By now it’s no secret that author Joe Hill is the son of horror master Stephen King, but when this book was first released, this was a much lesser known fact. Not that it mattered; the book was a bestseller, critically acclaimed, and instantly made Joe Hill a household name among horror fans. It’s a creepy, even-paced tale about a musician who buys a dead man’s suit, supposedly haunted by the dead man’s ghost. It is, and shit gets weird, real quick.

7. Pet Sematary – Stephen King

The Master of the Macabre scared the crap out of readers with this twisted tale of a place where local children bury their dead pets. Most of the pets buried in the cemetery are victims of the heavy traffic on the road, which also happens to run past the home of the Creed family, the book’s protagonists. Things quickly turn dark when the family cat is killed, buried in the the Pet Sematary, only to show up alive and not-so-well a few days later. Zombie pets, a dead baby, and a possible Wendigo sighting all await you within the pages of one of King’s most memorable novels.

6. The Girl Next Door – Jack Ketchum

Based (loosely) on a true story about an girl from Indiana named Sylvia Likens, who was brutally tortured and murdered by her temporary caregiver, Ketchum’s novel delves into the graphic and gruesome details of the abuse sustained in the original case, while taking several liberties with the overall story, including the addition of the novel’s narrator, a young man who fell in love with Meg, the literary stand-in for real-life Sylvia.

5. Monster Island – David Wellington

Monster Island is the first in a trilogy of online serial novels written by David Wellington, at the time a struggling writer hoping for a break. The idea caught on, leading to a publishing deal, two sequels and a shot for Wellington as a comic book writer on Marvel’s Marvel Zombies Return: Iron Man mini-series. Monster Island tells the story of Dekalb, whose daughter is being held by a Somalian warlord, as he fights his way though a zombie-infested island with a band of East African child soldiers. There are a lot of original takes on zombie-lore in this book (and the subsequent sequels), including an undead medical student who manages to retain a high level of consciousness, and an ancient Egyptian mummy who is awakened as a part of the rise of the undead. All three books are fast-paced and well-written. Highly recommended.

4. House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski

Less of a monsters-and-ghosts horror and more a psychological undoing. Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Navy moves into a nice house with his wife and kids, only to discover a mysterious door against the outside wall of the house that leads to an impossible series of corridors and rooms that seemingly lead to nowhere. This, of course is all part of a documentary released by Miramax (there was no documentary) that was seen by a mildly insane, blind man named Zampanò –  who then wrote a manuscript about the (not real) film, which was then discovered and published by a slightly more sane (not by much) Los Angeles tattoo artist named Johnny Truant. If that sounds weird and confusing, that’s because it is. The narrative style is as fragmented and bizarre as the house itself. This one is so strange it can’t be properly described and MUST be experienced first hand.

3. The Rising – Brian Keene

Another zombie-based story, again, this is a case where the author, Brian Keene, takes basic zombie concepts to a whole new level. In the world of the novel, the undead have risen, but not just humans, as even animals and insects are affected by the plague. A third act reveal brings up some very intriguing notions about the origin of the zombies, but, ultimately, the cliffhanger style ending will leave you demanding more… which is lucky for you, because Keene followed this book up with City of the Dead, a direct continuation of the story.

2.  Summer of Night – Dan Simmons

It’s been compared to Stephen King’s IT, but in my opinion Simmons’ Summer of Night, is a far superior novel. The story follows a young group of boys as they uncover the disturbing and scary secrets of their school, Old Central. A mysterious rendering truck, giant worms with razor sharp teeth, a recently deceased teacher suddenly reappearing in the scariest possible way… all serving the ancient evil that’s desperate to be reborn in our time and claim the world as its own. This book has all the core elements of a classic horror story, and was followed by a sequel which is set years after the original (much like the second part of IT, which follows the adult versions of the childhood friends who anchor the first half of King’s novel), and sees one of the boys return home to explore a new evil threatening the Midwestern town of Elm Haven, Illinois.

1. Dominion – Bentley Little

Bentley Little is my favorite horror novelist, for no other reason than his books literally scare me sleepless. The imagery, the content of his horror, usually based in a perverse sexual deviancy, is so vivid that I’ve actually retched while reading some of his more descriptive passages. It was hard to pick a favorite of his books, and if you like this one, I suggest seeking out all his other books (at the very least, read The Store and The Ignored). This tale mixes Greek mythology and teen angst as protagonist Dion moves into a new town and meets the girl of his dreams; however, their union threatens to bring about the resurrection of Dionysus, the God of ritual madness and ecstasy, plunging the small town into utter chaos. Little pulls no punches with his graphic depictions of violence, sexual perversion, and insanity that grip the town as things barrel to a remarkable (and somewhat bleak) conclusion.

Okay, those are my suggestions, but now I wanna hear what you got for me. Send your favorite horror novels to my Twitter account or comment below.

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  1. I’ve read several Bentley Little novels and while they’re half-decent entertainment, I’ve always found his dialogue and descriptions to be awkward. It’s like he has this great imaginative mind but not the vocabulary to flesh out his ideas.

  2. Swagmeister says:

    The island of dr.moreau

  3. turtle says:

    im a turtle 0-0

  4. Ken C says:

    Got to echo the comments about Brian Keene; his stuff is awesome! If you haven’t treated yourself to Robert McCammon, you gotta’ check out STINGER, THE WOLF’S HOUR and THEY THIRST.

  5. Kain says:

    Shannon is the book your talking about called “body snatches”?

  6. Shawn Depasquale says:

    These are all awesome suggestions! So happy you guys are digging the article and engaging with your own favorite novels!

    I’m going to get all of these and read the holy hell out of them. Thanks again!

  7. My own list from a couple of days ago…

    (And DAMMIT, Martin, how the bleeding flying hell did I forget Thomas Ligotti?)

  8. Molly says:

    I definitely second “Let the Right One In”. Mega-disturbing and perverse, and one of the only books that actually kept me up at night.

  9. Martin says:

    I have three books that you should read:

    “14” by Peter Clines – A well written book where things start to go strange very fast… Cthulhu-esque novel that’s a real blast to read.

    “Let the right one in” by John Ajvide Lindqvist – The awsome novel behind the Swedish movie by the same name and the American remake “Let me in” thisbis creepy, slow paced horror at its best.

    “Teatro Grottesco” by Thomas Ligotti – Contains several short stories in the footprints of Poe and Lovecraft but yet he still remains “his own”

  10. glitch says:

    Agreed, Andrew.
    Some of the most moving stuff in that book smply did not make it what so ever into the film. I love hell raiser BTW. Its just a completely different cenobite.

  11. Andrew Tench says:

    One of my favorites is The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker. The movie does not do the book justice. The way he describes everything from the way the house looks to the smell of the room. Then when the book is nearing the end the Cenobites show up and from the way they are described you can visualize that they are these inhuman creatures with only the will of Leviathian leading them to their goal.

  12. shannon says:

    One of my favorite horror stories is one I read as a child. Since then I have lost the book, forgotten the title & the author. I’ve been looking for it but with no luck. Maybe someone here can help me out. The story is about an orphan girl who is adopted by a family of 4. Mother, Father, Son, & Grandmother. The grandmother is very old, sick & dying. Our main character doesn’t take long to find out the grandmother is actually a body snatcher blessed by a wizard before the time of Christ. The orphan girl & the grandmother have a mental battle over who is going to keep the orphan girls body. The grandmother can only jump into other women & only when the original body is about to die. When the jump is made, both women have the ability to body snatch, that’s why grandma only jumps right near death.
    It’s a fantastic story with a great twist at the end. If this sound familiar to anyone, please contact me. I’ve been dying to read this one again.

  13. Beth B. says:

    I love Bentley Little and Brian Keene. Little’s books scared the sleep out of me when I read them in my late teens, early twenties. Keene is kind of the fun side of horror for me – over the top but scary, although “Urban Gothic” is just…a brutal read, to put it mildly.

    But the top of my horror list still goes to King and “The Shining” because I read it when I was ten or eleven and still can’t use the bathroom without checking the tub and I’m almost 35. I actually just finished “Doctor Sleep” over the weekend and thought it was a decent follow-up to the story, though I felt the antagonist type was a little contrived and it was no where near as frightening as the original. Still, it was an enjoyable read and had a good closure on the Danny Torrance storyline.

  14. Joseph Young says:

    Stephen Gammel is still my favorite artist because of these books.

  15. good morning says: