We know that we don’t go in for pumpkins and trick-or-treating so much in Australia, but a good scary book can be a great way to get into the Halloween spirit. We’ve asked around, and pulled together a fairly unorthodox, and by no means comprehensive, list of recommendations:
Firstly, don’t pass up the classics, just because they’re older than you are. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the first science-fiction novel, after all (c’mon, a construction that comes to life and attacks it’s creator? Cylons, anyone?). We also recommend The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, by RL Stevenson, and, of course, Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
And if you want something a bit more…melodramatic, shall we say? Earlier Gothic novels like The Castle of Otranto, by Horace Walpole, or Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, while not necessarily scary, have everything you need in the way of remote castles, foul spectres, perishing heroines and villainous uncles. For all this plus evil nuns, incest, sex outside marriage, and Faustian deals with the devil, try The Monk, by Matthew Lewis. Throw in a bit of Poe, maybe some Turn of the Screw, and you’ve got a great creepy holiday.
There’s plenty of scary books written more recently than 1901, however. For scary that’s still a bit retro, HP Lovecraft is hard to pass up. Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend is a 1950s update of the vampire legend (film version coming up next year, starring Will Smith), and Something Wicked This Way Comes is a classic from the redoubtable Ray Bradury. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess, isn’t strictly horror, but we found it plenty scary.
But if your scare-register only appreciates creepiness from the here-and-now, Stephen King is probably hard to pass up. IT seems to be the perennial favourite, but King’s covered practically all the monsters you can think of. The vampires of Salem’s Lot, killer dogs in Cujo, killer cars in Christine, undead things in Pet Semetary, creepy kidnappers in Misery or Desperation, etc, etc. The list goes on, and there’s lots of film adaptions to check out, as well.
In non-King horror, there’s plenty of excellent books to choose from. Alan Moore’s From Hell is a brilliant graphic novel, full of blood, gore, sex, and Jack the Ripper (the film version was complete rubbish, so don’t judge it by that). If you’re into comics, the Hellblazer series, with its protagonist John Constantine, has plenty of Halloween-style demons, vampires and other dark stuff. Back in regular fiction, Angela Carter’s collection of stories, The Bloody Chamber, re-imagines classic fairy tales like Bluebeard’s Chamber, Puss In Boots and Sleeping Beauty, with emphasis on the grim bits. Poppy Z Brite is famous for her dark, gothic novels, of which Exquisite Corpse seems to be the most twisted.
Other writers to take a look at are Chuck Palahnuik, China Mieville (especially his collection of stories, Looking for Jake), and Kelly Link. Joyce Carol Oates is also still writing plenty of creepy stuff, although the novel that was recommended to us, Childwold, is from 1976. There have also been some great horror novels published within just the last year or two. Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian reinvents the Dracula myth, and Let the Right One In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist, also puts a modern, emotionally-wrenching twist on the vampire. Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill (who’s actually Stephen King’s son), is about a guy who buys a ghost on the internet.
And there are a couple of Australian horror efforts to choose from. Only a few, unfortunately, and the classic Wake In Fright by Kenneth Cook is hard to find, both in print and on DVD. Tim Winton’s In The Winter Dark comes highly recommended, and the very-recent Pilo Family Circus, by Will Elliot, is a great Halloween read (some of the creepiest killer clowns we’ve ever encountered).
We have, of course, chosen not to enter the realms of the horror film. Waaaaay too many to choose from, so you’re on your own with the visuals.