I used to be terrified of horror films. I couldn’t even watch Most Haunted without struggling to get to sleep, despite Derek Acorah’s, um, questionable medium abilities. Now, though, I am a huge horror fan. Films, books, video games, you name it. I haven’t even managed to finish playing Until Dawn on the PS4 because I can’t handle the stress of keeping the characters alive (or encountering the wendigo’s).
Books, however, like films, can be a little hit and miss. Horror is a genre that is easy to create but difficult to pull off. But when it’s done well, it can leave you sleepless for days. Or, in my case, absolutely terrified and fascinated by zombies.
However, I think I’ll save my favourites in the zombie sub-genre for another post, so here is a quick round-up of some of my favourite horror novels over the years.
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
Fear factor: 3/5
Synopsis: Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor, is summoned to attend the funeral of Mrs Alice Drablow, the sole inhabitant of Eel Marsh House, unaware of the tragic secrets which lie hidden behind the shuttered windows. The house stands at the end of a causeway, wreathed in fog and mystery, but it is not until he glimpses a wasted young woman, dressed all in black, at the funeral, that a creeping sense of unease begins to take hold, a feeling deepened by the reluctance of the locals to talk of the woman in black – and her terrible purpose.
Why I loved it: I first read this novel in Year 8, so that was back in 2008, long before the film. The film is scary, but my god the book is scarier in a much subtler way. Our English teacher made us all read the same chapter in silence to ourselves during class, a chapter involving the infamous rocking chair. I remember halfway through all of us students were looking around at each other uneasily as we read. The tension in the room was palpable. I’ve never forgotten that moment, nor the way in which Susan Hill is an absolute master in suspense and giving you the chills. For me, horror is all about the subtlety. Everyone loves a good jump scare, but the jump scare is nothing without the suspense that builds up to it.
The Ritual by Adam Nevill
Synopsis: When four old University friends set off into the Scandinavian wilderness of the Arctic Circle, they aim to briefly escape the problems of their lives and reconnect. But when Luke, the only man still single and living a precarious existence, finds he has little left in common with his well-heeled friends, tensions rise.
A shortcut meant to ease their hike turns into a nightmare scenario that could cost them their lives. Lost, hungry, and surrounded by forest untouched for millennia, things couldn’t possibly get any worse.
But then they stumble across an old habitation. Ancient artefacts decorate the walls and there are bones scattered upon the floors. The residue of old rites for something that still exists in the forest. Something responsible for the bestial presence that follows their every step. And as the four friends stagger in the direction of salvation, they learn that death doesn’t come easy among these ancient trees . . .
Fear factor: 4/5
Why I loved it: I read this novel a few years ago and I’m not ashamed to admit that it gave me nightmares. It was a deeply unsettling novel, riven with suspense. However, there was a lull around the middle of the book after ‘the big reveal’. I found this dulled the fear factor somewhat, but it did pick up again at the end. Unlike The Woman in Black, there are more blood and guts in The Ritual, but not a gratuitous amount that you become numb to it.
The Shuddering by Ania Ahlborn
Synopsis: Ryan Adler and his twin sister, Jane, spent their happiest childhood days at their parents’ mountain Colorado cabin—until divorce tore their family apart. Now, with the house about to be sold, the Adler twins gather with their closest friends for one last snowboarding-filled holiday. While commitment-phobic Ryan gazes longingly at Lauren, wondering if his playboy days are over, Jane’s hopes of reconciling with her old boyfriend evaporate when he brings along his new fiancée. As drama builds among the friends, something lurks in the forest, watching the cabin, growing ever bolder as the snow falls…and hunger rises.
After a blizzard leaves the group stranded, the true test of their love and loyalty begins as the hideous creatures outside close in, one bloody attack at a time. Now Ryan, Jane, and their friends must fight—tooth and nail, bullet and blade—for their lives. Or else surrender to unspeakable deaths in the darkened woods.
Fear factor: 4/5
Why I loved it: I stumbled across this novel whilst searching for more horror to read after playing a bit of Until Dawn. Much like the game, the novel takes place in an isolated winter cabin with a bunch of young adults being stalked by something in the woods. I think the novel was written before the game, but either way it’s a good premise, and I found the story very disquieting. There’s a fair bit of blood and guts, along with some pretty good twists and turns. At first, I didn’t think I liked the characters that much, but by the end I was desperately rooting for them to survive.
Bird Box by Josh Malerman
Synopsis: Malorie raises the children the only way she can: indoors.
The house is quiet. The doors are locked, the curtains are closed, mattresses are nailed over the windows.
They are out there. She might let them in.
The children sleep in the bedroom across the hall.
Soon she will have to wake them. Soon she will have to blindfold them.
Today they must leave the house. Today they will risk everything.
Fear factor: 5/5
Why I loved it: This book was simply amazing. It terrified me and I loved that, especially the added bonus that it was post-apocalyptic! The blurb doesn’t tell you much, but the general premise is that the world rapidly succumbs to some kind of affliction that causes people to go mad and kill themselves and others. The link between these cases? All of them saw something before they went mad. The idea is a brilliant one and executed extremely well by Malerman. Even just thinking about this book creeps me out.
Got any good horror books to recommend? Let me know in the comments!