A variation on a theme, with Halloween just a few days behind us.
Horror fiction represents only a small percentage of my reading, it seems. But, after some thought, the following 10 novels represent my quintessential horror selection. I didn’t repeat authors (even those with pseudonyms) or include those whose work is mainly in the short form (sorry, E.A. Poe and H.P. Lovecraft).
In alphabetical order:
The Bad Seed, by William March
Yes, this book was published in 1954, which was a long time ago. It still packs a psychological wallop. It’s been filmed a few times, and has inspired other works, such as the movie The Good Son. There’s something just innately scary about killer children.
The Ceremonies, by T.E.D. Klein
T.E.D. Klein was the founding editor of Twilight Zone magazine in the early ’80s and is known primarily for his novellas and short fiction. The Ceremonies has been his only novel-length piece of fiction, as far as I know. Published in 1984, it’s pretty old now, too, I guess. But, parts of this novel have stuck with me for the past three-and-a-half (almost) decades, and I always think about Mr. Rosebottom when I see someone feeding pigeons. Warning: it is rather long and deliberately paced, not for those afraid to commit.
The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty
This 1971 novel became the classic horror film just a couple of years after it was published. If the movie scared you, even just a little, expect even more of the same when you read the book.
Ghost Story, by Peter Straub
The movie adaptation of the same title is mostly forgettable, but this 1979 Peter Straub novel is anything but. Since I’ve been thinking about the novel for this post, I’ve decided it’s about time for a re-reading. Nearly 500-pages long in hardcover, so, again, not for anyone afraid of a long-term relationship.
Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill
As most people know by now, Joe Hill is the pen name of Joe Hill King, son of Stephen. That’s not why I first read this 2007 novel. I read his short story collection 20th Century Ghosts first and liked what I read. Plus, well . . . Nirvana, right? This entry on the 10-List proves that I’ve read books in this century as well. There’s some unsettling and scary stuff in this one.
The Ignored, by Bentley Little
This was the first Bentley Little book I read. Back in 1998, about a year after it was published. I was changing jobs as the time and going through some personal stuff, so this novel about a man who goes through life being ignored by others resonated with me. I started to put Little’s The Mailman on this list instead, since I now work for the post office. But, honestly, this is a better novel. Creepy, strange and, at times, quite scary.
Off Season, by Jack Ketchum
Jack Ketchum was the pen name of the late Dallas Mayr. This was his first published novel, I think, and was a controversial one at the time it was published, 1980. Ballantine Books pulled it from circulation after the first printing sold out, after its extreme violence was criticized. Cemetery Dance Publications re-published it in 1999. It’s now considered a classic of horror fiction. The violence is over-the-top, a warning that bears repeating, and not for the faint of heart.
The Other, by Thomas Tryon
A 1971 novel. Yes, another old one. Trust me, there will be no glittering vampires in this list. The novel itself is set in 1935, which makes it seem even older. This is psychological horror—which I sometimes think is the best kind—about twin brothers in rural New England. The 1972 movie is unsettling as well, but, as usual, the book is better.
Rosemary’s Baby, by Ira Levin
I can’t be the only person in the world that loves Levin’s 1967 novel, while being mostly indifferent to Roman Polanski’s 1968 movie adaptation. If anything, reading the novel made me appreciate the movie more. The success of this novel also facilitated the horror boom in literature and movies that followed, so that’s another point in its favor.
The Stand, by Stephen King
Last, but certainly not least, my favorite King novel, and the first of his books that I read. This 1978 novel actually kindled my interest in all things horror and King. This is a big honking doorstop of a novel, in its original form, much less the later, longer author’s preferred edition. This is King’s Lord of the Rings. The later TV miniseries wasn’t all bad, but doesn’t come close to the scope of this one. I’ve read this one at least three times already.
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I realize this list looks like old news to many of you, and there are probably current authors who would have made the list if I had read them. But, I’m not qualifying my list: it’s a great one. I promise I won’t dismiss anything from this century out of hand. Give the last century a chance, too, because it paved the way.