Illustration by Ben Beechener
Halloween truly is the most wonderful time of the year. Forget Christmas, Easter, even the four-month summer break; Halloween is the time for all things scary. As a horror fan, there’s no better season than Autumn to indulge in terrifying tales – the long nights, the creeping cold weather and the welcome return of pumpkin-spiced lattes all make for the perfect setting to indulge in spine-chilling stories. Whether you can stomach the most gruesome horrors or if you still have nightmares over the Goosebumps books, here are some recommendations of the best spooky reads to get you in the mood for Halloween.
The Italian, Ann Radcliffe
For those interested in classic Gothic, there are the usual suggestions: Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. However, Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian stands its ground as equal to any other better-known Gothic novel. As an early example of psychological terror this novel does not so much focus on explicit violence but on suspense, a theme which is currently having a resurgence in the horror world. This 1797 novel creates the villainous pair of Father Schedoni and the Marchesa di Vivaldi, determined to break apart the Marchesa’s son and his new love interest by any means necessary. Religion, class and otherness are at the heart of The Italian, although the dark and shadowy atmosphere make this novel fitting for a cold Autumn night.
And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie
Along with Murder on the Orient Express and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, And Then There Were None is one of Christie’s most famous novels. Ten victims are invited to a dinner party on an island off the coast of Devon, where they find a poem about ten soldier boys who disappear in various ways until there are none. All seems well, until each guest is accused of a crime and starts being killed off, one by one, just as the ten soldiers are in the poem. This is certainly Christie’s creepiest murder mystery and my favourite of all her books – I highly recommended this if you are in the mood for working your ‘little grey cells’ and being petrified as well.
Gerald’s Game, Stephen King
No list of Halloween recommendations would be complete without the king of horror himself: Stephen King. We all know the iconic King villains – The Shining’s Jack Torrance, It’s Pennywise or Misery’s Annie Wilkes – but Gerald’s Game conjures terror with its premise alone: being trapped. The novel’s protagonist, Jessie Burlingame, finds herself handcuffed to a bed in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, with only her thoughts and inner demons to keep her company. The inclusion of the Space Cowboy (trust me, he’s much more frightening than his name suggests) and the twist at the end of the novel make for the most chilling passages in fiction I have ever read.
Skeleton Crew, Stephen King
If you’re looking for something shorter by King, there are two short stories which I would highly recommend: The Jaunt and Survivor Type, both found in the short story collection, Skeleton Crew. Often credited as one of King’s best stories (short or full-length), The Jaunt is a futuristic cautionary tale warning both of the dangers of technology and of the unknown. The ending of The Jaunt is one of King’s best – bleak and horrific. Survivor Type, a favourite of King himself, depicts the lengths one will go to just to stay alive, regardless of where it may leave them physically. The unlikeable narrator descends into a fractured mind and gory acts resulting in a truly unsettling story.
There’s Someone Inside Your House, Stephanie Perkins
Continuing the ‘teen-scream’ trend established in 80’s and 90’s horror, There’s Someone Inside Your House (soon to be adapted into a Netflix film) depicts a group of students terrorised by a killer with a knife. It’s such a simple premise, popularised by films such as Scream, Friday the 13th and Halloween. However, this novel, unlike many slasher films, allows the reader to form a stronger connection with the characters, and is less gratuitous with its violence, making it an accessible read for horror beginners. For YA lovers, this is the perfect choice, containing romance, teen angst and high school drama along with the ominous threat of the killer lurking in the background.
If you dare, I hope that you enjoy these spooky season suggestions and have a happy Halloween.