Halloween is approaching, and with it comes mountains of candy and evenings filled with costumes and horror films. For diligent readers though, there is another option besides black and white films and haunted houses to celebrate the annual day of horror in the form of scary novels. Supernatural books may be fun, and vampires and witches appropriately terrifying, but the real thrill lies in stories that have a sense of reality behind them. These are the novels that leave you double and triple checking your doors are locked, the nightlight is on, and your teddy bear is snuggled in next to you each night. Because who knows, it could happen to you...
The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
The Exorcist is perhaps better known as a film, but the original story is even more terrifying in its novel form. Based on a true story, or at least what a collection of priests demm to be true, the tale follows the journey of an innocent young girl possessed by demons. Whether you believe in demons or not, The Exorcist will still stand to horrify, since its truly unsettling qualities are that its characters are entirely undeserving of the events that occur. The novel leaves readers ever aware that evil doesn’t only exist to punish the wicked, it can find anyone, anywhere. The book will leave you begging for relief of the story’s victims - as to whether or not they truly find peace, you’ll have to read to find out.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
The Haunting of Hill House follows four people who decide to spend a summer in a home that is rumored to be haunted. The novel is so successful at creating tension that the author, Shirley Jackson, had an award named after her, which recognizes current novels which aim to equal her skill in psychological suspense. The tale is narrated by Eleanor, a young woman staying in the house with Dr. Montague (who desperately wants proof ghosts exist) his assistant, Theodora, his assistant, and the heir to the house, Luke. Reality and hallucination, as well as the living and the dead, become incomprehensibly blurry as the novel goes on. The film version is not nearly as terrifying, but is available on demand through DirecTV, or through Amazon, for those looking to cap off the novel with a visual addition.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell
If you were a child anytime in the 80s or 90s, chances are that you’ve seen at least one of three collections of folklore and urban legends the make up the complete Scary Stories. The short stories often jump between ghost stories and more unique folk tales, like The Big Toe, which follows a young boy and mother who find and eat a toe (who that toe belongs to, of course, becomes a pressing issue). The simplicity of the tales, complemented by their equally eerie illustrations, will still leave you shivering at night, thinking about headless women and diseased, mutated humans. There were rumors of a film version, but as of yet, no release date has been announced.
The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum
This tale is based loosely on the true tale of Indiana victim Sylvia Likens, who was brutally tortured and murdered by her temporary caregiver and the guardian’s gang of children. Ketchum’s novel is far more disturbing and closer to reality than the later film version, and examines the gruesome details of the abuse the young girl withstood before finally passing away. Ketchum was liberal with the actual plot, changing the girl’s name to Meg and adding a narrator who was in love with the girl. Perhaps the most disturbing fact regarding the novel, however, is that it still does not come close to the actual abuse endured by Sylvia. Ketchum found that many of the atrocities were too great even for his already monstrous tale.
The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson
In 1975, the Lutz family moves into a new home, priced well due to the recent murders that had occurred in the home. Months earlier, 23 year old Ronnie DeFeo was convicted of shooting his parents, brothers and sisters, leaving the home completely unoccupied. Then, a mere 28 days after moving in, the Lutz family flees the house in terror, leaving everything behind besides their own persons. The novel is based on the actual memoirs of the Lutz family, who insist that their experiences in the house are factual. From their daughter’s eerie imaginary friend “Jodie” to failed blessings attempted by priests, this book will have you questioning the history of your own home.
No matter what you choose to read, you can count on wanting to leave the lights on this Halloween! What terrifying books would you add to this list?