October is national book month. It’s also the time of year we start planning family and school Halloween parties, get-togethers and festivals. We think of orange decorations, kids are asking “What can I dress up like?” and a larger number of scary films appear on screen. However, Halloween isn’t just for kids. While children are bobbing for apples and trick-or-treating, adults are enjoying haunted houses, costume parties or staying home with a good book.
In honor of the disturbing and sleepless nights ahead, I have compiled a list of ten favorite horror stories for adults. All of these tales have been made into movies, and while they are thrillers in their own right, they can’t beat the sheer terror of the descriptive originals. These books are guaranteed to leave frightening images in your mind long after returning them to their shelf.
1. Dracula – Written by Bram Stoker and published in 1897, this epistolary novel – told from letters, diary entries and ships logs – focuses on the sinister vampire Dracula. The reader follows him on a terrifyingly bloody campaign from his Transylvanian castle to the English countryside and back again. The ancient Dracula exhibits amazing powers of control over both humans and other vampires. While this is not the first vampire novel written, it is arguably the most frightening. “My revenge is just begun! I spread it over centuries, and time is on my side. Your girls that you all love are mine already; and through them you and others shall yet be mine – my creatures, to do my bidding and to be my jackals when I want to feed.”
2. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley wrote this horror novel at the age of 18 after learning about galvanism. The title refers to the main character, Victor Frankenstein, a scientist who learns to create life (not the monster he creates). The result is a monster more powerful and violent than any mere human could become. A timeless tale of an intelligent and ruthless monster. “For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.”
3. Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe – This single volume brings together Poe’s genius of diverse creations. His terrifying tales and dark poems have inspired many horror writers. Short stories like “The Tell Tale Heart” and “Fall of the House of Usher” as well as poems like “The Raven” mark this author as one of the greatest chillers of all time. Poe has also been a source of inspiration for many detective story writers. “I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.”
4. Salem’s Lot – This is the first Stephen King novel I read. Writer Ben Mears returns to his hometown Jerusalem’s Lot to discover a horde of vampires have overrun the town. All signs indicate the new town antique dealer, Kurt Barlow, has unleashed this unimaginable terror upon the community. The vampire Barlow is a modern day Dracula. “They’re in those houses. Right now, in all those houses. Behind the shades. In beds and closets and cellars. Under the floors. Hiding.”
5. The Silence of the Lambs – Thomas Harris spins this beauty and the beast tale with a naïve FBI agent who enters a monster’s lair, prison, in order to free a woman held prisoner by another villain. Together, they must discover the location of the evil man making clothes from the skin of his victims, but can she trust the aid of the cannibalistic beast? This seductively scary tale will hook you until the last page. “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”
6. The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson’s tale plays on the psyche of her main characters, and the reader, by the ghost of a terrible house. Her four main characters as well as several secondary witness disturbing scenes including writing on the wall, strange sounds and unseen spirits. One main character seems to have a special connection to the house and experiences many things the others do not. This novel is a truly great haunted house story. “Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”
7. The Exorcist – William Peter Blatty’s disturbing tale about a young girl possessed by the Devil and the priest sent to exorcise the demons. This story scared me as a child, but absolutely terrified me as an adult with children of my own. The image of a daughter tied to a bed screaming in a demonic language, spewing green bile with the ability to spin her head around 360 degrees mortifies the reader and hinders any attempt at sleep after putting the book down. “Especially important is the warning to avoid conversations with the demon…He is a liar…He will lie to confuse us. But he will also mix lies with the truth to attack us. The attack is psychological, and powerful. So don't listen to him. Remember that - do not listen.”
8. The Amityville Horror – This controversial book by Jay Anson is said to be based on true events. The Lutz family moves into a home on Long Island. More than a year before this, a man name Defeo shot and killed six members of his family in this home. Less than a month after moving in, the Lutzes leave the home claiming they have been terrorized by paranormal phenomena including swarming insects, voices, red eyes and slime. The true story of the Amityville murders can be read online. “Your house scares me Mrs. Lutz. Get you out of it now.”
9. Hell House – Regarded as the most haunted home in the world, a small group of psychic investigators attempt to decipher the power of the Belasco House in Maine. Richard Matheson’s haunted house is made more terrifying by the fact the home seems able to uniquely corrupt and destroy each individual who enters its doors using their personal weaknesses. This is a vividly terrifying haunted house story. “It's occurred to me that the evil in this house is so intensely concentrated that it might be a constant lure to earthbound spirits everywhere. In other words, the house might be acting like a giant magnet for degraded souls."
10. The Shining – Stephen King gives us another tragic tale of a home possessed and attacking the innocent and not so innocent alike. This tragic tale earns the great horror writer a second spot on my top ten scary books for the season. Danny’s clairvoyant abilities or “Shining” allow him to see, experience and even influence things most humans cannot. His abilities help him to avoid being possessed at the same time they give the home more power. Subsequently, the house possesses his father Jack, a recovering alcoholic, in an attempt to kill Danny. Jack breaks free of the possession briefly to warn his son. "Run away. Quick. And remember how much I love you."
What are your favorites?