I’ve had horror on the brain since I was about 11 or 12 years old. That’s when I ‘cured’ myself from getting freaked out by silly, weak b-grade horror flicks. That’s when I got right into the A Nightmare On Elm Street series of movies. And a year or so after that – along with watching a lot of horror – I started reading horror stories too.
I was a wee bit into science-fiction as a kid, but not a lot. Classic stuff. And that’s been how it is for me now too – I sure don’t dislike the genre but it’s not my obvious go-to. The brand of sci-fi I like the most is the dystopian, broken-down future-out-of-control type. Which, admittedly, is a lot of sci-fi – but specifically the type that is its own kind of horror.
Horror novels and short stories though, pure horror, I ate them up. Classics like Dracula and Frankenstein and The Invisible Man. Classic authors like Edgar Alan Poe and Shirley Jackson. A little bit of Lovecraft – and probably not enough.
And of course the king of modern horror – Stephen King. This was all through my teenage years. And some things like Jackson and Poe I understood better in my 20s.
A while back I shared my Top 10 Stephen King books – since I’ve also been dipping a toe back in the water there. King’s books work well as movies, that’s why there have been so many made – but the filmmaker hasn’t always best served King’s vision, or King’s words haven’t always translated correctly to screen. That’s because there’s something about the horror in the mind. You read something that allows you to create the picture. That can’t always be carried to the screen.
Case in point: King allegedly hates the Stanley Kubrick version of The Shining – when it’s also acknowledged as a classic film. So why would King not love it? It helped cement his name as a true master of horror, sold him a heap of books no doubt and lives on its own space too. Well, it wasn’t faithful to the book. It was Kubrick taking from it what he needed to make a movie and realising a near-perfect vision. Kubrick knew, on some level, that walking topiary might be scary as shit in a book but would probably look stupid rather than terrifying on film.
And the proof? Well, in 1997 King sanctioned a TV mini-series that stuck to his script. And it was dreadful.
I’m trying to get back into reading some King now. But I’m also trying to remember the other great horror writers. I read a few Dean Koontz books, Richard Laymon too. Horror master Wes Craven even wrote a novel that I liked. But who else is there in the genre? I should know. I’ve worked in bookstores. I’ve made recommendations.
But right now, I’m stuck. There’s Stephen King. There’s a few great horror comics – and I could do with some help there (any recommendations gratefully received). And there appears to be whole worlds of new fiction in the horror genre. There are Kindle books and collections of stories – there are horror experts and there are literary fiction writers and masters of other genres that dip their toes in the water with a horror story or two. And I need names. I need you to help me build a reading list of great horror. I’ll buy the e-books, I’ll reserve copies from the library. I’ll add to my online reading list that seems now to be its own version of The Never Ending Story…
I’m after fiction – short stories, graphic novels, book-length horror tales.
Where do I start? Or should I say where do I start again?
And all of this has a purpose – beyond scratching the itch of the horror streak running the length of my back. You see I’m not only interesting in reading horror, I’m interested in writing horror. I want to have a shot at writing some horror stories myself. I have some ideas. I have one or two existential horror stories in the can. Some might say I’ve always been writing horror-story work (ha!) But I am keen to see the lay of the land right now. Before I plough on. So. who is your go-to in the horror genre when it comes to books? Who would you recommend and why? Who – beyond Stephen King – do you return to for a fright between the pages? And if you could recommend just one classic horror-read what would you pick?
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