Nostalgia is powerful, and as Fear Street has been adapted for a successful direct-to-streaming movie franchise, it may be time to take a dive into the series! RL Stine, known for his middle grade and young adult horror writing, is sometimes called the Stephen King of kid lit, and it’s not difficult to see why. While many are written with assistance, the man has over 1,100 titles to his name, almost all of the horror directed at a younger audience.
I personally recall loving book fair days, as that meant having new RL Stine books in stock that weren’t in the library. Whether it was Goosebumps or Fear Street, I was immediately drawn to the garish colors, the oozing slimy font or scary spiky type, and the promise of a safe scare.
As times change too, so did the books, and Fear Street the films have become iconic for representing queer youth, which I love to see even as I sorta missed out due to age!
My favorite Fear Street book will surprise no one who knows me: the 45th entry, Cats.
Marty is both allergic to and afraid of cats. He despises the companion animal in all forms, especially the feral stray that lives on the basketball court he and his friends practice on. Still…its death was an accident, happening when Marty tries to keep it from attacking him and his friends again. However, cats don’t take such things lightly. Marty finds himself followed, discovering he’s been cursed by the colony of feral cats that the aggressive stray was from.
He also becomes the target of bullying and disdain for the accidental death. The Student Court even conspires to put him to trial, and in a middle grade version of Kafka, we get an idea of the ridiculousness of a trial driven by public mob justice.
While not the best of Fear Street, it’s a solid entry which I remember enjoying a lot as a young person! If you can get hold of old Fear Street books after the popularity resurgence, I highly recommend you be on the lookout for grab Cats!
What’s your favorite horror film, tv show, or book that involves evil animals? Or do you avoid the subgenre all together because seeing our innocent friends in danger hurts, even when they are fake props for storytelling? Let us know in the comments below!
There’s something inside you that you didn’t want there. It might kill you. You know you can’t live with the fall out of it, and the very existence of it inside you is traumatizing.
You’re watching Alien, of course. Or The Thing. Or Slither, or The Bay, or Viral, or Malignant, or–
….where does parasitical horror stand now, really in a post-Roe America? Because while of course, a human fetus isn’t a parasite in the scientific or traditional sense, it’s still an intrusion into the body that not everyone wants there or is happy about, let alone safe with.
My state has now banned abortion even in the cases of situations such as ectopic or molar pregnancy. For anyone unfamiliar with these terms: a molar pregnancy is when the fetus becomes a tumor. Not a potential child, to be entirely and crystalline clear: a tumor. And an ectopic pregnancy is in which the fetus develops outside the womb. Neither are viable. Both will kill the pregnant parent.
When Roe was overturned, I flashed back to the scene in Prometheus where Noomi Rapace’s character had to have the alien parasite removed. She sat in the medical machine, demanding an abortion for the inhuman creature which had taken residence in her uterus.
But just like the system which she found herself in, our system was also not designed for women and others with uteruses. It took reifying the situation to one a cis man might face for her to receive treatment. It’s not the most delicate metaphor in Prometheus, nor the most impactful at the time, but…now in the shadow of the SCOTUS decision and various trigger laws going into effect throughout the states? It’s horrifyingly real, in ways we thought were behind us.
Allow me to get a bit personal.
I grew up a fan of horror. I always get looks outside the South or even in the South by the younger crowd when I tell them the first movie I remember wanting to watch over and over with childish glee wasn’t a Disney film, but was Ernest Scared Stupid. And as I grew up and consumed more horror media, I noticed it, like all media, reflected a lot of what society had to say about itself. It’s very telling really.
Alien. The Fly. The Exorcist. Rosemary’s Baby.
There’s something inside you that you didn’t (necessarily) want there. It might kill you. You know you can’t live with the fall out of it, and the very existence of it inside you is traumatizing.
Even in horror, the scariest thing we can all imagine, even cis men, is the loss of autonomy of our own bodies.
This isn’t to discount the countless valid stories of parents of wanted pregnancies, who lose what would have become a beloved child to tragedy beyond their circumstances–who are then victimized more by a system that holds no grounds for nuance. I cannot imagine the pain, the suffering that causes, the sheer mental fortitude and bravery required to go on. I remember the far off pained look and the quiet embarrassment of my mother telling me about her miscarriages quietly during my adolescence, as if speaking of them as more than a whisper would be enough to invite more shame.
But that isn’t my story and I feel it might ring hollow or disingenuous, even though I want to stand and scream for them as well.
So here’s my story:
I was born in the late 80s in Nashville to a biological mother who already had teenage children, and a biological father who already had a different wife and possibly children of their own. From what little I know, they knew each other from work. He had a position of power over her, which he abused. We won’t go into more detail–no more is known by me, and no more is needed. My biological mother made the choice, or was perhaps cajoled, I truly do not know, into giving me up for adoption through a Christian adoption agency.
I was adopted by a couple in rural TN, who–for all our fussing and fighting at times–do love me very much. I can’t fault them there. And due to this I grew up, like one might imagine, thinking the only choice–adoption–was as clear and easy as day.
And then I started getting sick. As I got older I got sicker. Needed surgery in my late teens to fix problems usually relegated to 50+ year old alcoholics even though I never drank more than a glass of white wine my whole life up till that point. Took till my twenties to figure out I had a genetic disorder that affects every system of my body–reproductive included.
I’d wanted to be a parent, up to that point, even though pregnancy sounded kinda scary. I’d realized by that age that not evrything was black and white, and I was nominally pro-choice, but still somehow in my mind, I guess I thought abortions were for other people. And I’d done everything “right”–never acted on being bi, and never questioned why the label “girl or woman” had chafed my whole life.
But then the doctor was saying words like “rupture” and “hemorrhage.” “Growth restriction” and “collapse.”
“Fifty percent chance of heritability.”
I remembered dislocated ribs on the playground. Fainting just standing up after a long lecture because my veins are too fragile to regulate blood pressure some days. Throwing up pure stomach acid before tests, not because of anxiety, but because my esophagus won’t function properly on the bad days.
There’s something inside you that isn’t you. You didn’t invite it in. It might kill you.
And I knew that even despite what I’d thought I wanted most of my life, I couldn’t let it kill anyone else either. I knew in that moment, if birth control failed, I’d get an abortion without hesitating. And in that moment, I knew whatever little judgment I may have held onto for others didn’t have a leg to stand on.
No one’s judgment really does.
Because they know it’s a horrifying situation to be in. Frankly I’m tired of pretending they don’t. Art reflects life, and since the dawn of the genre of horror, its many male authors have known the same thing:
The horror isn’t the whispers in the woods at night. Not always.
Much much more often, it’s the loss of autonomy. The loss of feeling full personhood. The gaslighting by society telling you you’re crazy for not being happy about it. The complete and total lack of help by anyone around you capable of giving any significant aid.
It’s interesting to think of where horror might go from this point in regards to parasitical elements. Even prior to the overturn of Roe, directors of such films did seem to have an inkling of what such horror reflected in our culture and how it might be received differently by roughly half the populace. With the advent of a new more socially aware generation of horror directors and films thereof, it seems impossible to avoid as a subject going forward.
There’s something inside you that you didn’t want there. It might kill you. You know you can’t live with the fall out of it, and the very existence of it inside you is traumatizing.
Don’t let them make excuses. Don’t believe the lies. They’ve told us this whole time they know.
We don’t have to make them know.
We have to make them afraid too, somehow.
Afraid to be voted out, afraid to be the bad guys of history, afraid to lose every ounce of the credibility that they’ve tried to make for themselves.
They are the monsters of these stories. It’s time we fight back.
There’s something outside you that isn’t you. You didn’t invite it in, but it’s trying to take your choices.
Between the line of the literary terror of horror books and the visual horror of scary movies lies an important but oft overlooked genre: the horror graphic novel, comic, manga, etc. The foundational works of many great artist and writer teams of the horror comic community–Wrightson, Wein, Mignola, McKean, Niles, Templesmith–have crafted incredible works of literary-visual terror.
But none are quite the master craftsman of the art combined with storytelling like Junji Ito.
While we will surely eventually discuss some of his one shots works, which pack terror into less than 200 pages, his series work is what he’s most famous for: Uzumaki in particular but also the subject of today’s review: Tomie.
The manga centers on the titular character: a mysterious, beautiful woman named Tomie Kawakami, identified by her sleek black hair and a beauty mark below her left eye.
Tomie acts like a succubus, possessing an undisclosed power to make any man fall in love with her. Through her mere presence, or through psychological and emotional manipulation, she drives these people into jealous rages that often lead to brutal acts of violence. Men kill each other over her, and women are driven to insanity as well — though there are some who are strong enough to resist her. Tomie is inevitably killed time and time again, only to regenerate and spread her curse to other victims, making her effectively immortal, not unlike Sadako, Kayako, or even American horror icons. And how can one defeat something permanently when one can never truly die?
The art of Tomie is in Ito’s distinctive early style, combining a sense of eerie not-quite-right-looking humans with the outright body horror of many of his more monstrous beings. Nowhere are these combined quite as well as Tomie who takes many spine-chilling (and cracking!) forms throughout the manga–as well as the decently spooky Japanese film adaptations of the volumes.
To put it simply, Tomie is one of Ito’s most iconic works for a reason. The splash pages alone are astounding and stomach-churning, but the level of detail he puts into all of his work is more than most. It is also helped instead of hindered by it unlike many types of art. Images of Tomie are second most popular on Ito merchandise after images from Uzumaki, though quite frankly I find much of Tomie more striking.
Tomie does deal with sexist violence and femicide, as well as gross out and body horror. Please be aware of this before picking up the book.
That said, it’s a set of books I adore. If you think you can handle it based on warnings and summaries, give it a shot! Just don’t catch Tomie’s gaze.
We often associate the cosmic aspect of cosmic horror with outer space or even the ocean depths, but that’s not quite always the case. Sometimes, the most terrifying aspect of horror in the Lovecraftian spirit is the unexplainable nature of chaos. In Tony Burgess’s novel “Pontypool Changes Everything”, the terror lies in gradually discovering what little the protagonists can without any resolution as to the cause behind it.
A new kind of virus that spreads through an unknown vector appears in the small Ontario town of Pontypool. Victims lose the ability to make sense of language, driving them into bouts of madness and animalistic rage. A radio DJ and his crew hole up in their station as the hoards fight to get in to destroy them, and they have no clue as to the vector or what possibly caused it. While they eventually do discover the trigger for the virus and the rage behind it, the cause of it occurring is never explained, leaving the terror lingering in an effective chill after reading.
The adaptation of the novel into the 2008 Canadian film simply called Pontypool was incredible, shockingly being one of the few films to improve upon the original written work. But the characters, ideas, and execution remain the same, even if they are simplified for a wider screen audience.
Both film and novel ask an interesting question: what do we know about the nature of humanity? What if something we value as intrinsic to our very day to day existence begins destroying us? How would we adapt or how quickly would we succumb? These questions haunt both reader and watcher long after the last bit of the story ends.
Overall, this is a deeply effective story that can be said to call within the genre of Lovecraftian fiction without any of the iconic Mythos creatures–a feat of skill that many authors in the genre don’t even attempt. I highly recommend both the book (which, while part of a series, can be read alone) or the standalone film, which is currently streaming on Prime, Roku, and SlingTV.
Representation matters even in horror. There’s something to be said for seeing yourself in a role other than an emotionally-flat monster or a bit-part side character. There’s a reason for the trope “the Black guy dies first” in such films. Growing up, the only time I saw queer character in horror was as flat-villains or villain-fodder. We rarely got complexity. We never got to survive.
And then, I started reading horror.
Then, I picked up Clive Barker.
While today, the efforts of a white cis-gay British man might not seem revolutionary on the surface, they truly were and are even in a contemporary sense. Clive dealt in what was seen as deviant, not only via queer sexualities and genders, but also in their expressions. The Hellbound Heart and Candyman are his most famous works–both dealt with the horrors of hyperrealities, with the first dealing with the concept of fear of “deviant” sexuality and the other of revenge over past racial wrongs in the United States.
But the one I want to speak on today is Barker’s weird horror-fantasy and lesser known work–Imajica. At its heart lies the sensualist and master art forger, Gentle, whose life unravels when he encounters Judith Odell, whose power to influence the destinies of men is vaster than she knows, and Pie ‘oh’ pah, an alien assassin who comes from a hidden dimension.
That dimension is one of five in the great system called Imajica. They are worlds that are utterly unlike our own, but are ruled, peopled, and haunted by species whose lives are intricately connected with ours. As Gentle, Judith, and Pie ‘oh’ pah travel the Imajica, they uncover a trail of crimes and intimate betrayals, leading them to a revelation so startling that it changes reality forever.
Complicated? Yes. And the revelation is magnificent and I won’t spoil…well, I won’t spoil all of it. But I will say when they revealed who Pie’oh’pah was, really was….
It was the first time as a young adult in the early 2000s that I saw a non-binary character. It was the first time I knew what being nonbinary <i>was</i>. I know these blogs are meant to be mildly more in character than this, but only until you’ve been in the position of finding yourself in the pages of a book, can you understand how important this is.
Pie is also not morally pure. While they aren’t evil, they are flawed and make evil decisions, and it is so so important to see realistic, contradictory, utterly <i>real</p> people in diverse characters and not just cardboard cutouts of perfect morality as an author’s voice piece or attempt at brownie points.
Representation matters, even in horror, and Clive Barker’s work has been formative for so many queer and Black young readers. Just remember, if you feel you have a story in you, but fear that who you are and who your characters are will turn people away…
Try anyway. Write your Imajica. We’ll be there to read it.
What book was the most formative experience for you as a young teen or adult? What book changed your life for the better, if you’ve found it? And if you haven’t, what are you looking for, so we can help you along?
Lovecraft is a man known for the legacy of horror and hatred he left in his wake. While his views softened before his early and untimely death, he was still unequivocally xenophobic in a way that can be seen pervading his works. However, this doesn’t mean that many authors who followed his legacy, including authors of color and queer authors, couldn’t find something worthwhile within his bibliography.
One of these notable authors is Victor Lavalle, one of horror’s greatest working Black authors along with the likes of Dr. Tananarive Due and Helen Oyeyemi. Lavalle more than just dabbled passively in writing a Mythos story with “The Ballad of Black Tom”; he confronted and dismantled one of Lovecraft’s most notably prejudiced stories, and did so in a short but punchy novella.
“The Horror at Red Hook” became infamous in Lovecraft’s stories for being particularly xenophobic. Red Hook was a notably diverse town, and while HPL’s story reflects that, the majority of the antagonists (if not all) are not white, while the Irish-American protagonist is the bastion of moral goodness–or heroic behavior at least.
In 2016, Lavalle’s novella tackled the infamous story with one notable difference–the protagonist of Ballad is a Black man. Tommy is a street musician in 1924, and his busking brings him in contact with the same mysterious Middle Eastern millionaire of the original tale. While his misadventures still bring him into contact with a cult of the Great Old Ones, his particular set of skills and knowledge from his unique experience make him a much more capable protagonist than the typical Lovecraftian hero. This doesn’t take away from the fear of the book, but it does make it a lot more interesting.
A quick, compelling read, this is a novella I would recommend to anyone who wants to get free of some of the traditional Mythos’ more confining choices! Lavalle’s other work is also intense and unique, and I will be covering some more of it later.
For now, send in your thoughts in the comments! What do YOU think about modern Mythos authors deconstructing the views of Lovecraft in their work? What’s YOUR favorite extended universe story? Let me know!
Since Mary Shelley illuminated the literary world with a spark of life returned to dead flesh, horror and science fiction have been frequent bedfellows. Strange ones, by their nature, but also not–the foundations of science fiction are in horror and rarely fully escape any trace of it. However, there are certain books that have more than just traces–these books have large swathes of horror or are outright equally horror as sci-fi. The scariest books after all are the ones that burrow into the brain and stay there long after reading; what could be scarier than those that base themselves in the semi-known, yet oft mysterious world of the scientific?
While some of these are genre fiction, and others are more literary horror, I have compiled a list of books which fit that bill. They either have multiple scenes that cross into horror throughout, or they share horror as just as much a genre as they do science or speculative fiction!
The Seep by Chana Porter
The Seep is a strange novel, more philosophical and deeply reflective than filled with alien jumpscares or the silent maw of space. It is also very intersectional with the lead being a queer transgender Indigenous woman.
Set in a future where aliens have taken over earth to create a benevolent (if authoritarian) utopia, wives Trina and Deeba live happily until Deeba decides to use alien technology to relive her life and leave Trina behind in the process. Trina is devastated and through the technology begins exploring the nature of both consciousness and the aliens which they have allowed to control their lives. She decides to destroy the symbiotic Seep which controls them, even as it may mean destroying utopia in her grief.
This novel is a terrifying look into the what ifs not only of an alien future, but at how horror can be found in very human emotions: grief, anger, capitulation, obedience. All of these, as well as social issues such as race, class, and gender, are somewhat explored in the short but incredibly poignant and haunting standalone.
The Between by Ryan Leslie
Nerdy Paul and class clown Jay have been friends since childhood, never fully diverging as adults despite their many differences. When Paul discovers a trapdoor has appeared in his backyard, he is cajoled to enter by Jay. Suddenly, the pair find themselves thrust into the horrifying sci-fi world of their favorite dungeon explorer computer game from the early ’80s. Now stuck in the land of The Between game, the pair find themselves facing off not only against the big bad boss NPCs, but also each other and the demons that haunt their old friendship.
While not the best book on this list by far, it’s a very fun and entertaining read, crafted with far more care than the more successful (though gods know why) Ready Player One franchise of nostalgia bait. The Between injects real horror, genuine interpersonal drama, and creative use of tropes in with its manipulation of audience nostalgia. It does it well, even, and I very much recommend it more than RP1 and RP2, especially for those who like more edge to their sci-fi.
The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer
Area X is a beautiful place reclaimed by nature…or something like nature at least. All but the first expedition has died somehow either during their time in the containment area or soon after. The first book follows the twelfth, all-female expedition crew. As both the nature of Area X and of each crew member is revealed to the team, the journey into the unknown unravels and deals devastating consequences, which are addressed in book two. By book three, a final winter expedition makes its way into the now larger Area X, discovering terrifying truths at the heart of the tainted paradise.
In Lovecraft the terror comes from either the deep or the beyond, but VanderMeer masterfully crafted horror into the natural in a way that’s downright cosmic. It’s a shame the two other books won’t be adapted for film the way the first was.
The Collected Cthulhu Mythos by H. P. Lovecraft
Speak of the devil. While Lovecraft didn’t define the sci-fi/horror combination, he used it to create the genre of cosmic horror. While not all of Lovecraft’s stories are interconnected, the many stories of the Mythos are. They tie together Lovecraft’s stories of unfathomable cosmic deities, their demonic children, and their devilish occult followers and the havoc they wreak through indifferent madness or targeted chaos. While Cthulhu is the most famous of the Mythos gods and beings, there are many to torment and haunt the reader. And if those don’t, surely Lovecraft’s dated and horribly uncomfortable racist views will!
Want a long sci-fi series with lots of amazing horror elements and page lengths that make each novel usable as a weapon? Then Corey’s Expanse series is perfectly suited to your needs. There are far too many books in the series to explain everything, but here’s the rundown: when some ice miners from Saturn and a detective hunting for a missing girl run into each other on an abandoned ship hiding a secret, they must find a narrow path to safety by avoiding the eyes of the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations that hold sway over all aspects of life.
While the series certainly is sci-fi to the extreme, the elements and tropes of horror are threaded throughout, particularly with body horror–after all the reactions of a human body exposed to the dangers of space can result in torturous consequences. Beyond this, certain characters have personalities that lend themselves to inducing terror without more than a few words. Highly recommend the series for the characters if nothing else.
We base an awful lot of our existence on certain concepts–scientifically, religiously, philosophically. But what if all of them were wrong? What if they were not only wrong, but purposefully coordinated by outside forces to completely stunt our development?
This is the terrifying premise of the Three Body Problem and its two sequels. This book is hard sci-fi at its finest, incorporating many elements of cosmic terror throughout the books both from the very real Trisolaran species, and the incredible philosophical terror behind the main thesis of the books: what do you do when everything you know is built on orchestrated lies?
The books have some issues regarding sexism. There’s absolutely no way to sugarcoat that, just as there is no way to sugarcoat Lovecraft’s racism. There is one plot point that genuinely made me angry. But I do think these books are great and have a lot of value for fans of these genres who want deep speculation in their sci-fi and horror.
Another sci-fi horror which relies heavily on the speculative and philosophical, Solaris uses exploration of an alien planet to explore the intersections of memory and identity. How much of you is memory? The crew of the ship sent to explore Solaris must begin to wrestle with this question as their memories of days past are resurfacing in literal forms. Does anything sinister lurk behind the planet or its intent?
Adapted for film twice, once well by Steven Soderbergh who was reimagining the Russian masterpiece by Andrei Tarkovsky, the story lends itself to slow burn yet intensely heated drama and interpersonal and internal conflict. This is an alien story, yes, but not the explosive alien of Ridley Scott’s franchise–rather this one gets inside both character and reader in profoundly different ways.
Who Goes There? Or The Thing by John W. Campbell
Originally a short story, The Thing got two film adaptations before the full novel version of the story (called Frozen Hell) was released by the Campbell estate. The novel follows an American crew whose research trip to McMurdo Antarctic Station becomes a shocking, bloodsoaked nightmare when they realize there is a shape-shifting alien hiding in the dog they rescued. As the novel goes on we’re left with questions about autonomy and identity, as well as who we can really trust.
The John Carpenter film is the most well known iteration of the story, which is very valid as it is an utterly incredible classic of both genres it represents. However, it’s very interesting to go back to the original source material to explore parallels and differences from the source material!
This one is less on the list due to its own strength and more its overwhelming influence on the genres. As the most famous and one of the first of alien invasion fiction, the story of an English countryside being overtaken by apocalyptic aliens in giant walking machines had been adapted many times over the more than a century old novel.
The most infamous of this is the highly apocryphal tale of Orson Welles’ radio show hoax wherein allegedly thousands of people were convinced the broadcast was due to a real alien invasion. Little proof supports this as more than a gimmick put forth by Welles after the fact, but the story did scare listeners–just in a typical way for a horror show. It was also adapted into a Tom Cruise vehicle picture which wasn’t terrible, and it inspired thousands of books, films, shows, comics, and games about invasion by aliens.
This epistolary novel told in an almost documentary style is, in my opinion, probably the best example of the writing style ever chosen for use in genre fiction. World War Z uses dry, report-like language, interspersed with gripping personal, interview-like chapters in such an effective way that it literally gave me nightmares, dwelling in my brain long long after I first read it. I normally do not like zombie media in the slightest, yet this is so much more than zombie media; it truly is a commentary on the nature of humanity. When I found out this writer of the most terrifying book I’d ever read was the son of comedy legend Mel Brooks I was both stunned and not: both men deeply understand human nature, they just display it in differing ways.
Carrion Comfort is a hell of a book, but its influence on horror cannot be denied. When Saul Laski, a Jewish prisoner of war in the labor camps, escapes the Nazi monsters holding him captive, he begins a decades long journey towards discovering what sets these global atrocities in motion. He discovers a secret cabal of psionic vampires feeding on the suffering of humanity–the book follows him as he tries to upend the order. While it sounds goofy, it is very much an influential horror book.
Much of The Strain by the phenomenal Guillermo del Toro and Paul Hogan can be traced to Carrion Comfort, as can the concept of fully psionic energy vampires. Since 1989, this book has been terrorizing new readers, giving us all ideas on how the intersections of genre and traditional tropes for storytelling can be stretched.
Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham
The basis for the films The Village of the Damned (1960, 1994, 2022), Midwich Cuckoos takes place in a small town in which everyone passes out one day simultaneously. When they awake, all of the women of child-bearing age are pregnant and notably further along than they should be. After the scandal and accusations die down, it becomes understood that something supernatural has happened; this is reinforced when the children are born…odd. White hair, piercing eyes, and soon enough, psionic powers define the identities of the Midwich Cuckoo children.
You all knew the progenitor of the genre and one of my favorite books of all time wouldn’t be missing from this list! Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley INVENTED the genre of science fiction and so seamlessly blended it with horror that it is inextricably linked to both genres. The language of the book is strong, with quotes that make my skin feel like an electric shock is running through it or like cold water is rushing down my spine.
“I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.”
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
The resonance of this and so many other moments from the creation are something I will expound upon in later articles, but for now, suffice to say my thoughts and feelings on this book and the various adaptations after it are plentiful. It is the mother of the genre, the intersection of two genres, and so many literary trope concepts that it would beggar belief to list them all.
And with that, my dears, we close another article! I hope you’re enjoying these, and that they give you some ideas. What would some of y’all like to see? Comment below with something you’d like for me to write!
I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of Southern Gods a year back at McKay, Nashville’s largest used media store. The cover design was neat, but it was the blurb that caught my eye.
Lovecraft in the style of Southern gothic? I had to give it a shot.
I don’t regret it one bit either. While it’s not Jacobs’ strongest work in my opinion, the atmosphere, character work, and general vibes of the novel are excellent; the tale of a P.I. tracking down a deadly DJ in the Jim Crow-era South is definitely one that I recommend to those looking to expand out further into the mythos.
It got me very curious about the other works of the author, who dabbles both in adult and YA fiction–mostly within the genres of horror, fantasy, and speculative fiction. I personally have no issues with adults who enjoy YA, even ones who are older than me, but as a reader, my preference is for adult fiction. Therefore, I’ll be discussing what I’ve read as far as his works for my age group.
Southern Gods is a great starting point for that. What started as a rough draft for the National Novel Writing Month challenge blossomed into a Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel nominee in 2011. That fact gives me tons of hope for my own writing, but it also just goes to show that sometimes the writing is just the first step–you have to put in the legwork to get edited and published too!
The book follows irascible veteran turned private investigator Bull Ingraham as he’s charged with investigating a strange radio personality whose voice and music seem to induce madness. Ramblin’ John Hastur is rumored to have sold his soul to the devil for such power, but of course, it’s far worse than just that….
Y’all this book was FUN! The vibes switch depending on the POV character with Alice bringing forth Jacobs’ gothic horror sensibilities, while Bull’s POV is all hard-boiled detective fiction. While the inspiration is so clearly paying loving homage and dedication to the Mythos, Jacobs’ is also bringing more of his own unique twist to the Mythos. As a fan of both Lovecraftian god figures, Ramblin’ John feels not just like Hastur but also Nyarlathotep, a choice which I think was excellent for this novel. The ending is a bit too tropey at points, but it’s also not as nihilistic an ending as most Mythos fiction–which I oddly enjoy a lot about it.
The short story collection Murder Ballads and Other Horrific Tales contains the sequel to Southern Gods, and while it’s very much enjoyable, I’ll admit it’s a touch overshadowed by some of the other stories in the collection. To be clear, I say this as a compliment to how delightfully dark and fun some of the other tales are. As with all collections, some fall a bit shorter than others (sorry, John, very few authors can make me like a ‘dangers of artificial intelligence’ tale), but it’s very much worth checking out–just maybe skip the titular story if you want to read Southern Gods first. “The Children of Yig”, though, is an excellent Mythos short story that combines Jacobs’ love for the mythos with his love of history wonderfully.
The last of Jacobs’ horror works that I’ve experienced is A Lush and Seething Hell, and I do mean I experienced it. A collected duology of two tales just-too-short to be novellas, this work is probably Jacob’s most praised and for damn good reason. It blends the horror of the cosmic with folk horror seamlessly, all the while interweaving Jacobs’ unabashed love and knowledge of history into the pages. Reviews have even compared the writing in it to Nabakov and Faulkner–I definitely see the influence of the latter, as well as O’Connor and Jackson (though with a Southern twist in her case).
Overall, I cannot recommend enough giving his works of horror fiction a try. They are well-written, atmospheric, and genre-blending in a way that few are. While there is an occasional reliance on more cliche tropes, I can’t say that they take away from the experience of reading his works in any significant way.
A short article by my standards, but a bit more graphics work went into it. If you’d like to see more dives into authors or even individual books, just let me know in the comments below, or contact me via my Carrd!
There’s something to be said for the horror novel–unlike the horror film, everything in the novel is up to the imagination of the reader, which can sometimes be more devastating. To quote Indian actor Hrithik Roshan, as stated in an instagram video:
“I’m so curious about knowing the unknown; it can be scary, but I see it as a game.”
So many of us see the art of horror films and novels in such a way. How scary can it really be? How deeply can it really affect us? And usually, there are a few that linger in the mind as frightening or intriguing beyond the norm. Few, in my experience, actually disturb too deeply.
But they exist. They very much exist; and once they crawl and burrow their way into the mind of the reader, they become very difficult to get out. I’m including a disclaimer with trigger and content warnings ahead of the article. I am also including honorable mentions first, with the reason I did not include it on the final list.
DISCLAIMER: The following books are listed as disturbing for a reason. I absolutely respect that everyone is going to have triggers or be upset by certain content, and therefore I am warning ahead of time and encouraging anyone who might be interested in a book to dig further before reading. I am giving you the tools needed to help with your mental health but past that, the choice is in your hands. The following books contain these triggers (though not every book has all of them):
Child sexual abuse
Murder, including lynching and femicide
Torture and abuse
Misogyny and misogynistic violence
Racism and race based violence
Alcohol and drug use
Sex worker abuse
I believe this should cover everything, but again I encourage anyone interested in a title to read ahead and read in depth looks online for more information.
The following are honorable mentions with a brief line as to why I did not include them on the list. There are also plenty of disturbing books that I just won’t read due to certain contents that I know will trigger bad thoughts in me, and I am ultimately the one responsible for my own mental health and well-being.
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver: Whereas this book is disturbing, I didn’t feel the same visceral reaction to it that many seem to have. The narrative voice of the mother is a bit too alien to me.
Haunted by Chuck Palahnuik: Honestly seemed mostly written for shock value. Was gross to me, but not disturbing?
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis: I think if the narrator were a bit different it would have disturbed me more, personally; but I also admit that the narrator being exactly who he is is what makes it effective and proves the point. A good read, just not for me.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy: Just…didn’t disturb me? Depressed me, but didn’t linger with me other than vague distaste which put me off reading more McCarthy.
Lolita by Vladamir Nabokov: Much like later similar books which I did not bother to read, I just…don’t read books where the main disturbing quality is that the narrator is a predator of children.
Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite
I wanna say I was about 21 when I first read this. I loved horror already, of course, but as far as adult horror reading I had done in my life, I wasn’t particularly ahead of the curve. King, Lovecraft, and House of Leaves by Danielewski as a community challenge on livejournal. I’d read some Barker, but none of his horror–rather one of his fantasy stories with darker elements, Imajica, had gripped ahold of me. I curiously wondered what else horror might have to offer to me as a curious reader in the lgbtq+ community. There were other works by Barker, of course, but another list of horror with gay characters listed the works of Poppy Z. Brite.
Oh, I thought naively. I like Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon and other movies about killers. I’ll be fine.
…y’all, I was not okay!
Andrew is a serial killer, who fakes his own death to escape execution. As he flees to New Orleans, he meets the bored, wealthy, and secretly sadistic Jay, who quickly determines that Tran would be the perfect victim for the horrifying couple to murder together. Tran himself is on the run from his abusive ex Lucas. The four collide in one explosive night that will undoubtedly leave readers traumatized and put off the exceptionally dark for quite awhile.
There are quite a few authors who get well into the heads of dark characters, but Brite’s narrator Andrew Comptom is a twisted atrocity of a man matched only by his eventual love interest Jay. Lucas is terrible in his own way, as well, and the victim, Tran, is the only character in the novel worthy of sympathy. Though outside of sympathy…damn, all of them are compelling characters.
That said, no one writes a villain protagonist quite like Brite, and I find his writing incredibly influential to my own.
Gone to See the River Man by Kristopher Triana
What I went into assuming was a story about a delusional yet ultimately sympathetic serial killer groupie dragged into a nightmare by her obsession, turned out to be one of the darkest character reveals I’ve ever witnessed in fiction.
Gone to See the River Man follows Lori, a 39-year-old true crime junkie and serial killer groupie, who is in a rapidly turned toxic dynamic with convicted killer penpal Edmund Cox. Cox requests Lori go to a cabin in the woods of Killeen, retrieve a key, and deliver it to a mysterious figure called the River Man. But as Lori goes on her journey, dragging her disabled sister in toe, it becomes starkly clear that there’s more darkness to Lori than we could ever imagine.
Despite this novel being labeled “splatterpunk”, it’s less the bloodiness of the story that stains your mind–rather it’s the incredibly dark reveal of who Lori is slowly leaching its way into the nooks and crannies of your mind like an oil spill. Long after I’ve forgotten the admittedly affective scenes of gore or brutality, I still remember Lori. And I’m not sure I want to.
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
‘Iain Banks has great sci-fi novels, lemme give this a try–’ I thought to myself when I got my copy of The Wasp Factory. Later that week, after I’d finished it. I returned it to the used media store for store credit and determined to stick to the Culture novels instead of…whatever Wasp Factory had been. Startlingly misogynistic for one thing, though that’s the characters and not Banks himself using them as a mouthpiece for his actual beliefs. In fact, one could and should successfully be able to argue he is critiquing such thoughts.
Frank lives with his father in a remote Scottish village. Their lives are ones of bizarre rituals, bound to the father’s obsessions. The monotony is broken up by Frank’s outbursts of violence, which only worsen when his brother returns to the tiny village, having escaped a psychiatric facility. As the story unfolds, revealing one horrifying truth after another, it becomes clear that no one in this terrible family is free from the curses of violence, sadism, and toxic masculinity (this is text btw, not subtext) that bind them together.
This is…a helluva first novel from Iain Banks who went on to write the fascinating but far less horrifying Culture series of science fiction novels. It’s incredibly difficult to make it through a lot of the parts, and even though it is a critique of toxic masculinity, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia in so many ways, it’s still potentially triggering to read. That said, the despicable characters crafted by Banks are fascinated. Once you’re caught in the wasp factory, it’s only a matter of which path you choose which decides your fate.
Out by Natsuo Kirino
Technically not a horror novel, this crime and mystery novel from Japan is still disturbing enough to qualify for this list. One of the defining texts of the “iyamisu” genre (translating literally to “ew fiction”), Out is a white knuckle murder mystery–a story of four desperate women both helping and destroying each other in devastating ways.
The tale follows four women working at a bento factory, exploring their interpersonal dynamics both before and after the conflict occurs. Things are already tense and depressing at the start, but when one of the women murders her abusive husband in self-defense and the group plots to dispose of him, things go truly haywire. As the murder is discovered from bodily evidence, the group begins fighting, trying to blackmail each other, and trying to ensure that everyone takes the fall but herself. The climax is shocking but thematically fitting (in my opinion), cementing this novel’s place on the list even as parts stretch credulity.
This is ultimately a very socially thematic novel, with each woman representing and critiquing an aspect of Japanese society and its repressive roles for women. The author does this brilliantly, showing her deep and personal understanding in each of the main female characters. For fans of mystery who want something a touch darker, without diving into the sheer horror of other texts on this list, Out is a great doorway to disturbing fiction.
Confessions by Kanae Minato
Another entry from the iyamisu subgenre of Japanese horror-mystery, Confessions is a story of vengeance, violation, and body horror that is difficult to describe without spoiling it. However, the shocking premise is revealed in the first few pages, and the rest of the novel follows the devolution of the characters in such a way that haunts the reader.
Widowed young teacher Yuko announces to her class that she will be leaving the teaching profession once break is over. Her young daughter was found drowned in a pool, and she cannot take the heartbreak of it. Slowly, she reveals that the drowning was not an accident, but a cruel murder by two students in the class who she does not name, but admits are protected under the Juvenile Law of 1947. This law ensures that the punishment for their crime would be light, which Yuko cannot accept. She has contaminated the drinks of the two students with the blood of her late husband who died of complications related to HIV.
And that’s just the opening chapter.
The remainder of the book only gets more unhinged.
I won’t say more though, just that this book utterly ruined most of the mystery genre for me from here on out cause it was so damn good. There’s also a film version of the novel that is very faithful and well done, and I highly recommend it.
Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage
A spooky kid novel? Really? You might be asking yourself this, which is totally valid. I’m not normally one to be that freaked out by disturbing kid books, especially after teaching. Yes, some kids are dangerous and scary (see honorable mention of We Need to Talk About Kevin, Shriver), but after years of teaching, most “scary” kids are just…weird. Or worse, abused, and have become scary through no fault of their own. As a former “scary” kid, who was really just repressed and undiagnosed as neurodivergent, more of than than not my sympathies are with the scary kids.
I have no sympathy for Hanna. The book goes out of its way to show that her poor mother is NOT imagining things, that Hanna IS evil, and that she is actively gaslighting everyone around them both to convince them that it’s her poor mother Suzette who is insane. This hurts as a reader, especially since we see how damn hard Suzette is trying to be a good mother.
There were a lot of complaints I saw about the internal monologue of Hanna being too mature, but I personally enjoyed those sections, finding them intensely disturbing. It’s less of a looking into Hanna’s actual wording, I felt, and more a translation of her thoughts to the reader. As someone who worked with seven year olds, I don’t understand the desire for writing for them in fiction to be developmentally appropriate–barring some advanced students, their writing isn’t really readable, and should be more an example of progress than actual literary quality?
Overall, I highly recommend this freaky Bram Stoker Award finalist as the ultimate Scary Kid Book, save for maybe the more realistic We Need to Talk About Kevin.
Tender Is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica
This is a book about lots of things. Factory farming. Misogynistic objectification. Commodification of the working class.
There’s no easy way to describe this book, other than labeling my read of it as one of the most deeply unpleasant experiences I have ever had while reading a book that is actually well written that I tentatively agree with the premise of. The ending is hyped as the most disturbing last line of a novel/novella, and you know what? FAIR.
This book is deeply sickening though, so even though I do totally think it has so much socio-political and artistic value, PLEASE be careful of your own mental health going into it.
In the Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami
Technically an iyamisu novel, there is no real mystery in this terrifying and disgusting tale from an author who calls himself “the other Murakami” with a sardonic grin. We know the criminal. We know the crimes. We just live in suspense of the increased brutality and the unknowable quantity of where he’ll strike next…and whether our narrator and his significant other will be the next victims.
Kenji is a morally gray protagonist, living life in the 1990s as a tour guide for sex tourists in a Japan increasingly shutting down the practice due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. When he’s contacted by a creepy American man, he shoves down his misgivings–after all, most of the guys he guides around are real creeps anyway, right? But something is…wrong with Frank. More wrong than anyone else he’s ever met. As blood begins to spill and Kenji is held hostage by threats to his and his girlfriend Jun’s life, we’re on the edge of our seats as readers watching the depravity through his eyes.
This book does NOT hold back on brutality. With Murakami writing this story as a metaphor for consumerism and the emptiness thereof, it’s clear that he thinks of it as an act of destruction. This work can also be read as a critique of the exotification and commodification of women–in fact, it’s difficult to not read it as such, even though the blood-streaked lenses one views the story through.
I devoured this short book in one sitting and still think about it to this day. I highly recommend it.
Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
The first three whole times I tried to read this book, I couldn’t make it past the first fourth of the text. While the film does more justice to building tension through slowburn and implication, the novel leaves no room for imagination on exactly every horror of the vampire Eli’s story, the monster that aids them in finding victims, and the fate of Oskar as he slowly falls for Eli.
This book has graphic mentions of child molestation. I cannot and will not beat around the bush on that. There are other graphic abuses in other books listed here, but the ones in Let the Right One In are what kept me from completing the novel for years.
That said, it is a wonderful tribute to the horrific and brutally realistic experience that a being like Eli would experience. If you can get through it, it’s very much worth a read, but…
I don’t blame you if you can’t get through it.
When the Reckoning Comes by LaTanya McQueen
Jordan Peele produced, Nia DaCosta directed adaptation WHEN?
Mira hasn’t returned to her hometown in over a decade, when her (white) high school best friend calls her, gleefully announcing she’s engaged to marry the local wealthy heir to a tobacco fortune. The wedding? To be held at the gorgeous plantation house in the woods, its blood-soaked history hidden by white paint and scroll-topped columns and now converted to a historical touring location. As Mira collides with her ex-friend Jesse–one of the only other Black women from the town–memories resurface both from the womens’ pasts and the bloody past of the plantation.
This book deals with racial dynamics that I have not experienced and therefore cannot dissect, other than to say McQueen deftly handles every aspect, creating a compelling horror story with a message. It’s an incredibly dark and disturbing historical horror that also pushes forward and centers Black queer narratives in a way that the genre needs. Despite being scary as hell, I very much encourage folks to read it.
The Cipher by Kathe Koja
Kathe Koja writes like no one else and I mean that in the best possible way–she takes a mix of the cosmic, the folk, and the analog horror genres and somehow makes it work in the most disgusting and horrifying way possible. The Cipher is the most excellent example of that, with some reviewers even saying it made them feel ill (and me too, tbh, I’m reviewers).
When a video store clerk and his friend find a cosmic portal in the back of the movie store, they begin to experiment with its powers. However, as they slowly experiment, the portal seems to be experimenting back. It soon devolves into a cosmic flavor of body horror like no other.
It’s difficult to describe without getting into spoiler territory, but please give this under-appreciated gem of a novel a chance!
Uzumaki by Junji Ito
When a town slowly becomes infected by spirals, it devolves into cosmic body horror that is simultaneously disgusting and visually iconic. Ito’s stories, writing, concepts, and art are impeccable and none of his manga emphasize that like Uzumaki.
The inclusion of a manga instead of a straight up novel may raise some eyebrows, but y’all.
Y’all, I threw up twice reading this manga. Heaved a few other times. Not even exaggerating. This book had me MESSED UP.
It’s odd, perhaps, as this is one of the most iconic on this list, that it provoked such a visceral reaction in me (and others), but for those who haven’t been initiated to the world of Ito yet….whew boy, he is worth it.
Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric LaRocca
Two lonely hearts connect online, and things rapidly begin spinning out of control.
This book got a lot of hype on tiktok for being a queer horror story, and while this description is technically true, it disgusting and divided many readers with just how intense the story was. While I adored it, it’s definitely not one for the masses, as it blends an already divisive social media/internet-based epistolary style of writing with some of the most disturbing content I’ve ever seen put to this style.
Body horror? Check. Fungal horror? Absolutely. This book is queer in all sense, not just in the characters’ identities but in the identity of the book itself. Definitely one for stronger stomachs and a willingness to read unapologetically disturbing content.
So what do y’all think? Do you agree with these choices if you’ve read them? Disagree? Are there other novels you think should have been included (or would have, rather, if you’d written this list)? Leave a comment below to start the discussion!