Halloween is just around the corner, but the studious reader has time to squeeze in another novel or two before trick-or-treaters grace their doorstep. We’ve already been blessed with horror standouts like Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World and Stephen King’s The Outsider in 2018, as well as welcome reprints like Slimer, The Fungus and Worms. But publishers have, unsurprisingly, stepped up their game over the last month. From Young Adult horror standard-bearers to genre cheerleaders, living legends to manga icons, here are five new horror novels that will make you sleep with the lights on until November 1st rolls around.
We’re borrowing this one from our colleagues in the Paste Comics section, but who cares about arbitrary boundaries between prose and comics anyway? Famed manga master Junji Ito’s work frequently tops lists of the scariest comics ever created, and he’s never been shy about his classic references, citing Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft and, one must assume, Mary Shelley. His adaptation of Shelley’s foundational text is surprisingly faithful, with even the oft-discarded framing sequences left intact and only minor changes (a decapitation subs in for a hanging) here and there to highlight the more body-horror-ish elements of Shelley’s tale. If you’ve passed on reading the original sci-fi/horror bible because of its dated writing, Ito’s interpretation is one of your best bets. His man-made monsters are giants among men, making them even more unsettling and uncanny compared to the ambitious doctor and the other human characters, and a simple grin in Ito’s hands can inspire more terror than buckets of gore from lesser creators. Also included are a number of shorts connected by a house with strange properties—fans of Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House take note—and a brief piece about Ito’s mother’s dog. Aww.
A word to the wise: ignore the Amazon reviews for this one, the latest from the author of Let the Right One In and one of two living contenders to Stephen King’s horror throne (the other being King’s own flesh and blood, Joe Hill). It may be that something gets inexorably lost in translation from the original Swedish, or that the current crop of reviewers for the book simply can’t handle ambiguity, but I Am Behind You seems to have driven some of its English-speaking readers bonkers with its unusual premise. Four vacation caravans and their occupants wake up in a seemingly endless, sun-less field, and—mild spoiler alert—readers won’t have a tidy explanation as to what it all means by the time they reach the final page. Lindqvist is kicking off a planned trilogy here, but I Am Behind You isn’t about the destination, but the four wildly different families’ journey. From the former star footballer to the late-in-life gay pair, the budding psychopath to the yapping dog, I Am Behind You’s characters are placed under a wholly unique magnifying glass. It’s a page right out of King’s playbook, spending the bulk of the novel getting to know this complex cast, then punctuating that familiarity with moments of mounting dread. If you can accept that I Am Behind You won’t provide easy answers, there are few better horror novels to occupy you this fall.
What if The VVitch was a dark, metaphor-heavy fairytale instead of a divisive (and excellent) horror flick told in period-appropriate dialogue? You might get something like Laird Hunt’s In the House in the Dark of the Woods, a petite chiller that sneaks up on you so subtly that you’ll find your spine tingling before your brain has time to catch up. In the House… starts with a woman losing her way in the woods in colonial America; we know she has a husband and a young son she must return to…even if her feelings about them are more complicated than we first assume. This woman, called Goody by the women she meets in the woods, soon finds herself in increasingly off situations, as Hunt pulls back layers of psychological horror and dark surrealism. With a lyrical, almost storybook quality to his writing, Hunt folds in sinister developments without triggering the reader’s fight-or-flight response until it’s too late. You may very well start this one thinking it isn’t scary at all, but check back with us after that epilogue and let us know if your mind’s been changed.
Young people love a good fright, but YA horror usually opts for more action-heavy supernatural elements than genuine terror. Author Amy Lukavics is a bright (dark?) spot among Young Adult genre writers, filtering the literary tradition of Shirley Jackson to the under-17 set. In Nightingale, teenager June Hardie discovers that “unruly” young women in the early ‘50s aren’t just scorned—they’re committed. Within the walls of Burrow Place Asylum, the lines between the institution’s barbaric practices and otherworldly goings-on begin to blur, and June must put a stop to it once and for all. Lukavics favors moments of gore that will have readers forgetting this one is written for teens, and she uses June’s plight to examine gender roles that are under as much (or more) scrutiny today than in the time of Nightingale’s setting. Lukavics’ earlier novels, especially the frontier-set Daughters Unto Devils, also make for compulsively readable YA scares.
Grady Hendrix is one of horror’s greatest modern treasures: a genre historian (Paperbacks From Hell) and underrated author in his own right, whose gimmick premises—a horror novel structured like an IKEA catalogue, a totally tubular ‘80s exorcism—are backed up by excellent execution. We Sold Our Souls moves away from the gag set-up, but much like the death metal that inspired it, even the bloodiest bits aren’t really that scary. Instead, Hendrix has crafted a compelling leading lady and a plot that blends rock-n-roll attitude with a critique of our growing complacency as a consumerist culture. Former metal guitarist Kris Pulaski’s ex-bandmate Terry Hunt sold her out to get big as a solo act. Decades later, Kris discovers that she’s not the only thing Terry sold on his path to stardom. To reclaim her soul, Kris embarks on an epic tour to reunite the band and strike back against the devils in her life. Even without the ghostly terrors of his previous two novels, Hendrix never delivers less than a faithful power ballad to horror literature in all of its forms.