The season of special Halloween episodes, yearly Hocus Pocus viewing parties, and Scooby-Doo movie marathons is upon us. October is truly peak TV viewing time. But nothing beats curling up under the covers with a flashlight and reading an indie horror novel you’ll have to put in the freezer when you finish. Unfortunately, with so little time between finding the re-airing of Halloweentown and setting the DVR to catch Halloween 3: Season of the Witch, who has time to go digging for indie jewels in the horror aisle?
I got you.
First, let’s answer a simple question:
Oh, sweetie. Aren’t we all? If you like your monsters to be all too real, slicing and dicing without any supernatural advantages, then you have plenty to choose from, because humans. We’re really the worst. Check tou
(Movie Equivalents: Friday the 13th, Scream, Halloween)
Under the Blade, by Matt Serafini, is as close as you’ll find to the 80s slasher film. Melanie Holden escaped crazed killer Cyrus Hoyt at a sleepaway camp twenty-five years ago, and now she has returned to face old fears and news ones in the town where Cyrus may be looking to finish what he started.
If your fears tend to lean toward the all to real (and recent) horrors of the #MeToo movement, then I Am Not Your Final Girl: Poems will frighten, enrage, and empower you. Claire C. Holland uses the backdrop of slasher cinema to make timely commentaries on the role of women in today’s society. What’s scarier than that?
Crazies, Hillbillies, and Ultra Violence
(Movie Equivalents: You’re Next, The Hills Have Eyes, Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil)
A veteran of the horror scene, Ania Ahlborn knows how to write about violence. In Brother, she takes on Appalachian noir with a side of familial violence, as Michael Morrow tries to weave a love story with city girl Alice out of a bucket of blood and guts.
In Nightingale, by Amy Ukavics, seventeen-year-old June Hardie is a rebellious teen girl in the 1950s, which, you know, means she wants to think for herself and go to college, crazy shit like that. (Sheesh. Girls.) And when her parents send her to Burrow Place Asylum, June sets out to take the whole crazy house down.
Randy Lee Travis and J.T. Gunderson are simple men. They like their beer. They covet Burt Reynolds’ car from Smokey and the Bandit. And they both think it’s a good idea to steal a chainsaw from a crazed farmer so they can rob a bank. You can imagine where things go from there in Chainsaw, by John Bender.
Sometimes a title says it all. Cassandra Khaw’s Hammers on Bone follows private investigator John Persons through a hard boiled journey to kill the stepfather of his ten-year-old client. And it’s hard not to spoil some things with a title like that.
So you like to keep it between the walls, huh? Avoid trails and deep sea fishing and woodpiles? Prioritize the exterminator bill over things like electricity and water? Yeah. You and I? We might be best friends. Just to note, there are probably books out there about spiders and shit, but you can go hunting for those mother fuckers on ya’ own time. I don’t need that up in my browser history.
Creatures Big and Small
(Movie Equivalents: Wolf, Tremors, Godzilla)
There are plenty of werewolf books out there. What makes The Beast of Brenton Woods, by Jackson R. Thomas, worth singling out are a few things: it has a wonderful coming-of-age story mixed in (which is perfect for a werewolf tale); it is a quick, fun read; and, it’s a true throwback. This is the werewolf novel that will remind you of why you liked werewolf stories in the first place.
The Warblers, by Amber Fallon, is another coming-of-age tale, focused on fourteen-year-old Dell McDale. But don’t let the age fool you. This is pure monster of the creature variety versus monster of the human variety, with poor Dell stuck right in the middle.
The Defense Force, a biologist, a tribe of ghost people, and a band of mercenaries all walk into an isolated New Zealand national park. Have you heard a joke like this before? Of course you have. But Into the Sounds, by Lee Murray, is every bit as delightful as you would expect given the familiar setup.
Who isn’t, right? These are the things that go bump in the night … the classics. Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. These are the things boogey men are made of. We have left all semblance of the real and are venturing into the land of make believe. Suspend your disbelief here.
From Classics To New Creations
(Movie Equivalents: Dracula, Dawn of the Dead, Pan’s Labyrinth)
The key to approaching the classic monsters is finding a new twist. And in the world of indie lit, if you want to find new twists you look to the world of flash fiction. Dave Housley is a big name in the world of short fictions, but This Darkness Got To Give is his first novel. And he brings the twists and turns of short fiction to the long form by combining vampires with the final tour of The Grateful Dead. How’s that for new?
Full disclosure: Let’s Play White, by Chesya Burke, is a collection of short stories and only one has to do with zombies. But “Cue: Change” is easily good enough to include it on the list, and the stories around it all bring a beauty to violence which reads like poetry.
Victor LaValle might be the most recognizable name on this list, and for good reason. He is taking tried and true staples of horror and dark fantasy and turning them on their head. In The Changeling he sets his sights on fairy tales, using them to delve deep into the dark side of obsession and love and legacy.
Sawkill Girls is one of the longer books on this list, but it’s also one of the more interesting. And I promise it reads fast. Claire Legrand writes with a frenzied intensity and crafts a tale of female empowerment ripe with the types of scares that make neo-monsters classics. You’ll fall in love with the girls of Sawkill Rock, and this book will scare the ever loving shit out of you.
Things that go bump in the night. If objects moving on their own don’t give you the shakes, then stigmata and spit pea soup is sure to move your needle at least a little bit. Anyone who doesn’t get freaked out by demon possession is a person I can’t understand.
Haunts and Haunted
(Movie Equivalents: Poltergeist, Paranormal Activity, The Amityville Horror)
Gwendolyn Kiste accomplishes an interesting feat with Pretty Marys All in a Row. She breaks apart multiple classic ghost stories from the point of view of the ghost. The end result is the perfect ghost story for those easily scared. While the jumps are few, the tale is moving and wildly entertaining.
For contrast, The Nightmare Room, by Chris Sorensen, is completely terrifying. Audiobook narrator Peter Larson and his wife move into an old farmhouse where Peter sets up a recording studio. Things get very scary, very quickly.
Demons and Possession
(Movie Equivalents: The Exorcist, The Omen, Horns)
One of the older books on the list, Come Closer, by Sara Gran, still holds up. Amanda’s life is spiraling out of control, and when she goes looking for answers she finds a demon. Although there’s a lot of heart in this book, more importantly, it is disturbingly creepy.
Another collection of short fiction, and this one from the first African-American to receive the HWA Bram Stoker Award. Linda Addison has a wicked sense of humor, but most of the stories and poems in How To Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend fit nicely in the horror genre.
Magic and Crossovers
(Movie Equivalents: The Witch, The Wicker Man, Suspiria)
Imagine you’ve gone on one of those reality shows where you switch houses, only when you return to your house, something is different. Terrifyingly different. And you slowly start to go insane. In The Switch House, Tim Meyer does a pitch perfect job of making the reader feel the insanity, to the point you may not know what’s real anymore.
Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason refer to themselves as the Sisters of Slaughter. And once you read Twin Lakes: Autumn Fires you will totally understand why. This a shit-smearing crazy book, in a wonderful way. If you’ve gotten sucked into Castle Rock, this book could be your next obsession.
I can promise you have never read anything remotely like Zero Saints, by Gabino Iglesias. If a classic Italian giallo film were to be directed by Sam Peckinpah and Wes Craven, you might … might get something close to this wildly original book. It is barrio noir, multilingual, and bloody as hell.
Here’s hoping you take a minute out of your crucial TV time (and that is NOT sarcasm) to pick up a scary book to keep you up at night. You could do worse than starting anywhere on this list. They’re (mostly) quick, (mostly) fright-filled, and (all) wonderful.