10 Alternative Spooky Reads
Like the change of a lycanthrope beneath the full moon, it’s that time again.
Halloween is upon us.
The leaves fall from the trees. The nights draw in. And as the long summer days become little more than a hazy memory, what is a ghoulish book fan to read?
Sure, you could read Dracula again. Or there’s that copy of Frankenstein that’s been gathering dust on the shelf for years, I guess you could finally dust that off. Perhaps you could read Stephen King’s The Shining for the umpteenth time.
Stop right there.
There’s a whole world of forgotten spooky books out there, and this is the ideal time to read them. So without further ado, here’re 10 alternative scary reads for you to consider this Halloween.
1. The October Country by Ray Bradbury (1955)
Well, the title alone should be enough. One of the masters of weird literature, Bradbury here offers 13 (of course) spooky stories of ‘Autumn people thinking only Autumn thoughts’. Of special note is The Emissary, perhaps the scariest short tale I’ve ever read, and the inspiration for a famous novel
2. Night of the Crabs by Guy N. Smith (1976)
At the opposite end of the cultural spectrum we find Night of the Crabs, a book about - you guessed it - giant killer crabs attacking a seaside town. It’s the literary equivalent of a 1950s B-movie, lurid and trashy. Just don’t expect it to be, y’know, well written or anything like that…
3. The Abominations of Yondo by Clark Ashton Smith (1960)
Let’s step back in time now, to the 1930s and 40s. Clark Ashton Smith was a contemporary of HP Lovecraft, but with his own distinctly wordy style of cosmic horror. His stories are more fantastical, often taking place on other worlds. But tales like The Dweller in the Gulf and the title story display as much sinister imagination as anything from Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos.
4. The Fog by James Herbert (1975)
‘You can’t escape the fog’ goes the tagline. And if you’ve been in a charity shop recently, you’ll know you can’t escape James Herbert, and with good reason. A sort of British Stephen King, the late Herbert wrote cracking yarns, and The Fog is my favourite of them. A strange fog is released from the bowels of the earth, causing all who come in contact with it to develop murderous impulses. I got in trouble at school for reading this - it’s pretty nasty! - but it was well worth it.
5. Penpal by Dathan Auerbach (2012)
Penpal is a great book based on a Creepypasta. A Creepywhatnow? I know, it’s an odd name, but it refers to a user-generated internet-based scary story. Still with me? Think a modern version of the campfire tale. Penpal flashes backwards and forwards through time as the narrator struggles to understand his mysterious childhood secrets. This book will chill you, I guarantee it!
6. Ring by Koji Suzuki (1991)
You probably know the story of Ring by now. A cursed videotape (yeah, it was the 90s) that causes those who watch it to die within seven days. But there’s a new film version coming out this month, so what better time to go back to the source to discover that uniquely Japanese style of creeping terror all over again?
7. Off Season by Jack Ketchum (1980)
The cover loudly trumpets ‘THE ULTIMATE HORROR NOVEL’. It’s not, of course, but Ketchum certainly tries! Based loosely on Scotland’s own Sawney Bean clan of cave-dwelling cannibals, Ketchum goes for broke with scenes of horror guaranteed to turn the stomach of even the hardiest of souls. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
8. The House On The Borderland by William Hope Hodgson (1908)
If Off Season sounds a bit much for you, then let’s go back to 1908 and visit The House On The Borderland, a story that HP Lovecraft called ‘A classic of the first water.’ No, that’s not a typo; apparently it means ‘highest quality’ in the gemstone trade. (Thanks, Wikipedia!) Anyway, this is the tale of cosmic pig monsters laying siege to a farmhouse. I know, I know, not that old story again.
9. The Troop by Nick Cutter (2014)
Stephen King claimed that The Troop scared the hell out of him. Admittedly, he says that about just about anything, but in this case he’s totally correct. Boy Scouts camping on a deserted island discover an unimaginable skin-crawling horror, and find their friendships and allegiances tested. It’s Lord of the Flies meets The Thing and I love it. Perhaps you will too?
10. Skeleton Crew by Stephen King (1985)
I wasn’t going to include any Stephen King on this list, due to his ubiquity, but who am I kidding? So for a change, let’s avoid his most well-known work and investigate Skeleton Crew, a collection of short stories. There’s plenty here to freeze the blood on a chilly autumn evening, like The Monkey and Gramma. But the best one is the novella-length The Mist, which finds a group of survivors trapped in a supermarket while outside, all hell breaks loose. Literally…
What's your favourite spooky tale? Share them in the comments below. For more sinister reads, check out our lists of spine-tinglingly scary books.