13 Punny ICE NINE KILLS Lyrics

I am very funny and will not be taking feedback

Hello, friends and foes! I’m easing back into blog work by treating myself to an article about something super fun – puns. I’m a big pun fan (see: any previous post, basically) and the metalcore band Ice Nine Kills writes lyrics almost exclusively in puns and wordplay, so… I dig it.

Ice Nine Kills (sometimes stylized as INK) is a metal/heavy metal/metalcore band from Boston, Massachusetts. (We literally cannot escape the horrors of New England on this blog.) They’ve been releasing music since the mid-2000’s but didn’t see commercial success until they signed with Fearless Records in 2015. That success absolutely exploded with the 2018 release of The Silver Scream and then exploded AGAIN with the 2021 release of The Silver Scream 2: Welcome to Horrorwood.

At the band’s helm is Spencer Charnas, devastatingly handsome lead singer and creative director. His vision for the band and their records is crystal clear: horror, horror, horror. They’ve tackled literary greats (i.e. Stephen King, Dracula, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde) and film giants (Psycho, Saw, Candyman) and they’ve totally killed it. They’re scary good at what they do, from concept to production to merch design, and I’m honored to highlight some of their best (and scariest) lyrics.

Also this served as an excuse to listen to their discography and that was fun for me.

These aren’t in any particular order but I did save my personal favorite for last. Also, check out the end for some honorable mentions. If I didn’t include your favorite track or lyric, let me know in the comments or on Twitter dot com (@AllisonKrebel).

13 ) Hip to Be Scared (The Silver Scream 2: Welcome to Horrorwood, 2021)

“Casually cleaving without ever grieving / but wait, let me give you my card / “That’s bone!” / there is no real me, just this dark entity / that cannot be redeemed so it’s time to say goodbye”

This track is based on the 2000 film American Psycho (which is based on a book but we’ve been over that already: http://www.littlebookblogofhorrors.com/2021/10/10-horror-movies-you-didnt-know-were-based-on-books/). The song is in the perspective of the main character, literal psychopath Patrick Bateman, as he comes to terms with his emotionless, cold-hearted and let me reiterate- psychopathic, killer tendencies. This line, as do many in the track, references an iconic scene where Bateman and other banking execs are trading business cards. The color of Bateman’s is ‘bone’, and he won’t let you forget it.

Listen Here: https://open.spotify.com/track/1tBghD5Z8rBeN7eHDXLamy?si=14668e9c226d4c99

12 ) Enjoy Your Slay (The Silver Scream, 2018)

“Come drain or shine / I’ll hit your whole bloodline / Shall we tell Old Jack what he’s won? / A chopping spree around the family tree / where you can hang once all the work is done”

Our first Stephen King mention on the list, this track is inspired by the 1980 film The Shining (based on King’s 1977 novel of the same name). This song is chock-full of mentions of shining (young Danny’s mysterious supernatural ability) and axes and hotel vacancies. This particular stanza refers to the protagonist Jack’s descent into madness and subsequent attack on his wife and son with an axe. Personally I think the writer-gone-mad trope never gets old. Also, shout out to the chorus: “Welcome to your last resort, don’t overlook the past”. Get it? The Overlook Hotel? Heh…

Fun fact about this song: it features vocals from Sam Kubrick, the grandson of Stanley Kubrick, director of The Shining. The band has also played this track at the real life Overlook Hotel.

Listen Here: https://open.spotify.com/track/20WSWrWhZgiEMvVWu5XuFl?si=b1c96c107dd54487

11 ) Assault & Batteries (The Silver Scream 2: Welcome to Horrorwood, 2021)

“And once he’s planted his seed / you’ll know your life’s been uprooted / ’cause safety’s not guaranteed / assault and batteries included! / Stitched back together it seems / by the evil bride of his dreams / heaven help you if you hear him scream”

The signs are all there: the seed, the bride, the heartless assault of innocent consumers – it’s Good Guy Chucky! This one’s inspired by the classic 1988 horror flick Child’s Play and the CCU (Chucky Cinematic Universe). It was tough to cherry pick a single part of this song because the whole thing is just wicked hilarious. Chucky is an icon and this song totally did him and his killing spree justice.

Shout out to this line, which I quote on the daily: “Hidey-ho, bitch!”

Listen Here: https://open.spotify.com/track/49pK9QQ6zYLM8xMTliDYQl?si=740c414eadb74ffe

10 ) Stabbing in the Dark (The Silver Scream, 2018)

“Where blood’s thicker than water / I’ve carved up quite a scene / With your worst fears cast on this white veneer / I’ll change the face of Halloween”

It only takes one mention of Halloween to know this banger is about Michael Meyers and the Halloween franchise, started in 1978 and spanning nearly three decades. Blood is thicker than water as Michael is on the deranged hunt for his sister Laurie through the picturesque town of Haddonfield. On Halloween night he carves up anyone he can get his hands on, all while wearing an emotionless white mask (which was made from a cast of William Shatner’s face???). I think we can all confidently say Michael Meyers’ mask is, without a doubt, the face of Halloween. Honorable mention to: “You can’t kill the boogeyman!”.. I mean, literally. How many sequels is he going to survive?

Listen Here: https://open.spotify.com/track/7H5q9RsWBDRrKq2qCdv2HG?si=6059bee528f646fd

9 ) The American Nightmare (The Silver Scream, 2018)

“They all think it’s just pretend / you’ll never ever sleep again / all your friends are fucking dead / you can’t turn down your own death bed”

If the creepy nursery rhyme didn’t give it away, this one’s based on Wes Craven’s 1984 classic, A Nightmare on Elm Street. The song is written from the perspective of the dream-villain Freddy Krueger as he slashes his way through unsuspecting teens. I love a straight-up pun – all they want to do is sleep, but they can’t close their eyes without Krueger appearing in their dreams to gut them. Death bed, indeed. Poor Johnny Depp!

Listen Here: https://open.spotify.com/track/04K2bMi2vyOBwxr5EjDq5O?si=9042129466ef4c2c

8 ) The Jig is Up (The Silver Scream, 2018)

“I saw through the selfish but saw no soul / they saw through skin, they saw through bone / Out on a limb to save my city / They’re all just gears in my machine / I savor every puzzled scream / a piece of them to carry with me”

Lyrical genius has been achieved in this track based on Saw (2004) and it’s decades’ long span of sequels. The song is written (according to my calculations) from the perspective of John Kramer, AKA “Jigsaw”, the villain of the film. Kramer’s initial desire is to simply see if his victims have the will to live, not to kill them on his own. His traps are designed to push the victim to recognize the value of life – even if they have to kill someone else to survive. Puzzled screams, pieces to carry with him, very “Jigsaw” things to say. Also, OUT ON A LIMB? If you know… you know. (Poor Westley. This was surely not as you wished.)

Listen Here: https://open.spotify.com/track/6sLLOGba3eASfNam3bA8wV?si=7601398fda954af7

7 ) Funeral Derangements (The Silver Scream 2: Welcome to Horrorwood, 2021)

“It all began with a skid on the pavement / it ends here with funeral derangements / The flesh is living but the souls have spoiled / The wrath of God lays beneath this soil”

I’m biased in my affection for this song because Pet Sematary (both the 1989 film and 1983 Stephen King novel) is one of my favorite pieces of media of all time. But you can’t deny the absolute power in these proclamations of God’s abominations, risen from the grave when they should have just stayed buried. Sometimes, dead really is better. The protagonist of this deranged tale is Louis Creed, a young father who discovers an ancient burial ground that brings the dead back to life, as evidenced by the family cat, Church. But the living return… wrong. The souls have spoiled, leaving them nothing more than murderous shells of the people (and cat) they once were. Honorable mention to Louis’s internal debate on whether or not to bury his dead son: “still I can’t escape this struggle / driven when push comes to shovel”. Incredible.

Listen Here: https://open.spotify.com/track/1m2kn7VbKCD7jKaDq975SQ?si=5812e8245f4b436e

6 ) Me, Myself & Hyde (Every Trick in the Book, 2015)

“I’m the devil on your shoulder but I’ll always be your better half / we might share one body but the spine is fucking mine”

This track is from an earlier album with songs based on horrific works of literature. This one, if not evidenced by the title and mention of evil other-halves, is based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It’s a classic for a reason; the timeless power struggle between Doctor Henry Jekyll and… himself. The good doctor found a scientific way to transform himself into an evil alter-ego, the sinister Mr. Edward Hyde, in order to indulge in his darkest desires without marring his good reputation. This track is a love-letter not just to Stevenson’s tale, but to our own inner battle between the good in us and the undeniable evil. “I’m waging war on myself / a captive casualty”. So haunting, so beautiful, so metal.

Listen Here: https://open.spotify.com/track/2D2buW67QmZHuPEv70EipT?si=88991e89377a4cb2

5 ) Merry Axe-Mas (The Silver Scream, 2018)

“Now Santa’s claws are out / the sinners scream and shout / I made sure the noose was yuletide tight / so much for a silent night”

Christmas and horror! This song is based on the 1984 Christmas/horror flick Silent Night, Deadly Night. Santa’s claws (get it… sandy claws) are out as traumatized, grown-up orphan Billy goes on a killing spree the night before Christmas. The film itself had a rocky start; heavily criticized for painting Santa in a negative (and murderous) light. That didn’t stop it from developing a cult following, however. Looks like Spencer Charnas is among the faithful, because he wrote this killer track about Santa’s not-so-holy night. (Also, yule-tied tight!! I don’t have to explain how amazing that is.)

Listen Here: https://open.spotify.com/track/2kM94CiYjbN4932wToEMJo?si=a47b7b2c6c6c400b

4 ) A Rash Decision (The Silver Scream 2: Welcome to Horrorwood, 2021)

“But the truth hits like a truck / all bottled up / so hard to swallow now that it spreads so quickly”

It was SO HARD to choose a line from this song! It’s inspired by horror icon Eli Roth’s directorial debut Cabin Fever (2002), starring Rider Strong from Boy Meets World (which made it 100x more scary in my opinion.) As so many good horror stories begin, a group of dumb college kids head into the wilderness for a relaxing weekend of sun, booze, and skin-eating blood infection. Turns out, the river (the water supply for the nearby town) has been infected with a disease that turns sufferers into rashy, bloody, flesh-dripping time bombs. The protagonist, Paul, tries in vain to save his friends and, ultimately, himself. This line is in reference to the end of the movie (so, spoiler alert) where a truck full of bottled, infected river water is driving away to be sold, potentially infecting countless others with this terrible disease. The perfect not-so-happy ending for an early 2000’s horror classic.

Listen Here: https://open.spotify.com/track/7qj50SMPriiu33KIqJjjoE?si=c93c77eb871a43d5

3 ) The World in My Hands (The Silver Scream, 2018)

“He made the cut but she deserves a better man / I won’t rust like the liars and letterman / hedge my bets ’cause it can’t hurt to pretend / until the end”

This track is inspired by my favorite Tim Burton movie, Edward Scissorhands (1990). The film is a tragedy at its core – a man who can feel but not touch, an unreachable girl who can never be with him, a town that just doesn’t understand the struggle of being different (having scissors for hands). This song picks apart Edward’s pain, how he feels like he’ll never measure up to Kim’s letterman jacket-wearing boyfriend. Also evidenced here: “It cuts deep ’cause our hearts are still attached / a deadly touch spreads an itch that can’t be scratched”. The yearning, the pain, the horror! I’m not going to explain why “hedge my bets” is so perfect but it really, really is.

Listen Here: https://open.spotify.com/track/3SNRCldu3OREo61p4KQDIa?si=95222c29ef374a20

2 ) The Plot Sickens (Every Trick in the Book, 2015)

“Sixteen souls left in the cold / to be alive is a miracle / it all comes down to flesh and bone / it’s hard to swallow the unthinkable”

Okay – judging by this line alone, you might think this song is alluding to the horrors of The Donner Party (book review of Alma Katsu’s The Hunger, coming soon!). It’s actually based on Piers Paul Read’s 1974 book Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors (or rather, it’s based on the true events that inspired the book). The true horror story, not unlike that of The Donner Party, follows the survivors of a plane crash. Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crashed in the middle of the Andes mountains on October 13th, 1972. The flight was chartered by an Uruguayan rugby team. Those who managed to survive the two month ordeal did so by… well, you read the lyric. It’s a fascinating and horrific story of brotherhood and survival, a true terror of the real world. If this type of story interests you, check out Showtime’s original series Yellowjackets (Season One review coming soon!), about a field hockey team that meets a very similar fate.

Listen Here: https://open.spotify.com/track/3yIKic907FpVd5TWAPKi5m?si=cb8607e815024cdc

1 ) IT is the End (The Silver Scream, 2018)

“You know what makes me smile? / Devoured juveniles / Their innards tangled in my twisted grin / chuckled so hard I choked / call it an inside joke / they say that laughter’s the best medicine”

I mean, come ON. This track is based on Stephen King’s It and the subsequent films. Pennywise, a killer alien that takes the form of a clown, lives in the sewers of Derry, Maine. He terrorizes a group of childhood friends by preying on their greatest fears. 27 years later, guess who’s back, back again? It’s Pennywise, come to scare the (now grown-up) kids all over again. The song itself is a masterpiece of theatrical, big-band metal (which is definitely a thing) that showcases Pennywise the Dancing Clown’s penchant for eating children, piece by piece. “Just like Georgie / it’s all out of hand”. Groovy.

Listen Here: https://open.spotify.com/track/19u5pVvN3Ud0u3bPaq6Lnn?si=8dbed4fb2b0b4a79

i love you Bill Skarsgård

Honorable Mentions

“Left to die under the sun / the hive never spared anyone / how ’bout a hand for the honey bees? / hooked on the creed of their colony” Farewell II Flesh (The Silver Scream 2: Welcome to Horrorwood, 2021). The urban legend of Candyman (1992) follows the story of the son of a slave left to die by a lynch mob, right hand cut off and body smeared with honey that led to his death by bees. This whole track is depressing, lyrical genius.

“Now you’ll choke on your words / swallow this” Ex Mørtis (The Silver Scream 2: Welcome to Horrorwood, 2021). Ash Williams of The Evil Dead (1981) is known for his killer one-liners, and “swallow this” is no exception.

“‘Cause on this trip there are no survivors / and in this club your life don’t mean Scheiße” Würst Vacation (The Silver Scream 2: Welcome to Horrorwood, 2021). We can thank Eli Roth for the Hostel franchise that inspired this gruesome track. A sadistic club of killers who purchase tourists to maim and kill. Upon first listen I thought it was about Human Centipede because of the line “kiss your ass goodbye”… if you know, you know.

“Bitch I’ll leave your body on the cutting room floor / all bets are off / I just buried Drew Barrymore” Your Number’s Up (The Silver Scream, 2018) A gracious nod to Barrymore’s brutal slaying in Wes Craven’s 1996 classic Scream. The line really speaks for itself.

Movies/Shows I Want Ice Nine Kills to Write Songs About

The Blair Witch Project, Apostle, The Haunting of Hill House, Corpse Bride, & Midnight Mass

Where to Find More Ice Nine Kills

Well, there you have it. This piece was so fun to put together and I hope you enjoyed the puns and lyrical mastery of Ice Nine Kills. I’m stoked to be back to blogging and excited to share what’s next!

And, as always… Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or, not. Trick-or-treat, after all.

xo Allison

COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER:

All images are used Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 107 under the “fair use” defense.

All other images are certified public domain.

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6 Horror Movies You Might Have Overlooked

Alternate title: 6 horror movies with mixed reviews that might actually be good

We all love a good hidden gem. Those movies that haven’t sold out theaters or won Oscars, films that haven’t hit the front page of Netflix, and great scares you can introduce to your friends. Every now and then it’s nice to be the one who saw the movie “before it was cool”.

I’ve compiled a list of 6 movies that I think flew under the radar. They’re weird little diamonds in the rough I found while watching Chiller TV after school (or while I was skipping school) back in the day. Strange films I’ve come across in the darkest recesses of off-brand streaming services. They all deserve a little more time in the sun, and I’m happy to be the one to bring them to the light.

And if you have seen these films, let me know one of your undiscovered favorites in the comments.

1) Death and Cremation (2010)

So many great things to be said for this creepy little movie. One of my favorites discovered via Chiller TV (rest in peace, forever in our hearts) and absolutely worth checking out if you want a story about death and, you guessed it, cremation.

Crematorium owner and operator Stan (played by the horror legend Brad Dourif – you may know him as Chucky from the Child’s Play series, Billy Bibbit from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, or Sheriff Lee Brackett in Rob Zombie’s Halloween) doesn’t care about making money or living a lavish lifestyle. All he wants to do is burn bodies in peace… and if he burns some problematic people along the way, that’s good too. Goth teen outcast Jarod (played by the incredible Jeremy Sumpter of Peter Pan and Friday Night Lights fame) seeks a part time job at Stan’s crematorium. While working together to provide a final service to the dead, they both have a hard time dealing with the pesky living.

It’s a fun watch with a good amount of violence and little gore. It was met with positive reviews upon release but never won any awards. Except my award for favorite movie to watch while skipping school.

2) We Are What We Are (2013)

This is an obscure streaming site favorite. It’s a remake of the 2010 Mexican film of the same name and certainly worth checking out if you like a slow build-up of atmospheric, small-town vibes and loads of religious trauma.

The Parkers are a reclusive religious family in what appears to be rural Appalachia. When Mrs. Parker suffers a medical emergency and dies, her daughters Rose and Iris are tasked with handling her less-than-pleasant duties in regard to their religion and the sacrifices made on behalf of their beliefs. When human remains wash up on the banks of the river, the town doctor starts to investigate – could the washed up bones belong to his long-missing daughter? And why did Mrs. Parker really die? The autopsy pointed to Parkinson’s, but now he’s not so sure. Perhaps something in the Parkers’ diet might point him to the answer…

There’s a bit of a slow build up that leads to a great twist. The ending is pretty brutal and tends to get the brunt of negative reviews; like Michael O’Sullivan at The Washington Post calling it, “predictable and gross”. But in that delightful, horror movie way. The film premiered at Sundance in 2013 and features some relatively unknown actors. Head to your local sketchy streaming site to check it out ASAP. Reminds me in many ways of Ania Ahlborn’s horror novel Brother. You can read my review of Ahlborn’s Appalachian horror here: http://www.littlebookblogofhorrors.com/2021/10/book-review-brother-by-ania-ahlborn/.

3) My Soul to Take (2010)

Another Chiller TV gem directed by none other than Wes Craven – you know, just the guy that did Nightmare on Elm Street. This film is generally considered to be Craven’s biggest failure, with no success whatsoever at the box office and poor ratings on several film rating websites. Don’t let the critics fool you, however; there is a lot to love about this strange little film. At least watch the opening sequence of Abel Plenkov – a serial killer dubbed the Riverton Ripper with multiple personalities – killing his pregnant wife and several others before eventually disappearing. Sixteen years later, the Riverton Seven (all born the night Plenkov died and alleged to have pieces of his multiple souls within them) gather for an annual “killing” of a puppet of the Riverton Ripper. Shy outcast Bug (played by Max Thieriot of Bates Motel fame) is selected to complete the “killing” but ultimately fails to destroy the puppet due to police intervention. When the Riverton Seven are killed one by one, they can’t help but blame Bug’s unsuccessful sacrifice. Is the Riverton Ripper at it again? Or is it one of the Seven, possessed by his deadly soul?

You have to admit this sounds like the coolest YA horror novel of all time. If this was made as a Netflix original series it would absolutely blow up. Why did it flop upon release? Well, it came out at the same time as the Facebook biopic The Social Network, so that might have something to do with it. Oh yeah, and it released in the dreaded 2010s 3D. Maybe people were expecting another Elm Street and not this departure lacking in killer dream sequences. Either way, it’s worth checking out for the masterful opening sequence and the turkey vulture scene. If you know, you know.

4) Last Shift (2014)

Unlike the last entry, this film has relatively good reviews across multiple platforms – it even has a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes! So, what gives? Why hasn’t anyone heard of it?

Rookie police officer Jessica Loren (played by Juliana Harkavy from The Walking Dead and Arrow) takes her first assignment; the last shift at a police station before it is permanently closed. At first, the shift is boring. After all, it’s a desolate police station, mostly empty of contents and completely devoid of other people… right? Strange noises ring through the empty halls and rooms – knocking, screaming, the occasional laughter of a young woman. Furniture appears to be moving on its own, driving Loren to points of frustrated confusion. Eventually Loren learns that a famous cult akin to the Manson Family committed a group suicide in the police station after being apprehended; a fact that was covered up by police, as it was reported the group was killed in their residence. Loren calls her superior and begs to be relieved of her post, but… well, spoilers.

This movie is just so, so good. It’s intimate, filmed on a small set with great emphasis on the sound and scares. The paranormal activity in the station is delightfully demonic and the mystery of the deceased cult unravels into a grisly and unforgettable finale. Tubi is the place to go for this one – or Amazon Prime Video if you’re feeling fancy.

5) Clown (2014)

Everyone’s terrified of clowns. I think we can thank Stephen King for that. This film, produced by a host of big names including horror giant Eli Roth, capitalizes on the horrors of, well, clowns.

Kent McCoy is a real estate agent and family man who just wants to throw a birthday party for his son. The clown he hired can’t make the party, but as luck would have it, Kent finds an old clown costume in the basement of a home he’s selling and takes it upon himself to be the birthday party clown. Note to self: don’t put on the clown costume you find in a creepy basement. McCoy soon realizes that he can’t take the costume off. Not only that, but he’s experiencing strange hungers and urges. He contacts the costume’s previous owner and discovers the skin and hair of the costume are crafted from the flesh of an ancient Icelandic clown demon that has now fused with McCoy’s physical frame. There are ways to get rid of the demon and take off the costume, but none of them are without a little bloodshed. And one of them involves a Chuck E. Cheese’s.

So this is basically a grown up version of R.L. Stine’s The Haunted Mask but with way more murder and clown demons. Eli Roth actually referred to the film as a version of The Fly, which also makes sense, but you know I can’t pass up a Goosebumps reference. It has pretty scattered reviews, with some critics citing strange pacing and boring build-up as downfalls while others praise the humorous elements befitting of a demonic, killer clown. There are some really interesting ideas here that might have been explored a bit strangely but, hey, at least they were explored. Run, don’t walk to your local sketchy streaming site and behold the killer clownery of your dreams.

6) Shelter [Alternative title: 6 Souls] (2010)

This film is the definition of underrated. It’s well-acted, short on the jump scares, and rife with suspense and true psychological torment. It was released in the UK and other countries as Shelter, later taking on the title of 6 Souls when released in the United States for a limited theatrical release in 2013. It features powerhouse performances by well-known actors like Julianne Moore (you don’t need an example because she’s been in dozens upon dozens of films, but I loved her on 30 Rock) and Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Velvet Goldmine and Vikings).

Dr. Harding (played by Moore) is a psychologist tasked with studying Adam (played by Meyer), a young man suspected to have dissociative identity disorder. Dr. Harding soon realizes Adam’s personalities are those of real people who have passed away under various circumstances – none of them good. One of these personalities leads Dr. Harding down a rabbit hole of blood sacrifices and Appalachian granny magic (what’s with me and Appalachian horror? I don’t know). Religious trauma abounds as faithless souls become simple playthings to those who can control – and consume – them.

All in all, this film is virtually overlooked and I’m not happy about it. The tale is intelligent and suspenseful and rife with the horrors of possession, Appalachian granny magic (stay tuned for this feature article, coming soon!), and unexplainable psychiatric conditions. This one is tough to find but if you can dig it up on the web somewhere, give it a chance. It’ll be worth it for Meyers’ performance alone.

There you have it, friends and foes. A handful of horror films that I think deserve some attention. It seems like most box-office horror films are remakes or continuations of beloved classics – not that I’m complaining. I loved Halloween Kills. But sometimes it’s nice to explore paths less traveled and dig up some under-appreciated gems.

Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or, not. Trick-or-treat, after all.

xo Allison

COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER:

Movie poster art is used Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 107 under the “fair use” defense.

All other images are certified public domain.

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Top 5 Scooby-Doo Animated Movies

Scooby-Dooby-Doo, where are you?

In an effort to celebrate spooky season and to reconnect with our favorite childhood frights, let’s revisit the classic Scooby-Doo animated films. These films were a staple in my Halloween movie rotation as a kid. Let’s take a walk down a memory lane lined with witches, warlocks, and werecats (oh my!).

The sprawling Scooby-Doo franchise began as a cartoon in 1969, called Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! The show was created by Joe Ruby and Ken Spears for Hanna-Barbera Productions. It follows meddling kids Fred Jones, Daphne Blake, Velma Dinkley, and Shaggy Rogers, solving supernatural mysteries in their trusty van, the Mystery Machine, along with their doggy pal, Scooby Doo (short for Scoobert Doobert). In 2013, TV Guide named the cartoon as the 5th greatest cartoon of all time. A rank well-deserved, that’s for certain. And we can’t forget about the 2002 live-action masterpiece of a remake, Scooby-Doo, starring Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, Matthew Lillard and Linda Cardellini. The well-loved live action remake got a sequel in 2004, Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed.

The live action films aren’t included in this list, as evidenced by the title. I’ve also left out the television movies and television specials; like the 1988 classic Ghoul School. Although they’ve been omitted from this list, we don’t love them any less.

5. Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase (2001)

Don’t be mad that this is at the bottom of the list – at least it made the top five. A virtual creature called “The Phantom Virus” emerges from a new video game based on the adventures of the Mystery Inc. gang. The gang is transported into the game and must defeat 10 dangerous levels by finding boxes of the dog treats, Scooby Snacks. The best parts of this film are the cameos made by classic Scooby villains like the Creeper, the Tar Monster, and Old Iron Face. I’ve ranked it fifth on the list because it didn’t strike me as scary when I watched it as a kid – I mean, the monster isn’t even real. This one might not strike a chord with kids who aren’t into tech or video games. The main song (every Scooby movie has a main, karaoke-worthy song) “Hello Cyberdream” pales in comparison to some of the big hitters later on this list. All that being said, it’s still a fun take on the Mystery Inc. gang, bringing their 70’s style into the 21st century.

4. Scooby-Doo and the Legend of the Vampire (2003)

I was surprised to find in my research that Scooby fans aren’t as familiar with this totally tubular installment of the gang’s misadventures. The Mystery Inc. kids head to Australia for vacation. Goth girl-band The Hex Girls (recurring characters in the Scooby franchise, originating in the film Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost) are playing a music festival at a place called Vampire Rock. The previous year, a band called Wildwind performed at the festival and went missing – presumably turned into vampires by a local vampire called the Yowie Yahoo. The gang enters the music festival as a band to lure the Yowie Yahoo from the caves of Vampire Rock in the hopes of finding out just what – or who – he really is. It’s so cool to see The Hex Girls again, and the music in this one is top notch early 2000’s rock (I mean, it does take place at a music festival). As the most recent film on this list, it’s also the first to have the newer animation style of the What’s New, Scooby-Doo? television series. Stylistically, it is much brighter than its predecessors. But don’t let that fool you – it’s just as spooky.

3. Scooby-Doo and the Alien Invaders (2000)

The Mystery Inc. gang stumbles upon aliens while driving through Roswell, New Mexico (who would have thought!?). Shaggy and Scooby are abducted by aliens and later awaken in the middle of the desert while the rest of the kids are stranded at a creepy roadside diner full of alien skeptics – and even more alien believers. In the desert, Shaggy and Scooby meet Crystal and her dog, Amber, and immediately fall in love. The gang must solve the mystery and government conspiracy that is Area 51, and potential life on other planets. No spoilers, but this one actually shocked me when the truth was revealed – and it still hits as an adult. The flower-child montage of Shaggy and Crystal, Scooby and Amber falling in love is an adorable jaunt through a colorful 70’s aesthetic. And there’s a jackaloupe! This film is the last installment in the franchise to feature Mary Kay Bergman as the voice of Daphne before her death, and it is lovingly dedicated to her memory.

2. Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island (1998)

The gang investigates an allegedly haunted bayou island in New Orleans, Louisiana. They are reunited after a hiatus, having become disenchanted by their constant run-ins with masked bad guys rather than real, supernatural monsters. Ghosts and zombies abound in this colorful ride through the American bayou south as the gang sets out to solve a 200 year old mystery steeped in gumbo, voodoo, and… werecats. The soundtrack on this one is killer, with acts like Third Eye Blind and Skycycle on the original tracks. The main song, Terror Time Again, is an instant classic that will get you in the Halloween spirit – and in the mood to run around the bayou away from some terrifying monsters. There’s also a sequel that was released in 2019, which I didn’t know about until doing research for this article. It premiered at San Diego Comic Con and can now be found everywhere digitally and on DVD.

1. Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost (1999)

Obviously at the top of this list, this film follows the gang on their travels to the fictional New England town of Oakhaven (think off-brand Salem, Massachusetts) after being invited by horror writer Ben Ravencroft. They have to solve the mystery of accused witch Sarah Ravencroft, who was executed by the Puritans in 1657. Ben, Sarah’s descendant, claims Sarah was an innocent wiccan, using her powers for healing rather than evil witchcraft. The gang soon realizes they’re in for more than just a Halloween festival and some tasty treats when it becomes clear the witches didn’t all stay in 1657… Ruh-roh. Also in this film we meet The Hex Girls, the greatest fictional band of all time. This is the perfect Halloween movie for young and old witches, warlocks, and wiccans alike. It made little Allison want to be a horror writer and a witch… halfway there.

I hope this article helped you reconnect with where your horror fixation might have started. Whether it was Goosebumps, Are You Afraid of the Dark, or the Scooby-Doo cinematic universe, it’s always nice to pay homage to the frights that started it all.

Want more Scooby-Doo content?

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero (2017): The gang’s grown up… Well, not exactly. Inspired by Scooby-Doo and the Mystery Inc. gang, this novel follows a reunited group of grown-up detectives who try to solve a Lovecraftian horror mystery that traumatized them when they were kids. Book review coming soon. https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/548337/meddling-kids-by-edgar-cantero/

Jonathan Young’s cover of It’s Terror Time Again: https://open.spotify.com/track/5zO9iNow0MEBtBIjvTogTi?si=c394911420e3499e

Moon Sisters, The Nostalgia Girls’ cover of Earth, Wind, Fire & Air: https://open.spotify.com/track/1kGvwKNeDpTuMDw0KWqT92?si=678b8ac0c90e44ef

Dreadlight, Maiah Wynne’s cover of Hex Girl: https://open.spotify.com/track/7F6B0eGSuPpDin9yCK6Zh7?si=6b7b87a9ee384573

Simple Plan’s What’s New Scooby-Doo?: https://open.spotify.com/track/6DD5beNG6Ji3AYp5WrYnwD?si=3d5502cf4f474f91

AllSTARS’ Things That Go Bump in the Night: https://open.spotify.com/track/4dyoQtmjsgoTuF4VIReyE1?si=14e0a1d18520466f

Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or, not. Trick-or-treat, after all.

xo Allison

COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER:

Art is used Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 107 under the “fair use” defense.

All other images are certified public domain.

Feature image citation: Still frame from the debut episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!: “What a Night for a Knight”. (original airdate: September 13, 1969). Copyright © 1969 Hanna-Barbera Productions, Inc.

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10 Horror Movies You Didn’t Know Were Based on Books

Well, I didn’t know they were based on books, anyway.

I hate articles that start like “YOU DIDN’T KNOW THIS THING! LET ME EXPLAIN IT TO YOU!” Because, when the reader does know, the title and information come across as so condescending. That being said, I thought it would be fun to write one of those articles but be really honest about it. I found 10 horror movies that I really didn’t know were based off books that maybe, just maybe, you didn’t know, either.

There aren’t any Stephen King books on here, because we already know the chokehold his stories have on horror film.

1. In The Tall Grass (2019)

Okay, I lied. This one is based on Stephen King and Joe Hill’s 2012 novella of the same name. To be fair, I didn’t know this was a King-related production when I watched it on Netflix. It honestly didn’t even feel like one. It was beautifully filmed, twisted and mysterious, and criminally underrated. It stars Harrison Gilbertson, Laysla De Oliveira, and Patrick Wilson (you know, the guy from all The Conjuring movies).

The film does have some criticism, most being that it had limited source material that felt stretched a bit too thin. I don’t necessarily agree, but that could just be because I didn’t know it was a novella and just thought it was a rad horror movie with weird pacing. It was nominated for Best Streaming Premier at the 2020 Fangoria Chainsaw Awards but lost to a film called The Perfection. I’d recommend checking it out if you like time-warping, bloody, cult and alien-related horror. Oh yeah, and cursed fields of really tall grass.

2. The Ritual (2017)

This one is a British horror film based on Adam Nevill’s 2011 novel of the same name. It follows a group of four friends taking a short-cut (never a good idea) through the forests of northern Sweden. They’re hiking in the memory of their friend who was killed in a tragic attack. If you love forest horror, creepy abandoned cabins, and cults that worship the ancient beasts of the woods, then this one might be for you. It’s a love story to atmospheric horror, low on jump scares but high on stunning cinematography, honest and moving acting, and the terror of being totally lost and off the grid. I get anxious when my cell phone has less than 50% battery, so needless to say this would not be a horror film I would survive.

The film stars Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, and Sam Troughton. It premiered at the Toronto Film Festival but was sold to Netflix for streaming shortly thereafter. The novel won the 2012 August Derleth Award for Best Horror Novel. Definitely worth a watch, and a read.

3. The Wicker Man (1973)

I could write an entire article on the horror that was the 2006 Nicholas Cage version of this movie, but I am choosing not to for my sanity and for yours. The 1973 version was inspired by David Pinner’s 1967 novel Ritual. A policeman travels to an isolated island in search of a missing girl, only to find a colony of former Christians practicing a form of Celtic paganism involving sacrifices and other horrors. Film magazine Cinefantastique described this film as “The Citizen Kane of horror movies”. If that’s true, then the Nicholas Cage version is any Adam Sandler movie made after 1999.

There’s a sequel to the novel called The Wicca Woman that was published in 2014. Not sure why the books were published nearly fifty years apart, but I think they’re both worth a read if you’re interested in the origins of this famous (and infamous) film.

4. Jaws (1975)

I have seen Jaws probably 25 times, and I had no idea it was based on a book until researching for this article. We’re all familiar with the horror-thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss. . It was the highest-grossing film until the release of Star Wars in 1977. It tells the story of a small Massachusetts beach town that is terrorized by a man-eating great white shark.

Peter Benchley’s 1974 novel of the same name was on the bestseller list for 44 weeks and sold millions of copies worldwide. The movie focused solely on the shark and the three men hunting it and omitted the majority of Benchley’s subplots. That didn’t hurt the film’s success, however. The sequels are a horror story for another day… Of course, the literary elite will explain that it’s not about the shark, it’s about the greed of capitalism and how the rich will sacrifice the lives of the poor in order to make a quick buck.

5. The Exorcist (1973)

I guess I did know this one was based on a book, but I didn’t know until embarrassingly late in life. William Peter Blatty wrote the novel in 1971 of the same name detailing the demonic possession of a little girl named Regan and the priests who are charged with performing her exorcism. You already know I love exorcisms and possession. This film is actually one of the first horror films I ever watched. Regan and I were the same age, which both terrified and fascinated me as a budding horror fan. How could my parents forbid me to watch a movie if myself and the main character were the same age??

Blatty also wrote the screenplay for the film, earning him an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Aspects of the novel were actually inspired by a real life exorcism performed in 1949 of a young boy in Maryland. I guess it’s true that the most terrifying stories are based in reality.

6. The Amityville Horror (1979)

Speaking of stories based in reality, this is one of the first wildly successful horror franchises based on a “true story”. Of course, this claim has led to decades of controversy and lawsuits debating how “true” it really is. Still, it’s terrifying nonetheless. The novel of the same name was written by Jay Anson in 1977 and was reported to be based on the paranormal experiences of the Lutz family of Amityville, New York. According to the book, the Lutz family moved into a haunted house and claimed to be terrorized by evil left behind after a murder took place in the home one year prior.

The first Amityville film was released in 1979, and there have been dozens released since. The most famous remake of the 1979 original might be the 2005 version starring Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George. None of the films since then have been particularly exciting, as they all pretty much chronicle the same series of events in pretty much the same exact way. It would be interesting to have a film more about the controversy surrounding the book – like how the book falsely claimed the home was built on a spiritual site of the local Shinnecock Indians, or how everyone who’s owned the house after the Lutz family have reported no problems at all (other than morbidly curious horror fans stopping to take photos).

7. Candyman (1992)

Another novel adaptation that I had absolutely no idea about. I don’t blame myself. This film is based on Clive Barker’s short story The Forbidden from his horror anthology collection Books of Blood (1984), about a grad school student studying urban legends and folklore. And the movie was only made because the director Bernard Rose had a chance run-in with Barker, where Barker eventually agreed to license the rights. The original film starred Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd, and Xander Berkeley. There were two sequels, released in 1995 and 1999 which were not met with the same critical acclaim as the first.

Never fear, for an actually good direct sequel was released just this year, in August of 2021! It’s written by Jordan Peele (a true pioneer of evolving modern horror) and directed by Nia DaCosta. Though it’s the fourth film in the series, it’s a direct sequel to the 1992 oroginal. It stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Teyonah Parris. If you’re looking to get into the Candyman franchise, start with Barker’s short and work your way through the films (yes, even the crappy sequels. That’s part of the fun.)

8. I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

Did you know this cult classic was based on Lois Duncan’s 1973 novel of the same name? Well, loosely based. It’s actually a Young Adult novel that was regarded at the time of publication as well written and cleverly mysterious. Criticism included calling the novel’s plotting basic, which (in my opinion) is pretty standard in the Young Adult genre. It follows a group of high school friends who are being tormented by an anonymous person who, you guessed it, knows what they did last summer.

The film starred Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillipe, and Freddie Prinze Jr. I mean, come on. Talk about a stacked cast. The film was a departure from much of the inspirational material, as the novel isn’t really a slasher and doesn’t feature the graphic deaths of several characters. Duncan herself was pretty critical of the film, stating that she was actually “appalled” that her story was turned into a slasher film. Despite the author’s poor reviews, the film went on to have two sequels, one in 1998 and one in 2006. Not too shabby.

9. Hellraiser (1987)

And I was worried about too much Stephen King – turns out, I should have been worried about Clive Barker all along. I’m not a huge fan of the Hellraiser franchise in general, but I was fascinated to know that it, too, was inspired by a Clive Barker novella (The Hellbound Heart, 1986). The film serves as Barker’s directorial debut. The plot is basically about this group of beings called Cenobites who cannot tell the difference between pain and pleasure. You might know the leader of the Cenobites, played by Doug Bradley, as “Pinhead”. The original film was met with mixed criticism, but was followed by NINE sequels, so… I guess criticism doesn’t really matter.

The film was initially given an X rating, so Barker had to cut multiple scenes to get it down to an R. Cut scenes included a hammer murder, a naked murder, exposed entrails, and a closeup of an exploded head. Gnarly. Apparently the source material is just as gory and visceral, as is much of Barker’s work. The novella also has two sequels and several spinoffs to check out, if you’re interested. Barker uses a lot of the same horrors throughout his different tales, so you might spot a Cenobite or two across his massive bibliography.

10. American Psycho (2000)

Here’s another one I’m a little embarrassed about. Bret Easton Ellis published the novel of the same name in 1991, telling the story of Patrick Bateman, a serial killer by night and investment banker by day. The novel was wildly successful when it released, though controversial. Ellis himself claimed everyone thought the book was going to end his career. And if the morbidly curious reader didn’t go absolutely nuts over it when it came out, it just might have. American Psycho is the 53rd most banned and challenged book in the U.S. between 1990 and 1999, and sales were restricted in Germany and Australia due to potentially harmful subject matter. Feminist activist Gloria Steinem vehemently opposed the book due to its portrayal of violence against women. Coincidentally, Steinem is the stepmother of actor Christian Bale.

The same Christian Bale who portrayed Patrick Bateman in the 2000 film adaptation! The film was marketed as a dark but comedic film. It starred Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe and Reese Witherspoon. It premiered at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival where it was alleged to be “the next Fight Club” (that came out in 1999, also based on a novel). Upon its theatrical release, the film was met with positive reviews by most major outlets. There was even a straight-to-video spin-off made (aptly titled American Psycho 2) that no one watched. The novel is certainly worth the read, if only to figure out what all the fuss was about when it came out.

Well, there you have it. Ten horror films I didn’t know were based on books. Did you already know any of these? Good for you.

Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or, not. Trick-or-treat, after all.

xo Allison

COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER:

Art is used Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 107 under the “fair use” defense.

All other images are certified public domain.

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10 Young Adult Horror Books

Horror: It’s for Teens!

Hello, friends and foes! Today we’re diving into the world of Young Adult fiction. We all cut our teeth on Young Adult after graduating from Middle Grade spooks (I’ll never forget you, Goosebumps). We’ll take a look at the differences between Young Adult and Adult fiction, the emerging genre of New Adult fiction, and check out a list of ten Young Adult horrors that I can’t wait to read (or have already read).

What is “Young Adult Fiction”, anyway? Technically, YA is a category of fiction for readers aged 12-18. However, it’s widely enjoyed by readers of all ages, including myself. I have another article about Middle Grade books for readers aged 8-12 (you can check out that article here: http://www.littlebookblogofhorrors.com/2021/08/10-spooky-middle-grade-books/ ). The age category of fiction above YA would be plain old “Adult”, for readers aged 18+.

What’s the difference between Young Adult and Adult? There are several key factors distinguishing the two, including character ages, general subject matter, and language used. A teen protagonist generally hints at a YA book. YA subject matter can certainly veer far into the dark side (think Ellen Hopkins and Gayle Forman), but for the most part avoids graphic descriptions of heinous crimes and horrors. Young Adult themes tend to center around growing up, friendships and relationships, and the general priorities and characteristics of teenagers (oh, the drama!). Further, Young Adult tends to rely on a fast-moving plot with limited flowery prose and, often times, limited use of profanities.

The line between Young Adult and Adult can get blurry, because sometimes teens face adult challenges, or fit into an Adult fiction storytelling style. Some authors refer to their work that falls between the two categories as “New Adult”. New Adult is for readers between YA and Adult, and includes some of the best of both worlds. Darker stories and themes with characters still figuring life out – but they’re in their early twenties, not their teens. While the NA category isn’t widely recognized – and outright denied existence by some publishers – some of the books on the following list may fall closer to NA than YA. For the record, I am a proponent for New Adult and I think we should expand the category, giving more stories to those who aren’t teens but aren’t really adults. Not yet.

Without further ado, let’s run down the list of some of the best YA horror books on the market.

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey (2010)

The first installment of a four book series marketed as H.P. Lovecraft x Rick Riorden, this book follows orphaned Will (remember what I said about dead parents?) who works as an assistant to a monster-hunting doctor. A new monster is discovered – the Anthropophagus, a headless creature that feeds through the gaping mouth in its chest. Unfortunately for Will and the doctor, this discovery means there are more Anthropophagi loose in the world. A mad hunt ensues to stop the creatures from eating the whole world – and to figure out where they’re coming from in the first place.

Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare (2020)

This Bram Stoker Award winning slasher horror is Cesare’s YA debut, having found success in Adult fiction with Video Night (2013) and The Summer Job (2014). If the title alone doesn’t get you interested, the summary will – there’s a clown in the cornfield! Quinn is the new girl in the small factory town of Kettle Springs, a place divided into two halves; kids and adults, progress and stifled tradition. When a clown mascot goes homicidal and starts killing off the teens, a new tradition threatens to begin – unless the teens can stop him. It sounds very Children of the Corn x It, and I’m buying it on my next trip to my local bookstore (not sponsored, I just love clowns).

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (2011)

A New York Times bestseller that expanded into a 6 book series, this tale follows Jacob Portman on a quest to uncover a mystery that his late grandfather left behind. He discovers the time-bending world of Miss Peregrine and her home of misfits – peculiars – children with powers of all sorts. Some can wield fire, control plants, and levitate, while others have more outlandish abilities, like reanimating the dead or feeding through an extra mouth on the back of their head full of sharp, gnashing teeth. The peculiars are being hunted by invisible monsters called Hollowghasts, and Jacob is the key to defeating them… but no one knows why. There’s a full series review coming to the blog, soon!

The Mary Shelley Club by Goldy Moldovsky (2021)

Here’s a thriller about a horror fan club that might be too into horror… The new girl in town, Rachel Chavez, is an avid horror movie fan with a tumultuous past. When she is inducted into the Mary Shelley Club at her new school, she is subjected to Fear Tests – terrifying pranks inspired by urban legends and -you guessed it- horror movies. When teens start dying, the pranks aren’t so fun anymore, and Rachel realizes that it’s not just a movie trope – it’s real life. It reminds me of an older Are You Afraid of the Dark. Book review coming soon!

How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather (2016)

This is the first book in a duology by an actual descendant of Cotton Mather (you know, the minister involved in those witch trials back in Salem?). The book follows Samantha Mather, also a descendant of Cotton, which makes her public enemy #1 on her first day at her new school in Salem, Massachusetts. The girls who rule the school are descendants of witches, and they make it their mission to bully Sam out of the school – and out of Salem. But there’s more at stake high school street-cred when a centuries-old curse unfolds, putting all descendants of the Salem Witch Trials in deadly jeopardy. Oh, yeah, and a love triangle between Sam, the boy next door, and a ghost.

The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones (2019)

Marketed toward fans of Holly Black and V.E. Schwab, this historical horror follows the story of Ryn, the seventeen year old gravedigger. She works on her dead parents’ graveyard (there’s always at least one dead parent in Young Adult) but is struggling to keep her siblings happy and fed. Oh, yeah, and sometimes the dead (called “bone houses”) come back to life. Mysterious newcomer Ellis draws the bone houses to attack with a newfound hunger. Together, Ryn and Ellis must get to the bottom of the fae curse that makes the dead alive – and angry.

House of Furies by Madeleine Roux (2017)

The first installment of a trilogy (which I regrettably keep reading as “house of furries”) follows seventeen year old Louisa Ditton, a mad in a mysterious boarding house. Through her accidental investigation, Louisa discovers the house’s master is actually the head of a cruel organization that judges (and subsequently punishes) those who visit the boarding house whom he deems too far gone in their sinning to save. It’s a mysterious thriller about how easily men can become monsters when they think they are greater than other men. Roux also wrote the Asylum series, another YA series worth checking out if you’re into haunted asylums and murder mysteries.

The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco (2015)

The first book in a duology based on Japanese folklore that we talked about in my article here: http://www.littlebookblogofhorrors.com/2021/08/japans-vengeful-ghosts-nihon-sandai-kaidan/. Okiku, a young girl who was tragically murdered in a well, now haunts the world, taking the lives of evil killers. When she stumbles across the misunderstood (and demon-possessed) Tark, Okiku knows she must free the malevolent spirit that is using the boy’s body as a host – without killing the only friend Okiku has ever known. Chupeco is now most well known for her Bone Witch series.

Blood and Salt by Kim Liggett (2015)

Young Ash is following the mysterious disappearance of her mother. Her quest brings her to a small town in Kansas – and the strange commune from which her mother had previously escaped. At the center of the creepy little town is a string of deaths and bizarre traditions revolving around murder, immortality, and alchemy (oh, my!). The tale culminates with a ceremony 500 years in the making which could spell the end for Ash, her mother, and her new love interest (there’s always a new love interest).

Ten by Gretchen McNeil (2013)

A horrific twist on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, a group of 10 teens are gathered for what was supposed to be a party weekend on Henry Island. A storm cuts off the power and cuts the teens off from the rest of the world. One by one, the teens are killed in increasingly violent ways, and it’s up to the protagonist Meg to find out who the killer is, even as her friends are dying – and turning on each other.

Well, there you have it. Some of the best YA horrors and thrillers. What’s your favorite YA horror – or favorite YA book in general? Do you think a New Adult Fiction category is a good idea?

Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or not. Trick-or-treat, after all.

xo Allison

COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER:

Book cover art is used Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 107 under the “fair use” defense.

All other images are certified public domain.

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A Very Brief History of Werewolves

And 10 werewolf books that don’t bite (hah!)

Hello, friends and foes! Today we’re talking all things werewolf. Where do werewolf stories come from? And what are werewolves, anyway?

A werewolf is a man (rarely, a woman) who turns into a wolf at night and hunts animals and/or humans. In parts of Europe and Northern Asia, the creature is believed to be a bear. In Africa, it’s a hyena or leopard, and in India and China, it’s a tiger. You can be turned into a werewolf (bear, hyena, or tiger) via a bite from another werewolf, or the gene can be passed down from your werewolf parents. Some people throughout history have truly believed they are werewolves – and these people were subsequently diagnosed lycanthropy. Lycanthropy is a mental illness that typically only appears in people who believe in reincarnation and the transmigration of souls. It’s often linked with belief in animal guardian spirits, totemism, and witchcraft.

Zeus turning Lycaon into a wolf, engraving by Hendrik Goltzius.

Stories involving these half-man, half-wolf creatures go way back. Ancient Greece was rife with werewolf tales. The legend of Lycaon tells of a man who angered Zeus enough to make the god turn Lycaon and his sons into wolves. If you’re an etymology nerd like me, you might have noticed what “Lycaon” and “lycanthropy” have in common – the root “lykos”, which is Greek for “wolf”. Go figure.

In Nordic folklore, the Saga of Volsungs tells the story of a father and son who don wolf pelts that turn them into wolves for 10 days; they then go on a brutal killing spree in the forest. The father eventually deals his son a lethal blow. Luckily, with the help of a raven’s healing feather, the son is able to survive.

The first ever werewolf story is arguably The Epic of Gilgamesh – which is literally the oldest known Western prose. Like, ever. It dates back to 2100 BC and includes a female character who allegedly turned her ex-lover into a wolf. Much later came Leitch Ritchie’s The Man-Wolf in 1831, and Alexandre Dumas’ The Wolf Leader in 1857. Some scholars claim Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886) has implicit werewolf subtext. Food for thought.

Were there any real werewolves? Obviously (and sadly), no. But there have been several fascinating cases of mistaken identity throughout history. In 15th century Germany, Peter Stubbe allegedly turned into a wolf-like creature at night and killed and ate many citizens of Bedburg. When Stubbe was arrested, hunters claimed they saw him shape-shift from wolf to human. He was tortured into confessing to killing and eating numerous animals, men, women, and children. Stubbe also allegedly claimed to have a belt that gave him the power to turn into a wolf. The belt was never recovered.

Picture it: France, 1521. Pierre Burgot and Michel Verdun alleged to have an ointment that turned them into wolves. They confessed to murdering several children while in “wolf form” and were burned at the stake for their crimes.

There were also several cases of feral children that sparked werewolf rumors. The most famous of these is Peter the Wild Boy, a child discovered in a German forest in 1725. He was thought to be a werewolf, or at least raised by wolves. He was eventually adopted by King George I as a “pet” (this is the source’s term, not mine). After recent study of medical notes made about Peter during his short and tragic lifetime, it is now believed he had Pitt-Hopkins syndrome- a condition that causes distinct facial features, difficulty breathing, and intellectual challenges. As it turns out, there are several medical conditions that are similar to werewolf-ism. Lycanthropy (we talked about this before), hypertrichosis (excessive hair growth), and rabies.

Let’s check out ten werewolf books that don’t bite (yes, I used the joke again). I haven’t read enough werewolf literature and, as we dive headfirst into spooky season, some of these will certainly be added to my To Be Read Pile.

The Devourers by Indra Das (2015)

Das’ stunning debut has been compared to the work of Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood. It takes place in both 17th century and modern Kolkata, India. A stranger tells professor Alok Mukherjee a tale about shape-shifters that feed on human souls. Skeptical but intrigued, Alok translates and transcribes a collection of skin-bound notebooks to learn the rest of the fascinating tale. It’s been called “violent and vicious” by more than one source.

The Wolf Leader by Alexandre Dumas (1857)

In French, Le Meneur de loups, this book is allegedly based on a folktale local to Dumas’ hometown of Villers-Cotterets. Peasant man Thibault encounters a huge wolf, walking on his hind legs, who eventually offers him vengeance upon his enemies. Thibault enters a partnership with the wolf-man and finds that he is able to command the local wolves, hence gaining his own reputation of being a werewolf.

Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King (1983)

Would it really be a list of horror books if there wasn’t a King entry? This is a novella featuring illustrations by comic-book artist Bernie Wrightson. It tells a rather classic story of a werewolf that haunts a small town during the full moon. Marty, the wheelchair-bound, 10 year old protagonist, encounters the werewolf on the Fourth of July. The townspeople don’t believe him, but Marty vows to find out what – or, who – the werewolf really is.

The Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore (1933)

This story is told through the lens of an American doctoral student who has found a French court document regarding the strange case of Sergeant Bertrand Caillet. According to the court document, Caillet was born into a cursed and tumultuous family and claimed to have nightmarish recollections of sadistic and sexual violent instances, within which he has transformed into a wolf. It’s a thinly veiled political commentary about the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune, but is still a must-read for werewolf literature fans.

Red Moon by Benjamin Percy (2013)

A thriller set in the American west, this book follows several point of views of people who are confused and slowly changing… but into what? In Percy’s werewolf reality, the threat of the beasts has so far been controlled by laws, violence, and drugs. As the night of the red moon draws near, more people are changing, and the horror will eventually culminate in an epic battle for humanity.

The Book of Werewolves: Being an Account of a Terrible Superstition by Sabine Baring-Gould (1865)

This is a collection of werewolf lore written by a man often described as “eccentric”. It covers over 1,000 years of lore, ranging from the berserker of Norse legend, French folklore, as well as some modern (for the time) accounts of cannibalism, madness, disease, and various crimes. It is regarded as the first serious academic study of werewolf and shape-shifter folklore by most cryptozoologists.

Cabal by Clive Barker (1988)

Horror literature icon Clive Barker tells the story of Boone, a young man with an unspecified mental disorder who is told by his psychiatrist that he is responsible for a series of brutal murders. Following a suicide attempt, Boone begins a search for Midian, a semi-mythical city that he has seen in his dreams that is supposed to offer sanctuary to monsters like him – the Night Breed (aka werewolves and the like).

The Were-Wolf by Clemence Housman (1896)

Housman’s first novel is described as a gruesome, erotic fantasy. Housman was a leading figure in the suffragette movement of the time. This story follows a woman named White Fell who struggles to maintain her role as a dutiful wife and successful woman because, well, she’s a werewolf. It’s widely regarded as an allegory for the conservative ideas of the time and their distaste for the New Woman and her strength and progress. Suffragette feminism and werewolves? Hell yeah.

The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan (2012)

This first book in a wildly successful trilogy follows Jake Marlowe, the last werewolf in the world. He is 200 years old and just your regular guy – he loves a good scotch, is super horny, and goes crazy with hunger for human flesh on the night of every full moon. While Jake is losing his will to live, there are two dangerous organizations – one new, one ancient – that want to capture him alive. But… why?

Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones (2016)

A finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award and the Bram Stoker Award, this spellbinding horror tells the tale of an unusual boy and his family that live on the fringes of society – for the outside world fears them. At its core, it’s a coming of age story, as the boy learns if he belongs in the shadows of regular society, always on the run in the night, or if he will make his way into the world, carving out his own place, away from the mongrels like him.

Well, there you have it. 10 werewolf books worth checking out as we inch our way into spooky season and, inevitably, Halloween. If you like this type of post, I did the same one with vampires not too long ago. You can check that out here: http://www.littlebookblogofhorrors.com/2021/09/a-very-brief-history-of-vampires/. Do you have any suggestions for the creature I should study next? It might be hard to find 10 Chupacabra books, but I’m up for the challenge…

Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or not. Trick-or-treat, after all.

xo Allison

SOURCES:

History.com Editors. “Werewolf Legends”. History, 21 Aug, 2018, https://www.history.com/topics/folklore/history-of-the-werewolf-legend

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Werewolf”. Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/art/werewolf

COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER:

Book cover art is used Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 107 under the “fair use” defense.

All other images are certified public domain.

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A Very Brief History of Vampires

And 10 vampire books that don’t suck (get it?)

Hello, friends and foes! Today we’re talking all things vamp. We’re all familiar with vampires; sparkly or creatures of the night, immortal or un-dead, sexy or terrifying (or both). Where do vampire stories come from? Who started writing them, anyway?

According to most of the stories, vampires are either immortal or un-dead – the distinction there being whether or not they were revived after death (hence, un-dead). They consume human blood or the human ‘essence’, i.e. psychic energy. Their looks can vary but they are usually described as pale skinned with large, sharp fangs. Sometimes they sleep in coffins (probably just for the aesthetic, because how much sleep could you really need if you’re un-dead?).

The Vampire, by Philip Burne-Jones, 1897

To become a vampire, you can be ‘turned’ by an existing vamp with a bite to the neck or other part of the body. There are other reported ways to become a vampire, depending on the region. In parts of Southern Europe, they believe if a cat jumps over a grave, the corpse will return as a vampire. These types of myths are the reason many corpses were buried with a stake through the heart… just in case. Greek vampires are believed to be created when babies are born during the week between Christmas and New Years. Killing a vampire usually involves a wooden stake through the heart, though sometimes decapitation is necessary, or burning with sunlight (unless they’re the sparkly ones, then this method is less than effective).

Vampire stories date back to Ancient Greece. In medieval Europe, they blamed most plagues of disease on vampires. This is believed to be linked to the vampire-adjacent symptoms of many diseases at the time. For example, tuberculosis caused pale skin and weight loss, porphyria caused sensitivity to sunlight, and rabies caused aversion to water and garlic (and biting).

Were there ever any real vampires? Sadly, no. However, there are some instances across history that might make you think differently. Take Vlad the Impaler, for instance. We’ve referenced him before as the possible inspiration for Stoker’s character Dracula. And you can’t blame people for thinking that – his name was actually Vlad Dracula. Like, before it was cool. He earned his nickname of Impaler because he enjoyed impaling his enemies on wooden stakes. He also allegedly enjoyed dipping his dinner bread in his enemies’ blood.

Later on, in the 18th and 19th century, there was what can only be described as a Vampire Hysteria. In 1817, college student Frederick Ransom of South Woodstock, Vermont, died of tuberculosis. His father exhumed his body in a misguided attempt to save the rest of his sick family. It was believed that someone who perished of disease (especially terrifying diseases like tuberculosis) could return as a vampire after death and spread the disease to other members of the community. The body would be exhumed and subjected to various methods of vampire murder – a stake through the heart, decapitation, or burning). Frederick was exhumed and his heart was burned in a blacksmith’s forge. Unfortunately, this ritual did not succeed, and most of Frederick’s family soon perished. Frederick’s case is interesting because it illustrated the spread of Vampire Hysteria, or Vampiric Panic, from uneducated and rural families to educated, well-off communities.

One of the most famous instances of corpse exhumation on the basis of vampire suspicion is that of Mercy Brown. In 1892, the Brown family of Exeter, Rhode Island was ravaged by tuberculosis. The mother and two daughters, one being 19 year old Mercy, tragically died. When the son of the family, Edwin, became sick, his father and the Exeter townsfolk blamed a vampire for spreading the disease. All of the Brown family bodies were exhumed, and all showed the normal signs of decomposition – except Mercy’s. Was it because she was kept in freezer-like conditions in a crypt in the middle of New England winter? Or was it because she was a vampire? Who can say. Either way, they cut out her heart, burned it, and fed the ashes to her sick brother.

Vampire poetry flourished during the early days of the Vampire Hysteria, like in Heinrich August Ossenfelder’s Der Vampyr (1748). The first English language depiction of a vampire in poetry is believed to be in The Vampyre (1810) by John Stagg. Then the vampire appeared in prose with John Polidori’s The Vampyre in 1819. I guess they didn’t have titles copyrighted back then.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) is arguably the most influential vampire book (and was allegedly inspired by The Mysterious Stranger, written by an anonymous German author in 1823. It is so fascinating to me that the writer is still unknown to this day!). In 1931, Dracula was adapted into film, starring horror icon Bela Lugosi. The book also inspired the 1922 film Nosferatu… but it was apparently *too* inspired, as Stoker’s widow sued for copyright infringement.

With Anne Rice’s sympathetic portrayal of vampires in her novel Interview With a Vampire (1976), a new era of vampire tales was born. They were written with heart, with emotion, as blood-sucking romantic icons. I’ve made a list of ten examples of vampires in literature, from horrific to romantic to gothic to modern. There’s a vampire for everyone.

Interview With a Vampire by Anne Rice (1976)

Yeah, we just talked about this one, but it still has to be included. Rice ushered in a new age of vampire tales with her sympathetic and erotic tale of immortal vampires coming to terms with their tragic pasts and unending, inevitably tragic futures. The 1994 film version is also worth checking out, if only for Brad Pitt in period costume.

Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)

I know, we just talked about this one, too. But Stoker really started it all, and it’s worth checking out. It’s the now-classic tale of a mysterious Transylvanian noble, Count Dracula. There have been many film adaptations made, though I’d have to recommend the 1992 version, directed by Francis Ford Coppola with an absolutely stacked cast (Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins, and MORE!).

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (2005)

This one is a historical take on vampires, particularly Vlad the Impaler, who allegedly was a big inspiration for Stoker’s characterization of Dracula. Vlad III ruled over Wallachia with such tyranny that even Pope Pius II was informed of his cruelty! This book is a fantastical tale of a young woman who must decide if she wants to follow in her parents’ footsteps into a labyrinth of the secret history of vampires – including Vlad’s terrible reign.

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix (2020)

We love Grady Hendrix here at Little Book Blog of Horrors. His book, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, got five stars (check out the review here: http://www.littlebookblogofhorrors.com/2021/08/book-review-my-best-friends-exorcism/ ). This one is a charming and southern twist on feuding with neighbors that suck… literally.

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris (2001)

The first of the Sookie Stackhouse series that inspired the HBO show True Blood, this book follows the misadventures of the mind-reading Sookie and her vampire friends, steeped in charming, small-town southern gothic imagery and accents. True Blood ran for seven seasons between 2008 and 2014 and starred Anna Paquin as the titular Sookie Stackhouse.

The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez (1991)

Set in 1850’s Louisiana (there must be something in that southern water that brings out the vamps), an escaped slave is introduced to the world of the un-dead while employed in a brothel. The story branches across several different decades and highlights the important life events of Gilda, the black and bisexual vampire heroine. The novel won two Lambda Literary awards – one for fiction and one for science fiction – and was hailed by Oprah herself as one of the best modern vampire books.

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer (2005)

Hear me out! The era of Twilight changed the way we look at vampires in literature and film. This four-part series is worth checking out for the examination of its cultural impact alone. If you’ve been living under a rock and don’t know why this is controversial – the saga follows Bella Swan, a conservative teen who finds herself in a love triangle between a vampire and a werewolf. The series was stretched into five films, also worth checking out if you want a good laugh. Plot holes, confusion, and poor acting abound. But the books actually cover some dark material… just in really strange ways.

The Ancient Ones by Cassandra L. Thompson (2020)

The first of an oncoming trilogy, this is a true gothic horror vampire tale. It follows the story of David, the last vampyre alive, as he looks back on his tragic and tumultuous past. Flowery, impressive prose is married with gut-churning horror and an un-dead love story for the ages. It was published through the emerging dark literature publishing house Quill & Crow.

Carmilla by J. Sheridan Lefanu (1876)

Another alleged inspiration for Stoker’s Dracula, this novella (first published as a serial) is about a young woman who falls victim to a female vampire. It also created the idea of a female vampire, femme fatale, with homosexuality portrayed as morally ambiguous rather than evil. There have been several film adaptations, some faithful to the source material – The Vampire Lovers (1970), and others not so much –Lesbian Vampire Killers (2009).

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith (2010)

A re-written biography of American president Abraham Lincoln, but if he dedicated his life to killing vampires after the vampire-related death of his mother when he was just a kid. Grahame-Smith also wrote the screenplay for the 2012 film adaptation starring Benjamin Walker and Rufus Sewell.

Well, there you have it, friends and foes. A glimpse into the history of vampires and a few vampire stories to choose from, depending on your taste and preference. Stay tuned: I’m doing this same post with werewolves in a couple of weeks.

What’s your favorite vampire book, movie, or legend? Let me know in the comments below!

Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or not. Trick-or-treat, after all.

xo Allison

SOURCES:

Eldridge, Alison. “Vampire: Legendary Creature”. Brittanica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/vampire. Updated 9 Aug 2021.

Tucker, Abigail. “Meet the Real-Life Vampires of New England and Abroad”. Smithsonian Magazine, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/meet-the-real-life-vampires-of-new-england-and-abroad-42639093/. Oct 2012.

“Vampires: Real Origins, Legends & Stories. History, https://www.history.com/topics/folklore/vampire-history. 21 Feb 2020.

COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER:

Book cover art is used Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 107 under the “fair use” defense.

All other images are certified public domain.

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Horror Genres with Examples

Because this is confusing and I need to make a list.

Hello, friends and foes! I wanted to compile a list of the six genres of horror with some examples. I think it’s so much easier to break into the horror game with some guidance – because it’s confusing out there, and there are a lot of great books to read.

What is horror, anyway? Quick and shameless self-promo: if you haven’t read my article Horror: Who Started It?, I recommend checking it out as a companion piece to this one. It touches on some of the big names and classics I might not get to here, but are still worth checking out. Horror in general is about fear (duh). These books create a dreadful atmosphere rife with startling twists, shocking turns, and repulsive imagery… most of the time, anyway. As I laid out in my earlier article, horror has its deepest roots in Ancient Greece, and more recent branches of the family tree include Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Stephen King’s, well, everything. What I didn’t explore in my earlier article were the sub-genres of horror literature. Let’s break ’em down, in no particular order.

Gothic

We’ll kick off the sub-genres with perhaps the most well known. Gothic horror focuses heavily on death and morality, and the existential nature of humankind. Early on, these stories were almost exclusively set in gothic castles and medieval ruins.

The Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole is considered to be the first horror novel in general, therefore serving as the first in the gothic sub-genre. It’s set in a medieval realm where death abounds and prophecies of doom and despair haunt the characters along with the ghosts.

The Turn of the Screw (1898) by Henry James takes place on a country estate overrun with ghosts. It has a dreary atmosphere seeping with dread and creeping shadows. Bonus points for the creepy children.

Interview with a Vampire (1976) by Anne Rice deals with the existential struggles of immortal vampires through flowering and dramatic prose that is both terrifying and often described as “chillingly erotic”. Groovy.

Paranormal

My favorite sub-genre of horror in literature and film – ghost stories! Paranormal horror often includes ideas from fairy tales, folklore, and urban legends. Some horror buffs list paranormal and supernatural fiction as two different sub-genres, but for the purpose of this article, I’m lumping them together.

The Haunting of Hill House (1959) by Shirley Jackson is hailed as the greatest haunted house book ever written (The Wall Street Journal says so). It follows a group of individuals who stay in a presumably haunted house in an attempt to capture evidence of ghosts or paranormal activity.

Ghost Story (1979) by Peter Straub is about a group of five life-long friends that gather to tell each other ghost stories. They mysteriously start dying one by one, and they can’t help but wonder if the stories aren’t just stories, after all…

Pet Sematary (1983) by Stephen King is one of my favorite books ever. There’s a place you can bury your dead where they come back to life. But they come back… different. Supernatural and strange (much like most all of King’s work), it’s a great example of paranormal and supernatural elements coexisting in one very creepy story.

Occult

This one’s all about rituals- specifically, rituals that aren’t considered scientific or religious (no established religion, anyway). Whether it’s spells or incantations or cults, occult horror encompasses everything, well, occult.

The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft (1917-1935) published by Chartwell Books Classics collection in 2016 is obviously on this list. Lovecraft coined occult horror with his mysterious rituals summoning eldritch horrors, fantastical monsters of the deep, and fictitious ravings of those gone mad trying to summon and control limitless evils and supernatural powers.

The Damnation Game (1985) by Clive Barker is all about Faustian bargains (i.e. deals with the Devil) and how an ordinary man must stop the Devil from collecting his due. How do mortals compare to the limitless powers of the Devil? And why are mortals so obsessed with selling their souls when it’s really all they have?

Sorrowland (2021) by Rivers Solomon is the tale of a young woman who has escaped a commune (read: cult) and has given birth to twins in the wilderness. Though she escaped the commune, she is still being haunted by the rituals that took place there. This book also touches on the real life horrors of America’s history of violence against black bodies.

Dark Fantasy

It’s kind of self-explanatory. The creepy crawly horror atmosphere married with fantastical and/or magical themes and settings.

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962) by Ray Bradbury is a classic dark fantasy tale about a mysterious carnival that rolls into a small town. Two teenage protagonists must learn how to face their fears and the creepy carnies. Book review coming soon!

Salem’s Lot (1975) by Stephen King is about a writer who returns to a small town in Maine (A small town in Maine? In a Stephen King book??) only to discover that the residents are turning into vampires! Fun Fact: King has twice been quoted as saying this is his favorite book he’s written.

Under the Pendulum Sun (2017) by Jeannette Ng is a Victorian fantasy about a girl who goes on a journey to rescue her brother from the land of the Fae, soon to discover the fairy folk are not the kind and gentle creatures they are thought to be.

Survival

The characters are being hunted and try desperately to survive despite the disparity of their situation. This category is particularly popular in horror films (think Saw, or any Eli Roth movie).

The Ruins (2006) by Scott Smith follows four American tourists who visit Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, only to stumble across a Mayan village terrorized by killer vines. Survival horror is rife with body horror and gore, perhaps more than any other sub-genre, and this book does not disappoint on that front. It’s absolutely gnarly.

The Troop (2014) by Nick Cutter is about a scoutmaster who takes his troop into the Canadian wilderness on a typical camping trip. But they are soon met with an unexpected and terrifying intruder. They have to survive the elements, a bio-engineered infection, and whatever else lurks in the forest.

The Hunger (2018) by Alma Katsu is a retelling of the real-life horrors of the Donner party with an evil, witch-y twist. If you’re not familiar with the Donner party, they met their grisly fate in the Sierra Nevada mountains over the winter of 1846-1847. They took an untested “short cut”, got stuck in a blizzard, and ran out of food… well, kind of.

Science Fiction

Another self-explanatory category, all about horrific imagery and tropes blended with tech and science.

Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley is hailed as the first science fiction horror book ever, and rightly so. It tells the tale of a young scientist (Frankenstein is the name of the SCIENTIST!!) who creates an almost-human creature with dead body parts and… science.

Carrion Comfort (1989) by Dan Simmons is an alternate history beginning in World War II. A man sent to the infamous Chelmno extermination camp in Poland embarks on a decades-long journey to reveal a secret society that is behind the world’s most violent events. Also, there are vampires… but not in the way you think.

Boneshaker (2009) by Cherie Priest is a Civil War era alternate history about a giant ice drill (Dr. Blue’s Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine – say that five times fast) that malfunctions and unearths a gas that turns people into zombie-like creatures.

That concludes our dive into horror sub-genres. Do you have a favorite? Should I recreate this post but with horror film examples, instead? Let me know in the comments below!

Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or not. Trick-or-treat, after all.

xo Allison

COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER:

Book cover art is used Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 107 under the “fair use” defense.

All other images are certified public domain.

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10 Spooky Middle Grade Books

Horror: It’s for Kids!

Hello, friends and foes!

Do you remember the book that got you into reading? Or, if you’re a writer, the book that made you want to write your own stories? I remember mine, and they’re all books from my childhood – and almost all of them were scary. I decided to put together a list of ten scary stories for budding horror fans, ranked from least terrifying to absolute nightmare fuel. If this list inspires you to re-read some of your childhood favorites or share these with your spooky little kids, let me know in the comments below!

10. Bunnicula by James & Deborah Howe

We’re tarting off strong with the tamest book of the bunch. Bunnicula is a delightful seven-book series about a “vampire” rabbit that sucks the juice from vegetables. He was found by the Monroe family in a movie theater during a screening of Dracula. The stories are told from the perspective of the family dog, Harold. These are at the bottom of our list of childhood frights because, well, they’re just not very scary. There are some light horror elements like creepy noises in the shadows and the paranoid enemy of Bunnicula, Chester the cat, but nothing to keep young readers up at night. All in all, it’s still a fun read as an adult and, in my opinion, great for elementary and/or middle grade readers looking for some silly, spooky fun.

9. Edgar & Ellen by Charles Ogden

I’ve never met another person who has read these books. I don’t even remember where I got the copy of Tourist Trap that’s haunted the back of my bookshelf for over a decade. But it’s there, and I read it and re-read it faithfully as a kid, eager to follow the creepy twins Edgar and Ellen and their devilish doings. This is a six-book series about a pair of unsupervised and bratty children that live beside a junkyard in a small town and use their whimsical inventions to wreak havoc on their neighbors (especially the grown-ups). Aesthetically, these books are Tim Burton lite; ideal for young, curiously creepy minds.

8. How to Disappear Completely and Never be Found by Sara Nickerson

Remember a few paragraphs ago when I told you I can remember every book that inspired me to get into reading and writing? This book is one of them. I still consider this to be one of my favorite stories of ALL TIME. It has everything a budding horror fan could ask for – mystery, monsters, and creepy comics! The story follows Margaret and her quest to unravel a family mystery after her mother takes her to an abandoned mansion and says they’re going to sell it – and she’s not even allowed to peek inside. With help from the boy next door, Margaret investigates a charming small-town bookstore, handmade comic books about a half-man, half-rat, and the case of her disappeared dad. This story deals with heavier topics of depression and loss while remaining charming and humorous. There aren’t any jump scares, but some of the Rat Man comic illustrations live in my head rent free to this day.

7. The Ghosts of Mercy Manor by Betty Ren Wright

Another childhood favorite of mine and probably the origin of my obsession with ghost stories. There are over 30 of these paperbacks to choose from and they are all charming, spooky mysteries. Mercy Manor is my favorite one to recommend to young readers, probably because it’s a classic haunted house/ghost story where our protagonist, Gwen, must face her fears and help the ghosts reach their ultimate goal of peace on the ‘other side’. While the ghosts that appear in this book aren’t violently scary, Gwen faces other, more real haunts – she lost her parents, she’s been displaced to a creepy old house, and no one believes her when she admits to seeing ghosts. This would be a great introduction to any growing reader looking to talk to ghosts and solve a mystery. It’s also a great example of an independent young girl who faces her fears to do what’s morally right, despite the disbelief of those around her – a recurring theme in most of Wright’s books.

6. Something Upstairs by Avi

This one might bring back memories of assigned reading in English class. It’s a big part of my middle school memories because it’s set in Rhode Island and includes historical depictions of the 1700’s and, believe it or not, the Rhode Island Historical Society hosts The Avi Tour which walks guests through some of the locations mentioned in historic Providence. It also inspired me to write my first historical ghost “book” at 11 years old (the term book is used loosely here because it was only about 50 pages long and contained little to no plot, only vibes). This book is ranked higher on the scare-scale than the ones previously listed because, this time, the ghost is angry and vengeful and terrorizes our main character, Kenny. Kenny is new in town and already hates his new crummy New England house, so you can imagine his shock when Caleb, the very (and rightfully) upset ghost of a former slave, appears and demands his help. There’s time travel involved in an attempt to avenge Caleb’s death and, well… no spoilers. It’s certainly spooky and deals with some heavy historical concepts that stuck with me well after reading. And it’s been a long damn time since middle school.

5. Goosebumps by R.L. Stine

Rounding out our top 5 spooky reads for kids is the classic Goosebumps series, of course. This blog is basically an R.L. Stine fan site. There are 235 of these paperbacks to choose from, ranging from werewolves to scarecrows to ghosts and dummies (seriously, why are dummies so scary??). I consider these a must read for any budding horror fan. My favorite, one of the first ten Goosebumps books ever published, is The Ghost Next Door. Hannah meets the boy who moved in next door and slowly begins to suspect that he’s a ghost. This is sincerely one of my favorite books with a killer plot twist that’s sure to stun young and old readers alike. Some of these books are scarier than you might assume based on their colorful covers. The TV show (available on Netflix) is a faithful adaptation of the most popular stories and a great way to introduce kids to other forms of spooky media. A personal anecdote: we watched a Goosebumps movie at my birthday party every year for about a decade. We used to pile in the car and pick one out from Blockbuster. Yeah, I know. I’m old.

4. The House with a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs and illustrated by Edward Gorey

I didn’t discover this book until I was a teenager and in my “I only consume untraditional media” phase. Bellairs is widely regarded as a cooky author with a knack for strange storytelling, and this book does not disappoint. This tells the story of orphaned Lewis Barnavelt and his time living in a strange old house with his strange warlock uncle. This one ranks a little higher on the scare-scale because it deals with resurrection, black magic, and the impending end of the world. It’s delightfully creepy, even re-reading it as an adult. It’s great for young fans of mysteries, magic, and necromancy – and a ticking clock counting down to the magical destruction of the world as we know it. It’s also a great example of a young main character who makes catastrophic, apocalypse-ushering mistakes and has to face his fears to make it right. The 2018 film adaptation starred Jack Black and was surprisingly directed by Eli Roth (think Hostel, The Green Inferno) and was the first of his films not to be rated “R”.

3. Coraline by Neil Gaiman

This wouldn’t be a good list of scary books for kids if it didn’t include Coraline. Have you re-read this as an adult? It’s still scary as all Hell. It’s an unnerving tale of a girl named Coraline who finds another world (aptly named the Other World) behind a strange door. Things are perfectly lovely on the other side… until they’re not. Coraline must escape her murderous Other Mother and her plan to sew black buttons over Coraline’s eyes. It’s sort of an Alice in Wonderland plot on the surface, but the way this book is written will have you (or your child) on the edge of your seat. It’s full of creepy imagery, the impending danger of being in the Other World forever, ghosts of children who suffered the same fate and, my personal favorite, life-or-death riddles. It won a Bram Stoker award in 2002, so you know this story is sure to deliver. The 2009 film adaptation, directed by Henry Selick and produced in stunning stop-motion, is an absolute must-see. Some parenting blogs deem it too scary for children under 12 so… beware.

2. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King

I know what you’re thinking. “Allison, this list is for kids. Just because you read Stephen King way too young and still can’t walk past a sewage grate without looking for red balloons doesn’t mean you can recommend his books to kids.” Well, this one actually IS for kids. It was reviewed as a children’s book by Publisher’s Weekly and everything. The story follows young Trisha as she becomes lost in the woods during a family hike with few provisions, none more sacred than her Walkman that she uses to listen to the Red Sox game and her crush, star player Tom Gordon. It’s a truly terrifying tale told in hallucinations (or are they?) as Trisha loses her grip on reality. She is in the woods for days, facing a miriad of enemies (a wasp-faced entity she dubs ‘The God of the Lost’, being one) as she tries to get home, all the while listening to Tom Gordon and the baseball game. This was a staple in most Rhode Island classrooms (enough about New England already, I know I know). It’s a really scary read, hence it’s position near the top of the scare-scale, and would be great for kids or young teens interested in psychological thrills. And it serves as an age-appropriate entry into the vast world of Stephen King.

1. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell

You saw this one coming. You must have. These stories have haunted me since elementary school – the eerie rhymes, riddles and prose accompanied by the blood-chilling illustrations are absolute nightmare fuel, landing this 3 book series at the top of the scare-scale. Each story stems from established folklore and urban legends which makes them feel true – and infinitely scarier. They were the most challenged book series in school systems in the 1990’s and made the list again in 2012, citing disturbing and macabre subject matter, including but not limited to: murder, cannibalism, and disfigurement. They are truly a must-read for any budding horror fan who isn’t afraid of sleeping with the lights on afterward. I remember memorizing what pages to skip when re-reading so I could avoid nightmares as a kid (The Girl Who Stood on a Grave and The Bride come to mind). While they’re absolutely chilling and sure to terrify young readers, they’re also a whole lot of fun to read in the dark, under the covers with a flashlight, way after your mom told you to go to bed.

Well, what do you think of my list? Have you read any of these books? Do they still give you nightmares? Let me know in the comments below. Also, I feel obligated to address the Scary Stories 2019 film adaptation, even though I’d rather not. It’s a heap of wasted potential that might be worth a watch if you don’t mind an unfaithful adaptation of some of the best stories of the series. But, maybe I’m biased. Maybe I’m searching for the perfection of the Goosebumps adaptations that simply set the bar too high.

Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or not. Trick-or-treat, after all.

xo Allison

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