We are in the depths of Spooky Season. By now you've probably hunted the pumpkin patch for perfect carving pumpkins. You've surely hung up your frightful decorations, stocked up on Halloween candy for trick-or-treaters, and of course your October evening schedules are probably filled with Halloween movie marathons. But what about your reading lists? Are your weekends not all "booked up" with scary stories? Tsk tsk!
Now I love a good scary movie as much as the next ghoul. But what's all this about preferring the film to the book? Don't you know most books often inspire the films? Your favorite horror movies that you watch every October ( The Exorcist, The Shining, Rosemary's Baby, Carrie, Hellraiser, World War Z, The Ring, I Am Legend, etc.) were all born as books brought into this world by darkly imaginative writers.
Yes, yes, I know. Those are all classics of yesteryear but what of the horror movies of today, or the horror films that can't be matched with books that came before them? Well, that's where I come in, to provide some scary reading recommendations that carry similar vibes to more of your favorite scary movies. I’m sure some horror movie fans who prefer popcorn and film over tea and fiction are still wondering: "Could there really be a scary book out there for even me?” The answer is always yes and your Spooky Librarian is here to help even the most die-hard movie-only fans find some frightful fiction to satisfy their blood lust!
If you’re a lover of films like The Witch (2015) with all its religious themes, pagan folklore, mystery, and threats of witches cavorting with the devil deep in the woods, you’ll want to pick up Slewfoot by author and illustrator Brom.
Set in 1666, a young widow and an ancient pagan spirit form a bond and team up in a battle against puritanical oppression. If that sounds like your cup of brew, you absolutely need to read this! Dark fantasy merges with folk horror to create a masterpiece. Both dir. Robert Egger’s film and author Brom’s book have fantastic “good for her” vibes.
Dir. Ari Aster’s film Hereditary (2018)—a story in which a grieving woman discovers she knew very little about her late mother’s daily hobbies and the company she kept–is a dark and deeply disturbing horror experience that can roughly be paralleled with author Adam Nevill’s The Vessel.
In this novella we’re given the story of a single mother working as a caregiver for an elderly woman who suffers from dementia and dwells in a dark, brooding vicarage. Our protagonist, Jess, is juggling the weighty responsibility of working to provide for her daughter Izzy and also hoping to steer clear of her Ex who has recently been released from prison. However, caring for an elderly woman who chants strange words and is violent with her hands is nowhere near as discombobulating as learning that Jess’s young daughter seems to have formed an unlikely bond with the old woman.
Both the book and the film consist of narratives that are psychological, disorienting, and creepy, with a touch of Pagan folklore.
If you left the movie theater after experiencing Dir. Jordan Peele’s NOPE (2022) with your thirst for blood and suspense satiated and your love for an exhilarating wild west setting and compelling Black protagonists realized, you will devour author Victor LaValle’s Lone Women.
In this genre-bending page turner, the year is 1914 and Adelaide Henry is a 31 year old Black woman who’s left her family farm in California to homestead in Montana. The book opens with a shocking scene of destruction and our heroine is running from all she knows to escape her past. With her, she keeps an enormous trunk that she must guard at all times, because if opened, folks around her seem to go missing.
Both of these recommendations mix the western genre with horror seamlessly, are written by people of color, and center the Black experience.
If you were a fan of Dir. Zach Cregger’s Barbarian (2022), that means you’re a sucker for a suspenseful but steady plot that takes a sharp left into “what the hell?!” territory. It means you love horror stories that completely take you by surprise and leave your jaw on the floor as you ask yourself, “What…just….happened?!”
If you know this to be true about yourself, please check out We Need to Do Something by Max Booth III!
This novella is about a dysfunctional family that finds themselves trapped in the bathroom they’ve taken shelter in during a tornado warning. That’s all I’m going to reveal about the plot itself, similarly to how all of your friends refused to give you any details about Barbarian. You’ve got to go into the story as blind as possible.
What I will say is, seeing as the author wrote and published this novella while many people were on lockdown during the height of the COVID pandemic, the claustrophobia is what seized me first as the reader, followed by the isolation and anxiety. There are no chapter breaks, the pacing is fast, the scenario feels hopeless, and the escalation of terror experienced by this family will leave many readers feeling distress. Have fun!
Directed by Australian brothers Danny and Michael Philippou, Talk to Me (2023) has set itself up to be one of the scariest horror movies of 2023. The film is about a group of teenagers who get a hold of a mysterious embalmed hand of unknown origin and use it to get a “high” out of communicating and being possessed by the dead for exactly 90 seconds. As you can probably guess, it takes a dark turn.
If you love films that use horror to represent the dangers of addiction mixing with grief, you should probably give Ghost Eaters by Clay McLeod Chapman a try. Similarly to Talk to Me, the book is about a drug that allows people to see the dead.
If you love the invasive loss of control that comes with possession (…or ya know…maybe just stories ABOUT possession), then you were probably a fan of the newest edition to the Evil Dead franchise, Evil Dead Rise (2023). If that’s the case, you love terrifying plots where demonic possession spreads like a disease and is a threat to all mankind. Have I hit the nail on the head? Then definitely check out Boys in the Valley by Phillip Fracassi.
This story is set in the 20th century and a dark presence finds its way to a Catholic boys’ orphanage where the innocent succumb to an ancient evil one by one. If a shudder goes down your spine when you hear the words “ancient evil”, you’ll absolutely LOVE this book.
If you love the vibrant, gory, pulpy, bloody horror flicks of the 80's, more specifically a film like The Blob (1988), you'll wanna check out Lor Gislason's Inside Out. In this novella, Gislason delivers a graphic, multi-perspective, apocalyptic story of a contagion that causes human flesh to melt, merge, and mutate. Each chapter is it's own stomach-churning short story with different characters witnessing or falling victim to "The Pile" of eyes, limbs, blood, and flesh that is gradually overwhelming the world.
If you're a lover of classics likes John Carpenter's Halloween (1978), you'll become an instant Grady Hendrix fan with The Final Girl Support Group. It follows a group of women survivors who've become regulars in the so-called Final Girl Support Group 22 years after their escapes from death. They attend meetings for solidarity and therapy. But when one of the women misses a meeting, our protagonist Lynette starts to suspect their secret safe-space has been compromised, the ladies are all targets, and someone wants them all dead.
Rejoice, patrons! You're now officially all set for a spooky October with these scary movie readalikes! Want more? Don't hesitate to reach out through the Book Squad portal to request more spooky reading recommendations! May you have a frightful All Hallows Read!
-Christina James is a Readers' Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.