For me, there’s nothing better than a good horror story. Horror is a genre with a terrific literary history, with humanity telling stories to terrify since its inception. I’ve sought out and read my share of great horror. Here are a few that left me sleeping with the lights on.

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1)The Terror

Year
2007

Author
Dan Simmons

Summary

The Terror is a historical fiction, horror novel that presents an alternate account of what happened to Captain Sir John Franklin’s lost Arctic expedition to fully chart the Northwest Passage with the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror from 1845-1848. When the ships become locked in ice, the crews must fight against the natural elements of the Arctic Circle for survival until they can figure out a way to get home. As if the dwindling supplies or the constant threat of the unforgiving Arctic weather wasn’t bad enough, a horrific creature of unknown origins stalks them in the stark fields of ice. It’s only a matter of time until there is no one left to save.

Notes

This was a novel that took some time for me to get into. The story is told in a nonlinear fashion, the opening moments of the novel beginning somewhere in the middle of the plot. From there, it begins to fill in some of the character back story and information on the expedition itself. This section of the book was a bit dry for my taste, but it is a necessity. Once the plot is brought back into the Arctic, I started getting more invested in the story. Dan Simmons does a great job of conveying the bleakness of the situation and I felt a real weight on my own shoulders from the sheer impossibility of the crews’ odds through his words.

Many of his characters are based on the real people who had set sail on those ships. It’s a fact that was not lost on me. Although his novel is most certainly a work of fiction, many of the obstacles the crews’ face were elements that their real life counterparts surely battled. Melancholy and fascination drove me to read further.

I’ve always had a fascination with the past so this book was right up my alley. Period pieces are something of a rarity in all of horror’s media forms and I believe this is an exceptional one. Throw in a monster that sees its roots in Inuit culture and you have a recipe for greatness. AMC seems to agree with me because they’ve ordered a television adaptation for their channel, seeking to capitalize on the popularity of their other horror based show, The Walking Dead.

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2)Necroscope

Year
1986

Author
Brian Lumley

Summary

Harry Keogh is the necroscope, someone who can speak and befriend the dead. It is he they tell all their secrets to, giving him access to their vast library of knowledge lost to the sands of time. Boris Dragosani, on the other hand, is a necromancer under the employ of the Soviet Union. Unlike Harry, he tears the secrets from the dead, exacting a kind of torture on his victim’s souls. He’s found himself a monstrous benefactor in the form of a long buried vampire, whose terrible will is still active in undeath.Harry, along with Britain’s paranormal espionage branch, must face the ultimate evil in a tale of fantasy, horror, and espionage.

Notes

Necroscope is one of those books my dad handed me in the throes of adolescence. He didn’t give me much choice on the matter, citing it as required reading. The stunning artwork of the cover was enough to get me interested, but admittedly, I did not have the passion for horror back then that I do now. I’m glad my father introduced me to the series as my love for Lumley’s books holds an enduring place in my heart. From what I’ve read of the series (maybe the first four or five books?), the original continues to be my favorite, though the subsequent novels broadened the scope of Lumley’s world in an effective manner  and took the series down a road I would not have been able to predict from the first book.

If you have an affinity for monstrous blood suckers of the night and believe vampires should be the epitome of nightmares, then Necroscope is required reading as my father once so bluntly put it those years ago. Lumley’s world has wormed its way into various types of media, inspiring everything from music to comic books alike. One reason his vampire has been so enduring is the way he made the creature his own. He plays with the widely accepted vampire rules set forth by Bram Stoker and creates something far more amorphous and menacing.

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3)The Exorcist

Year
1971

Author
William Peter Blatty

Summary

The innocent daughter of a famous Hollywood actress finds herself the subject of a demonic possession. Two priests are called upon in this family’s time of need to perform the dangerous task of exorcising the demon.

Notes

The Exorcist film adaptation is highly regarded as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, horror films ever made. I do not disagree with this sentiment, but Blatty’s novel is bone chilling. Even as I type, a cold creeping feeling has sat atop my shoulders, moved up the back of my neck, and nestled its way to the base of my skull. Some people will say that for possession stories to be effective, faith must be a precursor for its audience. While I was raised as Presbyterian, I take a much more agnostic approach to religion in my adulthood (much to the chagrin of my family, but it’s worst for my brother cause he’s an atheist). You don’t have to believe in God or Satan to find this book scary, only a sense of compassion.

There’s something about imagining all the horrible things happening to this little girl rather than watching. I thought that scenes from the movie would pop into my head instantly, but I found this was not the case. Here my panache for leaving my imagination unfettered triggered visceral reactions from my mind’s eye. Once more, Blatty fills the page with the thoughts of his characters and I found their fear reflecting my own in equal parts. A chilling story, through and through from an author we only just recently lost. His work has endured for a reason and will continue to do so as new generations of horror fans discover it for themselves.