When I first heard about Grady Hendrix’s novel My Best Friend’s Exorcism, marketed as a cross between Heathers and The Exorcist, I just knew I had to read it. I love 80s nostalgia as much as the next person (since I am just barely a child of the 80s). I also love making fun of the 80s, what with the awful clothes and hair, the rampant and self-conscious conservatism, and the general tackiness.
And sure enough, My Best Friend’s Exorcism pays homage to this decade as much as it pokes fun at it. More than that though this novel is heartfelt and creepy, treading into the well-worn territory of fraught adolescent relationships. The result is a book whose nostalgia runs deeper than the pop culture references it deploys throughout.
*Mild spoilers for The Outsider*
Like any horror fan (and latchkey kid raised by TV), I love Stephen King. The prolific master of horror has done so much to entertain and terrify readers for over forty years. I’ll never forget what it was like to read Carrie for the first time or to tackle It, and his books have influenced much of my own storytelling. While not every King novel is a success, I learn something new from everyone I read. Accordingly, when I heard about his latest novel, The Outsider, I didn’t think twice about including it on my list of most anticipated horror novels of 2018 to eagerly await its publication. Continue reading
Sometime later this year, Netflix will release a television series adaptation of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, a horror comic that completely reimagines Sabrina Spellman of Archie Comics fame. It will star Kiernan Shipka (Mad Men, The Blackcoat’s Daughter) as the titular Sabrina. And much like the famous TGIF show Sabrina the Teenage Witch, this version of Sabrina will focus on her struggle to balance her witchy powers and duties with her yearning to belong with mortals. However, unlike the TGIF show, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina promises to be “worlds away” from the TGIF show and treat the story as “a dark coming-of-age story that traffics in horror, the occult and, of course, witchcraft.”
As a horror fan who firmly believes we need more witch stories, I could not be more stoked about this series. I love witches, almost as much as I love vampires. I love the recent witchy horrors, like American Horror Story: Coven, The Witch, A Dark Song, Hereditary. I love classics like Drag Me to Hell, The Witches, The Craft, Suspiria, Rosemary’s Baby, The Skeleton Key, and Black Sunday. The more witches, the better, as far as I’m concerned.
Recently I found the time to finally read one of my most anticipated novels of 2017, The 20 Days of Turin by Giorgio De Maria. This novel was hyped as a cult classic, a prime example of Italian weird fiction that had finally been given the treatment owed to a cult classic and translated into English. Reviews and publisher blurbs hailed it as a horrifying tale that, despite being published almost forty years ago, had proven just as timely and significant as ever.
With such endorsements, I didn’t really know what to expect, since I have never read any Italian weird fiction, and the closest thing to Italian horror I’ve read was Dante’s Inferno. But the synopsis was intriguing, the cover was creepy, and I thought, what the heck?
The 20 Days of Turin turned out to be more complicated than I had anticipated. It’s part Lovecraftian horror story, part political allegory, part mystery thriller, and part sublime nightmare. This novel is a very good example of the kind of horror that focuses less on jump scares and more on weaving an insidious scheme to ensnare its reader.
Ensnare me it did. The 20 Days of Turin didn’t scare me in a way that forced me to make sure my doors and windows were locked. But it burrowed its way under my skin, and I can’t stop thinking about it.
One of my personal favorite parts about Halloween is that my friends and family really like to get into the spooky spirit. I am always in a spooky mood, and it brings my cold black heart joy to see my loved ones come visit me over here on the dark side. They ask me for recommendations for movies, TV shows, and books, the latter of which I absolutely love to give since I am a huge lit nerd.
I’ve done this before in my Classic Spooky Read post from last Halloween. If you are interested in picking up am iconic horror masterpiece like Frankenstein, or Dracula, or The Haunting of Hill House, now is the perfect time! But if you want something newer, a little fresher and more contemporary, then you should check out my list of 12 modern horror novel favorites.
***Mild Spoilers for The Vegetarian***
A core component of any good horror story is the characters’ apprehension of harm. Most of the time, the dread manifests as physical pain or violent death. Other times there are more abstract, existential ways of experiencing harm—a terrifying realization of past sins, slowly slipping into insanity, or losing one’s soul to a demonic entity. While physical pain will always be a powerful part of any scary story, an existential threat grabs me in a way most other types of horror don’t, probably because I have more to lose from an existential threat.
A realization that shakes a person to his core is, well, horrifying. It’s terrifying. Take the ancient Greek tragedy Oedipus, who realized he had unwittingly killed his father and married his mother. Or The Orphanage, where protagonist Laura realized she was the one responsible for the slow death of her adopted son. Bodily harm is awful and painful, but an earth-shattering existential realization can destroy the very idea of who a person thinks she is.
It can be extremely psychologically tortuous to deal with something like that, to be confronted with our mistakes and the lies we tell ourselves. People go to great lengths to preserve the reality they wish to see, even at the expense of themselves and others.
It’s destructive on a profound level, even more so if I am responsible for the obliteration of my sense of self.
The idea of self-destruction, of an unsettling, dark urge to protect oneself, of refusal, of stubborn persistence, is what fascinated me about The Vegetarian. It’s a novel about confrontation, about purposeful “self-destruction.”
**Very Mild Spoilers for The Boy on the Bridge. Full discloser, I was given an advance copy of the novel by M.R. Carey’s publicist.**
In a horror subgenre that often feels like it’s overflowing with the same old stories, M.R. Carey has a knack for the original and inventive.
With his 2014 novel The Girl with All the Gifts, he explored how what’s left of humanity persists 20 years after a cataclysmic pathogen transforms the majority of the population into mindless, vicious zombies known as “hungries.” It was a novel heavy on scientific research and crafted tension, delivering a nightmarish and realistic vision of how an actual zombie pathogen might behave, how the world would evolve, and how fearful and selfish human beings would struggle in the aftermath. I found it a fascinating approach to the zombie apocalypse, a survival tale with all the expected strained group dynamics coupled with fascinating science and difficult ethical questions.
Continuing his mission of smart, well-researched, compelling zombie novels, Carey has just published his latest novel The Boy on the Bridge with Orbit. And let me tell you, if you liked The Girl with All the Gifts, you’ll really like The Boy on the Bridge.
September marks the 30th anniversary of IT, Stephen King’s infamous 1986 novel. IT sold a million copies in its first run and spent weeks on the bestseller lists. Like so many of King’s horrific tales, IT has broken past the confines of the own story, spreading chills and scares through our nation’s pop culture and terrorizing children and adults alike. People who have never read the book or seen the movie still know who Pennywise the Clown is.
Case in point: when I was a child, all the kids at school knew about the killer clown from the sewer who murdered children. We’d all seen that black book with the blood red letters sitting on a parent’s bookshelf, just out of reach. Some of us had even seen parts of the movie. Many of us had no idea what the actual story was; it didn’t stop us. We whispered and teased each other about Pennywise, and no one really wanted a clown at their birthday party. Such was the strength of that symbol.
***Spoiler Alert: mild spoilers for The Girl With All the Gifts***
Stagnation is one of the unfortunate things avid horror fans deal with. For such a rich, dynamic, and prolific genre, horror often trades in the same old stories. Sometimes I feel like I’m experiencing the same serial killer thriller, haunted house short story, or post-apocalyptic zombie movie again and again. I’ve noticed a cycle to subgenres’ popularity, where one well-made novel or movie captures hearts, minds, and nerves only to inspire a lot of not-as-good imitations. Knock-offs are churned out in record time, and in the rush to get the product out, creators sacrifice quality and imagination.
This isn’t always a “bad” choice, since there is a lot of money in producing cheap and gory horror movies. It happened with zombies, possessions, and found-footage horror movies. It happens with vampire novels. These works have entertainment value, but they aren’t groundbreaking and become uninteresting.
As a fan, this vicious cycle frustrates and bores me. Horror is such a flexible genre, with great potential for constant reinvention. I always enjoy horror that offers something different.
Thus, whenever a movie or novel comes along that breathes new life into a worn-out subgenre, I can’t help but take notice.
Enter The Girl With All the Gifts, M.R. Carey’s innovative 2014 zombie novel. In a subgenre rife with the same old survivor story, Carey wrote a compelling zombie narrative reexamining many of the assumptions of the genre. The result is a novel that offers a fresh perspective on many of the tried-and-true themes of the zombie genre, including survival at all costs, us vs. them mentalities, and what it would take to rebuild a shattered world.
I didn’t realize until fairly recently, but February is Women in Horror Month! February 2016 marks the 7th annual Women in Horror Month, or WiHM, which aims to “encourage supporters to learn about and showcase the underrepresented work of women in the horror industries.” Women in all parts of the horror genre are represented—female horror directors, female horror writers, female horror artists, and many more.
I love that this initiative exists! Why should boys have all the fun? Everyone can contribute to horror. It’s refreshing to see women who love horror come together to support each other. There are many talented individuals sharing in this genre, be it through fiction, film, comics, or art.