Ever wonder what books scare your favorite horror authors?
What makes a Wildman like Joe Lansdale shiver? What pushes Kathe Koja to the brink? What makes a man like Ronald Malfi really tick?
We’ve got all of those answers for you, as we’ve taken our time to chat with 18 of our absolute favorite horror authors about the books that leave them sleeping with one eye open. Some of these selections may surprise you, while some will have you perusing Amazon in search of something new and promising.
Either way, it’s time to learn just a little bit of additional 411 about some of the greatest authors alive today!
Tim Waggoner (author of Nekropolis, The Winter Box)
THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES by John Keel! It ends with this chilling quote: “If there is a universal mind, must it be sane?”
Ramsey Campbell (author of The Wolf Man, Secret Stories)
In some ways that Beckett novel L’INNOMABLE, in terms of sheer claustrophobic panic. But one recent book that certainly got to me – didn’t quite give me nightmares, but was waiting in the dark whenever I awoke – was Steve King’s REVIVAL. I argued in my introduction to PET SEMATARY that despite his feelings about it, that book isn’t devoid of hope, since we get the sense that it’s meddling with the afterlife that has caused the horrors. In REVIVAL, though, they’re utterly inescapable and await every one of us.
Kathe Koja (author of Kink, Bad Brains)
Shirley Jacksons’s Haunting of Hill House.
Lee McGeorge (author of Slenderman, Slenderman, Take this Child, The Thing: Zero Day)
Clive Barker’s The Damnation Game gave me nightmares as a kid. The opening scenes of a man walking through a landscape of war-rubble in search of a card game he couldn’t win have always stuck with me.
There’s an aged pulp horror from 1978 called The Devils of D-Day by Graham Masterton. The story involves the allies welding some demons in tanks and using them to win WWII. Thirty years later some guy lets one of these demons out and ends up with an old sack full of bones belonging to The Demon of Sharp Objects. The story is cheesy pulp, but the thing in the bag is such a little bastard he started to get under my skin.
Authors aren’t immune to their own work and Vampire “Unseen”, a book I wrote, bothers me more than any other. It’s something unrelentingly horrible that came from my own subconscious and I’ve often questioned what the hell was going on inside my head. I must have been eating too much cheese before bedtime because some of the ideas are way too dark. I thought of the lead character as my alter-ego and it was fun to fantasize about being the villain… But in the writing the character would go off script and do very bad things in a very real way. I discovered that my fantasy-psychopath is a stronger force than my rational-self. It really put the fear into me.
In direct answer to your question. My #1 scary book is The Damnation Game.
Joe R. Lansdale (author of Incident On and Off a Mountain Road, Bubba Ho-Tep)
Haunting of Hill House, Dracula, Silence of The Lambs, The Shining, Salem’s Lot. For me it would really be short stories.
Brian Keene (author of The Rising, The Ghoul)
Story: “Sticks” by Karl Edward Wagner. Novel: The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson & The Stand by Stephen King.
Ronald Malfi (author of Floating Staircase, Little Girls)
Hunter Shea (author of The Montauk Monster, Hell Hole)
I remember Bentley Little’s THE HOUSE really creeped me out. So did his THE RESORT. Love that guy.
Jonathan Janz (author of The Sorrows, Children of the Dark)
I think the scariest books I’ve read are Peter Straub’s GHOST STORY; Stephen King’s ‘SALEM’S LOT, PET SEMATARY, IT, and THE STAND; THE EXORCIST and LEGION by William Peter Blatty; THE ELEMENTALS by Michael McDowell; HELL HOUSE by Richard Matheson; DARK GODS by T.E.D. Klein; the short stories of M.R. James and Edgar Allan Poe; THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE by Shirley Jackson; and LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding. Of course, this list will change tomorrow, but for tonight, that’ll do.
Graham Masterton (author of The Manitou, Ghost Music)
I was talking about this yesterday by coincidence with a young woman writer I know, and we agreed that we have never been scared by a book. So, regretfully, I have nothing to add to your list.
Benedict Ashforth (author of Abbot’s Keep: A Ghost Story, Verona: A Ghost Story)
https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=jonathan+aycliffe&source=lnms&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiP2-aY5JHMAhWJbRQKHUfFCyMQ_AUIBA#imgrc=iQee9R48SZFBXM%3A (we’re going to take this to mean that Denis MacEoin scares the crap out of Benedict Ashforth!)
And also Dark Matter by Michelle Paver. And also the extraordinary, The Girl on the Landing by Paul Torday. And also, The Secret History, Donna Tartt.
Kealan Patrick Burke (author of Sour Candy, Kin)
The scariest book I’ve read would be BLOOD MERIDIAN by Cormac McCarthy, which may seem an unusual choice, but everything about that book got under my skin. It’s grim, nihilistic, depressing, bleak, and ultra-violent. But that alone wouldn’t be enough for me to rank it as the scariest. What elevates it to that status for me is the ending, which gave me nightmares. I think of that ending often and it never fails to chill me. It’s bizarre, unexpected, and thoroughly terrifying. In the space of a paragraph, McCarthy frightened me more than complete novels by other writers. Even as I write this, the hair is standing up on the back of my neck. I can’t honestly think of another book that had quite that effect on me.
Paul Tremblay (author of A Head Full of Ghosts, The Little Sleep)
When I was 18 I was home for the summer recovering from back surgery. I couldn’t do much of anything while I was convalescing and I picked up Stephen King’s IT. I read the first chapter and threw the book across the room. I wasn’t going to be stuck in the house alone all summer and be totally scared out of my mind. I finally read the entire novel 5 years later in much safer settings.
More recently, Nathan Ballingrud’s novella The Visible Filth really got under my skin. So disturbing and creepy.
Eric Red (author of Don’t Stand So Close, The Guns Of Santa Sangre; director of Bad Moon, 100 Feet)
BLOOD MERIDIAN by Cormack McCarthy and LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN and THE ROOM by Hubert Selby Jr. are three that come to mind.
Robert Dunbar (author of The Pines, The Streets)
Scariest? Tough call. The Bible maybe? You know I’m not going to say THE STAND, right? (Please be nodding.) Let me think. Rene Crevel’s “Difficult Death” has to be a contender — the amount of sheer dread in that book! And Dennis Cooper’s “Closer” deserves serious consideration. That novel profoundly unnerved me. Even the hero, the one trying to save the other boy from the serial killers, seems to be some sort of sociopath … and it’s all so casually presented, as though this were the new normal. (Perhaps it is.) No, wait, I’ve got it. The flat-out most terrifying book I’ve ever read is “Narrow Rooms” by the brilliant James Purdy. It gave me nightmares. For months. The madness it evokes infects you. That book should come with rubber gloves and a surgical mask.
Alison Littlewood (author of A Cold Season, The Unquiet House)
The Road by Cormac McCarthy isn’t overtly a horror novel, but it’s at once one of the most terrifying and yet exquisitely beautiful books I’ve read. Its subject matter is so closely related to ever-present environmental concerns that the loss of everything we once enjoyed on this planet hits home even harder. A father and his son are travelling across a post-apocalyptic America which has been ravaged by some unknown event. And it seems right that we don’t know – our own fears posit different possibilities – and the characters are ordinary folk who wouldn’t necessarily know what happened either.
It’s a world that’s grey and dead and turned to ash: the brief memories of a fish swimming in a clear pool or a bird swooping for its prey become heart-breaking in comparison with the emptiness that’s left behind. The few human survivors are reduced to scavenging on remnants of the abundance we once enjoyed, such as the occasional forgotten tin of food that’s long past its use-by date, or of course falling upon and consuming each other. There are many dangers to be negotiated along the journey, but the love the father and son have for each other is almost the most painful thing of all, for this is a novel about loss, and we can see the erosion of humanity taking place all around them in the scrabble for survival. It’s bleak, but told in the most gorgeous and almost hypnotic prose; it’s one of the few books I finished and then turned straight back to the first page and started again.
Jonathan Maberry (author of Rot & Ruin, Ghost Road Blues)
The Haunting by Shirley Jackson has always been my gold standard for a genuinely frightening book.
Brian Moreland (author of Dead of Winter, The Witching House)
I’d say Peter Straub’s Ghost Story.