Please scare me.
March 31, 2009 9:35 PM   Subscribe

I want a book that I have to put into the freezer. I've read this question, which was looking for thrillers, and this post looking for short stories, but I can't seem to find a thread looking for scary, engrossing novels where supernatural is okay.

I read The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova a few months ago and was positively enchanted with it. Not only was it creepy as hell, the descriptions were so well-drawn that I felt like I was there and ended up buying Bulgarian folk music on iTunes and looking up pictures of the locations for days after. Similarly, Scott Smith's The Ruins also really stuck with me and put me in a pensive mood for a couple of days after reading - it was just so, so awful, what happened. I want more books like these.

Things I've read (most of it recently): everything by Stephen King, Matheson's I Am Legend and Hell House, Straub's Floating Dragon and Julia, everything by Ellis except for Lunar Park, House of Leaves, Relic, Joe Hill's short stories and Heart Shaped Box, Sebastian Fitzek's Therapy, all Thomas Harris, Barker's Sacrament, all Shirley Jackson, and The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons.

Honestly, I liked The Historian and The Ruins so very much that I've been avoiding reading anything since then because I feel it will be hard to find anything to measure up! Heart-Shaped Box was close, but not dark enough; Therapy was dark, but went by too fast; The House Next Door was great but I thought it was more sad than scary. Help?
posted by Addlepated to Media & Arts (31 answers total) 74 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Jeff Long's The Descent was pretty damn creepy and good. I've also heard positive noises made about his Year Zero.

People are going to say Let The Right One In but I have to say, don't listen to them as it's a decent enough read but not the slightest bit scary. Evocative would be the highest compliment I could manage to pay it. House Of Leaves is okay for a bit but then becomes annoying.

You could do worse than dipping into the work of H.P. Lovecraft and, to a much much lesser extent, the somewhat overrated Thomas Ligotti.
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:42 PM on March 31, 2009

Would you consider a fictional story about the book of Revelations? The entire Left Behind series written by Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins are gripping from page 1. Not horror books, but lots of horror in them. They have a little bit of everything in them...horror, suspense, action, romance, cliff hanger endings. They are so well written, that once you start reading them you can't put them down. If you believe anything in the bible, then I guarantee you will scared. Even if you don't, you will still be scared!
posted by kittieJen at 9:57 PM on March 31, 2009

Best answer: Dan Simmons' The Terror isn't high art, but it's plenty entertaining.
posted by liet at 10:06 PM on March 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't know I'd really call the works of Tim Powers scary, but they certainly have lots of supernatural stuff in them. You might enjoy his Declare.
posted by kindall at 10:10 PM on March 31, 2009

I have to disagree with turgid dahlia, House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski will keep you up at night, challenge your ability to sleep and make you seek out people you love. It is also a great example of "post modern" story telling. Make sure you get a copy with the colored text.

Makes me shiver just to think about it! It is long, convoluted and multi-threaded...but then I love a LOOONG book.
posted by Fuzzy Dog at 10:13 PM on March 31, 2009

Best answer: I feel as you do about The Ruins -- the last book I read that offers the same kind of "it's so awful" feeling was We're In Trouble, by Christopher Coake. Not at all supernatural, but the only writer who seems to understand (in the same way that e.g. Stephen King does) what's really awful.
posted by escabeche at 10:15 PM on March 31, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks guys - Turgid dahlia, The Descent looks fascinating, and I just zapped it to my iPhone! KittieJen, I read the series and they started out okay, but got more ridiculous as time went on. If you liked them I have a recommendation for you - try The Christ Clone trilogy by James BeauSeigneur.

I got a sample of The Terror to read and check out. We're In Trouble looks interesting and I put it in my queue.

House of Leaves - BTDT, thought it was pretty good (Whalestoe, too). I know it's a love-it-or-hate-it kinda thing, but it's already on my Have Read list.

I know there must be many more out there!
posted by Addlepated at 10:37 PM on March 31, 2009

Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's From Hell? There's a few pages I'd really rather not read again.
posted by lemuria at 10:48 PM on March 31, 2009

Best answer: I'm currently 2/3rds of the way through John Ajvide Lindqvist's Let the Right One In, and I have not been able to put it down. It's disturbing, creepy, tragic and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. Nor have I been able to look at the subject of vampires the same way since first cracking it open. Urgh.
posted by katillathehun at 11:01 PM on March 31, 2009

Best answer: Have you read Dracula yet? I read it just after reading The Historian. I hate the ending, but believe me, most of the book is just as creep-tacular as The Historian (especially Jonathan Harker's journals from Dracula's castle!).
posted by Dukat at 12:09 AM on April 1, 2009

Best answer: (I feel like maybe I've been talking up this one too often on Mefi, but what can I say, it was pretty good.)

Anyway, the book is Night Work by Thomas Glavinic. It's about a man, Jonas, who wakes up one day in Vienna to find that everyone on Earth has inexplicably disappeared. Not died, or fled, but simply vanished into thin air.

It's an impossible situation, and as he roams Europe looking for others he becomes increasingly unstable. Like anyone, he becomes paranoid and suspicious of the world -- he feels as if he's being watched, as though there's some terrible presence lurking just outside his awareness. He tries to push away these fears by recreating his childhood home and searching desperately for his girlfriend, but as time goes on they continue to intrude on him.

I don't want to give away more than is necessary, but before long his fears become tangible in bizarre and disturbing ways. It's an excellent piece of psychological horror, in the most literal sense. And despite being translated into English from German, it is compulsively readable, and recounts the protagonist's journey in a lucid, matter-of-fact tone that is almost cinematic. That may sound dull, but it is very effective when the creepier parts of the book unfold -- it gives them a much more visceral impact.

You can preview the book here; you can't read the whole thing, but you can get a good sense of its style and tone.

kittieJen: "Would you consider a fictional story about the book of Revelations? The entire Left Behind series written by Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins are gripping from page 1."

I'm going to have to disagree with this. The whole series is a waste of time. To illustrate this, there was a blog that was posted to the blue a few months ago. The author makes regular posts about the crappy writing and frequent plot holes in the LB novels as he reads them.

He's been running the blog for five years, and only just recently finished the first book.
posted by Rhaomi at 1:05 AM on April 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: *favourites*

You say "supernatural is okay" - does that mean it's a must? because if not, I have to recommend Requiem for an Angel (The Roth Trilogy) by Andrew Taylor, because it's gothically scary and I could not put it down.

I thought Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell was engrossing, and definitely very creepy, in a folk-talesy way that may appeal to you considering you liked The Historian (which was too scary for me, I couldn't finish it!).

And if graphic novels are okay, the Neil Gaiman's Sandman series. Seconding From Hell too.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:36 AM on April 1, 2009

Best answer: Me, I'm a zombie kind of guy. I recently picked up a short story collection called The Living Dead, and have to say it's pretty damn amazing what creative writers can do with the genre.

And when I say "pretty damn amazing" I also mean "pretty damn creepy".
posted by willmize at 5:43 AM on April 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Blatty's "The Exorcist" and "Legion" are incredibly intelligent and creepy as hell. Even if you've seen either movie, they're still absorbing.
posted by crush-onastick at 5:57 AM on April 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Have you already covered the classics, like Poe and Lovecraft?
posted by electroboy at 6:38 AM on April 1, 2009

I thought "Frankenstien" was very, very creepy.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:06 AM on April 1, 2009

It's a graphic novel, but I've been reading The Walking Dead lately, and it's relentless and unnerving. There are currently 10 volumes in paperback, and hardbound editions that collect pairs of volumes.

It starts off with a lot of zombie-movie-cliche plot points, but if you stick with it past the first couple volumes, it really comes into its own.
posted by mkultra at 7:12 AM on April 1, 2009

Best answer: I second Tim Powers, and recommend "The Anubis Gates" as being pretty creepy. "The Stress of Her Regard" is also pretty fun, with the Romantic Poets fighting, basically, vampires.

Also, Graham Masterton can be hit or miss, but I highly recommend "Spirit" by that author. I've also recently enjoyed Mike Carey's "The Devil You Know", Caitlin Kiernan's "Murder of Angels", and Robert McCammon's "Boy's Life" as well as his "Speaks the Nightbird."
posted by OolooKitty at 7:52 AM on April 1, 2009

Best answer: After I read The Ruins, I posted a similar query, and the best recommendations for me personally were The Hole by Guy Burt and, as already mentioned, The Terror (which I'm reading now, finally) by Dan Simmons.

If you read The Hole, you MUST read every word of the book. I'm not kidding; otherwise, you will go away with a completely different view than someone who HAS read every word. And that's all I can say without giving anything important away.
posted by misha at 8:02 AM on April 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Peter Straub's Ghost Story is an excellent creepy book, well worth reading. Also, Dan Simmons' earlier works, especially Summer of Night or Carrion Comfort, (if you can find it), are great. And for flat out creepy, nothing beats Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the castle.
posted by rtimmel at 9:34 AM on April 1, 2009

Seconding Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons.

Even got myself a first edition because I liked it so much.
posted by JaredSeth at 9:42 AM on April 1, 2009

Response by poster: I've read most of the classics, like Frankenstein and Poe (cut my teeth on Poe - perhaps that's my problem!). I haven't read Dracula, though. It's now on the list.

As for Lovecraft, I'm embarrassed to admit that I've tried and tried to read him, but just can't get into that florid writing style. I had the same problem with anything by Tolkien except The Hobbit. Tsk.

A couple of recommendations for From Hell, so that's interesting. I've never read a graphic novel, so maybe I'll give that a shot.

Many of the others I've bought or queued. Please keep 'em coming!
posted by Addlepated at 10:20 AM on April 1, 2009

Best answer: I almost hesitate to recommend Jack Ketchum to you, but absolutely no one comes close to the amount of terror that man can evoke. If you dare, start with Off Season, and if you think you can handle more read The Girl Next Door. But please take note: horrible, horrible things happen in those books.
posted by Bookhouse at 10:24 AM on April 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Midnight Sun by Ramsey Campbell is a book that you will probably not be able to put into the freezer, you'll probably throw it in the oven instead.
posted by Kattullus at 4:06 PM on April 1, 2009

They are so well written

I don't know how much you've read, but seriously, the Left Behind books are not "well written." They're atrociously bad, with cardboard characters and the most simplistic style imaginable. If you want a good laugh, try the final armageddon scene, with a giant-sized Christ trodding over a corpse-strewn landscape, blood-drenched to his knees as horses and people explode all around him. It's one of the most hilariously awful things I've ever read - about as far from real horror as it's possible to get.
posted by mediareport at 7:40 PM on April 1, 2009

Best answer: Yeah, Lovecraft can be like that. He's fantastic at creating a really creepy immersive experience, but the climax can be a little "OMG ITS COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE".

I recall Raold Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories to be pretty creepy, although it's been awhile since I've reread.
posted by electroboy at 9:04 AM on April 2, 2009

Best answer: Also Robert McCammon's Swan Song and Mine.
posted by maggieb at 9:24 AM on April 2, 2009

Night Work by Thomas Glavinic.
posted by Alex Voyd at 8:54 PM on April 2, 2009

"Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron", by Daniel Clowes
posted by krilli at 8:13 AM on April 3, 2009

Best answer: I love horror, but I don't know that anything has scared me in ages other than Blood Meridian and The Road, neither of which are horror novels. (Ketchum's The Girl Next Door, noted above -- the partial subject of the very first post made to MetaFilter by a gentleman and scholar I hold in, frankly, somewhat exaggerated esteem -- isn't really a horror novel, either, and is unlikely to scare you, as such. It is, however, very likely to bum you out for days and make you walk around looking like you just saw a dumptruck run over a baby. Caution is advised.)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:33 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I currently slowly making my way through a collection of MR James stories between novels. They were written before the horror genre as we know it today got going but the best are exceptionally creepy. But YMMV because they are very much tied into the English countryside.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:05 PM on April 6, 2009

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