Creep me out, literally
July 21, 2008 7:31 AM   Subscribe

Recommend some books/collections of short stories or even poetry I would like if I am looking for some disturbing reads. I mean the kind of horror/thriller/sci-fi/fantasy/creepy stories that stick in your head for days after you read them causing you to think about them over and over or leave you too scared to turn off your bedroom lights and go to sleep.

I really like stuff by Shirley Jackson, Neil Gaiman, Robert McCammon etc. Lately I have been really enjoying stuff by Joe Hill and Darren Shan. Joe Hill's endings to his short stories leaves a bit to be desired at times but I enjoy his writing style for the most part. Something along the lines of "House of Leaves" type creepy would be good.

Please no Stephen King or Dean Koontz recs. I've read all that stuff.
Looking for more obscure/independant less NYT bestsellers stuff.

I like really, really disturbing, creepy stuff. Especially a good story that leaves you scared to turn out the lights and go to bed. :)
Poetry in this genre is especially appreciated. But I really need more books to read.
I've already looked here and have read most of those books recommended there. Thanks
posted by nougat to Media & Arts (49 answers total) 72 users marked this as a favorite
House of Leaves was pretty creepy, particularly the Whalestoe Letters section.
posted by cog_nate at 7:37 AM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy.
posted by saladin at 7:38 AM on July 21, 2008

Iain Banks's The Wasp Factory contains some imagery that will stay with you for a long time. Especially that one section. If you've read it, you know which one.
posted by jontyjago at 7:38 AM on July 21, 2008

Anything by Chuck Palahniuk. Seriously disturbing books. My favorite is probably Survivor.
posted by dblslash at 7:39 AM on July 21, 2008

Also, The Turn of the Screw.
posted by cog_nate at 7:39 AM on July 21, 2008

From Hell is one of the scariest, most gripping things I've ever read. I literally found myself terrified of turning the page to see the villain's face... and yet I was compelled to.

J.G. Ballard short story collections can be hit or miss, but when they hit they hit.
posted by infinitewindow at 7:42 AM on July 21, 2008

Kelly Link! Either her first short story collection, "Stranger Things Happen" (available here as a free download thru Creative Commons) or her second, "Magic for Beginners" (amazon).
posted by nkknkk at 7:43 AM on July 21, 2008

Clive Barker's Books of Blood contain some stunning short stories. Just pretend the various film adaptations never happened. His novels Cabal and The Damnation Game are good straight(ish) horror. Later works tend to move more into dark fantasy, but I'd still highly recommend Weaveworld and Imajica.
posted by Bodd at 7:45 AM on July 21, 2008

2nd House of Leaves.
posted by malaprohibita at 7:49 AM on July 21, 2008

[Cross-posted from this recent question which may have other good answers for you:]

What kind of mother would The Exorcist's Regan have become?

Justin Evans' brilliant new A Good and Happy Child is terrifying not so much in its imagery or its prose (which are elegant, creepy, and effective), but because we know its narrator - a new father irrationally afraid of handling his infant son - will not be understood or believed as he remembers and writes out for us (and his therapist) the events of his own childhood.

I don't want to say more about it, but it's exactly what you're looking for - and just out in paperback!
posted by nicwolff at 7:53 AM on July 21, 2008

Super creepy plus grotesque: Lucy Taylor's Unnatural Acts.
posted by RedEmma at 8:14 AM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Geoff Ryman's Was, which adds a whole lot of creepy to The Wizard of Oz on a number of levels.
posted by gnomeloaf at 8:22 AM on July 21, 2008

I just finished The Female of the Species: Tales of Mystery and Suspense by Joyce Carol Oates, I think it's exactly what you're looking for- scary as hell, but literary and thoughtful at the same time.

Several of the short stories in the latest issue (27) of Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern are also pretty damn scary, especially Classical Scenes of Farewell by Jim Shepard. The same issue also includes a Stephen King story that I don't think has been published anywhere else, but it's definitely not one of his best (It's just a re-write of The Shawshank Redemption, but instead of literally crawling through shit to escape an actual prison, the protagonist literally crawls through shit to escape the mental and emotional prison he's built for himself. Deep!). All the other stories in the issue, scary and not-so-scary, are really good and definitely worth a read.
posted by cilantro at 8:26 AM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Super obvious, but nobody's brought it u (including the asker) so:

H.P. Lovecraft.
posted by signal at 8:27 AM on July 21, 2008

According to my husband, Dan Simmons' Song of Kali fits the bill. (I've not read it)
posted by leahwrenn at 8:33 AM on July 21, 2008

Harlan Ellison is your man!!! "I have no mouth and I must scream" and "a boy and his dog" both are great short stories that definitely meet your criteria. Bonus points for getting the self narrated audio book because he does an amazing job of getting into the reading and matching the action with the dialog.
posted by Large Marge at 8:33 AM on July 21, 2008

I'm in the Middle of the Night's Dawn trilogy, by Peter F. Hamilton. It's three novels (usually available split into two volumes each, for six total volumes). I'm right near the exact middle of it all, and so far thoroughly impressed. It's very creepy indeed, and very good writing. Almost every aspect of it is superb. The plot is superb. The climax builds perfectly, with plenty happening all the time to keep you interested if you don't like slow moving stories, but still not contantly going at an ADD pace, so you're always wondering what will happen next. If you're more into characters, that aspect is excellent too. There are several central characters that the author spends plenty of time developing, letting you really get to know them, and a supporting cast of dozens of other characters that are all also very interesting. The prose style is very good too, in my opinion. It's all just really good. A few of the subplots are a bit on the cheesy side, I must admit, but they're still pretty good. Probably a calculated decision by the author to try to have something for everyone.

It's excellent if you're into space opera, epic, or like you, creepy stuff. Again, as far as the aspects unique to sci-fi, it has something for everyone, and you'll find yourself liking the aspects that you wouldn't normally. It has a supernatural bent, but also is really good at creating a really imaginitive, fantastic future with some hard sci-fi focus on plausibility.

The central conflict of the story is the supernatural, creepy part. It is really engrossing. It's philosophically interesting. And the action surrounding it is stupendous, and stupefying. At the end of the first novel (or the first two volumes), I was left just.... aghast, but eager to read the rest. It's completely disturbing, in a good way of course.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 8:37 AM on July 21, 2008

nthing Turn of the Screw. One of the scariest novels ever.

Short stories:
The Withered Arm by Thomas Hardy
Silent Snow, Secret Snow by Conrad Aiken
The Monkey's Paw by W.W. Jacobs (you've probably read this one already)
A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner

Sherlock Holmes:
Adventure of the Dancing Men and The Adventure of the Devil's Foot are seriously disturbing.
posted by MaddyRex at 8:38 AM on July 21, 2008

M.R. James' Casting the Runes and Other Ghost Stories.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:43 AM on July 21, 2008

Seconded Dan Simmons and Harlan Ellison. Check out Summer of Night by the former and Deathbird Stories (a short story collection) by the latter.
posted by Caduceus at 8:45 AM on July 21, 2008

Thomas Ligotti.
posted by misteraitch at 8:55 AM on July 21, 2008

The Church of Dead Girls by Stephen Dobyns.

The short story Sticks by Karl Edward Wagner. It was anthologized in a 1990 Cthulhu Mythos collection and also an Arbor House horror collection I can't think of the name of to save my life. A really fine story, never have been able to forget it.

There was also an anthology called Book of the Dead that came out in the mid to late 1980's. Published by one of the specialty horror presses like Dark Harvest. I think it was edited by Poppy Z. Brite. I can't find it on Amazon or anywhere. There was some pretty disturbing stuff in there. I have a copy at home, if I think of it I'll post details tonight.
posted by marxchivist at 9:01 AM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

2nd MR James

For a zombie book, World War Z is very good and has several great creep-out moments

I've heard good things about The Woman In Black, I've not got around to reading it but it's on my too read list (the stage play is supposed to be even better)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:49 AM on July 21, 2008

Seconding the Wasp Factory and the Night's Dawn Trilogy. Also suggest Iain M Banks "Use of Weapons" for a more sci-fi slant. Lots fo Banks books have disturbing aspects, "Consider Phlebas" is good too.
posted by Joh at 9:49 AM on July 21, 2008

It's way too long, but Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke has the potential to be very disturbing when you think about it. Magic is presented not as a fun little flash ala Harry Potter, but as a deeply powerful, barely controllable, incredibly destructive force. And the book has one of my favorite villains in all recent literature.
posted by Doctor Suarez at 9:57 AM on July 21, 2008

Harlan Ellison is king. And he knows it.
posted by Spyder's Game at 9:58 AM on July 21, 2008

John Shirley's written some wonderfully disturbing short stories. I'd recommend his collection, Black Butterflies, which is loosely split between disturbingly gritty stories and creepy supernatural stories. His novel Wetbones is also pretty grim.
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:20 AM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'd like to expand on the H.P. Lovecraft recommendation by noting that The Colour out of Space is one of his creepiest stories. Some of his work gets a bit cheesy, but that one never fails to produce a shudder.
posted by fermion at 10:35 AM on July 21, 2008

Clark Ashton Smith has some very disturbing stories. Arthur Machen's The Three Impostors is extremely unsettling, mindfucks inside mindfucks and then the ending comes and stomps all over you. In the comic book field, Morrison's The Invisibles managed to completely screw up my brain in so many different directions at once that I probably lost a nice chunk of my mental health there.
posted by Iosephus at 10:50 AM on July 21, 2008

I probably don't fit into the groove here (I wasn't impressed with "House of Leaves"), so take this for what it's worth. But I really liked the online novel John Dies At The End. Very creepy.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 10:58 AM on July 21, 2008

naomi's room by jonathan aycliffe. creeped me RIGHT THE FUCK OUT when i read it.

i'm told his other stuff isn't as good. i don't know from personal experience, tho.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:00 AM on July 21, 2008

Stranger Things Happen, by Kelly Link, especially the story called "The Specialist's Hat."

Also, if you look into Cormac Mccarthy, Child of God and Outer Dark are both really creepy.
posted by newmoistness at 11:29 AM on July 21, 2008

I highly, highly recommend the short story collection, Borderlands, if you can find it. Some really great, creepy stories.
posted by lubujackson at 11:48 AM on July 21, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions folks.
I am a Lovecraft fan, have read alot of that. Read all of Cormac McCarthy's stuff as well as Pahlanuik's stuff. I've missed some of the Harlan Ellison stories mentioned.
I'll check out John Dies At The End, thanks for that.
Keep em coming if you have em. I read too fast for my own good.
posted by nougat at 11:54 AM on July 21, 2008

Not a short story, but Scott Sigler's Infected creeped me right out.

I've heard some of the stories from Matt Wallace's The Next Fix read on the Variant Frequencies podcast, and they're pretty good. Looks like what you're looking for.
posted by JDHarper at 12:06 PM on July 21, 2008

David Hartwell edited The Dark Descent, an excellent anthology that spans the length and breadth of horror in the short story format. There's both the familiar and the obscure here, and plenty of it. It's really the best collection I've got.

For a stand-alone read, Avram Davidson's novella The Boss in the Wall is fantastically creepy. It'll take you a few days to shake that one off, much longer if you live in an old house. (I've had it in an anthology but I can't begin to name which one.)
posted by Lou Stuells at 12:18 PM on July 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

Flannery O'Conner - A Good Man is Hard to Find

(can read it online here)

A very quiet story and one which in many respects I wish I had never read. I still get a very unsettled feeling from it now, despite having not read it for almost twenty years.
posted by pandaharma at 12:32 PM on July 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

The Screwfly Solution. The ending was what got to me.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:26 PM on July 21, 2008

Sort of in the same vein as pandaharma (not horror/thriller/sci-fi/fantasy but quiet and creepy and *really* unsettling) - Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? by Joyce Carol Oates.
posted by Lucinda at 1:30 PM on July 21, 2008

My favorite anthology is Black Water: The Book of Fantastic Literature, edited by Alberto Manguel.

Looks like it's out of print now, but you should be able to find a used copy.

The story I always remember from it is called House Taken Over.

There was also a Black Water 2 but that one wasn't as good. (Not that it was bad, the first one was just better)
posted by interplanetjanet at 2:30 PM on July 21, 2008

Seconding Kelly Link. You might also try Sarah Langan.
posted by gudrun at 6:19 PM on July 21, 2008

For SF/Fantasy stuff, Lucius Shepard has some good short stories and novels which have a sort of oppressive dread about them. And it tends to vary widely in tone, but at least one chapter of Thomas Pynchon's V has a similar feeling. Poetry-wise you're not going to do much better than Poe, But A. E. Housman had a morbid streak a mile wide and might end up in the area you're looking for from time to time.

If you're after more classic stuff, you might also check out Franz Kafka (start with "In the Penal Colony") and some of the stories of E. T. A. Hoffmann. And then there's this.
posted by whir at 6:40 PM on July 21, 2008

Book of the Dead, edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector is the one I was trying to think of. It's a zombies taking over the world anthology from 1989, before those things were everywhere (zombie books, not zombies). Some disturbing stuff in there.

Another vote for Dan Simmons, particularly Summer of Night. You can't go wrong with Robert McCammon either.
posted by marxchivist at 7:53 PM on July 21, 2008

Shaun Hutson absolutely terrifies me, to the point where I had to hide some of his books so that I couldn't ever see them again and remember what he had written. You can also blaze through them pretty quickly.
posted by saturnine at 5:29 AM on July 22, 2008

Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes is quietly creepy; it's always seemed to me like the book Stephen King's been trying to write his whole career.
posted by EarBucket at 7:52 AM on July 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

'The New Puritans' by Toby Litt from his collection Exhibitionism is the creepiest thing I've ever read.

I'm amazed that someone thought Was was creepy!
posted by ninebelow at 4:07 AM on July 23, 2008

The Roald Dahl thread on the blue reminded me that some of his short stories are totally creeptastic
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 5:51 AM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thirding the Dan Simmons recommendations, and adding "Carrion Comfort." He also published several volumes of short stories which would fit the bill nicely, "Prayers to Broken Stones" and "Lovedeath."

Brian Keene's books are worth a look - likable characters, daaark happenings. Zombies and lots of gore.
posted by lucyleaf at 7:13 AM on July 23, 2008

Monster Love by Carol Topolski - to be read in conjunction with the ubiquitous We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver.

I considered having a vasectomy after the latter and look suspiciously at all my newly babied up friends because of the former.
posted by you're only jung once at 2:21 PM on July 24, 2008

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