by Jonathan Maberry
I’m delighted to be a guest reviewer here on the G.O.R.E. Score. And thanks to Tony Schaab for the weirdness that is MAY-Berry Month here on the site. There are some disturbed individuals associated with this site—staff and readers; but luckily various forms of treatment are available.
Instead of reviewing a single book (as I was invited and, dare I say, expected to do), I decided to provide my MUST HAVE list for best horror reading and viewing. These are the horror works I feel have great enduring merit and laid the groundwork for the best of today’s creepy storytelling. It’s not a complete list by any stretch, but for me, all of these are 10/10. There isn’t a weak one in the bunch.
THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE by Shirley Jackson: This was the first truly frightening novel I read, and the original BW movie is still my pick for the scariest horror film ever made. It’s all about the suspense, not about what jumps out at you. The remake is to be avoided at all costs.
THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE by Richard Matheson: This was an attempt to modernize the Shirley Jackson model, and Matheson makes it work. The novel is scary as hell, tapping into the early 1970s vibe still humming from ROSEMARY’S BABY, THE EXORCIST and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR. The movie is a wonderful adaptation of the novel and holds up pretty well all these years later.
THE MANITOU by Graham Masterton. Though a little dated (and very often copied) nowadays, this was a deeply disturbing novel with an unexpected theme. The movie is fun; the book is far superior. I also recommend DEVILS OF D-DAY and THE WELLS OF HELL.
GHOST STORY by Peter Straub. A true American gothic novel. Lush, rococo, and finely crafted; with a killer opening line, a terrific set of villains, and overall superb character development. And though the movie changed several essential plot points, it is a nail-biter of a classic. Scary and sexy.
SALEM’S LOT by Stephen King. For me this is a perfect horror novel; superior in my view to THE SHINING. It has some of the most terrifying images—seen and alluded to, and King’s most powerful and effective descriptive language. This is one I return to every few years.
THE MIST by Stephen King. Though technical a blend of science fiction and Cthulhu-style fantasy, it is one of King’s masterpieces. My only complaints are that it was too short for my tastes, and he never wrote a sequel. Damn it. The movie was damn good and had an even more powerful ending –one of which I thoroughly approve.
I AM LEGEND by Richard Matheson: The first true blending of horror with science fiction, and a marvelous piece of social commentary. The essence of the novel’s plot —especially the biting ending—has yet to be translated into film. The Vincent Price version, THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, took a stab at it, but the movie is stultifyingly boring. The Charlton Heston version, THE OMEGA MAN, is cheesy popcorn fun without depth; and though the first half of the Will Smith version had real promise, it collapsed into nonsense in the second half. (My dream project is to do a faithful adaptation of this novel.) Oh, and Matheson gave me a signed copy of the 1954 edition when I was fourteen.
THE RATS, LAIR and DOMAIN by James Herbert. I love this series so much I’ve read multiple copies of it to rags. Absolutely great storytelling with lean prose and a lightning pace. And…ewwww!
RATMAN’S NOTEBOOKS by Stephen Gilbert. This was the basis for the movie WILLARD (the original was pretty good) and BEN (don’t bother). It’s a psychological thriller about a disintegrating mind that is every bit as chilling as PSYCHO.
PSYCHO by Robert Bloch. Speaking of PSYCHO, the Robert Bloch novel is a lost classic. It informed a generation of slasher and serial killer novels by creating tropes which made other, lesser writers more famous. Bloch wrote it first and best.
THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I had to slip this in because it is also an often-copied model in that it is a straight mystery told in the form of a horror novel. Often filmed to varying degrees of success. My personal favorite is the Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee version, but there are many good ones.
SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES by Ray Bradbury. Before there was even a Young Adult genre in fiction, Bradbury crafted a perfect horror-fantasy in which an evil circus (Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show) comes to town. The same year Matheson gave me a copy of I AM LEGEND, Bradbury gave me a copy of this. I read a copy of this book every year on Halloween.
PHANTOMS by Dean R. Koontz. This is a science fiction novel written as a horror novel. Koontz was never better and seldom anywhere near as scary. Forget the movie and read this on a dark night.
MYSTERY WALK by Robert McCammon. This early novel of McCammon’s has gorgeous and unexpected imagery, including a description of the sound a haunted buzz-saw makes that will definitely stay with you. I came back to this after twenty years and it was every bit as good.