Hollywood Horror Creators on the Best Horror Books to Read This Halloween

·10-min read

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Any horror fan would agree that a deliberate amalgamation of details goes into creating a truly frightening experience for the viewer. From striking imagery to chilling sounds to eerie music, it goes without saying that any horror story can benefit from the features inherent to a visual format.

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But who and what do the spooky trend setters of today turn to for inspiration, or just a good old-fashioned scare? We’ve seen our fair share of fantastic horror movie recommendations, but there’s something truly creepy about getting horrified by a good page-turner. What books that go bump in the night keep the people who scare the masses awake?

We polled seven horror creators including Guy Busick (“Ready or Not”), Mary Lambert (“Pet Sematary”), David Kajganich (“Suspiria”), James Vanderbilt (“Scream”) and more to find out their favorite horror books, ones they claim will give you a Halloween-worthy spook to rival any scary movie.

‘Muerte Con Carne’

Courtesy of Amazon
Courtesy of Amazon

“Let me just say this… Lucha Libre wrestling, human flesh tacos, blood-soaked birria and HANGRY cannibal Mexicans? Yeah… that’s the perfect recipe for a masterful horror book. ‘Muerte Con Carne’ by Shane McKenzie makes you question – how do you sleep at night, hombre! This book is for the hardcore fans that are down for the south-of-the-border version of classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre. When it comes to the eerie desert of Unites States/Mexico border any crime goes. This story finally brings evil with a new mask with that badass Mexican grind we have been missing. GIGANTE! GIGANTE! GIGANTE!”

– Gigi Saul Guerrero (director and co-writer of “Bingo Hell,” director of “El Gigante”)

Buy: Muerte Con Carne by Shane McKenzie $1.99

‘Red Dragon’ by Thomas Harris

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Courtesy of Amazon

“Before Harris’s ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ and ‘Buffalo Bill’ came ‘Red Dragon’ and Francis Dolorhyde, aka ‘The Tooth Fairy.’ I have still never been as scared by a book as I was – and still am – by this one. In this graphically violent cat-and-mouse horror-thriller, Harris creates not one but four of horror literature’s most indelible characters: FBI profiler/empath Will Graham, Will’s seasoned boss Jack Crawford, the aforementioned serial killer Francis Dolorhyde and a certain cannibalistic psychopath known as Hannibal Lecter. This book, even more than its Hannibal-verse sequels, will f*** you up for life.”

– Guy Busick (co-writer “Scream” and “Ready of Not”)

Buy: Red Dragon by Thomas Harris $9.99

‘Class Trip’ by Emmanuel Carrére

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Courtesy of Amazon

“It tells the story of Nicolas, an awkward, morbidly imaginative boy on a ski trip with his classmates, who becomes a detective of sorts when a local child is murdered. Atmospheric and searching, it is not the frenetic, outsized horror of King or Koontz, but an internal story of one horrific, life-changing event in a child’s life. I read it a decade ago, was thoroughly spooked and still find myself thinking about its frightening implications. As a bonus, it is often published with Carrère’s fantastically disturbing novella ‘The Mustache,’ about one man’s complete and terrifying psychological breakdown triggered by the simple act of shaving.”

– David Kajganich ( co-creator/writer “The Terror,” writer “Suspiria”)




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‘The Stand’ by Stephen King

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Courtesy of Amazon

“When I read this novel many years ago, I knew the Covid pandemic was inevitable. I’m just glad it wasn’t worse. King knows how to get under your skin with visually compelling scenarios. I’m a New Yorker now and every time I go through the Queens Midtown tunnel or the Holland tunnel I imagine the terrifying scene at the beginning of ‘The Stand’ where the tunnel is completely blocked by cars with dead bodies at the wheel.”

– Mary Lambert (director “Pet Sematary”)

Buy: The Stand by Stephen King $8.24

‘Broken Girls’ by Simone St. James

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Courtesy of Amazon

“Women, ghosts and burning down the system that abused them. What more could you want? ‘The Broken Girls’ (by Simone St. James) balances the horrors of a ghost story with the terrors of real life in a crime story that keeps you flipping pages. With a wide range of female perspectives, it’s a great balance of real life drama mixed with spooky supernatural elements that help give it an added twist.”

– Mali Elfman (producer/writer “Do Not Disturb,” executive producer “Before I Wake,” writer “Fun Size Horror: Volume One & Two” )

Buy: The Broken Girls by Simone St. James $28.61

‘The Sandman’ by Neil Gaiman

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Courtesy of Amazon

“If a horror story wrapped inside a sprawling yet meticulously crafted mega-epic that takes place over millennia and across several dimensions sounds interesting to you, you’re in luck. Neil Gaiman’s 75 issues of ‘The Sandman’ showed me what comic books are capable of as an art form and how emotionally rich horror can be as a genre. And I dare you to try to sleep after reading the ’24 Hours’ chapter of the second storyline, ‘The Doll’s House,’ the most disturbing entry in the entire series.”

– Guy Busick (co-writer “Ready or Not” and “Scream”)

Buy: The Sandman by Neil Gaiman $17.99

‘The Long Walk’ by Stephen King

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Courtesy of Amazon

“Having Stephen King on this list might seem too obvious, but you better believe this book earns its spot. One of the first stories King ever wrote, set in a dystopian future where the biggest national sport is the annual race where 100 sixteen year old boys have to keep walking continuously at above four miles an hour, otherwise they’re shot. Last one alive is the winner.”

– James Vanderbilt (writer “Zodiac,” co-writer “Scream”)

Buy: The Long Walk by Stephen King $14.94

‘Worm on a Hook’ by Vern

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Courtesy of Amazon

“I read this in quarantine and had a blast with it. Written by a film critic, its a genre mash-up of ‘Friday the 13th’ meets ‘First Blood.’ It’s the rare novel that dares ask the question, ‘What if someone like John Rambo came back from the dead as an unkillable zombie and was hunted down by someone like Sarah Connor?’ If that sentence makes you smile, then this book is for you.”

– James Vanderbilt (writer “Zodiac,” co-writer “Scream”)

Buy: Worm on a Hook by Vern $4.99

‘The Between’ by Tananarive Due

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Courtesy of Amazon

Set 30 years after the main character almost died in a tragic event, the story twists and turns eventually making the protagonist feel like perhaps their survival was never supposed to happen.

“‘The Between’ is actually a reissue, but it’s just as searing today as when it was published back in the 1990s. Due’s a master of placing you in scene, where you can hear, smell, and even taste the horrors. Seriously, just read the wicked prologue of this novel, and you’ll be hooked for the whole read.”

– April Wolfe (writer “Black Christmas”)

Buy: The Between by Tananarive Due

‘The Glassy, Burning Floor of Hell’ by Brian Evanson

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Courtesy of Amazon

This collection of short murder mysteries involves everything from a sentient murderous prosthetic leg, shadowy creatures lurking behind walls and brutal barrows of men.

“I’ve always been a fan of shorts, because they often feel impressionistic, like you’re floating between worlds. In this collection, Evenson really draws on the horrors of a collapsed environment and the moral choices one makes under pressure.”

– April Wolfe (writer “Black Christmas”)

Buy: The Glassy Burning Floor of Hell $9.99

‘The Body Scout’ by Lincoln Michel

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Courtesy of Amazon

Lincoln Michel’s “The Body Scout” is set in a futuristic New York ravaged by climate change and repeat pandemics. The protagonist Kobo is plunged into the world of genetically-modified CEOs and philosophical Neanderthals as he tries to solve his brother’s murder.

“‘The Body Scout’ is more hardboiled detective sci-fi than horror, but Michel’s really wonderful at depicting claustrophobic atmospheres, so the whole narrative feels like it’s collapsing in on you. Also there’s baseball!”

– April Wolfe (writer “Black Christmas”)

Buy: The Body Scout by Lincoln Michel $13.99

‘The Cipher’ by Kathe Koja

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Courtesy of Amazon

The story begins when a strange hole materializes in a storage room, leading would-be poet Nicholas and his feral lover Nakota to explore its depths. The end result? Obsession, violence and life-changing transformations for everyone involved.

“’The Cipher’ is the only book that I finished reading and immediately turned back to page one to start reading it again. It combines existential dread and a strange, paranormal discovery that messes with your head and surprises you with laughs.”

– Scotty Landes (writer “Ma” and “Deadcon”)

Buy: The Cipher by Kathe Koja $15.39

‘IT’ by Stephen King

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Courtesy of Amazon

“Kids feel fear so much more intensely and more frequently than we do as adults. They’re vulnerable members of society and always fighting to be believed or taken seriously. So ‘IT’ will always be my favorite because it transports me back to childhood when fear was the most palpable, and the only people who really understood what you were going through were your friends.”

– Jenny Klein (showrunner “The Thing About Pam,” writer/co-executive producer “The Witcher”)

Buy: It by Stephen King $34.99

‘Dark Harvest’ by Norman Partridge

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Courtesy of Amazon

Set on Halloween night in 1963, this acclaimed novel is the story of October Boy, a Midwestern murderer who rises from the cornfields every year to feast on his next victims.

“I recommend this book to everyone. It’s fun, scary, and surprising. It has momentum – a true monster-on-the-loose page-turner with dark twists that make it unforgettable. When this novel becomes a movie, I’ll be there opening night.”

– Scotty Landes (writer “Ma” and “Deadcon”)

Buy: Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge $16.75

‘The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer’ by Jennifer Lynch

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Courtesy of Amazon

“While it may seem an odd entry for a horror fiction list, ‘The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer’ released between seasons 1 and 2 of the original series of ‘Twin Peaks’ in September of 1990, revealed depths of the Northwestern town’s evil – terrestrial and otherwise – only hinted at in the television show. Written by Jennifer Lynch (daughter of the show’s co-creator David Lynch) from the point of view of the abused title character, this book explores the sickening truth that sometimes the worst horrors can happen under your own roof.”

– Guy Busick (co-writer “Scream” and “Ready of Not”)

Buy: The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer by Jennifer Lynch $13.29

‘Gilchrist’ by Christian Galacar

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Courtesy of Amazon

Peter and Sylvia move to an idyllic lake town after the realization that they can’t have children. But bizarre events begin to slowly unfold around them during their stay, including a chance encounter with a gifted six year-old boy and a series of violent deaths.

“’Gilchrist’ is a novel about the evil that finds us when we are at our most vulnerable. It’s also about the danger of looking the other way and hoping someone else will deal with your problems for you. Galacar goes dark and mean when the story calls for it, and I love that.”

– Scotty Landes (writer “Ma” and “Deadcon”)

Buy: Gilchrist by Christian Galacar $18.99

‘Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell’ by Susana Clarke

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Courtesy of Amazon

“I suppose this would be more correctly labelled [as] ‘horror/fantasy.’ I think the depictions of the evil fairies and the horror of being trapped forever in fairyland is terrifying. Also the descriptions of natural phenomenon as doorways into the supernatural are incredibly compelling.”

– Mary Lambert (director “Pet Sematary”)

Buy: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell by Susana Clarke $34.98

‘Monster She Wrote’ by Lisa Kroger and Melanie R. Anderson

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Courtesy of Amazon

Part biography, part reader’s guide “Monster, She Wrote” delves into the lives of some of the most famous horror writers in history, including Mary Shelley of “Frankenstein” fame, Shirley Jackson known for “Haunting of Hill House” and celebrated icons such as Violet Page and V.C. Andrews.

“The true horrors are how the monsters we love came to life. This compilation of female genre writers is a great look into the stories behind the great minds who made many of the horror icons we still love today.”

– Mali Elfman (producer/writer “Do Not Disturb,” executive producer “Before I Wake,” writer “Fun Size Horror: Volume One & Two” )

Buy: The Fifty Year Sword by Mark Z. Danielewski $14.29

‘The House With the Clock in its Walls’ by John Bellairs

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Courtesy of Amazon

“The first scary book I ever read, and my gateway into horror when I was nine. It’s a classic of kids-lit horror, about an orphan who discovers magic – the anti-Harry Potter, with genuine scares, but also great emotion and heart. It’s the perfect book to introduce the next generation to scary stories. I loved it so much, I produced the 2018 film version starring Jack Black and Cate Blanchett.”

– James Vanderbilt (writer “Zodiac,” co-writer “Scream”)

Buy: The House With a Clock In Its Walls by John Bellairs $6.50

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