5. At the Mountains of Madness – H.P. Lovecraft
Lovecraft was a struggling author back in his day, but now, more than 70 years after his death, he is almost a god in the horror world. The man invented Cthulhu, the Old Ones, and countless other nameless horrors, and he has spawned hundreds of anthologies, novels, and short stories all based off of his creations. His legacy is one of the most famous in the genre, and At the Mountains of Madness is one of his greatest stories. The plot revolves around an expedition to Antarctica and the discovery of ancient ruins, and the bodies of things not from this world. From there, the voyage degenerates into mindless terror, complete with monsters and insanity. While Lovecraft can be dry and verbose at times, his imagination and stories are one of the greatest contributions to horror in the entire history of the genre.
4. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
While many a scholar would be incensed that I am classifying this novel as horror, anyone who has read it cannot argue that the story does not chill your blood, and leave you with a deep unease in your gut, which is what good horror is supposed to do. Lord of the Flies is another novel that really does not need any background, hell, I’m sure a lot of you were “forced” to read it in school. If you have not read it (for some unfathomable reason) then add this to your list too. As you most likely know it tells the story of a group of young boys who are stranded on an island and soon revert to savage, primal ways, abandoning the rules and mores that are found in a civilized society. This unflinching look into the true nature of humanity is shocking and horrifying, and it led to numerous attempts to get the book banned or censored. If that doesn’t speak to how effective Golding’s writing is, then I don’t know what does.
3. The Silence of the Lambs – Thomas Harris
If you haven’t heard of The Silence of the Lambs, then you have no right to call yourself a horror fan, and honestly, I don’t even know why you’re reading an article about horror literature. Thomas Harris created one of the most memorable characters in recent history, one Dr. Hannibal Lecter, who is the stuff nightmares are made of. Lecter is not only a sociopathic murderer, he is a genius too, and the combination is nothing short of brilliant. As the novel progresses, Lecter’s character jumps from unsettling, to creepy, to “Oh my God, he’s wearing that man’s face.” Move over Jason, Freddy, Michael, and Leatherface; Lecter is the king of serial killers. The story is more famous for the film adaptation than for the novel, and this is most likely due to Sir Anthony Hopkins perfect, Oscar-winning, portrayal of Hannibal, but the novel is able to go more in depth with the characters than the film, and any fans of the Hannibal movies definitely need to read it.
2. I Am Legend – Richard Matheson
I don’t want to hear any cracks about the ridiculous Will Smith move, thank you very much. Matheson’s novel is a landmark in the horror genre. I Am Legend not only helped influence the zombie genre as a result of this novel (in fact Romero even admitted that his original Night of the Living Dead story was a rip-off of Matheson), but this story also gave rise to the now omnipresent plot line of a worldwide disease apocalypse, and a scientific explanation for vampires and zombies. I Am Legend is a masterpiece of horror, and the ending is one of my favorites of all time. If you have only seen the terrible movie, then the ending of the book is not spoiled for you, so there is definitely something to look forward to if you decide to give the story a shot.
1. It – Stephen King
It was the very first Stephen King novel that I read, and I was immediately hooked. The novel came out in 1986, and without a doubt caused massive spikes in cases of coulrophobia around the world when Tim Curry took up the role of Pennywise for the 1990 TV mini-series adaptation. The novel can only be described as epic; spanning thirty years for the main story with side and back stories that go back hundreds of years. It has nine main characters, and each one has a story in the 1950’s and in the 1980’s, and each story ties in with the other characters stories, and blends perfectly with the overall flow of the novel. I have never found a novel that encompassed so much, that flowed so well, and that I enjoyed as much as I did It. King is my favorite author for a reason and It is a perfect example of how talented he can be.
The story is able to encompass several different aspects of fear, and all the different masks that terror can wear. King uses so many different monsters, including: werewolves, mummies, bugs, birds, giant eyeballs, giant spiders, and of course, clowns, all as a means to project fear onto something external, but what is truly disturbing about the novel is when Pennywise is not directly involved, and the fear, disgust and horror come from within. Fathers abusing and murdering their own children, bigots brutally attacking a man for being gay, racists setting fire to a black nightclub, bullies, beatings, and hatred all swirl in a maelstrom with Pennywise as the eye of the storm, but a malevolent entity is not to blame. Humanity is capable of atrocities, and we cannot blame our dark nature on a shape-shifting monster. King shines a spotlight on that very idea, and it is unsettling and terrible to look at, but it is a hell of a read.