1. Haunted House, by Jan Pienkowski
Everyone’s got to start somewhere, haven’t they? I still have the copy of this I read as a kid, and I look forward to introducing my son to it soon. Maybe there are no real scares in it – it’s too friendly for that – but it remains magical. The ghost that appears above the bed is amazing.
2. Struwwelpeter, by Heinrich Hoffmann
One of the primary reasons I needed a light in my room when I was a kid. A lot of it is in the illustrations. The long-legged scissor man who bursts in and snips off thumbs is pretty much the epitome of horror for me, and always will be. I had so many nightmares because of this book. Wonderful.
3. Pet Sematary, by Stephen King
This is the most hopeless (in the best sense) of King’s work: a moving, beautifully-written, carefully-constructed car-crash of a novel, which has only taken on deeper resonance after becoming a parent. It pretty much takes my legs out from under me and breaks my heart whenever I read it.
4. Books of Blood, By Clive Barker
Six books in all, thirty short stories in total, compiled into two volumes, both of which I have signed from long, long ago. There is so much invention in these tales that it’s intimidating to look back at them now. An absolutely astonishing burst of terrifying creativity. In The Hills, The Cities is my personal high point.
5. Killing for Culture, by David Kerekes and David Slater
An investigation into the depiction of real death in film, debunking the myth of the snuff film while covering genuine examples of actual recorded atrocities. It’s comprehensive and authoritative – and of course utterly outdated now in light of sites such as LiveLeak and Ogrish. A callback to more innocent days, perhaps, when Faces of Death was as bad as it gets. You couldn’t write something like this these days, because it would require tens of thousands of pages.
6. The End of Alice, by A M Homes
An utterly soul-destroying account of the correspondence between an incarcerated fifty-something paedophile and a 19 year old girl apparently seeking his mentorship while she seduces a young boy. As the narrator appraoches his parole hearing, he unravels, and we learn the devastating truth about his crime. Compelling, horrifying and painfully convincing.
7. The Girl Next Door, by Jack Ketchum
Inspired by the real-life case of Sylvia Likens, Ketchum relates the visceral, uncomfortable story of the torture and murder of a teenage girl by the community supposed to protect her, all told through the eyes of a teenage boy who perhaps could intervene but is ultimately too scared to. Heartbreaking, thought-provoking, and quietly shaking with moral outrage, the book challenges your own complicity with every turn of the page. It always reminds me of Haneke’s comment about Funny Games: that the people who walk out early are the ones who didn’t need to watch it.
8. The Treatment, by Mo Hayder
In some ways, Birdman is more horrific, but the conceit behind this novel is so uniquely awful. The novel as a whole is a clear example of crime not only taking from the horror genre, but then striding back into it afterwards, looking around – and levelling the surrounding land. About as unpleasant as a thriller can be, but so, so compelling.
9. Communion, by Whitley Strieber
An allegedly real account by Strieber of abductions he suffered by aliens, coupled with an examination of his own past, where such abductions and interactions begin to flower as horrifying extrapolations from suppressed memories. No, I don’t remotely believe in alien abduction. Yes, when I wake up in the middle of the night, the imagery from this story absolutely bloody terrifies me. Sometimes in daylight too.
10. 20th Century Ghosts, by Joe Hill
It’s not the most frightening collection, but it is superb, and in fact the most affecting stories here are the ones that aim for the heart as much as the gut. The title story is one of my favourites: frightening, and yet incredibly moving. The five loveliest words in cinema? Indeed.