10 Slasher Novels to Send Off Summer Right

There’s something beautifully and brutally simple about the slasher genre. Set up the characters, set up the masked killer, wind them up, watch them go, straight line from a to b, boom. It’s viscerally satisfying, like a murder mystery with less mystery and exposition, and three times as much murder. But while the slasher movie genre is tied down by a budget, script, and filming constraints (for instance, Blood Harvest, a movie where the red herring for the killings isn’t even in the same location as the rest of the cast), slasher novels have no such compunctions. It’s a fertile playground for the imagination, both in terms of kills and location, allowing the authors to have a lot more fun with a relatively simple premise. Slashers have seen something of a resurgence recently, with authors and critics alike lining up to offer their own unique takes on one of the simplest but most varied and enduring genres of horror there is. Hopefully, this list of ten favorites both old and new will help you get started. 

Curse of the Reaper, Brian McAuley

McAuley’s savage but affectionate sendup of the horror film industry begins as a cross between Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and All About Eve, with old actor Howard Browning clinging to the one steady role he’s ever had as twisted, scarred slasher villain the Reaper, while Trevor, a former child star, is pushed to step into the Reaper’s bloodstained overalls for the studio’s planned reboot. Unfortunately, the increased stress of Howard’s battles with the studio, his advancing Alzheimer’s, and his young contemporary brings his alter ego out to play, setting the two men on a violent collision course with the Reaper himself. Curse of the Reaper adds to this by humanizing both its leads, painting a realistic portrait of Howard’s struggles with his declining age and mental issues and Trevor’s battles with his own self-doubt and addiction while viciously skewering the apathetic studios who only care about their bottom line, setting up both humor and heart well before the blood (actual and fake) starts getting spilled. 

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Clown in a Cornfield 2: Frendo Lives, Adam Cesare

If there’s any indication of the quality of a slasher, it’s that it’s got good sequels. Prolific horror writer and critic Adam Cesare wrote a perfect and at times brutal-to-read work with Clown in a Cornfield, a slasher story about a group of teens chased down at a farm by murderous figures dressed as Frendo the Clown, the town’s unofficial mascot. Frendo Lives picks up with the survivors of the massacre as they try to move on with their lives, only to be assaulted on all sides by conspiracy theorists, people hoping to capitalize on their trauma, and a new group of killers wearing the familiar Frendo masks. Rather than get right to the slashing and clown outfits, Cesare spends ample time showing how the fallout of the Frendo massacre has caused fractures in the lives of the survivors, giving the slasher genre one of its best and deepest explorations of trauma and spectacle. 

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My Heart is a Chainsaw, Stephen Graham Jones

Jones, who’s always had a gift for working horror criticism into his horror novels (and even has his own column about slasher movies. “Slasher Nation,” in Fangoria), knocks it out of the park with Chainsaw, showing a rapidly gentrifying small town through the eyes of Jade, a slasher-obsessed teenager. When Jade finds a phone with a tourist’s grisly murder on it, she’s certain that between the recent animal attacks and the murders, it’s only the beginning of a new dark chapter in the town of Proofrock’s history, and sets off to help Letha Mondragon (her designated “final girl”) save the day. Told in alternating chapters between the narrative and Jade’s quirky (and a little unhinged) “Slasher 101” essays, Jones lays out in perfect detail not just how dark media can be a comfort to someone who’s had to deal with darkness and horror in their own life, but also how alienating vanishing into media can be, with Jade’s obsession driving her to stalk Letha, talk almost nonstop about horror movies to anyone even barely listening, and “cast” different people as the suspected killer. It’s also the perfect time to get acquainted with Jade, since she’s returning in Don’t Fear the Reaper early next year.

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God Damn Zombie Chainsaw Murderer, Sean M. Thompson

From the first moments of Zombie Chainsaw, when an older local at a convenience store asks its cast “You all headed out to the woods to do that liberal disaffected youth sex partying?,” you know you’re in for an absurd time. But “absurd” barely covers this story of Lake George in 1996, as a group of profane twentysomethings canoe out to an abandoned island for a weekend of sex, drugs, and partying. Everything Thompson can turn up to eleven, he does, from the makeout sessions turning into a full-on orgy, to the drug trip where two of the campers are so unhinged they weird out their own hallucinations. But it whips back around as well, flipping to genuine menace as the titular chainsaw murderer barrels into the book by flinging a deer carcass at one of the main characters, his point of view section listing his victims one by one as he chases down the campers. It’s a book that can flip on a dime, first drawing you in with its satirical portions or weird charms, and then gutting you when the horror or pathos slams back in like a freight train. 

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The Funhouse, Dean Koontz

In 1981, Dean Koontz was tapped to write a novelization of a Tobe Hooper horror movie called The Funhouse. The movie is a gruesome piece of work, but fairly standard for the genre: teens smoke dope in a funhouse after hours, accidentally run afoul of a sinister carnival barker and his three-nosed albino with an impotence problem and a murderous streak (as one does), get picked off one by one. The novel, on the other hand, begins with brutal infanticide and spousal abuse and could be considered a work of splatterpunk with how rampant Koontz’ imagination runs. In his hands, the straightforward slasher becomes a work where an air of menace and urgency hang over every page, at once both a gothic grand guignol story about revenge, religion, and generational trauma; and a splatter novel as nasty and uncomfortable as anything ’80s horror paperbacks produced. 

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Benny Rose, The Cannibal King, Hailey Piper

A standout of the Rewind-or-Die novellas, a collection of ’80s “video nasty” horror-inspired works (also featuring such horror luminaries as V. Castro), Piper serves up a gruesome suburban gothic spectacle with Benny Rose. In the town of Blackwood, kids are warned not to go to Glade Street on Halloween night, because that’s where Benny Rose the Cannibal King lives. But Benny Rose is just a ghost story, and it’s too tempting to Desiree to prank Gabrielle, the new girl who just moved in with her grandmother on Glade. Unfortunately, a storm and a prank gone wrong put the teens square in the path of the Cannibal King himself, trapped and fighting for their lives. Despite the short length of the novella, Piper manages a perfect buildup, all ominous gothic overtones until the turn hits, and then a brutal slam-bang chase through Benny’s hunting ground, a cathartic and sickening combination of violence and eeriness that’ll take your breath away until the very last page. 

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Security, Gina Wohlsdorf

The Manderley plans to be a gorgeous, all-inclusive hotel and resort for the richest of clientele, a jewel in the Destin Group’s portfolio of properties. At the end of the summer, it will open with the biggest party the west coast has ever seen, and everyone–from the gardeners to the executives–is making sure everything goes off without a hitch. Unfortunately for them, a masked killer is also doing their best work in the halls of the Manderley, with an agenda all their own and access to the surveillance networks of the hotel. Told in glimpses and snapshots through security cameras and flipping viewpoints, Wohlsdorf lays out the Manderley as a modern gothic location and then sets her monster loose in a Michael Myers mask, with each flip back to the killer only adding to the tension of if–and when–they’ll claim their next kill. 

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Red Station, Kenzie Jennings

It begins like any other Western, with four strangers meeting each other on a stagecoach headed for a waystation. But upon reaching their destination, a furious storm forces them to stay at the station keepers’ house overnight, turning into a life-or-death struggle between the stagecoach’s occupants and the eccentric and murderous family who owns the property. Inspired by true tales of serial murder and featuring an incredibly brutal first kill, Jennings’ western manages to ramp up from stock Western premise, ram right through revisionist Western tropes like a freight train, and plunge straight into gore and twisted family dynamics that feel like Rob Zombie riffing on Sam Peckinpah. It’s twisted, weird, gory, and profane, just like all Westerns should be. 

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 Survive the Night, Danielle Vega

Fresh out of rehab, Casey joins her friend Shana for the Survive The Night rave deep in the tunnels under New York City. But when Casey stumbles upon a dead body, it becomes clear something else is going on in the tunnels, something far more murderous and sinister. Vega uses the claustrophobic setting and plays with the sinister aspects of the midnight rave to great effect, but the true strength of Survive The Night lies in the details, whether it’s the grimy alleyways and almost nauseating sensory overload of the parties the protagonists go to or the stomach-churning way the titular rave is announced. It’s a wild, kaleidoscopic, and thoroughly unnerving good time. 

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Kill River, Cameron Roubique

In an effort to force her to socialize and make friends her own age, Cyndi is sent to Camp Kikawa by her parents. The summer seems like it’ll be a bust–most of the kids are younger than her, the boys she meets all tend to be jerks–but when Cyndi and the few campers she’s able to get along with find themselves at an abandoned waterpark after getting lost on a hike, suddenly things don’t seem so bad. But the waterpark isn’t as abandoned as it seems, and soon the four realize they’ve wandered into the killing ground of a psychotic murderer. Roubique’s book is pure ’80s horror madness, from the soundtrack (Cyndi’s biggest comfort is her walkman and a collection of tapes) to the strange dissonance of a cheerful amusement park as a murderer’s playground, to even the visuals and kill scenes that see protagonists getting their jaws ripped off and having to negotiate pools full of the decomposing bodies of former victims.   

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