Something that I love about horror as a genre is its seemingly limitless number of subgenres. This is true whether you’re digging into horror on-screen or on the page. Without even taking direct adaptations into account, if you find yourself captivated by an original horror movie concept, there’s almost surely a book out there for you that’s at least playing in the same subgenre sandbox.
Here are five reading recommendations to pair with your favourite horror movie subgenres. The ways in which these pairings complement each other vary — some channel certain character dynamics, others, a specific setting or atmosphere.
If you like found footage body horror like The Bay (2012), try The Troop by Nick Cutter.
Barry Levinson’s The Bay might not be the first film that comes to mind when someone mentions found footage horror, but it really is a standout feature for showing the shockingly fast and chaotic destruction of a small-town celebration when a parasitic disaster hits its shores. In a similar vein, The Troop is a stomach-churning story of an island scout trip that turns into a fight for survival. Without giving much away, both The Bay and The Troop are dealing with something decidedly unnatural — human-altered parasites that have run out of control. What gives The Troop that found footage film-like edge is how the story is intercut with news reports and interviews that document the origins of the infection. Maybe don’t read this one while eating.
If you like New England folk horror like The Witch (2015), try Slewfoot by Brom.
I love dark folk stories that hinge on women and witchcraft. These are the sorts of stories where we see women choosing to write their names in the Devil’s book, taking back power for themselves and taking pleasure in it. In Slewfoot, Abitha finds herself caught in a battle for her farm (and her freedom) within her Puritan community, after her husband dies mysteriously. Like Thomasin in The Witch, Abitha is mostly just trying to get by using whatever means she has. It just turns out that these means include favors from the Devil himself.
If you like girls’ trips gone horribly wrong like The Descent (2005), try Getaway by Zoje Stage.
In Getaway, three lifelong friends set off for a week-long hike into the Grand Canyon with a goal to reunite and set a past tragic event behind them, only to discover that something dangerous is on their trail. The Grand Canyon is a much less claustrophobic setting than the Appalachian cave systems of The Descent, but the in-group tensions between Imogen, Beck, and Tilda as the latter two try to prove to Imogen that the world isn’t so scary, echo the distrust that the six cavers in The Descent have in each other as they try to use their trip to heal old wounds.
If you like dark thrillers with unredeemable narrators like American Psycho (2000), try Tampa by Alissa Nutting.
This entry is an exception, since American Psycho is an adaptation of a novel of the same name by Bret Easton Ellis. That said, what makes both the film and the book so iconic is that you get to spend time inside the head of a relentlessly awful narrator. If explorations into dark minds interest you, then look no further than Tampa, about middle school teacher Celeste Price, who is sexually obsessed with one of her students. Celeste’s obsession is just as grotesque as Patrick Bateman’s. The major difference is that there’s no question that what Celeste is doing is real. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this recommendation does come with a major content warning: Tampa is a controversial and hard-to-stomach narrative that centers on child sexual abuse and predatory sexual behavior.
If you like self-aware slashers like Scream (1996), try My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones.
Bodies are piling up in the small town of Prufrock, Idaho, and seventeen-year old slasher film aficionado Jade Daniels seems to be the only one who sees that her world is transforming into a real-life horror movie. From the prologue, My Heart is a Chainsaw implies a blood tie to summer camp slashers like Friday the 13th, and the rest of the novel goes on to be just as referential as it is reverential to the slasher tradition, calling movies (including Scream) out by name. Jade is equal parts Randy Meeks, for her encyclopedic knowledge of slasher films, and Sidney Prescott, for the gumption and personal baggage that she carries with her as she tries to anticipate what should happen next.
Which reads would you pair with your favorite horror subgenre? Share your recommendations in the comments below!
Want to delve further into the science of why we love horror movies? Preorder Nina Nesseth’s Nightmare Fuel now!