With Halloween quickly approaching, and the latest twist of American Horror Story: Roanoke fresh in our minds, now's as good a time as any to look at horror fiction that people may not necessarily have come across in the past.
Keeping with my weekly AHS theme, we are going to look at stories that are similar to each of the six seasons of the show. So if you preferred one season over the other, you can jump straight to the recommendations most relevant to you.
1. For Fans Of Murder House
Those of us who have been with AHS since the beginning will remember the terrifying ghost-packed Murder House as being a real game changer for horror TV and the haunted house genre. As such, the two books I have selected here are both haunted house stories, but with an original take on the concept. They are boundary breaking, nasty books that will leave you shaking at the end, much like Season 1.
A God Of Hungry Walls By Garrett Cook
"When you are within my walls, I am God. I have always been here and I will always be. I have complete dominion. I control what you see, what you feel, and how you think. I will bend reality to whatever I wish. I will show you your worst fears and make you indulge in your darkest desires. Your pain is my pleasure. Your tears are my ambrosia. Your despair is my joy. I will break you. I will ruin you. Once you enter me, there is no escape. I will own you, forever."
Part poetry, part splatterpunk novel, A God of Hungry Walls tells a haunted house story, but from the perspective of the house, or perhaps something evil that lives within it. Described as a “perverse, violent, and soul-crushing take on supernatural horror,” A God of Hungry Walls, if not already on your radar, definitely needs to be. Pick up a copy and be whisked away into a terrifying journey of the unknown.
House Of Leaves By Mark Z. Danielewski
“Years ago, when House of Leaves was first being passed around, it was nothing more than a badly bundled heap of paper, parts of which would occasionally surface on the Internet. No one could have anticipated the small but devoted following this terrifying story would soon command. Starting with an odd assortment of marginalized youth -- musicians, tattoo artists, programmers, strippers, environmentalists, and adrenaline junkies -- the book eventually made its way into the hands of older generations, who not only found themselves in those strangely arranged pages but also discovered a way back into the lives of their estranged children.
Now, for the first time, this astonishing novel is made available in book form, complete with the original colored words, vertical footnotes, and newly added second and third appendices.
The story remains unchanged, focusing on a young family that moves into a small home on Ash Tree Lane where they discover something is terribly wrong: their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.
Of course, neither Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Will Navidson nor his companion Karen Green was prepared to face the consequences of that impossibility, until the day their two little children wandered off and their voices eerily began to return another story -- of creature darkness, of an ever-growing abyss behind a closet door, and of that unholy growl which soon enough would tear through their walls and consume all their dreams.”
One of my all-time favorite novels, House of Leaves is an experience like no other and will stay in your memory for years to come. From the mind of Yale graduate Mark Danielewski, House of Leaves is both dense and enthralling. The story is told in abstract, spiraling language that at times has more in common with modern art than prose. However, it does not come across as arrogant, and rather, the typography helps raise tension within the story, building to a horrifying crescendo.
2. For Fans Of Asylum
My personal favorite season, Asylum had everything — from the weird to the gruesome, it was all there, wrapped into a fantastically elaborate story. My recommendations for this season have tried to capture that strange, graphic quality of this season.
The Complete Works Of H.P. Lovecraft
"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”
Considered to be one of the masters of horror, Lovecraft is perhaps the dude who started it all. He’s long been dead, but his stories have inspired and influenced pretty much every piece of sci-fi or horror over the past 80 years. You may know him from the RPG The Call of Cthulhu based off his short story by the same name, but Lovecraft’s work spreads much further than his octopus-headed monster. Diving into his complete works, you may initially feel a culture shock due to the age in which it was written, but once you push past that, you will find a whole treasure trove of stories that revolve around insanity, alien gods, the undead, ancient beings and unspeakable evils.
The Complex By Brian Keene
“There was no warning. No chance to escape. They came suddenly. Naked. Bloodthirsty. Sadistic. They descended upon the Pine Village Apartment Complex, relentlessly torturing and killing anyone they could find. Fearing for their lives, the residents of the complex must band together. A young trans woman, a suicidal middle-aged writer, a lonely Vietnam vet, a newlywed couple, an elderly widow, a single mother and her son, two on-the-run criminals and the serial killer known as The Exit. Eleven strangers. The only thing they have in common is the unstoppable horde that wants to kill them. If they are to make it through the night, they must fight back. From World Horror Grandmaster Award winning author, Brian Keene, comes an ultra-violent and action-packed horror thriller.”
This one’s pretty self-explanatory. It conveys the claustrophobia that we feel while watching Asylum and combines that with the excessive gore and sex that Keene is known for. Be prepared to be grossed out with this author, but I guess, if you’re a fan of AHS, that won’t be anything particularly new…
3. For Fans Of Coven
To be perfectly honest, I thought AHS: Coven was probably the show's weakest season. However, for those of you after a bit of witchy fun, here are my reading selections.
The Darkest Part Of The Woods By Ramsey Campbell
“The Darkest Part of the Woods "introduces the Price family, whose fates are entangled with the ancient forest of Goodmanswood. Dr. Lennox Price discovered a hallucinogenic moss that became the focus of a cult. After Lennox's death, his widow seems to see and hear him in the trees or is it a dark version of the Green Man that caresses her with leafy hands? Lennox's grandson heeds a call to lie in his lover's arms in the very heart of the forest and cannot help but wonder what the fruit of that love will be.And Heather, Lennox's daughter, who turned her back on her father's mysteries and sought sanctuary in the world of facts and history? Goodmanswood summons her as well...."
A pretty well-known author in the Lovecraftian tradition, Campbell weaves a slow-burning yet ultimately very spooky tale of creeping dread and alchemical summonings. Although rather different in tone to Coven, The Darkest Part of the Woods is in many ways similar in subject.
All Heads Turn When The Hunt Goes By By John Farris
“The affair is a military wedding. What will begin, however, with the solemnity of marriage vows will end in the echoing screams of the damned - an ungodly spectacle of spilled blood and sobbing, throat-aching terror. There is a curse that grips the Baldwins from generation to generation, from horror to bloody horror, and that climaxes in a spine-chilling nightmare of black occultism and blood vengeance.”
If you’re after a bit more of the voodoo vibe and the Southern gothic of Coven, then look no further than this classic novel from the 1970s. All Heads Turn deals in voodoo curses, slavery, and all the terrors you would expect to find in a book of this genre.
4. For Fans Of Freak Show
Another weak season of AHS in my humble opinion, however, Freak Show is one with a pretty fascinating backdrop.. My two selections for this season try to focus on the oddities and overall weirdness experienced when watching this season.
Pages From A Torn Travel Journal By Edward Lee
“It's a hot day in Virginia during the Great Depression, when a bus breaks down on a lonely backwoods road. The passengers are told the repairs will take till tomorrow, so...What will they do tonight? Good fortune strikes! Just down the road, there's a carnival! The last man off is a writer and sightseer from Rhode Island, a man named Howard Phillips Lovecraft...O'SLAUGHNASSEY'S TRAVELLING SHOW! RIDES! CONCESSIONS! ODDITIES OF NATURE! COME ONE, COME ALL! A genuine mermaid! A living cadaver! A man with three eyes! There's even a girl with hands for feet! Howard knows that such "spectacles" are all too often frauds, but what Howard doesn't realize is this: the carnival's frolicky fun will quickly degrade into a waking nightmare of unspeakable carnal depravity and sick-in-the-head violence beyond anything he could ever conceive. And when he finally flees the wretched scene...Something awaits him a thousand times worse.”
Master of splatterspunk Edward Lee finally makes an appearance on our list, which is probably quite appropriate considering both he and the show have a tendency to focus on gore and style over what some would deem to be “substance.” Also, Lovecraft makes a second appearance, this time as a character in the story. Because of this, expect not only the crazy of a totally demented freak show, but also that of cosmic horror. Like all of Lee’s books, Pages from a Torn Travel Journal is a vicious piece of writing and won’t let up until you’ve been on its unpleasant ride.
Annihilation By Jeff VanderMeer
“Welcome to Area X. An Edenic wilderness, an environmental disaster zone, a mystery for thirty years. For thirty years, Area X, monitored by the secret agency known as the Southern Reach, has remained mysterious and remote behind its intangible border- an environmental disaster zone, though to all appearances an abundant wilderness. Eleven expeditions have been sent in to investigate; even for those that have made it out alive, there have been terrible consequences. 'Annihilation' is the story of the twelfth expedition and is told by its nameless biologist. Introverted but highly intelligent, the biologist brings her own secrets with her. She is accompanied by a psychologist, an anthropologist and a surveyor, their stated mission: to chart the land, take samples and expand the Southern Reach's understanding of Area X. But they soon find out that they are being manipulated by forces both strange and all too familiar. An unmapped tunnel is not as it first appears. An inexplicable moaning calls in the distance at dusk. And while each member of the expedition has surrendered to the authority of the Southern Reach, the power of Area X is far more difficult to resist.”
Not what you may expect as a freak-show-esque novel, and you would be correct in thinking as much. This novel is not set in anything like a carnival or circus. It is, however, incredibly odd. It is perhaps the weirdest book on this list, and is only Part 1 in a trilogy of weirdness. I am myself a little over half way through this one and it is quickly becoming my favorite novel that I've read in a long time. I highly recommend checking this one out, but pertaining to this list, Annihilation carries the same odd vibe as Freak Show.
5. For Fans Of Hotel
Hotel saw the arrival of Lady Gaga on the scene as a sleazy, sexy bloodsucker dwelling in a gritty hotel among a cast of equally grungy characters. My selections here have tried to follow this vibe.
They Thirst By Robert R. McCammon
“Evil as old as the centuries has descended upon the City of Angels---it comes as a kiss from the terrifying but seductive immortals. Slowly at first, then by the legions, the ravenous undead choke Los Angeles with bloodthirsty determination---and the hordes of monstrous victims steadily mount each night.
High above glitter city a deadly contest begins. In the decaying castle of a long-dead screen idol, the few remaining human survivors prepare to face the Prince of Evil and his satanic disciples. Whilst the very forces of nature are called into play, isolating the city from the rest of the world and leaving it at the mercy of the blood-hungry vultures of the night....”
If you loved the incredibly dark tone regarding the vampire characters in Hotel, then check out They Thirst by Robert McCammon. This horror epic is a sprawling tome detailing the rise of vampirism in LA, and is a gripping read that embodies all the best bits of '80s horror.
1408 By Stephen King
"Mike Enslin, an author who specializes in the horror genre. Mike's career is essentially based on investigating allegedly haunted houses, although his repeatedly unfruitful studies have left him disillusioned and pessimistic. Through an anonymous warning (via postcard), Mike eventually learns of the Dolphin Hotel in New York City, which houses the infamous "Room 1408". Interested yet skeptical, Mike decides to spend one night in the hotel although manager Olin warns him strongly against it. Mike has a series of bizarre experiences in the room."
OK, I’m cheating a little here. 1408 is a short story in Stephen King’s collection Everything’s Eventual that's one of the best hotel horror stories I’ve ever read, and there was a great movie made about it a few years back staring John Cusack. The story follows a skeptical author who travels the country disproving cases of hauntings. When he is told not to visit room 1408 in the Hotel Dolphin, he can’t resist, and plummets into a terrifyingly, claustrophobic situation.
Much of Hotel’s mystery was regarding what lies behind the doors of its labyrinthine hallways. 1408 carries that same sense of the unknown as the reader follows along with the protagonists’ self-inflicted nightmare.
6. For Fans Of Roanoke
At last, we reach the current season. Rivaling Asylum in story content, Roanoke is a pretty fascinating amalgamation of folk horror and a pretty satirical commentary on reality TV. Surprisingly, this season was the easiest for me to find my recommendations for, and was in fact what first got me thinking about this article.
A Head Full Of Ghosts By Paul Tremblay
“The lives of the Barretts, a normal suburban New England family, are torn apart when fourteen-year-old Marjorie begins to display signs of acute schizophrenia.
To her parents despair, the doctors are unable to stop Marjorie s descent into madness. As their stable home devolves into a house of horrors, they reluctantly turn to a local Catholic priest for help. Father Wanderly suggests an exorcism; he believes the vulnerable teenager is the victim of demonic possession. He also contacts a production company that is eager to document the Barretts plight. With John, Marjorie s father, out of work for more than a year and the medical bills looming, the family agrees to be filmed, and soon find themselves the unwitting stars of The Possession, a hit reality television show. When events in the Barrett household explode in tragedy, the show and the shocking incidents it captures become the stuff of urban legend.
Fifteen years later, a bestselling writer interviews Marjorie s younger sister, Merry. As she recalls those long ago events that took place when she was just eight years old, long-buried secrets and painful memories that clash with what was broadcast on television begin to surface and a mind-bending tale of psychological horror is unleashed, raising vexing questions about memory and reality, science and religion, and the very nature of evil.”
Probably the most relevant recommendation on our list, A Head Full of Ghosts, written by Paul Tremblay, is very, very similar to the goings-on of Roanoke in its latest episode. Dealing with the horrors of demonic possession and MTV-styled reality TV, this novel bites hard, and is probably the best horror I read in 2015. I cannot more highly recommend it. Although a bit more ambiguous on the supernatural front than AHS, A Head Full of Ghosts still has some of the scariest prose I’ve ever read.
Ritual By David Pinner
“Set against an enclosed rural Cornish landscape, Ritual follows the trail of English police officer, David Hanlin, who is requested to investigate the murder of a local child. During the protagonist's short stay, he is slowly subjected to a spectacle of psychological trickery, sexual seduction, ancient religious practices and nightmarish sacrificial rituals.”
My final recommendation deals with the more folky terrors of Roanoke, and what better novel to convey those themes than Ritual by David Pinner? The novel that inspired the classic folk-horror film The Wicker Man (and no, not the Nicolas Cage version). If you want an utterly terrifying experience, this novel will sort you right. Filled with ambiguous pagan rites, Ritual is a story I believe influenced this season very heavily, so it is most definitely a must-read for fans.
Pick Your Favorite!
So there you go, a huge reading list for all you American Horror Story survivors out there. Pick your favorite season and scare yourself silly this Halloween — with a book of all things!
Have you read any of these books? Or do you have any other recommendations I forgot? Let me know in the comments below!