By Riley Hansen
Scary stories have been a crowd favorite since people started gathering around campfires, but with Halloween coming up and the coronavirus still present, getting a big group together for a haunted house or ghostly hayride doesn’t seem very feasible.
Still, we want to celebrate, to experience something we’ll be thinking about afterwards, something that maybe makes us want to sleep with the lights on—those experiences just have to take place at home. Now, the odds of being able to construct a haunted house in your own home seem pretty small, but there are still options: you can make yourself some popcorn, turn out the lights, and let Hollywood spin you a blood-curdling story, or you can leave on that lamp in the corner and read something that’ll make you want to jump out of your skin.
I have curated a list of some truly terrifying, unnerving, hair-raising tales for you to enjoy in whichever method suits you best this spooky season. Just be sure to watch out for any signs they’re going to your head.
- The Shining
- This Stephen King novel and film by the same name follow Jack Torrance and his family as they make a home in the Overlook Hotel for the winter—the only catch is, Jack is the caretaker during the hotel’s off-season, so the family is completely alone. Right? This story makes the audience question sanity. Specifically, it forces us to think about what we would do if someone (or something) pushed us to the edge and how much the human mind can take.
- The Haunting of Hill House
- While there are a couple of variations of this story, originally a 1959 novel by Shirley Jackson, I am talking about the Netflix adaptation, which appeared in 2018. It centers around the Crain siblings and how their shared past affected the lives of the now grown brothers and sisters. The show is just plain creepy, with supernatural themes and eerie music accompanying a startling storyline. There are ghosts and jump scares, but on a more psychological level, the show leaves us wondering about what could be lurking in our own minds.
- Neil Gaiman’s book inspired the 2009 film. Yes, it’s animated, and the book may have been written for children, but the story deals with some heavy themes such as trust, power dynamics and responsibility as a young girl tries to navigate change and familial relationships. The book and movie can get pretty dark, with spirits of past children playing an important role, and there is a hint of body horror throughout, the thought of which makes my skin crawl.
- From the Horror Hall of Fame, we get the master: Alfred Hitchcock. Psycho is about a woman named Marion who stops at Bates Motel on her way out of town to see her boyfriend—she has thousands of dollars of stolen money on her. Norman Bates, the owner, lives with his mother in a house on a hill, just above the motel. This movie features an iconic stabbing scene, as well as some psychological terror. There is also a twist that will make you think long and hard about your relationships with those closest to you.
- A Cry in the Night
- In this suspense novel, Jenny marries Erich, and she thinks her family’s problems are over. As the months go by, however, she grows increasingly uneasy around her supposedly perfect husband, whose secrets will change her life forever. Mary Higgins Clark has been called “The Queen of Suspense,” and for good reason. This book was the first novel to haunt me when I tried to sleep at night. Clark exceptionally portrays the building discomfort Jenny feels until the reader feels it, too.
- This film centers around the Lamberts, who move into a new house. While exploring the attic, one of the sons falls into a coma. After repeated supernatural occurrences, the Lamberts move, but the old house’s demons follow them—a psychic is called in, and the family tries to save their sick son. One of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen, this 2010 film is full of demons and jump scares, and there are three more movies in the series if you want to make your terror an all-day affair.
- Gone Girl
- Both a modern book and film, this psychological thriller is about the Dunnes, a married couple. When Amy Dunne goes missing, her husband Nick comes under suspicion. While not a traditional scary story, the suspense and plot twists keep the audience guessing until the very end, as well as make them come confront the lengths people will go to in order to be happy.
- Day of the Triffids
- If campy sci-fi horror films are more your thing, try Day of the Triffids. After a meteor shower both blinds most of the population of Earth and drops spores which grow into flesh-eating plants, the people of England fight to survive. Science can be really scary; there is so much to be discovered, so no one truly knows what could be out there or be created. Along the same vein, one wonders, can humans ever hope to overcome nature?
- Slasher Girls and Monster Boys
- An anthology of horrifying short stories from some of the top Young Adult authors offers a little bit of every kind of scary. These stories are all based on pop culture references, such as Alice in Wonderland, Alfred Hitchcock, and more, which adds another layer to each narrative.
- Friday the 13th
- While some consider slasher films cheesy, they are a rite of passage for horror movie buffs. The original Friday the 13th was released in 1980, with ten sequels and a remake in 2009. When a group of counselors arrive at Camp Crystal Lake, hidden deep in the woods, they unwittingly stoke the anger of a killer, who picks the counselors off one by one. The scariest part about this movie is the lack of hope—what chance at survival could this group of kids have in the middle of the woods with an unseen killer roaming around? Not to mention, jump scares and violence abound.
So, if you need something to spook you this Halloween, or any time, really, you now have a variety of books and films to choose from. They all pair very well with a good bag of popcorn, your favorite blanket, and a rainy night. Feel free to go to bed with the lights on.