No gimmicks, no trending, no on-brand statements… these are all about the scares, and nothing else. Happy Halloween!
The Tower by Marghanita Laski
A woman goes touring in Italy. Her husband’s not too keen on the idea of her going alone. You suspect the man’s not too keen on her doing much without him.
She comes across an ancient tower, and inside, she sees a strange, unsettling painting. Things get weirder, with odd visions of another world… then she flees downstairs…
This is a classic chiller, with a horrible finale; a malicious thing happening to an innocent abroad. Like the tower itself, Laski’s weird fiction masterpiece is difficult to find – though far less hazardous.
On top of another tower in Italy, two friends spy what looks like a ghostly figure prowling the valley below. What starts off as a spooky story takes an iron-enriched, neck-nibbly turn as we hear about the vampire who preyed upon the local village.
It’s a wonderful creeper, but never loses its sympathy for the accursed girl.
One For The Road from ‘Night Shift’ by Stephen King
It’s Maine. It’s the middle of the night. It’s snowing. You, your wife and daughter are driving along near-impassable roads… so you turn off into a town called Jerusalem’s Lot.
Strange… the place looks deserted. What could have happened here?
A mini-sequel to arguably King’s scariest book, ‘Salem’s Lot, this is one of his most atmospheric and frightening shorter pieces. I first read it aged 11 in a children’s anthology, of all things.
Good luck getting to sleep after that, little fella.
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
The classic “loony in the attic” story, this was one of the first tales to address how 19th century society used Dark Ages tactics to suppress and control women.
But don’t assume this is some didactic history lesson. The locked-up narrator’s mental degradation in the attic room – with only the walls’ sickly yellow patterning for stimulation – is harrowing, and increasingly uncanny. The story has a lived-in sense of horror and despair. You won’t be able to look at floral-print wallpaper quite the same way again.
The October Game by Ray Bradbury
I was originally going to use “The Whole Town’s Sleeping”, but the Hallowe’en theme of “The October Game” wins out.
We tend to think of Ray Bradbury in terms of classic Americana – apple pie, mom n’ pop stores, soda jerks, carnivals, baseball, endless summers… but he had a hell of a dark side. This story might be the finest example of that, as a depressed husband and father hosts a Hallowe’en party for his child and all her friends.
They decide to play a game in the basement, with all the lights out…
The Double by Ruth Rendell
Like Sir Walter Scott’s “The Two Drovers”, this one looks at predestination, and how we sometimes throw ourselves into self-fulfilling prophecies.
A young man and his superstitious fiancée bump into the girl’s double in the park. She’s horrified – meeting one’s doppelganger means you are about to die, she reckons.
Probably not a great idea for her fiancé to begin an affair with this mirror image, then…
Ostensibly a crime story, this one blends the idea of the supernatural and the world of logical consequences to perfection.
Ah, those wonderful rituals and conventions we all take part in, eh? Like Hallowe’en… we turn up and get involved, every time.
Here, Jackson shows us small town America gathering to take part in a special lottery. Whose turn will it be for the big prize this year?
The Mezzotint by MR James
Couldn’t leave out uncle Monty. I wonder if anyone called him “Mister James” at Eton, for a laugh?
This one centres on a piece of early print-making, depicting an English country house. Except… hang on… where did that creepy crawling figure come from?
The Monkey’s Paw by WW Jacobs
The perfect example of the horror you can’t see being scariest of all.
A cosy family is given the object in the title. It grants you three wishes… and three awful consequences.
Who’s that, knocking at the door? For god’s sake, don’t open it!
Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper by Robert Bloch
This spinechiller from Psycho author Robert Bloch sees two amateur detectives investigating one of the crazier occult theories regarding the infamous Whitechapel murderer. It seems Red Jack’s sordid killings were ritualised acts, sacrifices to an occult god, allowing him to achieve eternal life.
Hey… You don’t suppose he’s onto us, do you? Surely he’s not following us around here, in the thick fog of Chicago? No, that’d be too silly for words…
The Call of Cthulhu by HP Lovecraft
“I thought this was a top 10?” That’s how we roll in R’lyeh.
The classic occult horror… a terrible elder god, an evil cult, unspeakable rites, uncanny dreams of a lost city beneath the waves… And Cthulhu itself, the big guy, the main man (or is it main mother? That’s another story)… A monster almost too terrible to describe… Except Howard Phillips has a good bash at it…
Disappointingly, this story doesn’t finish on the dreaded italics… But we will.