Our Picks For The Best Scary Books And Movies
Starting with the emergence of Blumhouse a decade ago, and the release of the juggernaut Paranormal Activity, horror films have proven to be stupidly profitable at the box office, turning five- and 10-million-dollar films into global phenomenons, raking in hundreds of millions for the gibbering executives at the studios.
And don’t think the book publishing world hasn’t taken notice.
Sure, a majority of horror still dwells in the dank cellar of small presses, but indie names like Cemetery Dance (King’s #1 boutique publisher), Grey Matter Press, Word Horde and others are pumping out titles that end up on the bestseller lists, getting real estate in the Wall Street Journal, and beating away development execs clamoring to get their gropey hands on the Next Big Thing–that little idea that will turn a microbudget movie into beaucoup bucks for the production house. Netflix alone has probably produced more horror movies in the last couple years than studios have made in the last decade.
And while every year isn’t going to bring a singularity like Get Out or IT, or runaway bestsellers like Josh Malerman’s Bird Box (coming soon to Netflix!) or Joe Hill’s The Fireman, 2018 had its share of hits in both the film and the book world.
So, given that all the cool kids are sneaking into the crypt and digging down to the world of horror, where does one begin to scratch the surface? Where does one discover quality new horror in 2018?
Allow me to assist.
Below is a roundup of the best popular horror books and films of 2018 for your perusal–a fine sampling of blood-spitting, floor-creaking, goose-bumping tricks and treats from some of the best in the business (including a prequel of Dracula from Bram Stoker’s grandson!) So please, pull that web-strewn lever for me, that’s right, now step through the hidden bookcase to the secrets that lie below. Stay with me, it’s dark down here.
Let’s start with fiction. There have been a slew of horror novels released in 2018, from the Great Old Ones such as Stephen King and Ramsey Campbell, as well as from the new nightbreed, such as Grady Hendrix, Jonathan Janz and Paul Tremblay. Here are a few selections from the best of the best:
The Outsider, by Stephen King. Yeah, Uncle Steve is still the unmatched king of horror. With the recent hit releases of Revival, the Bill Hodges trilogy and Doctor Sleep, King is proving that he’s just getting stronger with age, and The Outsider is no exception. Good luck trying to catch your breath through the first two-thirds of this book about a doppelganger who ravages the countryside, leaving a trail of slaughter and misdirection in its path. A terrifying yarn (that’s just been announced as a series from HBO!) you won’t want to miss.
The Cabin at the End of the World, by Paul Tremblay. If you were to ask King who his favorite current horror author is, Tremblay might be the name that passes between his lips. King has made no bones about trumpeting Tremblay’s last trio of novels (prior books being A Head Full of Ghosts and Disappearance at Devil’s Rock), and while Tremblay’s work isn’t the gruesome jagged-edge of Stephen King, he does have a mad talent for deftly guiding readers into dark corners and making them squirm. Cabin is a home-invasion story turned on its head–with the stakes being nothing less than the apocalypse. This one will grab you and not let go.
Unbury Carol, by Josh Malerman. Although best known for his international hit, Bird Box, Malerman has been steadily producing horror year after year. His most recent novel doubles-down on the dread of mankind’s oldest, and worst, fear: Being buried alive. In Unbury Carol– a period piece set in the Old West–Malerman tells the tale of a narcoleptic woman with a murderous husband, an evil witch who helps him and an even more evil assassin the likes of which readers haven’t seen since Cormac McCarthy’s devilish Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men. Malerman excels at keeping things nice and creepy, and Unbury Carol will certainly keep you up at night, praying for rescue.
Other 2018 titles worth reading: We Sold Our Souls (Grady Hendrix), The Siren and the Specter (Jonathan Janz), Baby Teeth (Zoje Stage), The Chalk Man (C.J. Tudor), Dracul (Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker), Devouring Dark (Alan Baxter), The Hunger (Alma Kastsu), The Way of the Worm (Ramsey Campbell).
One that left me cold: Elevation, by Stephen King. While I enjoyed the story, it read too much like a kinder, gentler redux of his classic Thinner. Plus, the elevated price point was pure madness for a slim slice of gentle horror.
On the movie front, horror came out guns blazing in 2018, with a slew of outstanding films from filmmakers new and old. The movies released in the last year have solidified horror as the go-to genre for studios who want to spend a little and make a lot. Expect more where these came from in 2019 and beyond. Below are my recommendations from the field of horror films unearthed in the last year:
A Quiet Place, directed by John Krasinski. Probably the title that came closest to matching the phenomenon of 2017’s It, A Quiet Place is the quintessential perfect storm of a horror film: low-budget, high-concept, huge box office. Produced for less than $20 million, Quiet Place terrified audiences around the globe for a gross take of $340 million dollars. With a sequel already in the works, the film has etched its name in the pantheon of all-time greats, and Krasinski has been catapulted into the realm of elite directors. Not bad for a movie where literally no one talks 95% of the time. Scary stuff, indeed.
Hereditary, directed by Ari Astor. If you are a fan of The Witch, The Exorcist, or other films focused on filling you with dark dread versus jump scares, Hereditary is the film for you. A bleak, monstrously-creepy and wonderfully-acted film (keep an eye on star Toni Collette getting an Oscar nod for this one), Hereditary is a film for the ages that announces an amazing new talent in director Ari Astor. Don’t watch this one alone or you’ll be turning on all the lights in the house to make sure something isn’t watching you from the shadowed corners of the room. Disturbing, visceral, shocking–a new classic of the genre.
Overlord, directed by Julius Avery. A throwback B-movie jam-filled with Nazis, zombies, explosions, body horror, incredible war-time action sequences and sure-footed acting that makes the whole thing somehow believable, Overlord is the film the 14-year-old you wished was playing in the theaters every weekend. A gory, violent, bloody romp that never lets up, Overlord was the funnest movie of the year for horror fans. Sadly, it’s also that rare horror film with too much budget and not enough box office, so I doubt we’ll see a sequel anytime soon, even with J.J. Abrams as producer.
One that left me cold: Halloween, directed by David Gordon Green. This remake/sequel was likely the most anticipated horror film of 2018, supposedly wiping out the established canon of the litany of sequels that came before it and wedging itself into the space directly after the original classic. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis in a reprisal of her role as Laurie Strode, Halloween ultimately felt flat and surprisingly uninspired. Sort of a “more of the same” type of deal (but with stronger female characters), this reboot, despite its success at the box office and with most critics, ultimately did little to propel the franchise, or the myth of Michael Myers, in any new or revelatory directions. A disappointment for those who wanted a fresh, vibrant new take on one of the greatest ghouls of our time.