Fabulous fables of fright: more vintage horror novel reviews

By Jason Kron

We present to

you these insightful critiques of some classic horror books, and we hope that

you are inspired by these works to live your best life.

The Rats By James Herbert

The basic plot

to The Rats is pretty easy to guess:

Rats have taken over! A mad scientist decides to create super-rats, because why

not? Who’d have thought that this plan would go horribly wrong?! Many other

horror novels spend a lot of time creating a creepy mood and building tension

before something terrible actually happens. The

Rats is not one of those books. The gore starts pretty quickly, and boy is

it intense. The good thing about this approach is it never gets boring. By

cutting the fat and keeping everything straight-forward, James Herbert is like

The Ramones of literature. It’s not poetry, nor does it try to be that or

anything else other than what it is, and that’s what makes it brilliant.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle By Shirley Jackson

This one is less obscure than other books on this list, but it’s deserving of yet another shout-out regardless. The story centers around two sisters who are ostracized by a small town due to the belief that one of them got away with poisoning their family. They live in isolation, taking care of their uncle who survived the family murder attempt. Then a cousin shows up at their house, and of course, he’s up to no good, and of course shit hits the fan. There isn’t a lot of action in the novel, nor is there a lot of “BOO!” moments. It’s just creepy from beginning to end, masterfully written, and the kind of misunderstood outcast tale that created a million Tim Burton-types.  

The Girl Next Door By Jack Ketchum

Released in 1989, The Girl Next Door represents a crossroads in horror. The popularity of books such as The Silence of the Lambs made vampires and zombies less cool, and people gravitated toward suspense and thriller novels instead. However, the trademark campy art that defined '80s horror paperbacks was still in vogue, hence this misleading cover. The Girl Next Door isn’t about anything supernatural. Instead, it tackles what’s actually scary in the world: Abusive caretakers.  Two teenage girls named Meg and Susan move in with their Aunt Ruth. The aunt, her kids, and her kids’ friends torture Meg in the worst ways possible, and this comprises most of the book. There’s barely any character development, just a lot of misogynist crap. The Girl Next Door is awful, but I made the resolution to finish every book I start and figured I might as well write about it, so here you go.

Nightblood By T. Chris Martindale

If the idea of Rambo with ghosts and vampires doesn’t sound like the best thing ever, then you clearly know nothing about art. T. Chris Martindale’s 1990 novel Nightblood tells the tale of Chris Stiles, a tortured Vietnam vet who has no choice but to use his combat expertise to fight the undead. Thankfully, the ghost of his brother Alex hangs out and helps him defeat the bloodsucking bastards. Having an Uzi helps too. Some kids and their hot single waitress mom get involved, giving Stiles the opportunity to show that he has a sensitive side and may even be stepdad material, but blowing up vampires is still non-negotiable. Nightblood reminded me a lot of the Evil Dead franchise, in that it’s seemingly self-aware of its ridiculousness. Because of that, it’s truly funny and totally badass.  

The Other By Thomas Tryon

If Rosemary's Baby is The Beatles of horror, and The Exorcist is The Rolling Stones, then Thomas Tryon's The Other could be seen as The Kinks. It’s a contemporary of the others, equal or greater in quality and influence, but without nearly the level of fame and recognition. Speaking as a fan of The Exorcist and an especially big fan of Rosemary's Baby, I do not speak lightly when I say that The Other is the best of the three. Like the other two, The Other revolves around an evil child, in this case, an evil twin. It’s written with meticulous detail, to the point where it can be trying too hard to be serious literature and turn detrimental. But the words are beautiful nonetheless, and the story’s big twist set the stage for all big twists in horror thereafter.

The Tribe By Bari Wood

As is the case with an endless array of novels, the plot of Bari Wood’s The Tribe has its roots in World War II. In this story, a small group of Jews mysteriously made it through The Holocaust avoiding the extreme persecution and murder that was afflicted upon their peers. Forty years later, the Rabbi son of a member of this group is killed by a teen gang, and that teen gang is subsequently murdered in a way that doesn’t seem like it could’ve been done by a human. A golem monster may or may not have anything to do with it, and that’s all I’ll say about that. The Tribe has some scares, but more than that, it is an immensely engaging book with well-written characters and eloquent sentiments about the horrors of racism.

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