Proper horror – the sort that crawls under your skin and infects your dreams and leaves you double-taking your own shadow as you walk home at night – didn’t die with Bram Stoker, or Edgar Allen Poe or even HP Lovecraft.

The genre is alive and well - or should that be undead and terrifying? - meaning there are plenty of fresh hells for you to curl up with this Halloween.

Here are ten leave-the-lights-on modern horrors that will linger, uninvited, long after you’ve turned the last page.

Red Rain by R L Stine (2012)

R L Stine’s name is to horror what J K Rowling’s is to wizardry and witchcraft, and it’s no stretch to call the Goosebumps author – as he has often been called – the Stephen King of children’s literature. Red Rain, however, is an adults-only tale to be kept out of reach with the kitchen knives or bottles of bleach.

When a journalist visits small a Caribbean island and witnesses a devastating hurricane, she is moved to adopt two beautiful, blue-eyed twins apparently orphaned in the tragedy. There’s nothing scary about bringing them back to America to live with her family. Nothing, that is, until strange things begin to happen and the boys' true origins - and their evil intentions - become clear.
 

The Orphan Choir by Sophie Hannah (2013)

This is the story of a woman’s descent into sadness - and then into madness. At first, Louise is grieving for her son - not because he'd dead, but because he's away at a prestigious boarding school for talented choristers.  Matters are made worse by a neighbour from Hell, whose incessant loud choral music echoes through the bedroom wall, ravaging her sleep and poisoning her thoughts.

In a desperate bid to save her mind, she moves to the country. Only, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, the country. In fact, the cracks in her mind only widen when she realises the music she was fleeing is still there… in the form of an invisible choir of children that only she can hear. Then the ghost choristers literally knock on her door. Are they in her imagination? Or are they, in fact, trying to send her a message from beyond?
 

The Cellar by Minette Walters (2016)

The best thing to do once you’ve read this terror of a tale is lock it deep in the cellar of your own mind and look forward to Christmas. It will haunt you. For there is nothing more sinister, more chilling, more blindingly dark than the real-world evil human beings can do to each other.

The Songolis are an affluent immigrant family with a nice London home. But in their cellar lives a secret. Her name is Muna. She has never been outside; she just exists below ground. She only ever goes upstairs to cook, to clean and to be abused by Yetunde Songoli, her husband Ebuka and their two over-pampered sons. In other words, she is their slave in all senses of the awful word.

Only, despite what they think, she can speak English. In fact, she is much smarter than the Songolis could ever imagine. As for her revenge, it is far more frightening.
 

Cat Out of Hell By Lynne Truss (2014)

Do cats even like humans? It’s so hard to tell. Yes, they purr when they’re stroked and come home each morning to eat the foul-smelling food we leave on the floor. But really, do they like us? Or are they just little fluffy hostages, resentfully hatching plans break free from our clutches and do away with us all?

These are some of the tough questions Lynn Truss tackles in Cat Out Of Hell. It begins when a retired widower sequesters himself in a seaside cottage to grieve for his beloved late wife. There he meets a cat – a talkative, sarcastic and well-read cat. A cat who is also – as you might expect from the author of mega-bestseller Eats, Shoots and Leaves – a stickler for good grammar.

The cat has a story. It is a story so macabre it’d make even the hardiest of humans arch their back and hiss fearfully at the wind. It is a story of death and dark forces; a story of cats. Read this and you may never look at your feline friend the same way again.

 

The Taking of Annie Thorne by C. J. Tudor (2019)

This is the latest novel by C. J. Tudor, in the wake of her bestselling whodunit The Chalk Man. But while that was more thriller as horror, The Taking of Annie Thorne is more the other way around. It’ll chill your marrow.

When Joe Thorne was fifteen, his little sister, Annie, vanished while out with him and four of his mates. Joe couldn’t imagine anything worse in life than losing his baby sister. And then she came back. But she was changed, no longer the Annie he knew.

Fast-forward 27 years, and Tom – still haunted by the mystery – gets an anonymous email: I know what happened to your sister. It’s happening again.

What follows is a terrifying journey through mind and memory, whose old wounds reopen and rot as he learns that places, like people, hold secrets. And the deeper you go, the darker they get.
 

The Devil’s Detective by Simon Kurt Unsworth (2016)

Hell is not just other people; Hell is also bureaucracy. Boring, Byzantine, burning bureaucracy. That’s according to British horror stalwart Simon Kurt Unsworth.

His protagonist, Thomas Fool, has problems. He is one of Hell’s Information Men, charged with protecting a delegation from Heaven that’s come down to meet Hell’s bureaucrats to negotiate the transitions of souls from Hell to Heaven.

But then a human is found murdered in a way so heinous and vile, not even Hell’s hierarchy knows quite what to make of it.

As the murders mount, Fool’s Hell hots up. A serial killer is on the loose, releasing souls before their punishment is complete. But how do you catch a killer in a world of sinners?

Taut, textured and unrelentingly imaginative, The Devil’s Detective is a high-paced page-turner that will have you gripped from start to end, no matter how much you want to look away. It’s a damned good gore fest that at times feels uncomfortably close to the real world upstairs.

Follow Me To Ground by Sue Rainsford (2019)

Ada lives in the woods with her father. They have a garden. But they’re not human. They’re something else. They don’t eat and age slowly. Ada’s father becomes an animal at night.

They spend their days curing the local human folk who visit them, suspiciously, with their ailments. The treatment involves removing the poorly part of the body to treat it with herbal remedies, while burying the other part in a well-tended allotment called The Ground. After a day, they reunite the parts and the human is cured. Only, the sickness doesn’t go away; it has to go somewhere.

The key for Ada and her father’s survival, they believe, is never to get too close to the humans. That is, until Ada does, setting in motion a chain of events that mangle our common notions about predators and prey. Visceral, passionate, and deeply unnerving.
 

The Hunger by Alma Katsu (2019)

The true story of a group of American pioneers that got lost in a snowy wilderness, were driven half-mad and so started eating each other to survive is terrifying enough. Throw in a supernatural twist and you’ve got a real nerve-jangler.

The novel opens with a rescue team arriving at an abandoned cabin the summer after the group disappeared. They don’t find much except ‘a scattering of teeth’, and ‘what looked like a human vertebra, cleaned of skin’.

Rewind to the previous winter. The 90-odd-strong group, led by George Donner, wagons its way across the vast empty plains of the American prairie. Food is running low. Winter is snapping at their heels. They must hurry. Donner decides to take a never-before-trod shortcut through the virtually impassable, tree-choked hills. Then children start to go missing.

Soon, the survivors begin to turn on each other, with only a handful of the party noticing that they face something far more ravenous than the jaws of winter. Something far darker, far deadlier than the cold lurks around them… and within them.
 

Things We Say in the Dark by Kirsty Logan (2019)

Nothing engulfs the mind like darkness. It takes our sight but heightens our hearing; which makes the sense of evil so much more frightening. Things we fear are always worse when its dark. Except, maybe, when Kirsty Logan shines a light on them.

Things We Say in the Dark is a pitch-black beauty of spellbinding prose and nightmarish short stories that are as juicy, bitty and blood-red as the sliced-open pomegranate on its cover.

It is a book about the fears of women that should not only be read by women. Expect many dark surprises as you tumble through a world of scarecrows and ghosts and being buried alive, but also childlessness and loneliness, homes filled with laughter and empty houses choked of love. In short, it is a powerful contemporary collection of feminist stories, ranging from vicious fairy tales to disturbing horror and ghouls that just want to be loved. Honest, horrifying and at times tummy-turning, it is a shock of liquid nitrogen to the senses.
 

Apple and Knife by Intan Paramaditha (2018)

In Paramaditha’s words, Apple and Knife is a collection of short stories about ‘disobedient women.’ In fact, it’s much more – a head-spinning concoction of horror fiction, myths and macabre fairy tales that turns the tables on patriarchal folklore tropes where women usually ‘get punished or will be rewarded by getting married’

Take the businessman Bambang, who’s found asphyxiated in his red 1982 Mercedes Tiger after meddling in his wife’s relationship with the houseboy, Jamaal. Or the faithful husband, Guy, who’s forced into prostitution after losing everything in the financial crash, only to become the sex slave of a sadistic woman hellbent on destroying her prey. Then there’s her uniquely gruesome retelling of Cinderella, through a stepsister’s eyes. Desperate to fit into the glass slipper, she and her wicked sister cut off their toes and heels to fit the shoe and win the day. Until, that is, he notices the blood pooling about their feet.

This is subversive feminist horror at its best, smouldering with black humour and social critique, not to mention a fair dose of sex and death, revenge and mutilation.
 

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