A collage of book covers against a red background, with large, spooky illustrated hands reaching towards them.

Image: Alexandra Francis / Penguin

Something wicked this way comes… There’s a distinct chill in the air, the days are closing in and pumpkin-related chat is up tenfold. It can only mean one thing: the spooky season is well and truly upon us. 

It’s a month when staying up late (and/or hiding behind a cushion) with a horror film is the norm, so being the bibliophiles we are, we thought we’d bring you some reading recommendations based on your favourite scary film.

Of course, many classic horror movies are based on books to begin with but we’ve trawled the shelves to match these six iconic films with a book that conveys something of the same atmosphere and themes. So read on, if you dare...

If you love Midsommar (2019), try The Day the Sun Died by Yan Lianke (2015)

Rural settings are often at the heart of folk horror films and here we swap the pastel-hued tones Midsommar's Scandinavian countryside for an agricultural community deep within a mountainous region of eastern China. 

The Day the Sun Died takes place over a single summer evening when teenage Li Niannian starts to notice some strange goings-on: instead of going to sleep as they normally would, the town's residents start “dreamwalking”.

A bog-standard sleepwalker wouldn't usually be cause for too much alarm but these lack inhibition, acting out the desires they've been repressing during their waking hours. Unsurprisingly, it's not long before the community descends into violence and terror, leaving Li Niannian to save the day. 

If you love 28 Days Later (2002), try Zone One by Colson Whitehead (2011)

If you're after tales of the undead and survival in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, pick up Colson Whitehead's satirical, genre-bending zombie novel, Zone One. 

28 Days Later and Zone One both deal with the breakdown of society following the spread of a deadly virus, that has separated people into two camps: the infected and the uninfected. However, in Zone One, the worst of the plague has passed and half of Manhattan has been reclaimed.

Mark Spitz, part of a team of civilian volunteers working to clear the rest of the island of remaining “stragglers”, gets on with the task of zombie removal while dealing with Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder. In the new world order, it's all so far, so mundane but, of course, things soon start going very wrong... 

If you love Get Out (2017), try White Tears by Hari Kunzru (2017)

Get Out was one of the highest-grossing films in the year of its release, and created something of a cultural phemenonon (remember all those “sunken place” memes?!). Written and directed by Jordan Peele, Get Out is a pointed examination of racism and white privilege.

Similarly, Hari Kunzru's White Tears, which was published in the same year that Get Out was released, offers a rumination on cultural appropriation in today's society. Swap the rich white family with a beautiful suburban home from Get Out for Brooklyn hipsters obsessed with blues music and you'll get the picture.

Part page-turning thriller, murder mystery and ghost story all in one, White Tears is sinister and unsettling and that's exactly the point.

If you love Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), try Sleep Donation by Karen Russell (2020)

A Nightmare on Elm Street follows a group of teenagers whose dreams are haunted by a violent killer – with very real consequences. 

Karen Russell's novella isn't a slasher story but, like the film, sleep is a major player here too. A deadly insomnia epidemic has crippled the nation with exhaustion but luckily, Slumber Corp is offering a solution by transfusing sleep from healthy volunteers to those suffering with insomnia. Everything seems peachy until recruitment manager Trish discovers that all is not right at the organisation.

Sleep Donation comes with a glowing review from the King of Horror himself, (that's Stephen King to you and me), who said “Parts of it gave me nightmares – and I'm case-hardened“, so you know this is going to be one that keeps you up long into the night.

If you love Poltergeist (1982), try The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty (1971)

For supernatural chills along the lines of Poltergeist, try The Exorcist. Okay, so it's an iconic horror film in its own right but did you know it was based on a book? First published in 1971, the book spent over a year on the New York Times bestseller list before being turned into a wildly successful movie soon after.

It all begins slowly: an unexpected noise here, an icy chill there. It seems like there's an easy explanation for it all. But then, eleven-year-old Regan seems changed, frighteningly so, and there are no explanations for that. It's like she's a different person altogether and, so, a priest is called in the hopes that he can exorcise the child and things can go back to normal. Decades after its release, The Exorcist remains as gripping and mind-numbingly terrifying now as it was then. 

If you love Shaun of the Dead, try Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

Let's end on a lighter note, shall we? 2004's horror comedy Shaun of the Dead took its cue from classic films such as George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead and gave us a vision of a zombie apocalypse from the perspective of two slackers. They're the last to find out the end of the world seems nigh and just about manage to hold it together. 

In Warm Bodies we meet ‘R’. He's one of the undead, but he's a little different: he's in love. With a girl who's very much alive (the usual kind of alive). For reasons he can't understand, he decides to save Julie instead of eating her and a highly unusual relationship begins. R dreams of breathing again and Julie wants to help him, but they're not getting anywhere without a fight... Warm Bodies is the first book in Isaac Marion's trilogy; it's dark, it's funny and it's the perfect love story for the season.  

What did you think of this article? Email editor@penguinrandomhouse.co.uk and let us know.

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