Top Vintage Halloween Reads
Quite recently, I curled up with some friends to watch the film adaptation of The Woman in Black. I’m not especially good with horror films and so, before hitting play, I reassured myself that I was with my boyfriend, that I know the story having seen the play (which scared me witless) and that the nice chap off Harry Potter was in it. So, there was nothing to be afraid of, right? Predictably, I did not sleep that night.
So, scary films are a no go for me this Halloween. But, because I don’t want it to pass me by completely, I’ve decided to give myself a scare by picking up Stephen King’s classic The Shining (1977). The story is well-known, thanks to the classic Kubrick film and several spoofs (including The Simpsons version: The Shinning). Jack Torrance, a writer and a recovering alcoholic, is hired as a winter caretaker for the Overlook Hotel.
He moves in with his wife Wendy and his five-year old son Danny, who has psychic powers. When they’re snowed in, evil forces in the hotel are awakened – testing Jack’s temper, alcoholism and sanity – and putting the family in danger. Only twenty pages in, and I’m starting to regret my decision… But, on a slightly more cheery note, the decision has inspired compiling a vintage inspired list of top Halloween reads for your pleasure. Sleep tight!
Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin (1967)
Anyone who knows me well, will know I’ve become slightly obsessed with Ira Levin this year. The Stepford Wives (1972) being the classic option – a tale of men so threatened by their liberated feminist wives, that they kill them off and replace them with curvy, houseproud bimbos.
A Kiss Before Dying (1953) is a gritty thriller about a ruthless golden boy, certain that he is destined for great things, who will seduce and murder to get what he wants, and whose evil will hit you like a punch in the stomach. But it’s Rosemary’s Baby that is Levin’s ultimate horror read.
Despite being warned of its disturbing past, Rosemary and her actor husband Guy move into a block of flats, where they are immediately welcomed by their neighbours. After Rosemary falls pregnant, she suspects that her neighbours are in fact part of a Satanic Coven and are planning to sacrifice her baby to the Devil. But, nobody will believe her – naturally. And the truth turns out to be much, much worse… Classic Halloween horror.
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (2009)
Despite mixed reviews, I adored this departure from Waters’ usual themes of lesbian and gay fiction. Set in the 1940s, the story revolves around the Ayres family whose fortunes have faded, and whose attempts to keep their estate running are thwarted by possibly ghostly events, which eventually lead to tragedy.
Told from the point of view of the family’s class-obsessed doctor and friend Faraday, the family endures ghostly apparitions, bells and phones ring in the night, burn marks and childish handwriting appearing on the wall… Is it the inevitable effect of the house falling into disrepair, or something more sinister? Sarah Waters refuses to tie it up neatly, leaving us to wonder what the malevolent force, the “little stranger” could be. Not one to read in the house on your own. No, really – don’t!
The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones (2012)
I reviewed this ghost story when the paperback came out earlier this year (which you can read in full here) and astute readers will remember that I didn’t paint it as particularly spine-tingling. Indeed, it’s more of a self-aware Downton comedy of manners – with ghosts – and I loved it.
On the night of Emerald Torrington’s birthday, a nearby train crash means that they will have to play host to the large group of third-class survivors – who they shut away and forget about – and one sinister Charlie Traversham-Beechers, who manipulates them into playing some disturbing party games. It’s more comic than scary (a horse called Lady gets involved). That said, the scene where Charlie reveals his true intentions is suitably spooky if you only fancy some mild fear this year.
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (2013)
Finally, a crime thriller for a hair-raising Halloween read! The Shining Girls holds the dubious honour of causing me to faint on the bus after reading a slightly too intense scene, so how I could I leave it out?
In Chicago, 1931, a drifter named Harper Curtis stumbles upon a House which allows him to emerge in any time period between 1929 and 1993. Immediately, he is overcome with the urge to kill the “Shining Girls”: the girls who shine – who stand out – like Zora, the shipbuilder in 1943; like Margot, the caring abortionist in 1972; like Willie Rose, the lesbian architect in 1954. These serial killings continue until one girl, Kirby survives. And she is determined to find him. But how, when he doesn’t even exist?
Have you read any of the above? Do you have any spooky Halloween reads to share? Let me know in the comments below.
Title photo from Chicabug Blog.