Archive for the Best Of Category

Smucky’s Favorite Horror Films of 2016

Posted in Best Of with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2016 by smuckyproductions

2016 was undoubtedly a strange, perhaps frightening year; and when it comes to horror, these qualities are quite promising. This was an incredible year for horror films. Reflecting on my favorites, I am reminded that I missed several of the best; yet I can’t resist writing about the ones I experienced. Thus, Smucky’s favorite horror films of 2016:

(For the record, the ones I regret missing are as follows: Under the Shadow, Lights Out, Don’t Breathe, The Conjuring 2, The Untamed, Beyond the Gates, The Monster, Eyes of my Mother, and Evolution.)

9. I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE

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While I haven’t seen February yet (a continually delayed release), I couldn’t resist Oz Perkins’ sophomore feature. This poetic exploration of a haunted house is one of the most unique cinematic experiences of the year. Perkins creates a mist-shrouded and cerebral atmosphere through magnificent imagery, patient revelations and musings on the afterlife that leave a lingering chill. It’s not a film to me, but a sensory immersion.

8. THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE

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Cliches and cheap scares aside – though these have their charms, too – André Øvredal’s return to the director’s chair is one of the year’s most original films. It builds its atmosphere of dread slowly, focusing on the mundane, and revealing its uncanny truths with the relish of a rotten advent calendar. With ingenious set pieces, stomach-churning suspense and an utterly terrifying villain, Jane Doe is a morbid blast.

7. GREEN ROOM

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I almost passed this one up; the premise sounded rehashed. And I have learned my lesson – this film cannot be missed. Jeremy Saulnier crafts both a masterclass in violent mayhem, and a layered character study. When your characters are so nuanced and realistic, it becomes even more disturbing when they die painfully. I will never enter a dive bar again without thinking of this film.

6. DEAREST SISTER

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Mattie Do is one of cinema’s most exciting new voices, and her second film is proof of her talent. This searing sociological ghost story is creepy, gruesome and disturbing, but not just because of the phantoms. Do’s exploration of politics, class, greed and family is rendered with brutal human realism. From a genre perspective, it’s entertaining and scary, but there is far more going on under the layers of flesh.

5. SOUTHBOUND

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Anthologies are tough to pull off; but the team behind Southbound seems to have it down to a science. With four stories that all exist in the same world – a purgatorial desert full of demons – the film adopts an atmosphere of the bizarre that harkens back to The Twilight Zone, while creating a dreadful experience all its own. I was enthralled by the environment, thrilled by the individual tales, and amazed by the film’s ability to end it with cohesion.

4. THE INVITATION

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Karyn Kusama is incredible; and this tense, utterly disturbing film is a reminder of her talent. A simple premise – a dinner party that begins dissolving into a cult gathering – becomes a deep and frightening exploration of grief’s effect on relationships. Being partial to Suburban horror stories and occult thrillers, this is right up my alley; and Kusama renders these elements brilliantly through her attention to suspense and character.

3. THE LOVE WITCH

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I adore this film for many reasons – it’s visually gorgeous and uses old school cinematic techniques with brilliance; it shocked me with its depth and tragedy; and it introduced me to the voice of Anna Biller. This lush, complex and upsetting thesis on objectification and sexuality could only have been crafted by Biller, whose attention to detail alone is mind blowing. As far as I’m concerned, she is one of the premiere auteur voices of the decade.

2. TRASH FIRE

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Not only does Richard Bates’ third film revive authentic Gothic cinema – satirical, pitch-black, and rich in grotesque imagery – but it broke my heart, then mended it (sort of) with its strangely empowering conclusion. Equal parts millennial comedy, familial horror and identity drama, this film surpassed my expectations in every way. It’s also one of the few horror films this year to feature a substantial queer character; let’s have more of that in 2017.

1. THE WITCH

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A standard choice, maybe, but it deserves the number one spot. Robert Eggers meticulously recreates a Puritan-era farm, populates it with characters who come loaded with neuroses and paranoias; then unleashes an utterly frightening supernatural force upon them. It’s unapologetically a horror film, a psychologically realistic one, that leaves the viewer harrowed and invigorated. I haven’t seen anything like it, and probably won’t anytime soon. It also introduces us to a new horror icon; who else has pledged their souls to Black Phillip?

In lieu of a 10th spot, I’ll list a few films that came out last year but I only saw recently; or films that haven’t technically been released yet, such as: the subdued and touching psychological thriller They Look Like People; Baskin, the decade’s coolest descent into Hell; a Lovecraftian effects extravaganza, The Void; and a film that both made me retch and blew my mind, We Are The Flesh.

 

9 More Films to Watch on Halloween

Posted in Best Of, Halloween with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2016 by smuckyproductions

Halloween is upon us again! In response to a list I wrote up last year, here are a few more gruesome delights to conjure on this, the spookiest of days.

OVER THE GARDEN WALL (Hulu)

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While really a miniseries, the accumulated episodes equal film length (about 2 hours); and you’d be hard-pressed not to watch them all at once. This is a gorgeously animated and brilliantly plotted piece of cinematic art. The color palette, full of browns and oranges, evokes autumnal perfection; and the supernatural elements are legitimately frightening. A philosophical, charming, scary and beautiful October treat.

BASKIN (Netflix)

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Haunted houses are one of the foremost attractions of the season – paying good money to immerse yourself in a four-dimensional horror film. BASKIN is an actual film that looks, sounds and feels like one of these attractions, from the (dis)comfort of your living room. With stunning and colorful imagery, a bone-rattling score and hellish atmosphere for days, this chaotic descent into hell is an eye-popping blast.

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (Amazon)

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There are dozens of Shelley adaptations, and dozens of Hammer films, that are suitable for this list – but the Curse stands out. This is the film that started England’s reclamation of Gothic horror, in beautiful, bloody Technicolor. The images of corpses, desecrated graves, and finally the monster himself, are truly grotesque, especially considering the decade in which the film was made. It’s a ghoulish, brutal version of the Frankenstein story.

THE IRON ROSE (Shudder)

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One does not tread far into the realm of Eurohorror without hearing of Jean Rollin. He made his fame on erotic, poetic vampire films – such as Requiem for a Vampire and The Living Dead Girl – and this, while it contains no undead, is one of his finest. The plot is shockingly simple, with two horny kids stuck in a graveyard after dark; but Rollin’s direction creates a moody, existential work of dread that leaves its mental mark.

A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (Netflix)

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While not necessarily a horror film in itself, aside from a few scenes, Ana Lily Amirpour’s ingenious production fits the season perfectly. The gloomy monochrome and the badass title character create an atmosphere of cool loneliness, echoing the quiet hours toward midnight on the 31st. It’s not frightening, but phantasmal – the perfect film for a less scary sabbath celebration. And it helps that it’s truly original, unlike anything else.

HABIT (Shudder)

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Another vampire offering, this one more traditionally frightening. Larry Fessenden’s indie game-changer starts on Halloween night as a man (played by Fessenden) meets a mysterious woman who starts plaguing his life, sexually and emotionally. It’s a slow-moving accumulation of atmosphere, evoking the Urban Gothic grunge of New York, and also depicting one of the most uncanny, elemental vampires I’ve ever seen on screen.

THE BEYOND (Shudder)

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Anyone who knows me well enough is aware that I am addicted to Italian horror films. Lucio Fulci’s cosmic, apocalyptic wackfest is one of the most fun offerings. Full of the walking dead, voodoo practices, disgusting death scenes and a sense of utter dread that sneaks up on you, this is a grand cinematic nightmare. It has all the creepy and gory flavor of a Halloween night gone wrong.

THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (Hulu)

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Another Fessenden production, this time helmed by new indie horror icon Ti West. Not only was it one of the first ‘nostalgic’ horror films of recent years – it recreates 80s occult atmosphere perfectly – but it’s also wonderfully creepy in its own right. This demonic chiller uses silence, isolation and a mounting sense of wrongness to create dread; culminating in a grand climax of demonic evil. Pure horror fun.

BLACK SABBATH (Shudder)

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There are several Bava films that could qualify for this list; but this one has Boris Karloff in it. What else do you need? On top of Karloff’s presence, this anthology film is stocked with amazing visuals, and is surprisingly terrifying (the final story will cause nightmares). Go for the Italian cut if you can. This is Gothic cinema at its best, and sets a standard for structuring anthology films (Italian cut only).

Five Horror Films to Protest Valentine’s Day

Posted in Best Of, Films That Haunt Me with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2016 by smuckyproductions

 

Today is perhaps the most successful, and often the most depressing, manufactured holiday of all time. For those in a healthy relationship, it’s a fine excuse to spend an exorbitant amount of money and celebrate your love. But what about the single weirdoes? Smucky has a way to battle the pink hearts and lovey-dovey message of Valentine’s Day. For those who like their hearts gushing blood, here are five horror films that throw romance out the window.

HELLRAISER

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Infidelity is just the beginning with this one. With sado-masochistic demons, multiple flayings, and reanimated corpses using sex as a bargaining tool, this is about as un-romantic as it gets. But hey, with pain comes pleasure… right?

FRANKENSTEIN

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Talk about rejection. Not only does your creator hate you, but the rest of humanity wants to torch you down, too? We’ve all been there. Considering that director James Whale was battling with his own sexuality (ultimately resulting in his tragic suicide), this adaptation takes on a whole new dimension.

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS

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It’s hard to find love. It’s hard to keep it. And it’s much, much harder when the world is being taken over by body-stealing aliens who usurp bae’s body and turn her into a monster. Also one of the bleakest 50’s horror films, this one turns you off dating (and sleeping) for a while.

EXCISION

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Pauline is hopelessly single. But she doesn’t give a shit. While she does have major problems ( and I mean major), Pauline loves herself and won’t let anyone change her. In a fairly vapid dating society, she’s kinda inspiring. But also this movie is awesomely disgusting. Good choice to scare off a potential suitor.

ROSEMARY’S BABY

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Only the sickest people watch this classic and say, “Let’s get married and have a kid.” NO. After watching what Mia Farrow goes through, I’m hiding in a cave with a few cats and a dog. Satanists can keep their matrimony and birth plots to themselves.

Did I miss anything? Leave a comment below with your favorite anti-romance horror film!

Smucky’s Most Anticipated Horror Films of 2016

Posted in Best Of, Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 4, 2016 by smuckyproductions

2015 was an incredible year for horror. Now, with a legion of festival favorites, directorial returns and a few arthouse surprises, 2016 promises to be even better. Here are the films that Smucky looks forward to most in the coming year:

BEFORE I WAKE

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The release date for Mike Flanagan’s newest film have been confused, but by all accounts, it comes out this winter. After “Absentia” and “Oculus,” Flanagan has proven himself to be a fantastic genre director. This latest effort looks like a continuation of this streak. Following a boy whose dreams come to life – in suitably scary ways – “Before I Wake” promises to be surreal, beautiful, and unsettling as hell.

THE NEON DEMON

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I like it when arthouse directors tackle this genre. Efforts from Stanley Kubrick, Roman Polanski and David Lynch have proven to be some of the best horror films ever. Here’s to hoping that Nicholas Winding Refn, the indie-darling-director of “Drive,” delivers on this tradition. A violent and beautiful horror film set in the world of fashion has endless potential, and a director of Refn’s skill is the one to make it work.

THE GREASY STRANGLER

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Little has been said about this one, and it’s technically not released yet, but its Sundance slate has me excited. The fabulous folks at SpectreVision bring this to Park City at Midnight: a horror/comedy about a killer, likely unpleasant-looking, stalking the seedy streets of an unknown city. I’ll be seeing this at Sundance this year, and I can’t wait to see what new vision it presents.

FEBRUARY

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After its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, this film got quite a bit of buzz for being subtle, slow, and totally unsettling. While the reviews are semi-split, the promise of a thoughtful and well-crafted demonic thriller caught my attention. Whispers hint that it’s both moody and shocking, sad and terrifying, a combination that I’m dying to see.

THE WITCH

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While technically a 2015 release, as it premiered in January at Sundance, this highly talked-about creeper will not appear in theaters until February of this year. All the more reason to anticipate it. Aside from being one of the best and scariest trailers of 2015, the reviews have been stellar. It sounds like a claustrophobic, sublime, and transgressive horror film – about witches in Puritan America, no less. I’m in.

Smucky’s Best Horror Films of 2015

Posted in Best Of, Films That Haunt Me with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2015 by smuckyproductions

The madness that was 2015 has come to a conclusion. Looking back, there is so much to celebrate in horror – a veritable resurgence of this wondrous genre. Now Smucky’s Grave reflects on the favorite horror films that graced the screens this year.

THE HALLOW

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Creature feature, body horror, and possession drama – all in one outrageously fun movie. Born and bred in Ireland, which is full of untapped spook stories, this indie effort shows that monster movies can still be scary. It’s gross and imaginative, but it also has a heart beating at its center.

CREEP

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Found footage is generally the worst. But leave it up to Mark Duplass and the Blumhouse folks to come up with a hilarious, subtle, and ultimately horrific meta-film about loneliness and madness. This quirky piece of terror might be too weird for some folks, but for those who are weird already, it speaks volumes. I wanted to take a shower after the ending.

WE ARE STILL HERE

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Dark Sky Films does it again with a wonderfully creepy homage to Lovecraft and Fulci. The fact that those two names show up together is enough to send horror nerds flailing in excitement. What begins as a spooky haunted house flick soon descends into gore-soaked cosmic horror, all while being legitimately scary. A ball of bloody fun, this one.

CRIMSON PEAK

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It’s too much to hope for that not one, but TWO, films reference Italian directors. Guillermo del Toro’s lush, stunning love letter to Gothic romance is dripping with Bava-esque visuals and intense passion that most of Hollywood has effectively killed. While not exactly horror, this film embodies the Gothic tradition so well, and makes for singularly spooky entertainment.

GOODNIGHT MOMMY

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It’s no accident that this film was Austria’s submission to the Oscars this year. Rarely has a film been able to sustain such unbearable tension, all by withholding information – until the brutal, bone-rattling end. This horrorshow seems like a Gothic chiller set in a cold modernist world, but by the conclusion, it becomes so much more. I still shiver when I think of the images here. Not for the fainthearted.

IT FOLLOWS

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Sure, this film is over-discussed. But there’s a reason for it. In an age when most horror is either a remake or a spoof, this film manages to pay homage to the classics, tear them down, and rebuild them into something new. It’s honestly terrifying, surprisingly beautiful, and uncannily subtle in its presentation of nebulous millennial fears. We have witnessed the birth of a new genre icon here, and a testament to the power of indie cinema. What a way to celebrate cinema.

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There are quite a few films that Smucky’s Grave missed this year, including: “The Final Girls,” “Unfriended,” “Krampus,” “The Visit,” “Bone Tomahawk,” and “The Boy.” Here’s to hoping that 2016 allows for more time to explore these well-hyped films.

HAPPY NEW YEAR, GHOULS!

7 Horror Films to Ruin your Christmas

Posted in Best Of, Films That Haunt Me with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 21, 2015 by smuckyproductions

 

It’s the holiday season – as the nights lengthen and the weather turns vicious, we turn to warm fires, bright lights, and wishes of wellbeing. At least, some of us do. For those who like their holidays with a dose of darkness, here is a list of films that capture the wickedness of winter.

  1. BLACK CHRISTMAS

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What other movie scores a murder scene with “O Holy Night”? Oft credited as the first ‘slasher’ film, this one takes place in a sorority house on the brink of winter break – but someone does not intend for the sisters to go home. Featuring a truly creepy villain (BILLY!) and one hell of a creepy ending, “Black Christmas” is great spirited terror. (Stay away from the gory remake – the 1974 version is where it’s at.)

  1. CRIMSON PEAK

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The director himself claims that this is not a horror film, and to a point I agree – but this traditional Gothic yarn is perfect for a cold winter night. The visuals are stunning, the performances are spot-on; and the titular house, embedded in drifts of red snow, is sure to become an icon. Best watched by a fire while the wind howls outside.

  1. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN

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Encased in the bitter snows of Sweden, this understated masterpiece is one of the best vampire films ever made. Its exploration of innocence, loneliness, and intimacy are beautiful, but also deeply chilling. This is no Twilight – there is true evil at work here. Gorgeously shot, too, this is ideal for lonely winter viewing.

  1. RAVENOUS

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No winter is complete without a visit from the Wendigo! As discussed in a previous post, this film is brutally original and also true to its source legend. Set in the icy climes of frontier-era California, the story gives us our fair share of viscera, blood, and snowy spirits. Take some pointers for Christmas dinner, too.

  1. DEAD OF NIGHT

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While only one segment of this anthology relates to Christmas, the overall film has an atmosphere of fireside ghost stories gone horribly wrong. What begins as cozy becomes claustrophobic – but I won’t give too much away. No film delivers old-fashioned chills more darkly and stylishly.

  1. THE THING (1982)

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What better setting for a horror film than a snowed-in station in Antartica? Sticking closer to the source story than the original, and taking some cues from “At the Mountains of Madness,” John Carpenter’s classic is paranoid and claustrophobic – also sporting some of the grossest monsters in horror history. You think getting stuck with your relatives at Christmas is bad? Try spending December with the Thing.

  1. THE SHINING

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An obvious choice, but too perfect to ever exclude. Stanley Kubrick adapts Stephen King’s ghost story and turns it into a cosmic nightmare. The snowbound waste of the Overlook is pervaded by a sense of dread that only Blackwood can conjure – a massive force watching over. Part ghost thriller, part domestic drama, but ultimately a surreal assault of the senses, there is no better film for a dark snowy night.

Did we overlook anything particularly chilly? Let us know! And happy dark days, fellow ghouls.

Horror Stories for a Snowy Night

Posted in Best Of with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2015 by smuckyproductions

 

Yuletide is upon us! The nights grow dark, the air cold, and the wind carries voices of ice… the perfect time for a few fireside shivers. Here is a (partial) list of classic and contemporary stories that suit themselves for a cold night, when you tremble from something other than temperature.

  1. THE WENDIGO by ALGERNON BLACKWOOD

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Algernon Blackwood is the unchallenged master of the terrified awe that nature inspires – like an evil twin of the Romantics. “Wendigo” is my personal favorite of his famous tales. His ill-fated group of hunters who encounter the titular spirit in the winter woods are witnesses to a horror that we all understand: being at the mercy of the elements. It evokes a sense of ever-present dread, lurking over the treetops and blowing in on the snow – something that we can’t see, but it sure sees us.

  1. OH, WHISTLE AND I’LL COME TO YOU, MY LAD by M.R. JAMES

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No December reading list is complete without M.R. James – he is one of the best practitioners of the fireside ghost story. While many of his stories are worth reading, “Whistle” combines the best traits of them all: chilly seaside atmosphere, ancient relics, and slow-building uncanny events that blow up into shocking terror. All with a cheeky sense of humor. Suffice to say that James actually makes the ghost-in-a-sheet cliché frightening.

  1. THE COMPANY OF WOLVES by ANGELA CARTER

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As with the entirety of her collection, Angela Carter is phenomenal at paying tribute to fairy tales while also subverting them. Here, we find a deeply dark version of Red Riding Hood – a snow-shrouded village in Eastern Europe; a young girl with a vital task, and the boy who seduces her; the horrible, animal secret that might kill her. It’s both frightening and hideously erotic, realizing the full potential of the werewolf/sexual awakening metaphor.

  1. SILENT SNOW, SECRET SNOW by CONRAD AIKEN

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Cited by some as one of the first psychological thrillers in short American fiction, this story has a bizarrely simple premise: a boy becomes obsessed with snow. Somehow it manages to be weirder than it sounds. On one hand, it’s a deeply disturbing supernatural horror story; on the other, it’s an upending exploration of mental illness and obsession. All while having a supremely chilling atmosphere.

  1. MIRIAM by TRUMAN CAPOTE

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What would you do if a helpless little girl follows you home… and refuses to leave you alone? Set in a bitter, empty New York winter, this shivery tale reads like the purest of nightmares: surreal, impossible, but inescapable. It’s also a horrifying meditation on loneliness and manipulation. Capote knew how to scare readers with his true stories, but he also could craft fictional terror, all too well.

  1. THE YATTERING AND JACK by CLIVE BARKER

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No one in their right mind would call this scary. But it’s an absolute blast to read – a combination of demonic horror clichés and brilliant dark humor, often bordering on slapstick. And it all takes place during a traditional Suburban Christmas. Clive Barker has an imagination of dark gold, and it’s displayed beautifully in this tale of holiday Satanism, with a hefty dose of satire as well.

  1. SNOW, GLASS, APPLES by NEIL GAIMAN

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Only someone like Neil Gaiman could take such a classic, overdone story – Snow White, in this case – and completely invert it, so the original is unrecognizable. I won’t tell you how he does it, but the effect is astonishing and wholly terrifying. This wintry fairy tale is a bleak and brilliant nightmare. Its minute twists of the source material alter the reader’s perception so fully that they can never go back.