Sublime Horror

Celebrating the best in horror

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Meta-horror – a reading list

The past decade has seen a spike in meta-horror, particularly in film. Tucker & Dale vs Evil, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and The Cabin in the Woods all bring a comedic self-referential vibe to a genre known for its tropes. But what about books? Below, find a list of some of the best in meta-horror literature. From classics to contemporary fiction, there is something to haunt everyone. But be warned, reading this list may have consequences…

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Four novels to wake us up to our own climate horror story

Turn on the news today and you’ll be confronted by a headline that seems more likely to have been ripped from a movie than real life: “Record heat fuels wildfires in Alaska”; “High likelihood of human civilisation coming to an end by 2050”; “Half of the Great Barrier Reef is dead”. Cheery stuff. Even so, this isn’t a disaster movie we’re living in, it’s a slow-burn horrorfest. There’s a lingering sense of dread now that accompanies us everywhere. We know there’s something on the horizon and we’re pretty sure it’s not going to be pleasant. And while some of us are trying to rewrite the narrative to make it less apocalyptic, the rest of us are still sleepwalking to oblivion.

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Spiders and flies – the Gothic monsters of sci-fi horror

“Science fiction plucks from within us our deepest fears and hopes, then shows them to us in rough disguise: the monster and the rocket” – W.H. Auden

You may believe that Alien is a science fiction film. After all it’s set in space with all the hypersleep pods and computer terminals and rumbling star-drives you might want. The story happens in some distant (but not too distant) future where humanity feels at home travelling the gulfs between stars. It is, perhaps most pressingly, called Alien.

You may believe that Alien is a science fiction film and it’s not an absurd position to hold. It’s just wrong.

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The Possession by Michael Rutger review – our own heads are dangerous places to be

Small-town weirdness meets supernatural thriller in screenwriter Michael Rutger’s The Possession, a sequel to The Anomaly, which was released in 2018. Hands up – I have not read The Anomaly, so came to this cold. Despite a few small mentions about the climax of the last book, which of course meant nothing to me, I did not suffer. Rutger doesn’t labour the point, and just gets on with the business of a new adventure.

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The Forgotten Girl by Rio Youers review – should have forgotten the guy

Harvey Anderson is living his life as a 26-year-old busker in New Jersey when, one day, he is seized by violent men who beat him up and ask where they can find Sally Stirling, his girlfriend of five years. Only Harvey doesn’t remember Sally. The leader of this gang, “the Spider”, reveals that Sally has the ability to wipe memories and that he has been hunting her down for nine years to take back the memories she robbed him of. A well-paced thriller-esque chase ensues: Harvey tries to hunt down the elusive Sally and find out what happened to her and his memory.

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Psycho and the legacy of Robert Bloch

In the convention program book for the 1983 World Fantasy Convention, Stephen King wrote: “What [Robert] Bloch did with such novels as The DeadbeatThe ScarfFirebugPsycho, and The Couch was to rediscover the suspense novel and reinvent the antihero as first discovered by James Cain.” A screenwriter and novelist of German Jewish descent from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Bloch was the youngest member of The Lovecraft Circle, or the writers who followed H. P. Lovecraft and published their short fiction in Weird Tales, a pulp horror outlet that circulated through the Great Depression. But Bloch is probably best remembered for his novel Psycho that served as the basis for one of the most iconic horror films of the 1960s. While Bloch was hardly the first to lend a psychological perspective to the horror novel (a feat that many initially attribute to Edgar Allan Poe, but can also arguably be found in Gothic and speculative literature since its inception), his unique true-crime slant to storytelling set the tone for both speculative fiction and psychological horror for the latter half of the twentieth century. 

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Trolls by Stefan Spjut review – an unworthy slog

Trolls is the sequel to Stallo Spjut’s previous output, Stallo, which followed Susso Myrén and her family as they confronted the reality that trolls exist, can turn into animals, and are being fed children by humans. Excited by the prospect of reading Scandi horror with folkloric creatures for the first time, I eagerly jumped in. It is clear that the novel is a sequel, as past events are immediately alluded to and discussed briefly, yet there is a sense that the reader should already be aware of previous happenings. I hadn’t read Stallo and so I found the writer’s reluctance to lay the groundwork to ensure the sequel also read as a standalone frustrating. Your first warning: it is necessary to read the first book to ensure Trolls reads more smoothly. 

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Midsommar: the dangers of isolation and the beauty of rebirth

Editor’s note: as this is an analysis of the film Midsommar, there be spoilers ahead. 

Midsommar is Ari Aster’s latest horror offering following 2018’s Hereditary, and sees a group of friends who travel to Sweden for a festival that only occurs every 90 years, only to find themselves amongst a pagan cult.

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Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson review – how modern-day monsters are created

It is 1816 and a nineteen-year-old Mary Shelley is staying in Geneva, Switzerland, with Lord Byron, John Polidori, her stepsister Claire Clairmont and her lover, Percy Bysshe Shelley. The group engage in a task: write a horror story. Excited, Mary begins, not knowing just how much her own story and characters will haunt her.

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Wounds: Six Stories from the Border of Hell by Nathan Ballingrud review

“It’s my experience that we all have a secret heart, even brutes.”

This quote from Nathan Ballingrud’s Wounds not only sums up this cleverly connected collection but is also, perhaps, a comment on humanity; a theme the author has elegantly expounded through some genuinely disturbing stories. Wounds: Six Stories from the Border of Hell is exactly as it says on the cover, and we end where we start, leaving the reader with an immensely satisfying feeling.

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