We’re all familiar with Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, Dr. Jekyll and his cruel alter ego Mr. Hyde–and with Halloween around the corner, we’ve been inundated with those familiar images so much that they barely incite a shiver. If you’re looking for a fresh fright, take a look at these lesser-known literary monsters–they’ll be sure to send chills down your spine!
1. CARMILLA, Sheridan LeFanu
Sheridan LeFanu’s “Carmilla” may be the very first vampire story ever written! It focuses on the relationship between a young woman named Laura and an adopted girl, Carmilla. As it turns out, Carmilla is actually one Countess Millarca, supposedly dead for two hundred years. Much like later stories, it centers on unraveling the “mysterious illness” that befalls Laura, and Carmilla’s erratic and terrifying behaviors. This tale heavily inspired Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”, and though it may seem rather bland, Carmilla represents a revolution in Gothic Literature.
2. MONTRESOR, Edgar Allan Poe
Not all monsters have to be supernatural. Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” tells the tale of a man named Montresor, bent on revenge against his enemy Fortunado. He invites Fortunato to taste a cask of rare wine, stored in his family’s catacombs. Drunk on wine and merriment, Fortunato little suspects that Montresor is leading him to his death. I won’t spoil the ending, but this story will remind you of how cruel man can be. It’s almost certain to rattle your chains.
THE HOUSE, Mark Z. Danielewski
If you are looking for a more cerebral horror experience, have a look at Mark Z. Danielewski’s “House of Leaves”, a book so complex and terrifying I had to put it down after just a few pages. “The House” I refer to is just one aspect of the book: bigger on the inside, the house seems to change of its own free will. Bare of decoration, it emits low growls and develops never-ending staircases, among other disturbing features. The exploration of this house, combined with the unconventional format of the book, is almost guaranteed to give you the willies.
AZATHOTH, H.P. Lovecraft
Most of us have heard of Cthulu, but very few of us have delved much deeper into H.P. Lovecraft’s frightening mythos–he referred to dozens of creatures in his writing, some of whom are so terrifying, they drive you mad by simply laying eyes on them. One of these, Azathoth, might be best described by Mr. Lovecraft himself:
“[O]utside the ordered universe [is] that amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity—the boundless daemon sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time and space amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin monotonous whine of accursed flutes.” (From “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath”)
Not exactly something you want to meet in a dark alley.
THE SUBWAY CREATURES, Clive Barker
Perhaps one of the most gruesome stories I’ve ever read, Clive Barkers’ “The Midnight Meat Train” appears to be the story of a mass murderer preying on subway passengers. The protagonist investigates the killer, eventually catching him in the act of butchering his victims and learns that, rather than killing for his own pleasure, the murderer is in the service of something much more sinister. If you want the story in a visual (and much gorier) form, try the movie starring Bradley Cooper before he was cool.
Exploring the vast world of horror is not for the faint-hearted, but perhaps this list gave you an idea of how diverse and rich the genre is. Here’s hoping that this list provides you with enough scares to last you all year!
Written by Victoria Sullivan