Words by Camille Ong
We usually turn to horror movies when we want a good scare. They’ve got everything we need to frighten ourselves in a short hour or two—jump scares, monsters, suspense, and so on. They’re also quite effective since they explicitly show us what we’re supposed to fear. Short stories, on the other hand, provide us with a different kind of fear altogether. They’re not as in-your-face as horror movies because short stories creep up on you, play with your imagination, leave you analyzing.
Before movies were invented, people had to rely on novels and short stories to entertain themselves. They’re not as easy to ease into because the suspense is gradual but it’s worth it once you get into it. I tried to choose stories that are old or are representative of the basic plots for horror movies, to see how our perception of these certain topics changed through the years. The stories I chose for this list didn’t make me scream or pee my pants in fear, but they did creep me out and left me thinking long after I read it.
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5. The Doll by Daphne du Maurier
“His face was the most evil thing I have ever seen. It was ashen pale in colour, and the mouth was a crimson gash, sensual and depraved. The nose was thin, with curved nostrils, and the eyes were cruel, gleaming and narrow, and curiously still.”
Written in the late 1920s, The Doll is way ahead of its time. Dolls have been playthings for many years now. The fact that children used to play with dolls on a daily basis means all these scary stories or movies about dolls are modern. However, The Doll by Daphne du Maurier puts a spin on these children’s toys and uses them for mature purposes. While the story starts off pretty tame, the buildup of the mystery surrounding the woman that our protagonist is obsessed with makes for a pretty suspenseful story.
Read The Doll here
4. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
“There are things in that paper which nobody knows but me, or ever will. Behind that outside pattern, the dim shapes get clearer every day. It is always the same shape, only very numerous. And it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern.”
Haunted house movies are almost a subgenre of horror considering the abundance of them. It’s a classic story structure that people still use up until now. While we’re used to paranormal activities inside a home in films, The Yellow Wallpaper is more of a psychological horror. A collection of journal entries, this short story chronicles a woman’s summer in a rented old mansion. Forbidden to do activities by her husband because of her diagnosis, she starts to fixate on the yellow wallpaper in the bedroom.
Read The Yellow Wallpaper here
3. Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? by Joyce Carol Oates
“He stared at her and then his lips widened into a grin. Connie slit her eyes at him and turned away, but she couldn’t help glancing back and there he was, still watching her. He wagged a finger and laughed and said, “Gonna get you, baby.”
This feels a lot like what happens right before the gore-y bits in slasher films. Before someone dies, they’re usually stalked or terrorized. Nothing explicitly bad happens, per se, but the implication of the ending is obvious. The dialogue had me hanging on the edge of my seat and making me worry about what was to happen next. While simple and straightforward, this short story really creeped me out.
Read Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? here
2. Strawberry Spring by Stephen King
“John Dancey on his way back to his dormitory began screaming into the fog, dropping books on and between the sprawled legs of the dead girl lying in a shadowy corner of the Animal Sciences parking lot, her throat cut from ear to ear but her eyes open and almost seeming to sparkle as if she had just successfully pulled off the funniest joke of her young life.”
We wouldn’t want to leave out serial killers in this list. This is the closest one I could find to fit the slasher genre, and King’s always a good choice for the horror genre. Strawberry spring is when the weather becomes unusually warm in the summer. In this short story, it also means the time for the serial killer to go on his killing spree.
Read Strawberry Spring here
1. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
Jackson is known for her stories of horror and mystery. The fact that she influenced Stephen King, one of the most prolific writers in the horror genre, means that her stories are not to be taken lightly. Since this story relies on suspense, I won’t include a quote so you’ll go into this blindly. But to give a bit of a background, The Lottery begins on a beautiful, summer day as 300 people in a small town prepare for a yearly tradition.
Read The Lottery here
Which one are you going to read? Let us know!