10. The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat As Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade by Peter Weiss
My alma mater, Illinois State University, staged a fantastic and horrifying production of this "total theatre" extravaganza which I saw as a senior in college. The title spells it out for you: it features a play-within-a-play, performed by asylum inmates, and directed by the Marquis de Sade. So, you've got the man that sadism is named after, and a re-enactment of a brutal murder in a bathtub, staged by dangerous lunatics. Sounds like a recipe for awesome, any way you slice it.
9. The Insanity of Mary Girard by Lanie Robertson
My Number Nine is another play set in an asylum - back in the days when a husband could have his wife committed, and didn't really even need much of a reason. Mary Girard makes the mistake of cheating on her husband (or, makes the mistake of marrying the douchebag in the first place?) and is committed to an asylum. And did I mention she's pregnant? She wasn't crazy when she went in, but, being imprisoned with a bunch of maniacs tends to damage one's mental stability. And, as Nurse Mandy says, "Babies make people crazy in the brain." The play walks a nice line between horror and drama - and the production I saw in high school scared the bejeesus out of me.
8. Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
Yep. The Number 8 spot goes to the ultimate in Emo Vamprie Fiction. I'm not sure what made this novel so captivating and scary - maybe it's the unique dialogue convention of the narrative, or maybe I'm just a sucker for killer children and Grand Guignol. Sure, the Vampire Chronicles series gets pretty godawful down the road, but I try not to hold that against Interview.
7. Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis
This novel contains so many autobiographical elements that when the horror begins, you find yourself suspending more disbelief than you otherwise might. Bret Easton Ellis is the main character in the book, and he writes candidly about his experiences writing American Psycho and Less Than Zero - and the reactions people had to those works. Then the mysterious disappearances and poltergeist-like phenomena start, and This novel will make you completely terrified of Furbies - if, for some reason, you weren't already.
6. The Pillowman by Martin McDonough
This play is fucking haunting. In a totalitarian regime, investigators go after a writer whose twisted fiction is coming true. Small children are gruesomely murdered. The writer must face the dark childhood responsible for his genius. Plus, plenty of twists, turns, and gallows humor.
5. Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
I'll be honest: I think Dexter the TV Series has better writing than the books. But the first novel in Jeff Lindsay's is still quite the page-turner. It's told in first-person, of course, and inside Dexter's head is a scary place to be. It's no easy feat to make the average reader empathize with (and root for) a self-declared sociopath and serial killer, but I defy you to read this novel and not be on Dexter's side by
the end Chapter 3. Curl up with this book on a dark night and discover your inner vigilante.
4. The Fall of the House of Usher adapted by Gip Hoppe
I love me some Edgar Allan Poe, no lie. I could make a Top 10 List of my favorite Works of Poe. And I probably will eventually. But I find this modernized stage adaptation to be particularly haunting. I've never had the opportunity to see it, but when I read it, even the stage directions creeped me the fuck out. I dream of directing this piece, but I'd need a pretty big check to build a set that literally falls apart every night. (P.S. I already know who I'd cast to play Madeline.)
3. Down the Road by Lee Blessing
Dan and Iris are a happily married couple make their living by interviewing convicted murderers and writing "True Crime" books. At least, until they start to interview Bill Reach. There's something different about this killer, and as he gets further and further under their skin, Iris and Dan have to ask themselves if they are documenting horror, or helping to create it. And I have to give props to Bret Swanson, who I cast as Reach in the production I directed in 2004 in Normal, Illinois. Down the Road - and Bret's performance - inspired me to write Rage Is Loud.
2. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
"To seek revenge may lead to Hell - but everyone does it, and seldom as well! As Sweeney! As Sweeney Todd! The Demon Barber of Fleet Street!" Yep, a musical! Didn't see that coming, didja? Cannibalism + murderous revenge + singing + ???? = WIN. Any time a musical ends with most of the characters dead, I'm down. This is the show that made me a die-hard Sondheim fan, and made me afraid to get a haircut. For my money, it doesn't get any better than the song "Have a Little Priest" which is the finest example of gallows humor that has ever been committed to paper, and it fucking rhymes. The Ballad of Sweeney Todd is the kind of haunting melody that nightmares are made of, and if your heart doesn't stop dead when Joanna and Sweeney finally meet, then you don't have one. There are so many excellent moments in this amazing show - but the best one may be, "I DON'T HAVE TIME."
1. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
Mary Shelley was not writing about a scientist building a monster out of spare parts and electricity. I mean, yes, she was, but that it wasn't really the point. You can't read Frankenstein without recognizing that the doctor's dilemma is an analogy for motherhood. But if Mary Shelley had written her novel from the point of view of a mother whose deformed child is a serial killer, she probably would have been burned at the stake. My belief is that supernatural elements are best used to illuminate the deepest, most emotional truths. World War Z is about zombies, sure - but zombies aren't really the point. If you only read one of the books on this list, read World War Z. You might never get a good night's sleep again, but trust me, it will be worth it.
And that's the list, kids. Feel like I missed something crucial? Feel free to leave your suggestions and comments. That's what comments are for. And just so you know, any time you click on one of the Amazon links, and then subsequently buy something, La Petite Morgue gets a tiny percentage. Which means you can support live horror, just by shopping. True story.