A Brief History
On May 26, 1897, Bram Stoker’s horror novel, Dracula, was published. Before and since, horror stories have terrified us, whether at the movies, around a campfire, or under our bedroom covers reading a spooky book with a flashlight. Here we list 10 of the greatest horror stories of all time. (It was not easy to omit classics like the Saw movies and the Hannibal Lecter stories, but that is what sequels are for.)
10. The Human Centipede, 2009.
A Dutch film by Tom Six inspired by the horrors of Dr. Mengele and his Nazi cohorts performing sick human experiments in World War II. This involves sewing the lips of a person to another person’s anus, and then adding a third person. So sickening, the thought of this cracked film is enough to generate a gag reflex. So of course, there is a sequel! Even South Park, the Comedy Central cartoon parodied this sick film. If horror is disgusting, this is it.
9. The Island of Dr. Moreau, 1896.
This H.G. Wells story was adapted for motion pictures in 1933 (as The Island of Lost Souls) and again in 1977 and 1996. A silent movie version, The Island of Terror, was released in 1913, and numerous lesser films have been based on this story. The story centers on a castaway that ends up on an Island where a Dr. Moreau is experimenting on turning animals into human-like hybrids, sometimes combining different animals together as well. Eventually the man escapes the horrors after the animals return to their base instincts and kill Dr. Moreau.
8. The Last House on the Left, 1972, 2009.
A terrifying story (motion pictures) of degenerate killers that just happen to pick the house where the parents of their rape and torture victim live to seek shelter for the night after they crashed into a tree. The parents eventually learn that their guests are psychopaths that have grievously injured their daughter and payback becomes the order of the day. The head bad guy is first paralyzed from neck down, and then has his head placed in a microwave. Both movies are worth watching.
7. The Vampire Chronicles, 1976.
A total of 11 Ann Rice novels about vampires, the first book was Interview with the Vampire in 1976. The most recent, Prince Lestat, was just released this year. These are quality vampire stories, probably the best written we have yet read. The first book was made into a major motion picture with Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise (1994) and Queen of the Damned (2002) was made into what would have been a good movie if the star, Aaliyah, had not died during filming. Cracked fact: Ann Rice was born Howard Allen Frances O’Brien. (Only the name was changed, not the gender.)
6. The Mist, 1980.
A short novel by horror master Stephen King, a strange mist settles on a Maine town and brings with it horrible monsters that kill people. The protagonist is trapped in a grocery store with hysterical people where the worst and best of humanity is displayed. The hero, his son, and three adults flee the store in a car, driving until they run out of gas. Finally, resigning themselves to a horrible death if they do nothing, the hero shoots his young son and three adult companions and attempts to offer himself to the monsters when he is unexpectedly rescued by soldiers. The horror of it is gut wrenching.
(Note: The abiove refers to the movie ending, which is considerably more horrible than the book ending where the flight from the store is unresolved.)
5. The Wolfen, 1978.
The Whitley Streiber novel was adapted as a movie in 1981, which more or less followed the book. Either way, both the book and the movie are the best of the many werewolf type stories, and of course, there are a lot to choose from. If you choose a different one, ok, but we will stick with this tale of modern wolfmen stalking the ghettos and eating people that will not be missed.
4. Jaws, 1974.
The Peter Benchley classic novel was quickly made into a blockbuster movie, and across the world people “knew” it was not safe to go back in the water! This movie spurred a flurry of shark fishing that swamped guides with business and started shark fishing tournaments, that continue to this day. Public awareness of sharks was raised like never before, and today we even have “Shark Week” on The Discovery Channel every year since 1987.
3. Johnny Got His Gun, 1938.
The book by Dalton Trumbo has been adapted for radio, stage, rock song, and film, each of which captures the abject horror of the situation. Johnny goes to war (World War I) and the next thing he knows he is in a hospital bed, without arms, legs or a face (including no eyes, ears, tongue or teeth). All he wants is to be allowed to die, but in this nightmare state he cannot communicate the wish. He finds he cannot suffocate himself because of having a tracheotomy, but he finally communicates by banging his head in Morse code. Of course, that gets him nowhere, and he is condemned to the hell of his own body. He then communicates that he wants to be displayed in a glass box to show people the horrors of war, but even that pathetic wish is denied.
2. Frankenstein, 1818.
Mary Shelley, 18 years old at the time, started writing the book as part of a friendly competition between herself, her future husband (Percy Shelley, famous poet and writer), Lord Byron (famous poet and writer) and John Polidori (another writer who gave us the first vampire novel, The Vampyre). These four friends set out to see which of them could write the best horror story, and of course, that was young Mary, her book published when she was only 20 years old. Since then the amount of movies, television shows, various characters and derivative books is exceeded only by Dracula.
Bowl of Frankenberry, anyone?
1. Dracula, 1897.
Bram Stoker’s masterpiece introduced the masses to Count Dracula, the archetypical vampire. Aside from the widespread success of the book, many movies have been made retelling the tale, as well as television shows and many other books. This book is responsible for inspiring more books and movies than any other horror story, from HBO’s True Blood to the Twilight series of movies. Serious or spoofs, such movies have flooded the screen. The 200+ films based on Dracula are second only to Sherlock Holmes as a fictional character. Modern analysts have studied and analyzed this book to an incredible extent, seeking every nuance and hidden meaning. For the record, Stoker did indeed base the Dracula character on Vlad III Dracula of Wallachia, also known as Vlad the Impaler. How about a bowl of Count Chocula cereal? Dracula has even invaded Sesame Street, with The Count teaching kids to count!
Question for students (and subscribers): As we all have our own special fears, perhaps your ideas are different than ours. Feel free to share your favorite nominees for greatest horror stories in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Kuttner, Henry, Robert Silverberg, et al. The Greatest Horror Stories of the 20th Century. Phoenix Books, 1999. Audiobook.
The World’s Greatest Horror Stories. B&N, 2004.