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Spooky Books for Movie Nerds


Growing up, my love of horror developed through television and the movies. It started with Nickelodeon's Are You Afraid of the Dark? series and evolved into a full-fledged love of slasher films when I discovered Scream and Final Destination as a preteen. I also happen to love history, specifically the history of early cinema and Hollywood. So, for me, horror and mystery books about movies are kind of a sweet spot. I even went so far as to write one myself. Not kidding. Harper Perennial is releasing Midnight on Beacon Street in 2024 (self promo, yes, but it's relevant to the subject at least). I seriously love it when these worlds collide. Bonus points if the story is rooted in weird lore.

This might seem like an ultra specific niche, but horror and the movies are often more intertwined than you might think. Here are 20 horror novels, short fiction anthologies, and even a poetry collection for film lovers. Titles are listed by release date.


Silver Nitrate by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Del Rey, 2023)


From the publisher:


"Montserrat has always been overlooked. She’s a talented sound editor, but she’s left out of the boys’ club running the film industry in ’90s Mexico City. And she’s all but invisible to her best friend, Tristán, a charming if faded soap opera star, though she’s been in love with him since childhood. Then Tristán discovers his new neighbor is the cult horror director Abel Urueta, and the legendary auteur claims he can change their lives—even if his tale of a Nazi occultist imbuing magic into highly volatile silver nitrate stock sounds like sheer fantasy. The magic film was never finished, which is why, Urueta swears, his career vanished overnight. He is cursed. Now the director wants Montserrat and Tristán to help him shoot the missing scene and lift the curse . . . but Montserrat soon notices a dark presence following her, and Tristán begins seeing the ghost of his ex-girlfriend. As they work together to unravel the mystery of the film and the obscure occultist who once roamed their city, Montserrat and Tristán may find that sorcerers and magic are not only the stuff of movies."


Burn the Negative by Josh Winning (Putnam's Sons, 2023)


From the publisher:


"Arriving in L.A. to visit the set of a new streaming horror series, journalist Laura Warren witnesses a man jumping from a bridge, landing right behind her car. Here we go, she thinks. It’s started. Because the series she’s reporting on is a remake of a ’90s horror flick. A cursed ’90s horror flick, which she starred in as a child—and has been running from her whole life. In The Guesthouse, Laura played the little girl with the terrifying gift to tell people how the Needle Man would kill them. When eight of the cast and crew died in ways that eerily mirrored the movie’s on-screen deaths, the film became a cult classic—and ruined her life. Leaving it behind, Laura changed her name and her accent, dyed her hair, and moved across the Atlantic. But some scripts don’t want to stay buried. Now, as the body count rises again, Laura finds herself on the run with her aspiring actress sister and a jaded psychic, hoping to end the curse once and for all—and to stay out of the Needle Man’s lethal reach."


Curse of the Reaper by Brian McAuley (Talos, 2022)


From the publisher:


"Decades after playing the titular killer in the 80s horror franchise Night of the Reaper, Howard Browning has been reduced to signing autographs for his dwindling fanbase at genre conventions. When the studio announces a series reboot, the aging thespian is crushed to learn he’s being replaced in the iconic role by heartthrob Trevor Mane, a former sitcom child-star who’s fresh out of rehab. Trevor is determined to stay sober and revamp his image while Howard refuses to let go of the character he created, setting the stage for a cross-generational clash over the soul of a monster. But as Howard fights to reclaim his legacy, the sinister alter ego consumes his unraveling mind, pushing him to the brink of violence. Is the method actor succumbing to madness or has the devilish Reaper taken on a life of its own?


In his razor-sharp debut novel, film and television writer Brian McAuley melds wicked suspense with dark humor and heart. Curse of the Reaper is a tightly plotted thriller that walks the tightrope between the psychological and the supernatural, while characters struggling with addiction and identity bring to light the harrowing cost of Hollywood fame."


Siren Queen by Nghi Vo (Tor, 2022)


From the publisher:


“No maids, no funny talking, no fainting flowers.” Luli Wei is beautiful, talented, and desperate to be a star. Coming of age in pre-Code Hollywood, she knows how dangerous the movie business is and how limited the roles are for a Chinese American girl from Hungarian Hill—but she doesn't care. She’d rather play a monster than a maid.


But in Luli's world, the worst monsters in Hollywood are not the ones on screen. The studios want to own everything from her face to her name to the women she loves, and they run on a system of bargains made in blood and ancient magic, powered by the endless sacrifice of unlucky starlets like her. For those who do survive to earn their fame, success comes with a steep price. Luli is willing to do whatever it takes—even if that means becoming the monster herself.


Siren Queen offers up an enthralling exploration of an outsider achieving stardom on her own terms, in a fantastical Hollywood where the monsters are real and the magic of the silver screen illuminates every page."


Twentieth Anniversary Screening by Jeff Strand (Independent, 2022)


From the publisher:


"This novella recounts the grisly events surrounding the terrible slasher flick The Roofer, remembered only because an obsessed fan tried to reenact the murders as they played out on the screen. When the same theater shows the film twenty years later, will the warnings that this is a really, really bad idea be justified?"









Cinema Viscera: An Anthology of Movie Theater Horror edited by Sam Richard (WeirdPunk Books, 2021)


From the publisher:


"In five unique and bizarre tales Katy Michelle Quinn (Girl in the Walls), Charles Austin Muir (Slippery When Metastasized), Jo Quenell (The Mud Ballad), Brendan Vidito (Nightmares in Ecstasy), and Sam Richard (Sabbath of the Fox-Devils) each bring you their own disturbing vision of what lurks in the darkness of your local movie theater.


Not gonna lie, this shit is a lot darker than we thought it would be.


Make sure to grab some popcorn…"

Survive the Night by Riley Sager (Dutton, 2021)


From the publisher:


"It’s November 1991. Nirvana’s in the tape deck, George H. W. Bush is in the White House, and movie-obsessed college student Charlie Jordan is in a car with a man who might be a serial killer. Josh Baxter, the man behind the wheel, is a virtual stranger to Charlie. They met at the campus ride board, each looking to share the long drive home to Ohio. Both have good reasons for wanting to get away. For Charlie, it’s guilt and grief over the shocking murder of her best friend, who became the third victim of the man known as the Campus Killer. For Josh, it’s to help care for his sick father—or so he says. The longer she sits in the passenger seat, the more Charlie notices there’s something suspicious about Josh, from the holes in his story about his father to how he doesn’t want her to see inside the trunk. As they travel an empty, twisty highway in the dead of night, an increasingly anxious Charlie begins to think she’s sharing a car with the Campus Killer. Is Josh truly dangerous? Or is Charlie’s jittery mistrust merely a figment of her movie-fueled imagination? One thing is certain—Charlie has nowhere to run and no way to call for help. Trapped in a terrifying game of cat and mouse played out on pitch-black roads and in neon-lit parking lots, Charlie knows the only way to win is to survive the night."


It Came from the Multiplex: 80s Midnight Chillers edited by Joshua Viola (Hex Publishers, 2020)


From the publisher:


"Welcome to tonight's feature presentation, brought to you by an unholy alliance of our spellcasters at Hex Publishers and movie-mages at the Colorado Festival of Horror. Please be advised that all emergency exits have been locked for this special nostalgia-curdled premiere of death. From crinkling celluloid to ferocious flesh—from the silver screen to your hammering heart—behold as a swarm of werewolves, serial killers, Satanists, Elder Gods, aliens, ghosts, and unclassifiable monsters are loosed upon your auditorium. Relax, and allow our ushers to help with your buckets of popcorn—and blood; your ticket stubs—and severed limbs; your comfort candy—and body bags. Kick back and scream as you settle into a fate worse than Hell. Tonight's director's cut is guaranteed to slash you apart."


Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis (Dial Books, 2020)


From the publisher:


"Lola Nox is the daughter of a celebrated horror filmmaker–she thinks nothing can scare her. But when her father is brutally attacked in their New York apartment, she’s quickly packed off to live with a grandmother she’s never met in Harrow Lake, the eerie town where her father’s most iconic horror movie was shot. The locals are weirdly obsessed with the film that put their town on the map–and there are strange disappearances, which the police seem determined to explain away. And there’s someone–or something–stalking her every move. The more Lola discovers about the town, the more terrifying it becomes– because Lola’s got secrets of her own. And if she can’t find a way out of Harrow Lake, they might just be the death of her."



From the publisher:


"Legendary genre editor Ellen Datlow brings together eighteen dark and terrifying original stories inspired by cinema and television. A BLUMHOUSE BOOKS HORROR ORIGINAL. From the secret reels of a notoriously cursed cinematic masterpiece to the debauched livestreams of modern movie junkies who will do anything for clicks, Final Cuts brings together new and terrifying stories inspired by the many screens we can’t peel our eyes away from. Inspired by the rich golden age of the film and television industries as well as the new media present, this new anthology reveals what evils hide behind the scenes and between the frames of our favorite medium. With original stories from a diverse list of some of the best-known names in horror, Final Cuts will haunt you long after the credits roll. NEW STORIES FROM: Josh Malerman, Chris Golden, Stephen Graham Jones, Garth Nix, Laird Barron, Kelley Armstrong, John Langan, Richard Kadrey, Paul Cornell, Lisa Morton, AC Wise, Dale Bailey, Jeffrey Ford, Cassandra Khaw, Nathan Ballingrud, Gemma Files, Usman T. Malik, and Brian Hodge."


Lost Films edited by Max Booth III and Lori Michelle (Perpetual Motion Machine, 2018)


From the publisher:


"From the editors of Lost Signals comes the new volume in technological horror. Nineteen authors, both respected and new to the genre, team up to deliver a collection of terrifying, eclectic stories guaranteed to unsettle its readers. In Lost Films, a deranged group of lunatics hold an annual film festival, the lost series finale of The Simpsons corrupts a young boy’s sanity, and a VCR threatens to destroy reality. All of that and much more, with fiction from Brian Evenson, Gemma Files, Kelby Losack, Bob Pastorella, Brian Asman, Leigh Harlen, Dustin Katz, Andrew Novak, Betty Rocksteady, John C. Foster, Ashlee Scheuerman, Eugenia Triantafyllou, Kev Harrison, Thomas Joyce, Jessica McHugh, Kristi DeMeester, Izzy Lee, Chad Stroup, and David James Keaton."

I Am Not Your Final Girl: Poems by Claire C. Holland (GlassPoet Press, 2018)


From the publisher:


"I Am Not Your Final Girl, a collection of feminist-horror poems about final girls, is now available. The poems confront the role of women throughout history in relation to subjects such as feminism, violence, motherhood, and sexuality. Each poem is based on a fictional character from horror cinema, and explores the many ways in which women find empowerment through violence and their own perceived monstrousness."




Universal Harvester by John Darnielle (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017)


From the publisher:


"It’s the late ’90s, and you can find Jeremy Heldt at the Video Hut in Nevada, Iowa—a small town in the center of the state. The job is good enough for Jeremy, quiet and predictable, and it gets him out of the house, where he lives with his dad and where they both try to avoid missing Mom, who died six years ago in a carwreck. But when a local school teacher comes in to return her copy of Targets—an old movie, starring Boris Karloff—the transaction jolts Jeremy out of his routine. 'There’s something on it,' she says as she leaves the store, though she doesn’t elaborate. Two days later, another customer returns another tape, and registers the same odd complaint: 'There’s another movie on this tape.'


In Universal Harvester, the once-placid Iowa fields and farmhouses become sinister, imbued with loss and instability and foreboding. As Jeremy and those around him are absorbed into tapes, they become part of another story—one that unfolds years into the past and years into the future, part of an impossible search for something someone once lost that they would do anything to regain."

We Eat Our Own by Kea Wilson (Scribner, 2016)


From the publisher:


"When a nameless, struggling actor in 1970s New York gets the call that an enigmatic director wants him for an art film set in the Amazon, he doesn’t hesitate: he flies to South America, no questions asked. He quickly realizes he’s made a mistake. He’s replacing another actor who quit after seeing the script—a script the director now claims doesn’t exist. The movie is over budget. The production team seems headed for a breakdown. The air is so wet that the celluloid film disintegrates.


But what the actor doesn’t realize is that the greatest threat might be the town itself, and the mysterious shadow economy that powers this remote jungle outpost. Entrepreneurial Americans, international drug traffickers, and M-19 guerillas are all fighting for South America’s future—and the groups aren’t as distinct as you might think. The actor thought this would be a role that would change his life. Now he’s worried if he’ll survive it."


Experimental Film by Gemma Files (ChiZine Publications, 2015)


From the publisher:


"Former film teacher Lois Cairns is struggling to raise her autistic son while freelancing as a critic when, at a screening, she happens upon a sampled piece of silver nitrate silent footage. She is able to connect it to the early work of Mrs. Iris Dunlopp Whitcomb, the spiritualist and collector of fairy tales who mysteriously disappeared from a train compartment in 1918.


Hoping to make her own mark on the film world, Lois embarks on a project to prove that Whitcomb was Canada’s first female filmmaker. But her research takes her down a path not of darkness but of light—the blinding and searing light of a fairy tale made flesh, a noontime demon who demands that duty must be paid. As Lois discovers terrifying parallels between her own life and that of Mrs. Whitcomb, she begins to fear not just for herself, but for those closest to her heart."


Night Film by Marisha Pessl (Random House, 2013)


From the publisher:


"On a damp October night, beautiful young Ashley Cordova is found dead in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Though her death is ruled a suicide, veteran investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. As he probes the strange circumstances surrounding Ashley’s life and death, McGrath comes face-to-face with the legacy of her father: the legendary, reclusive cult-horror-film director Stanislas Cordova—a man who hasn’t been seen in public for more than thirty years. For McGrath, another death connected to this seemingly cursed family dynasty seems more than just a coincidence. Though much has been written about Cordova’s dark and unsettling films, very little is known about the man himself. Driven by revenge, curiosity, and a need for the truth, McGrath, with the aid of two strangers, is drawn deeper and deeper into Cordova’s eerie, hypnotic world. The last time he got close to exposing the director, McGrath lost his marriage and his career. This time he might lose even more."

Last Days by Adam Nevill (St. Martin's, 2013)


From the publisher:


"Last Days (winner of the British Fantasy Award for Best Horror Novel of the Year) by Adam Nevill is a Blair Witch style novel in which a documentary film-maker undertakes the investigation of a dangerous cult—with creepy consequences


When guerrilla documentary maker, Kyle Freeman, is asked to shoot a film on the notorious cult known as the Temple of the Last Days, it appears his prayers have been answered. The cult became a worldwide phenomenon in 1975 when there was a massacre including the death of its infamous leader, Sister Katherine. Kyle's brief is to explore the paranormal myths surrounding an organization that became a testament to paranoia, murderous rage, and occult rituals. The shoot's locations take him to the cult's first temple in London, an abandoned farm in France, and a derelict copper mine in the Arizonan desert where The Temple of the Last Days met its bloody end. But when he interviews those involved in the case, those who haven't broken silence in decades, a series of uncanny events plague the shoots. Troubling out-of-body experiences, nocturnal visitations, the sudden demise of their interviewees and the discovery of ghastly artifacts in their room make Kyle question what exactly it is the cult managed to awaken – and what is its interest in him?"


Demon Theory by Stephen Graham Jones (MacAdam Cage, 2006)


From the publisher:


"On Halloween night, following an unnerving phone call from his diabetic mother, Hale and six of his med school classmates return to the house where his sister disappeared years ago. While there is no sign of his mother, something is waiting for them there, and has been waiting a long time. Written as a literary film treatment littered with footnotes and experimental nuances, Demon Theory is even parts camp and terror, combining glib dialogue, fascinating pop culture references, and an intricate subtext as it pursues the events of a haunting movie trilogy too real to dismiss. There are books about movies and movies about books, and then there’s Demon Theory."


Ring by Kōji Suzuki (translated by Glynne Walley for Vertical, 2004)


From the publisher:


"A mysterious videotape warns that the viewer will die in one week unless a certain, unspecified act is performed. Exactly one week after watching the tape, four teenagers die one after another of heart failure.


Asakawa, a hardworking journalist, is intrigued by his niece’s inexplicable death. His investigation leads him from a metropolitan Tokyo teeming with modern society’s fears to a rural Japan—a mountain resort, a volcanic island, and a countryside clinic—haunted by the past. His attempt to solve the tape’s mystery before it’s too late—for everyone—assumes an increasingly deadly urgency. Ring is a chillingly told horror story, a masterfully suspenseful mystery, and post-modern trip."


House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (Pantheon Books, 2000)


From the publisher:


"Years ago, when House of Leaves was first being passed around, it was nothing more than a badly bundled heap of paper, parts of which would occasionally surface on the Internet. No one could have anticipated the small but devoted following this terrifying story would soon command. Starting with an odd assortment of marginalized youth — musicians, tattoo artists, programmers, strippers, environmentalists, and adrenaline junkies — the book eventually made its way into the hands of older generations, who not only found themselves in those strangely arranged pages but also discovered a way back into the lives of their estranged children. Now this astonishing novel is made available in book form, complete with the original colored words, vertical footnotes, and second and third appendices. The story remains unchanged, focusing on a young family that moves into a small home on Ash Tree Lane where they discover something is terribly wrong: their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Of course, neither Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Will Navidson nor his companion Karen Green was prepared to face the consequences of that impossibility, until the day their two little children wandered off and their voices eerily began to return another story — of creature darkness, of an ever-growing abyss behind a closet door, and of that unholy growl which soon enough would tear through their walls and consume all their dreams."



So...what's your favorite scary movie book?


[Image Credit: photo by Pixabay via Pexels]

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