I’ve been a horror fan for most of my life, but it’s only been within the last couple years or so that I’ve made a concerted effort to dive into the world of international horror. It’s no secret that the horror industry is densely populated by white males, but I’ve come to realize that a lot of my favorite horror novels up to this point have been written by Americans as well. Which is a darn shame because there are some really terrifying stories being written on the other side of the pond(s). Here are a few of my forays into non-American horror.
Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
The people of Black Spring have been living under a curse for hundreds of years, a curse cast by Katherine, the Black Rock Witch. The witch, whose eyes and mouth are stitched shut, still wanders through the town and enters people’s houses at will, but the townspeople have been able to co-exist with her by following a few simple rules: keep track of her location through a specially designed smartphone app, accept the fact that no one will ever be able to leave town again, and never ever open her eyes. It’s an uneasy compromise, but it’s worked for the last several centuries, until a group of teenagers unintentionally sets in motion a horrifying chain of events that will send Black Spring back to an apocalyptic Dark Age.
This novel knocked my socks off. The writing was terrifyingly cinematic, the writing was dynamite, and the story created such a palpable sense of dread that I felt my stomach drop every time a chapter ended.
I Remember You – Yrs Sigurdardottir
At first, it feels like you’re reading two completely separate story lines. The first follows a group of three friends who travel to the isolated town of Hesteyri to renovate an old house. Problem is, the house seems to be haunted. The second follows Freyr, a psychologist, who is brought into a compelling mystery that somehow connects with the disappearance of his son three years ago. But as the book progresses, the two plot lines begin to converge until they are inextricably woven together at the very end.
Even though this novel isn’t considered pure horror, it’s still one of the creepiest ghost stories I’ve ever read. The buildup of suspense is done very gradually (odd odors, wet footprints, creaking floors), but holy cow, it is effective. One night when I was in the middle of reading the book, I had to consciously force myself to turn the lights off because I was afraid of what was waiting just around the door frame. Part compelling Scandinavian crime thriller, part creepy-as-hell ghost story. I flat-out adored this novel.
The Dead Path – Stephen M. Irwin
Nicholas Close has been plagued by visions of ghosts ever since a tragic motorcycle accident, and after the death of his new wife, he moves back home to Australia. But he sees plenty of ghosts in Australia as well, including the ghost of his childhood friend, Tristam, who died under extremely mysterious circumstances in the nearby woods. Nicholas soon realizes that he is unknowingly at the heart of a very dark plan involving an ancient evil and the forbidding woods.
The novel plays upon the dark fairy tales we heard as children (think Brothers Grimm), but modernizes it and ages it to make these stories more relatable and appropriate for an adult audience. It plays upon our childhood fears of black magic and the dark woods, but combines these fears with more adult concepts, like suicide, responsibility, and family. The story is thoughtfully constructed without being predictable, and scary without being gratuitous, although the author’s writing style might be a bit too pretentious and grating for some readers, as he tends to get caught up in the naming of plants that grow in the forest.
Verdict: Buy or borrow. (The hardcover edition has glow-in-the-dark lettering, fwiw. Make your decision accordingly.)
Ring – Koji Suzuki, transl. by Robert B. Rohmer & Glynne Walley
Asakawa, a Japanese journalist, begins investigating the mysterious death of his niece and three of her friends, who all apparently died at the exact same time by the exact same unknown cause. His search leads him to an isolated cabin and a creepy video tape that promises to kill people in a week. Now Asakawa is in a race against time to unravel the mystery of the tape while trying to save his life, along with the lives of his wife and daughter.
If this synopsis sounds familiar, it’s because this book formed the basis of the films Ringu and The Ring. The Ring was (and still is) one of my favorite horror movies, so I had high hopes when I started reading. The story is extremely fast paced, especially if you’re already familiar with the basic storyline from the movie, and I enjoyed seeing how the print and film versions differed from each other. However, I found the two main characters, Asakawa and his friend Ryuji, to be particularly unlikeable, and the backstory of Sadako, the evil spirit, left a bad taste in my mouth for reasons that I won’t divulge, because spoilers. It was an interesting novel to read, given its influence in the genre, but I feel like I could have skipped this book without missing too much.
Verdict: Borrow or bypass.
Obviously, this only represents a teensy fraction of international horror novels, so let us know what other titles you recommend!