Like you, I don't have time to read books. So to actually make room in my day to sit down and crack one open, it had better be a bona fide freaking flaming word volcano. I better have to wear a fucking blindfold just to stifle the sound of my eyeballs laughing.
So when I say these are the horror novels worth reading this Halloween, I'm not dicking around.
#5. John Dies at the End, by David Wong
Every once in a while you run into a porn video or website that you can't, in good conscience, recommend to your friends because it's simply too erotic. The actress's boobs were too perfect, the scenario too plausible, your erection too firm--almost to the level of exquisite pain.
This is the situation I find myself in with the horrortacular, John Dies at the End. A friend will say, "Hey, David, I see you have a copy of John Dies at the End. I like horror, and it's getting awesome reviews. Should I run down to Borders and... Jesus, what is that in your pants?"
What am I to say? Sure, my friend likes horror, but he "likes" beer, too. That doesn't mean he would enjoy being trapped inside a half million-gallon vat at the Anheuser-Busch brewery, forced to drink his way out or die trying. And he would like it even less if, instead of beer, the vat was full of horror.
John Dies at the End is like that, it's the porno you hesitate to recommend. My answer to such friends is always the same: "Are you sure you know what you're getting into? Because imagine an all-you-can-eat buffet. Only instead of food, it's crack cocaine. And instead of crack cocaine, it's horror. And the object in my pants? It is but my erection--an erection I've had ever since I purchased my copy of John Dies at the End... THREE WEEKS AGO. So sure, go right ahead and buy a copy if you dare. Just know that you won't be able to give out any hugs to family members at Thanksgiving."
We kicked through the slithering things and stomped up after the dog, just as the stairwell door banged shut on its own. I reached for the knob.
At the same moment it began to melt and transform, turning pink and finally taking the shape of a flaccid penis. It flopped softly against the door, like a man was cramming it through the knob hole from the other side.
I turned back to John and said, "That door cannot be opened."
[EDITORIAL DISCLAIMER: The author of this review may very well also be the author of John Dies at the End.]
#4. Under the Dome, by Stephen King
In his 37th novel since he retired from writing in 2002, Stephen King offers this tale of a dome and the events that transpire under it.
I read Under the Dome just days after finishing John Dies at the End, so the comparison is kind of unfair. It's like your neighbor showing you how he taught his dog to catch a Frisbee and he's expecting you to be all impressed by it, but he doesn't realize you just got home from the zoo where a monkey threw shit on your infant son. You're in no mood.
The story is of a wealthy author who traps the population of a small town under an inescapable glass dome. He then forces the inmates to battle to the death for his amusement, using only the severed limbs of their loved ones as weapons.
It's a good read, though slow in parts (there is one 400-page flashback wherein narrator Bud Macintosh recalls the time he ate some wax and a string to see if he could shit a candle). Though the pacing is helped somewhat by the fact that the novel contains no commas.
Stephen King wrote Under the Dome to fulfill an obscure clause in a prior contract that required him to write the novelization of the 1996 Pauly Shore film Bio-Dome.
Falkner glanced at him with superiority gleaming in his eyes. "What do you guys want out of life?"
Bud considered. "To die and come back as a leotard."
Under the Dome will be released on November 10th and will be available for purchase at Costco and Casey's convenience stores.
#3. Relentless, by Dean Koontz
Relentless is the story of Cullen "Cubby" Greenwich, who brings home a rare book from an antique auction, but he soon realizes the book is haunted or even possessed by its murderous, long-dead author. About a third of the way through Relentless the main character finally makes the decision to get to the bottom of the supernatural evil that has ruined his life. At that point...
...a plastic, spring-loaded spider jumps out at the reader.
Basically the last 200 pages of Relentless are blank, with a square chamber from which the spider springs forth when you turn page 168. Critics have dismissed this as a "gimmick" on Koontz's part, but I rather enjoyed it. I reloaded the spider and showed the book to my 8-year-old niece, and she actually wet her pants when it sprung out at her.
The spring-loading mechanism is simple and I found it easy to modify it to launch other objects. There is an asshole in the cubicle next to me at work, and I left the book open for him with the spring rigged to launch a plastic bag full of drain cleaner at his face (it missed, but did ruin his shirt). I've used the book a dozen times since then and you know what I found works best? Dog turd.
(Though that prompted one observer to make the curious observation, "Oh, so it's just like John Dies at the End." What does that even mean?).
Neither Bantam Books nor Dean Koontz is liable for any injuries sustained by the spring-loaded Terror Spider. Please use responsibly. For replacement spiders, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Relentless is available at Wal-Mart and Barney's Books That Will Make You Shit Your Pants in Paducah, KY.
#2. Dracula : The Un-Dead, by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt
Finally we get a return to real freaking vampires. Dracula: The Un-Dead is a direct sequel to Bram Stoker's Dracula, written by one of Stoker's descendants. We've been so saturated by the bullshit vampires, from The Lost Boys to Twilight, that we forget how little they have in common with the original.
The vampires as Stoker imagined them could not transform into bats (they instead are carried from place to place by several dozen trained bats), they don't burst into flame when exposed to sunlight (but can shoot flames from their eyes), do not have superhuman strength (they instead are experts with throwing knives) and do not drink blood (but do have long, poisonous tails like scorpions).
Dracula: The Undead was pieced together from Bram Stoker's own handwritten notes, a choice that I think actually holds back this wonderful book (we wind up with an entire chapter on a character "remembering to get milk" at the grocery store, and another chapter made up of nothing but humorous doodles of large-breasted women).
The story takes place 200 years after the original, in 2097, when the earth has been overrun by zombies. Dracula rises from the grave, knowing he has to restore the race of vampires to the planet. However, he finds his bite has a strange effect on the zombies: They are immediately imbued with the ancient vampire martial art of Chainkata (a.k.a. fighting with chainsaws).
As Dracula's growing vampire zombie chainsaw army leaves a trail of hacked limbs across the land, he soon clashes with a new threat: A horde of human refugees who have survived the 70-year zombie war thanks to nothing more than their wits and gigantic mechanized battle suits.
"I guess you're not undead any more, asshole," said Dracula as he yanked his tail out of the zombie's pierced skull.
"DRACULA! LOOK OUT!"
Dracula turned, the roar of the speeding train pounding his ears. It was Jameson, standing atop the car behind him, wind whipping through his cloak.
"THE TRACKS END!"
Dracula spun and saw that in fact the train was running out of track, the bridge ending in a tangled ruin jutting over a 500-foot drop into the lava below. Dracula and Jameson jumped from the train just as it flew off into the boiling expanse. As Dracula tumbled to a stop, he saw the face of the Zombie King frozen in the rear window of the plummeting train. It's mouth opened wide to scream, "SHIIIIIIIIIIT!!!"
Then, there was nothing. The zombie hordes had been defeated once and for all.
Dracula The Un-Dead is available now at Hot Topic stores near you.
#1. John Dies at the End, by David Wong
I've taken the unusual step of giving the same novel two spots on this list, since I wound up reading it twice and enjoying it nearly as much the second time (the second reading was what placed at #5 above, sorry if that was confusing).
As mesmerizing as the novel is, it's really the story behind the story that is even more interesting. The author, David Wong, put himself very deeply in debt to get the book written. You may not know this if you've never written a novel, but they can cost upwards of $15-20 million (once you factor in equipment, travel, research, jet skis and ghost writers). Wong was so passionate about getting JDatE off the ground he borrowed a large amount of money from the Russian mob to make it happen.
The real-life Wong thus finds himself in essentially the position of Denzel Washington in Training Day, desperately trying to recoup the money through whatever semi-criminal means necessary before the mob's hit men find him. After attempting to fake his death on four different occasions, Wong finally was forced to do the unthinkable: actually write a horror novel and convince a publisher to sell it for money.
On one hand it is difficult to sympathize with such a loathsome figure, but on the other, Wong insists the unfinished sequel to John Dies at the End contains a cure for cancer. It'd be a shame if he never got a chance to finish it.
"Dave, this is just retarded enough to work."
If you would like to have your life changed by horror, or are opposed to cancer, purchase this book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Borders, Indiebound and Powell's Books or wherever books of this kind are sold.
David Wong is the Editor of Cracked.com and author of John Dies at the End.