Horror literature gets dismissed routinely in this country as either something that caters to the lowest common denominator or a genre whose day has come and gone. But the literary lights of 2010 shined bright enough to remind us that the essence of horror (a pround and venerable genre), no matter what form it ultimately takes, remains the written word. Check out our picks for the five best horror books of 2010, after the jump.
The "Monster Lit" genre exploded in 2010, thanks to the mainstream's embrace of such books as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. But, thankfully, IDW saw fit to reclaim the subgenre for the counterculture from which it sprang, and enlisted the aid of such horror and science-fiction writers as Joe R. Lansdale, John Shirley, Nancy Collins, and Mike Resnick in its anthology Classics Mutilated. Lansdale's story, "Dread Island", is the best of the bunch, working Lovecraftian terrors into Mark Twain' s Huckleberry Finn. But elements as diverse as Snow White, Captain Ahab, Sid Vicious, Billy the Kid, Emily Dickinson, Jim Morrison, Edgar Allan Poe, and Albert Einstein also come into play -- in mashups of Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, and Frankenstein, just to name a few.
Shirley Jackson: Novels and Stories
At long last, the Library of America saw fit to honor one of the twentieth century's greatest practicioners of the macabre this year with a volume devoted to the stories and novels of Shirley Jackson. Much has been said about Jackson's most famous tale, "The Lottery". But lesser known gems like "One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts" and "The Daemon Lover" are also given a showcase here. The fact that they're packaged here with Jackson's two great novels, The Haunting of Hill House (the basis for Robert Wise's The Haunting and perhaps the seminal ghost novel of the last century) and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, makes this book essential.
The Art of Hammer
It's tough to talk about today's movie posters without sounding like a grumpy old fan. For rather than entice us into the theater, they often -- with their bland, Photoshopped head shots -- repel. Not so the great advertising of old. And no one seemed to generate better poster art than Hammer Films. Unfortunately, the studio's best movie posters were created for the European market, and rarely displayed on these shores. Titan's new coffee table book solves the problem, displaying, in one handsome volume, Hammer's quads, daybills, banners and one-sheets in all their lush, richly-colored glory. Thrill once more to Peter Cushing's Baron von Frankenstein, Oliver Reed's Werewolf of Spain, and Christopher Lee's immortal Count Dracula.
Kill the Dead
The paranormal noir novel is nothing new, having been written over the years by everyone from Clive Barker to Laurell K. Hamilton. But dare I say that author Richard Kadrey does it just a little bit… better than his predecessors. We've long thought that if Hell did erupt on earth, it would begin with Los Angeles. And Kadrey, an LA native, would seem to agree; so rich, seedy, witty, eerie and affectionate are the tableaus he paints of a city teeming with all manner of nightmarish beasty; and his hero, James Stark, the one man capable of keeping them at bay. Come Hell or high water, Kadrey's future appears set – for this sequel to his 2009 breakthrough Sandman Slim is even better than its acclaimed predecessor.
Full Dark, No Stars
Speaking of rolls, it's terrific to see Stephen King, undoubtedly the most significant American horror writer since Poe and Lovecraft, return to form with last year's Under the Dome and this, his first collection of shorter tales since 2008's After the Sunset. Each of the four stories contained therein reflect King's continued preoccupation with the American everyman (and woman). And in taking a mostly nonfantastic approach, King challenges himself, as he did in Different Seasons, to see if his imagination can conjure up elements as wild as any to be found in folklore and superstition.
Note: The original version of this list contained the two-volume anthology, edited by Peter Straub, from the Libary of America, American Fantastic Tales. But we realized this title actually came out in 2009 (and indeed made our list of last year's best books!). Suffice it to say that we highly recommend this set as well.
That wraps up our picks for the best books this year. Be sure to check out our Top 5 Comics here, our Top 5 Games here, our Top 5 Movies here and our Top 5 Unreleased Movies here. And keep checking back for our choices for the best in TV, music and more!