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Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore

A Gothic, Cosmic, and Psychological Lifetime of Horror: The 16 Greatest Short Stories from Robert Bloch

Robert Bloch wrote literature that ranged from the psychologically terrifying to the downright “weird” horror; his inspiration stemmed both from watching his first scary film on his own as a child—and his subsequent nightmares—and his admiration for the stylistic horror of H.P. Lovecraft. His stories, however, are and always will be uniquely Robert Bloch, a genius in psychological horror with a splash of the supernatural. His deep interest in serial killers brought back anti-heroes like Norman Bates and Jack the Ripper.

“The Shambler From The Stars” (1935)

This particular short story first appeared in the September issue of Weird Tales, in 1935—later on, it was included as a part of his first published book, The Opener of the Way (1945). It was one of the many works that bore the influence of H.P. Lovecraft and can be considered part of the genre of cosmic horror. More than just another author following the footsteps of Lovecraft, Bloch still included elements of Lovecraftian influence, such as the inclusion of The Necronomicon, and The Book of Eibon. Deliciously self-indulgent, Bloch’s story is about a writer of weird fiction obsessed with learning all things occult when he looks to find the aforementioned esoteric tomes of forbidden knowledge. As we all know when it comes to Eldritch cosmic horror, this writer inevitably summons something disastrous.

“The Secret in the Tomb” (1935)

Another instance of cosmic horror in the early days of Bloch’s writing career, it has been compared directly to the stylistic literature of the father of cosmic horror himself—to the point that, if the author of this had been unknown, it would have been assumed to have been a product of Lovecraft. This dark, dank tale of eldritch horror and dread is lurking, just beyond sight, and awaiting the arrival of the last descendant of a long line of sorcerers.

“The Mannikin” (1937)

Another Weird Tales original, published in the April edition in 1937, we get a tale of a strange reclusive and a disfigured, hunchbacked man named Simon, whom the locals all despise. As a short story, of course, it doesn’t take long to find that this cosmic horror is based all around the diabolical hump on Simon’s back—just wait until you find out what the hump really is.

“The Sorcerer’s Jewel” (1939)

This is a story that Bloch originally published under the pen name Tarleton Fiske in Strange Stories Magazine, in 1939; in this story we see a similarity to “A Shambler in the Stars” when we follow a photographer who takes incredibly bizarre photos as his life’s passion. While he doesn’t believe in the occult, his assistant happens to be a devotee of a peculiar occult practice and everything changes when the photographer is brought an ancient jewel.

“Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper” (1943)

Over the years, Robert Bloch’s short story “Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper” has been adapted to various mediums following its publication—the story is about a man from Chicago who is approached by a gentleman from England who tells him that he’s looking for Jack the Ripper. This, of course, is strange on its own as the infamous serial killer should have died years before. The Englishman believes that Jack the Ripper has become immortal through occult means and that his serial murders are actually ritual sacrifices that restore his youth. The man from Chicago is enlisted to help to bring the Ripper to light.

“Satan’s Phonograph” (1946)

A slow burn for a short story, this haunting tale follows the narrator down memory lane as he tells the reader about the ingenious, but wildly mad piano teacher that helped him to reach Carnegie Hall—but when the pupil returns from his tours across Europe with his new wife in tow, he finds that his old teacher had been institutionalized—when his insane old teacher shows up in his house with a seemingly innocent phonograph and his wild theories, the narrator believes his teacher is simply delusional.

“Sweets To The Sweet” (1947)

Bloch spins the thread of a sinister six-year-old girl, following the narrative of the housekeeper as she speaks to her former boss’s brother, who happens to be a lawyer. The housekeeper encourages the lawyer to look into what she believes to be a brutally abusive situation between father and daughter. She tells the brother about all of the signs of alcoholism and beatings, while the child is accused of witchcraft. When the lawyer finally goes to investigate what is happening in his brother’s home, he finds out that the truth may be more disturbing than he expects.

“Floral Tribute” (1949)

An eerie tale of a young boy being raised by his grandmother brings her fresh flowers home every day—it’s not until the inhabitants of the local cemetery come to speak with the grandmother that she finds out that he has been taking them from the graves of the nearby graveyard, where he plays among the tombstones.

“The Shadow From The Steeple” (1950)

Yet another story based in the Lovecraft universe, Bloch starts the story off with the friend of a character Lovecraft had killed in his short story “The Haunter in the Dark” whom Lovecraft had modeled after Bloch himself. A convoluted and dark fictional tale based on Lovecraft and his circle of writers, we get to see the authors appearing as characters of their own making. As another story within the Cthulhu Mythos, we see how involved Bloch was still within the Lovefcraft style even at this point in his career.

“Head Man” (1950)

An interesting spin on Nazi Germany’s obsession with the occult and paranormal, a SS executioner puts everything on the line to keep possession of the heads of a man and woman who had been charged with witchcraft and executed as a result.

“The Hungry House” (1951)

A tale that will once again make you fear your own reflection in a mirror; “The Hungry House” takes place after a couple moves into their new home. As they try to get comfortable in their new house they begin to see spooky inexplicable reflections around the house and dismiss it as being an overactive imagination. It’s not until the husband finds the locked closet in the attic that they realize something is incredibly wrong with their house—in it are all of the mirrors that the previous owners had removed from the walls of the house.

“Notebook Found in an Abandoned House” (1951)

This story is told from a notebook found in an abandoned house, which was written by a twelve-year-old boy by the name of Willy Osborne who is trapped within the house by the sinister beasts, or “them ones,” that stalk him from within the woods and swamps that surround the house. “Them ones,” that Willy is scared might come and get him are monstrous, Lovecraftian elder creatures who used to be take sacrifices to be appeased.

“The Light-House” (1953)

This particular short story took special influence from a story that Edgar Allan Poe began before his death in 1849, but was never able to finish; in 1953 Bloch took this unfinished short story, finished it, polished it up, and then had it published. As such, it is considered a posthumous collaboration. It follows the pursuits of a nobleman who takes a job as a lighthouse keeper, so he may write in solitude. His loneliness gets the better of him in this weird and satisfyingly dark tale, when he tries to psychically summon a companion.

“House of the Hatchet” (1955)

A couple with a relationship on the rocks decides to take their a second honeymoon on the road—on their trip they end up stopping at a haunted tourist attraction, where the story goes that a husband had killed his wife with a hatchet in one of the rooms. When they decided to take a tour of this haunted house, the husband begins to feel a heavy dark presence in the room where the murder was said to have occurred…

“Terror In Cut Throat Cove” (1958)

Considered a horror adventure tale, “Terror In Cut Throat Cove” follows the tale of an American writer who is approached by a treasure-hunting duo; they end up recruiting him to help them locate this long-lost legendary ship that sunk with a massive fortune aboard because the writer has an undeniable fondness for the girlfriend of the treasure hunter. A crazy adventure ensues until they find the ship and one of the divers returns from the ship’s wreckage without his head.

“The Animal Fair” (1971)

This story of a drifter who ends up in the small town of Medley, Oklahoma while the carnival is in town—where he enters the a tent that houses a gorilla who happens to be the main attraction—not to mention seriously abused by his trainer. This horrifying weird tale ends in a shocking twist and is well worth the read.

Works Cited:

Cowan, Matt. “FIFTEEN HORROR TALES BY ROBERT BLOCH.” Horror Delve, 4 Apr. 2016, horrordelve.com/2016/04/04/robert-bloch/.

HorrorBabble. “The Shambler from the Stars” by Robert Bloch. Youtube/”The Shambler from the Stars” by Robert Bloch, HorrorBabble, 12 Mar. 2018, youtu.be/0Q6xA0f9SNk.

HorrorBabble. “The Secret in the Tomb” by Robert Bloch. Youtube/”The Secret in the Tomb” by Robert Bloch, HorrorBabble, 20 Aug. 2018, youtu.be/vodqchPxgCoyoutu.be/vodqchPxgCo.

Thomas, G. W. “The Early Robert Bloch.” Dark Worlds Quarterly, 6 Aug. 2020, darkworldsquarterly.gwthomas.org/the-early-robert-bloch/.

Categories
Lifestyle

A Lovecraftian Life and Death

Known as the Father of Cosmic Horror, H.P. Lovecraft only lived for forty-six short years. What he was able to accomplish in his lifetime, however, was enough to change the tides of an entire genre.

A Visionary from an Early Age

Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born in the late summer of 1890, to Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft and Winfield Scott Lovecraft, in Providence, Rhode Island. As a child of three, his father suffered from a nervous breakdown and was sent to Butler Hospital, where he remained in residence for five years until his death in the summer of 1898. Unaware of his father’s mental condition, Lovecraft was told that his father was paralyzed and comatose, but surviving medical records show that his father actually died of paresis—a form of neurosyphilis.

Following the death of his father, Lovecraft was brought up by his mother, two aunts, and grandfather—who had him reciting poetry at two, reading at three, and writing at six or seven years of age, having recognized his advanced intelligence. By the age of five, he had proven his penchant for the creative, fantastical, and mythological, eventually using these influences to inspire his own literary works. His oldest surviving work came when he was a young boy of seven, having paraphrased the Odyssey into rhyming verse in his 1897, “The Poem of Ulysses.” His grandfather played a large role in Lovecraft’s strange gothic sense of fantasy, encouraging him to pursue his weird flights of fantasy into the realm of horror.

Due to numerous childhood afflictions, including some instances of psychological troubles, Lovecraft’s attendance at school was never consistent—he spent much of his youth studying independently, favoring chemistry and astronomy over all else. As far as works of fiction, Edgar Allan Poe served as the inspiration for much of Lovecraft’s dark and imaginative creations. Despite his diminished ability to socialize, he was still able to create and maintain a number of significant friendships with his peers when he attended Hope High School, through his self-published hectograph journals. These journals, The Scientific Gazette (1899–1907) and The Rhode Island Journal of Astronomy (1903–07) garnered him his peer’s encouragement to write outside of his home. Unfortunately, in 1908 Lovecraft suffered from a nervous breakdown and never received his diploma. His inability to graduate high school and be admitted into Brown University would be a source of great shame to Lovecraft later in life

This breakdown led Lovecraft to become somewhat of a hermit for several years—exacerbated by the death of his grandfather and their consequential financial ruin—he would stay up late studying, reading, and writing poetry, then sleeping late into the day. Even though he managed to publish articles on astronomy in several newspapers, Lovecraft went through a difficult time after losing his childhood home, as well as the compulsive love-hate relationship he had with his mother, so he regularly contemplated suicide.

From Isolation to Notoriety

Emerging from his need for isolation in 1913, like an internet troll emerges when they see something online that drives them absolutely crazy, Lovecraft wrote an entire letter in verse to Fred Jackson as an affront. He joined the United Amateur Press Association in 1914, which is where his amateur journalism career began, leading him to launch his self-published magazine The Conservative in 1915. It would be safe to say that these opportunities launched Lovecraft’s entire career out from within the pit of his own self-pity.

H.P. Lovecraft (1915)
H.P. Lovecraft (1915)

“In 1914, when the kindly hand of amateurdom was first extended to me, I was as close to the state of vegetation as any animal well can be… With the advent of the United I obtained a renewal to live; a renewed sense of existence as other than a superfluous weight; and found a sphere in which I could feel that my efforts were not wholly futile. For the first time I could imagine that my clumsy gropings after art were a little more than faint cries lost in the unlistening world.”

Howard Phillips Lovecraft

It only took two more years of his life before he once again delved into his fictional worlds—in the summer of 1917, Lovecraft easily produced “The Tomb,” as well as “Dagon,” which were two shorter stories that he owed to his passion for fiction. The dark edgy tales of Edgar Allan Poe and fantasy tales of Irish author Lord Dunsany, which inspired some of his earlier fiction pieces.

I will tell only of the lone tomb in the darkest of the hillside thickets; the deserted tomb of the Hydes, an old and exalted family whose last direct descendant had been laid within its black recesses many decades before my birth.

The Tomb”, June 1917 by Howard Phillips Lovecraft

It was around this time that his mother’s own mental and physical deterioration began to really affect her and after her own nervous breakdown in 1919, she was admitted to Butler Hospital—the same hospital Lovecraft’s father had been committed to and subsequently died in. Only two years later a failed operation caused the death of his mother and in spite of his devastation, Lovecraft recovered enough to meet his future wife a few weeks later. In 1923, the horror magazine Weird Tales paid Lovecraft for his stories, which was his first paid gig as a writer. When he married Sonia Greene in 1924, they moved to New York for two years, but the marriage soon failed and Lovecraft returned to Rhode Island where he began working on his most renowned stories. Just two years after splitting up with his wife, “The Call of Cthulhu,” came out in the Weird Tales magazine, which was the first piece that really helped make a name for Lovecraft as an author of otherworldly horror.

The Death of a Legendary Horror Writer

I am essentially a recluse who will have very little to do with people wherever he may be. I think that most people only make me nervous – that only by accident, and in extremely small quantities, would I ever be likely to come across people who wouldn’t.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1926
Tombstone of H.P. Lovecraft
Tombstone of H.P. Lovecraft

The last decade of his life was spent creating what is now known as his classics, having found a niche for himself as an author of weird horror fiction, and prolific writer-of-letters. The last few years of his life, in particular, were incredibly strenuous for Lovecraft, beginning with the death of one of his aunts in 1932, from there his writing became largely too complex to sell to a normal reader. At this part of his career, he began to attempt a career solely editing, as well as ghostwriting stories, poetry, and non-fiction—no longer even trying to sell his own original creations. The suicide of a close friend brought him depression, but it was ultimately his own incurable illness that would bring Lovecraft’s final days. In the winter of 1936, Lovecraft’s intestinal cancer caused him pain that increased on a daily basis and eventually he had taken himself to the hospital where he died five days later, on March 15, 1937.

Like many other underappreciated artists of his age, Lovecraft has gained a far greater following after death than he ever saw during his lifetime. He’s been the inspiration for writers Peter Straub, Stephen King, as well as Neil Gaiman—to name a few.

Lovecraft has yet to be surpassed as the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.

Stephen King
Categories
Best Of Best of Movies Featured

Best Sci-Fi Horror Movies

Though the sci-fi horror genre has been around for century, it’s really in the last few decades that it has hit it’s stride. Nowhere has that jump in popularity more prevalent or evident than in the world of film. The 70’s and 80’s represent a golden era in sci-fi horror movies, with the rise of such giants in the industry as John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, and Ridley Scott. But even from the 90’s onward sci-fi horror shows no signs of slowing down, and some really incredible entries have come out in just the last couple of years.

There are so many excellent sci-fi horror movies out there that it was very hard to narrow this down to a manageable list. Even with an “Honorable Mentions” section at the end, we know we missed plenty of viable candidates. Let us know some of the better films we left off down in the comments below!

Color Out of Space (2019)

Color out of space 2019 poster with sci-fi horror background

Did you know colors could be scary? H.P. Lovecraft certainly thought they could be, and he wrote a deeply unsettling story to prove it. Color Out of Space is a cosmic horror film based on that titular story, and it’s about the Gardner family who find that a meteorite has crash-landed on their farm. Suddenly, their once peaceful life in the country is shattered as the family finds themselves fighting an alien being that can infect and mutate their bodies and minds. Come for the Nicolas Cage performance, stay for the grotesque practical effects. With a slow build in the first half and a wild spree of body horror in the second half, Color Out of Space is a rare example of a Lovecraft adaptation done right. 

Annihilation (2018)

Annihilation horror movie poster with scary sci-fi landscape

Criminally underrated and suffering from a shoddy release, Annihilation is a film that deserves your attention and awe. Based on the book by Jeff Vandermeer, it’s a story about a group of scientists who venture into a mysterious zone called “the Shimmer” to collect data and locate the early explorers who have vanished inside. The movie shares some similarities with the book, but writer/director Alex Garland also made some significant changes and it’s best to view them as alternate entries in a shared universe. It’s notoriously difficult to translate cosmic horror to the big screen, but Annihilation manages to do it and do it well. Full of mind boggling images and a deep unfurling dread, this is a movie that really translates a sense of hopelessness and unfathomable fear.

Timecrimes (2007)

Timecrimes horror movie poster with creepy killer

Though perhaps more of a sci-fi thriller than horror, there are enough shocking scenes and gut-twisting suspense to earn the Spanish language film Timecrimes a spot on this list. The film opens with a man named Hector spying on a beautiful woman. His moment of voyeurism is suddenly disrupted when he is attacked by a man whose head is wrapped in bandages. Fleeing the scene, Hector is able to find refuge in a remote lab where a scientist convinces him to hide in what turns out to be a time machine. To say more would be to spoil critical scenes, but just know this movie, though saddled with a low budget and amatuer actors, is a wonderfully confounding and deeply disquieting.example of sci-fi horror.

Event Horizon (1997)

Event Horizon sci-fi horror movie poster with space ship and planet

Sure it flopped on its initial release (as did several other films on this list). Sure it’s been panned by critics and holds a highly debated place in film fandom. But whether you hate or, in our case, love it, there’s no denying that Event Horizon is fully ingrained in pop culture and space horror sensibilities. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s about a spaceship that stumbles across a portal to hell. As this infernal dimension begins to assert it’s dark influence the crew is slowly driven into a violent madness. Full of existential dread and shots of pure horror, Event Horizon is a film not to be missed. Just hope you return from the experience in a better state than the crew.

The Fly (1986)

The Fly horror movie poster with a fly and black background

We’re big fans of both body horror and practical effects over here at Puzzle Box, and one of the movies that best combines those two elements is David Cronenburg’s The Fly. Really there are many great choices in the Cronenburg cannon, but picked this one for its engaging premise and delightfully gross effects. Jeff Goldbloom, who gives a particularly captivating performance, plays a scientist whose failed experiment in teleportation transforms him into a gigantic insect. It’s a disgusting and nightmarish riff on Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, but it’s also a surprisingly poignant look into the complexity of human relationships. 

Re-Animator (1985)

Re-Animator horror movie poster featuring a severed head and a creepy scientist

Herbert West, a slightly off-kilter scientist, has discovered a secret formula that can reanimate dead tissue and ultimately bring the deceased back to life. After a successful trial run on a fellow student’s cat, West takes his extraordinary elixir to the morgue and from there all havoc breaks loose. Though the movie is loosely based on an H.P. Lovecraft short story, there were some major changes made and a lack of overall otherworldly dread. Instead we get a gloriously violent and darkly comedic romp full of gore and humor, all centered around the delightfully cheesy performance of actor Stewart Gordan. And really, what more could you want?

The Thing (1982)

The Thing 1982 sci-fi horror movie poster featuring a man in an arctic suit with beams of light coming through his head

John Carpenter’s The Thing is a masterpiece of paranoia and gorey practical effects. Based on the novella Who Goes There? by John Campbell Jr, Carpenter’s version is actually the third adaptation of the story and by far the most famous. In an isolated arctic setting, a team of scientists uncover an ancient alien being. Despite their best intentions, the creature is revived and begins to take them out one by one. What makes this plot particularly terrifying is the alien’s ability to mimic other lifeforms.The frenzy of shapeshifting that ensues, from the normal humanoid forms to the outrageously bizarre spectacles, keeps the scientists (and the audience) guessing on who is friend or foe. For the staff at Puzzle Box Horror, this is easily one of our favorite sci-fi horror films.

Scanners (1981)

Scanners horror movie poster from 1981 featuring a man whose head is exploding

Ok we swear this isn’t cheating, but we’re double-dipping in the Carpenter oeuvre. His movie Scanners, essentially about a group of telepathics seeking world domination and the counter-group fighting to subvert them, is what we consider essential viewing when it comes to the sci-fi horror genre. Yes it has the infamous head-exploding scene, and yes it’s as entertaining and memorable as you’d assume from a Carpenter film. But it also features some fine character acting and touches on some intriguing sociopolitical themes. Overall it’s a satisfying blend of cerebral commentary and visceral chaos. 

Alien (1979)

Alien 1979 horror movie poster featuring an alien egg

It’s impossible to talk about sci-fi horror without the angular, toothy distorted image of a xenomorph coming to mind. The whole alien franchise is fantastic (yes, even that one), but we have to give credit to the one that started it all. Ridley Scott’s Alien is dark, tense, and claustrophobic; a slow-burn of mounting dread and unseen foes until about the halfway mark when it explodes (literally) with stomach-churning horror. Featuring the unforgettable designs by H.R. Giger and inspiring decades of filmmakers after it, Alien stands as a shining example of the “horror in space” genre.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978 movie poster featuring aliens and a person in a cocoon

It’s not often that a remake is better than the original, but the 70’s version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is arguably superior to its predecessor. The enthralling performances of the leads, the creepy practical effects, the unnerving musical score, and the harrowing ending all work in perfect unison to make this a shockingly scary film. The cold war paranoia of the first movie has also been updated to showcase more relevant social metaphors, such as the loss of self and breakdown of community. Body possession movies have always been terrifying, and this one, about an alien plant that consumes its sleeping host and assumes their form, is a must-watch entry in the sci-fi horror genre.

Honorable Mentions

Possessor (2020)

The Invisible Man (2020)

Life (2017)

Ex Machina (2014)

Europa Report (2013)

Sunshine (2007)

Slither (2006)

28 Days Later (2002)

Donnie Darko (2001)

The Faculty (1998)

Demon Seed (1997)

Mimic (1997)

Cube (1997)

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

Aliens (1986)

From Beyond (1986)

Altered States (1980)

The Fury (1978)

Categories
Featured Horror Books Women in Horror

Celebrating the Female Writers of Horror

Women don’t get a lot of credit in any field that they may excel in, so why should the world of literature be any different? While, they get recognized by their peers, how many of you can name more than a handful of famous female horror authors off the top of your head? It’s unfortunate that most can’t, to say the least, but that’s something that we plan to remedy here today.

Woman in the dark
Photography by H.F.E. & Co.

While we are asserting that all of the writers listed here are horror writers, a lot of these amazing women have actually produced written work that is outside of the horror genre–or, even more astoundingly, their main genre of work may not even be horror.

Mary Shelley

(08/30/1797 – 02/01/1851)

Mary Shelley

Born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, Shelley is best known for her novel Frankenstein (1818) which is quite widely cited as the very first Science Fiction horror novel. Unfortunately, her career wasn’t quite as prolific as some modern writers, but her work seems to have been more about quality, rather than quantity. Unsurprisingly she wasn’t the first writer within the horror genre, but she was the first female horror writer and she did invent two completely different subgenres of horror. I do find it rather nice though, that all of her works are within the public domain and can be enjoyed by anyone who wishes to read her Gothic-styled genius.

Check out our coverage of Mary Shelley in her Dead Author Dedication we did earlier this year.


Daphne Du Maurier

(05/13/1907 – 04/19/1989)

Daphne du Maurier

Daphne Du Maurier has generally been classed as a romantic novelist, but the stories she produced in her lifetime have been described as “moody and resonant,” and most if not all of them have paranormal and supernatural overtones. Critics never gave her a fair shot when her bestselling works were first published, but her exceptional talent with her voice in narrative changed their minds and earned her a persistently unparalleled reputation.

A few of her novels have been adapted into films—quite successfully in fact, including Rebecca (1938), adapted by Alfred Hitchcock to film in 1940—which starts off as such an innocent romance, but quickly turns into a story with such a haunting atmosphere, you can’t be sure if it’s a ghost story, or one of subterfuge. Don’t even get us started on his adaptation of her novel The Birds (1952) which was released in 1963!

Some Books to Read by Du Maurier

  • Jamaica Inn (1936)
  • Rebecca (1938)
  • My Cousin Rachel (1951)
  • The Birds (1952)
  • Not After Midnight and Other Stories (1971)

Unfortunately, we haven’t covered the life and times of Daphne Du Maurier as of yet, but believe us when we say that her style of writing is phenomenal–actually, don’t believe us, read some of them and decide for yourself! Since we’ve been trying to cover a single dead author per month, in memoriam during the month in which they passed, we won’t be visiting the life and achievements of Daphene Du Maurier in full until April of 2021.


Shirley Jackson

(12/14/1916 – 08/08/1965)

Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson is one of those writers that the weird, dark, and haunted can thoroughly relate to–personally, I believe that she is the one writer I can relate to the most. Not because she was insanely talented–I’m not self-centered enough to believe I rank on her level–it’s because she never made an attempt to pretend that she was in any way normal and I mean that in complete admiration.

If you’re interested in learning more about Shirley Jackson, take a look at the articles we did to honor her for August’s Dead Author Dedication:


Lois Duncan

(04/28/1934 – 06/15/2016)

Lois Duncan

Lois Duncan made a name for herself by writing for young adults–those transitioning from childhood to adulthood, who needed a voice to relate to that would help them understand what it was like to have to evolve into a responsible human being, even under the worst of circumstances. As a horror writer for the young and the young-at-heart, Duncan left a legacy, not only for her readers, but for those who were inspired to follow in her footsteps.

She paved the way for writers and creatives to finally be able to appeal to the younger audiences who, otherwise would only have had adult horror to turn to–because, let’s be honest, those among us who love horror now have loved horror for a long time and if it hadn’t been for Duncan’s books we might not have had age-appropriate content for our nerdy dark brains to dive into.

You can learn more about Lois Duncan through our exploration of her life, literary achievements, and legacy–Puzzle Box Horror style, in our Dead Author Dedication in July 2020.


Anne Rice

(10/04/1941 – Present)

Anne Rice

She is a best-selling American author and having sold nearly 100 million copies of her books, is one of the most widely read authors in modern history. World-renowned, among her works the most well-known are the Vampire Chronicles, where she demonstrates her ability to convey love, death, immortality, existentialism, as well as the human condition under the umbrella of the gothic horror genre. One thing is certain, aside from Mary Shelley, Rice is possibly the most popular female author on this list!


Octavia E. Butler

(06/22/1947 – 02/24/2006)

Octavia E. Butler

Butler started her writing career in her twenties after studying at several universities and she blended elements of science fiction and African American spiritualism in her novels. Her first book, Patternmaster (1976) which would kick start her first series of books. It wouldn’t be her last series, however, as she continued to write and publish books up until her death in February of 2006. Although Butler was better known to be an author of science fiction, she often incorporated elements of our favorite genre, horror. Her most horror-inspired novel was published just a year before her death and told the story of a girl who discovers she’s a vampire. Often hailed as a genius, Butler worked to address racism from her vantage point as a writer and exposed the horrors of oppression in American history. When talking about one of her most popular books, she explained that, “[she] wanted to write a novel that would make others feel the history: the pain and fear that black people have had to live through in order to endure.”

Join us in February of 2021, for when we honor Butler’s contribution to horror.


Kathe Koja

(01/06/1960 – Present)

Kathe Koja

As a writer, director, and independent producer, Kathe Koja is a multiple platform powerhouse of a woman—her talent allows her to work within several different genres, from Young Adult, to contemporary, to historical, as well as horror fiction genres. Several of her novels have won awards and have also been translated into multiple different languages and her work has also been optioned for film and performance pieces.


Caitlín R. Kiernan

(05/26/1964 – Present)

Caitlín R. Kiernan

As an Irish-born American, Caitlín R. Kiernan is a published paleontologist and author of both science fiction and dark/horror fantasy. An accomplished author in her own right, Kiernan has published ten novels, a series of comic books, and over two hundred fifty short stories, novellas, and vignettes—for all of her hard work she has received both the World Fantasy and Bram Stoker awards twice!


Tananarive Due

(01/05/1966 – Present)

Tananarive Due

Tananarive is an all-around wonder when it comes to the horror community, not only is she an award-winning author, she also teaches about Black Horror and Afrofuturism at the University of California Los Angeles. But wait, there’s more—as a prominent figure in black speculative fiction over the last twenty years, she and her husband collaborated to write “A Small Town” for the second season of the reboot of The Twilight Zone. This is by no means a complete biography for Due but we hope it’s enough to interest you in her incredible literature and work for equality as she helps to educate in the exclusionary history of not just American history, but horror history.

To get better acquainted with Tananarive Due, check out her official website and the upcoming article we have dedicated to her work in horror.

For a more in-depth look at the history of horror and the role that black people have historically played within the genre, keep an eye out for Shudder’s Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror. Tananarive Due is listed as an executive producer for this highly anticipated documentary and it’s coming out in February 2021, just in time for Black History month!


Gemma Files

(04/04/1968 – Present)

Gemma Files

London-born, Gemma Files is a Canadian horror writer, journalist, and film critic—but she had quite a meager start as a freelance writer until she landed a continuing gig with an entertainment periodical called Eye Weekly. It was this position that led to her gaining local traction, as she began critiquing horror, independent, and Canadian films. In 1999 Gemma won the International Horror Guild Award for Best Short Story, with The Emperor’s Old Bones. Since then, five of her short stories have been adapted to television for The Hunger series. She’s been nominated for countless awards, including the Shirley Jackson Award in 2009 and 2010 for a short story and novelette respectively.


Jemiah Jefferson

(01/01/1972 – Present)

Jemiah Jefferson

Another elegant African American horror author, Jemiah Jefferson toes the line between horror and erotica through her gift to horror-loving women everywhere—her Voice of the Blood series about the famous creatures of the night has been called “smart, beautiful, sexy, and vicious.” (I’m not going to lie, I may have purchased all four of them the very same day I discovered her.) Jemiah has a lot more to offer in the way of novels and short stories, however, and we’re exceptionally excited to share her with you all.


Helen Olajumoke Oyeyemi

(12/10/1984 – Present)

Helen Oyeyemi

Oyeyemi and her writing are equally unique, her writing transcends any genre that attempts to confine or define her, so the best way we can describe her work is a blend of horror, fantasy, fairy tales, and folklore. While not a dedicated horror writer, her work is often unsettling (just the way we like it), frightening, and she often explores the paranormal, bizarre, and supernatural elements of fiction. When she was a young woman, just twenty years of age, she published her first novel The Icarus Girl (2005), which mixed the paranormal with Gothic horror themes and Nigerian folklore. In 2009, her novel White is For Witching, was published and is considered one of the great modern cosmic horror novels—we personally loved it!


Kat Howard

(09/14/19** – Present)

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As a modern-day writer in a genre dominated by a more masculine influence, Kat Howard is a refreshing change of pace–since the best writing is when you are allowed to immerse yourself in the story and are otherwise unaware of the writer’s gender, skin color, sexuality, or how they otherwise identify themselves.

We were lucky enough to be able to speak to Kat Howard recently—so, check out the interview that we did with Kat Howard, where she speaks about her novel The End of the Sentence (2014), horror, and what it’s like to be a writer. You can check out that interview here if you’d like to know more!

You can find out a bit more about her on her official website, kathowardbooks.com and you can also follow her on twitter!


We reserve the right to update this list in the future to further represent female writers of the horror genre that we may currently be unfamiliar with–an exclusion of an amazing female horror author here only means that we have yet to be introduced to her work! Let us know if you believe someone should be included here!

Categories
Featured Horror Mystery and Lore Reviews Scary Movies and Series

Cosmic Horror Movies that Perfectly Capture Existential Dread

Clinical and consulting psychotherapist, Dr. Paul Hokemeyer tells us that, “existential dread is the terror we experience in our awareness that we are transient beings acting out life on a precarious stage. It’s a phenomenon that’s universal among humans, but that varies in its intensity.” Essentially, existential dread is the result of hyperawareness of our own minuscule nature within our universe. Cosmic horror movies capitalize on this hard-to-navigate realm of insecurity and inner turmoil. When we look too closely or are too aware of something we don’t understand it can cause a break in reality and ultimately thwart our attempts to handle our own mental health. This leads us to a better understanding of why cosmic horror is such a tricky thing to tackle within the horror film industry and why it is inevitably an unqualified success or a laughable failure.

How to Translate Cosmic Horror to the Big Screen

One of the main reasons why cosmic horror writers such as Lovecraft can never hope to be fully realized on the big screen is the intangibility of existential dread. You can’t put a form to it, it is simultaneously within and without our own understanding and it’s something that Lovecraft himself aptly described within the philosophy of his own body of work.

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

H.P. Lovecraft

Since the cosmic horror subgenre doesn’t rely solely on jump scares, it’s difficult to really sink your teeth into what is truly so frightening about these kinds of stories. Few movies have been fortunate enough to capture the existential dread that we get from the literary cosmic horror; these precious few examples leave us wanting more. What we end up finding when we delve deeper into trying to understand such an intangible fear, is that the fear arises from within ourselves, our paranoia, insecurities, and the emotions that these things stir up that we are nowhere near prepared to deal with.

The realization of cosmic horror is that there are these unknown, inhuman, races of beings that have inexplicably existed since times before life on Earth could boast multicellular organisms. These beings, creatures, or ancient powers don’t care about us or our existence–we are insignificant and immaterial to the grand scheme of things. This insignificance fuels our fears and results with the ultimate imperceptible terror, the unknown. Fear of the unknown has many succumb to insanity and that’s exactly what happens with the best Lovecraftian literature.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) - Horror Movies Poster

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

We have Stanley Kubrick to thank for making the first movie to successfully capture the vision of cosmic horror. His vision met the Lovecraftian horror requirements pretty spectacularly; while critics either hailed this movie as a boring spectacle of lights or a visionary way to explain the cosmos, one thing is for certain–Kubrick gave us a possible view into the future that we could have never before have even tried to explain. This piece is a solid example of cosmic horror that meets both our aspirations of where we could possibly go as the human race and the place we also inch towards with trepidation. Lovecraft’s writing suggested that in his world that extraterrestrials were actually his inspiration for the ancient gods or beings that societies long since passed had worshipped.

Clarke’s writing supported Lovecraft’s creative expression of the ancient ones–an idea further supported by the sequel to 2001: A Space Oddysey which was titled 3001: The Final Odyssey. The only major difference between the attitudes of Clarke and Lovecraft lies within the approach of the aliens towards humanity. Where Lovecraft features an indifferent perspective–as if humans were aphids to their godly prowess, Clarke suggests a far more amicable relationship. What really matters in this narrative though is that Lovecraftian horror elicits an existential dread which is made clearly possible in Clarke’s literary works and Kubricks eventual screen adaptation.

The Thing (1982) Movie Poster - Cosmic Horror Films

The Thing (1982)

John Carpenter is considered a master of horror and that’s a fair assessment, in his long career of horror creation he has been the main name attached to some of the most famous and most underrated movies the horror genre can boast about. His first big studio movie came to us in 1982 via The Thing and it’s also a perfect example of cosmic a cosmic horror movie. Almost forty years after its creation and it’s still a classic within this subgenre. Despite initially coming across as a monster movie, when it’s analyzed with a heavier lens, it’s clear that it perfectly fits the bill of something that’s deeper, darker, and far more intangible than just an evil monster. While The Thing (1982) does deliver the monster, it’s the actual form of this invading force that is ultimately well beyond our ability to comprehend.

We never see the monster in its true form, because it’s always shown either in the guise of one of the crew members or in its transformation to its new disguise. The monster effects were considered state-of-the-art in 1982, it may seem like they would be outdated by now, but don’t be fooled, Rob Bottin continues to enthrall us with his ability to both elicit a sense of wonder and revulsion; they also keep us in the dark just like Lovecraft himself thrived on being non-descriptive, choosing to encourage readers to envision their own, “indescribable horror.”

The bread-and-butter of the cosmic horror genre is typically that which cannot be seen, right? Well, John Carpenter gave us all a middle finger when he essentially slapped us in the face with a monster that we can not only see but one that we still can’t give a proper description of. This monster doesn’t behave in a manner that would suggest it’s a creature that belongs to our world, which leads us to believe it’s an alien. Not to spoil anything but it is the main reason that we suggest watching this movie before the prequel, of the same name, that was released in 2011. The monster (alien?) is just the tip of the cosmic horror iceberg; what the creature ultimately represents is the debilitating nature of what it means to have your entire worldview changed forever.

In the Mouth of Madness (1994) Movie Poster

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

Another John Carpenter movie, albeit quite a bit more underappreciated, In the Mouth of Madness (1994) definitely did its job of inviting existential dread upon audiences. Curiously enough, while the audience experiences this indeterminable terror, so does our protagonist; we watch as his reality unfolds around him and he is exposed to the ultimate mindfuck at the end of it all. What is real? What can truly be expected in life when we don’t even know how to cope with the existence of the unknown?

Event Horizon (1997) Movie Poster

Event Horizon (1997)

This classic sci-fi movie takes cosmic horror to a more literal level, by being set in the actual cosmos. This movie is amazing because it functions on so many levels, as a mystery, science fiction, horror, and action movie. The characters on board are sent to discover what happened to the crew of a ship that had been sent to discover parts of the universe and had otherwise been missing in action for nearly a decade. After it suddenly reappears, the question on everyone’s mind is–where was the Event Horizon the entire time?

Pulse (2006) Movie Poster

Pulse (2006)

This movie is where Wes Craven finally took a crack at cosmic horror and even if he didn’t do it intentionally, he still technically did it. While this movie was basically a remake of the Japanese film Kairo (2001), it begs the question of what would happen when technology crossed paths with the other side. While the move came across as simply another American remake of a successful Japanese film, it does still make it to the cosmic horror party.

The Mist (2007) Movie Poster

The Mist (2007)

This movie brings us a psychologically traumatizing kind of fear–the kind that makes you lose faith in humanity and its ability to maintain some semblance of civility and order throughout chaos. What is really terrifying about this movie isn’t the otherworldly monsters which we get decent exposure to, it’s the characters and their inability to withstand the stress of their situation. We see the characters go through an extreme transformation in their two days of being held captive by the mist; at first cooler heads prevail, but constant fear-mongering by the town’s bible-thumping mentally disturbed resident leads a majority of them to demand blood sacrifice to appease the monsters that they believe God has sent to punish them. Classically terrifying cosmic horror that has aged well over the past decade.

The Happening (2008) Movie Poster

The Happening (2008)

This is probably the movie that least represents cosmic horror within the context of this list–since this movie deals with forces that originate on Earth, particularly Mother Nature herself, instead of an ancient being that has come to take over and extinguish our existence with little to no premeditated vision of extermination. It still fits the subgenre though, because of the inability to truly comprehend the forces at work and the feelings that we see the characters experience throughout the movie. Even though we’re left with an explanation of what our protagonists have encountered, we’re also left with this unrelenting feeling that we don’t actually possess as much control over our existence as we initially believed.

The Cabin in the Woods (2011) Movie Poster

The Cabin in the Woods (2011)

Perhaps its the stereotypical creepy gas station attendant, or the lack of accumulated dust on the relics in the cellar of the cabin, or perhaps it’s the pain-worshipping redneck zombies that dig their way out of the ground–this movie doesn’t walk or quack like a cosmic horror duck, at least not at first. If we discount the major hints that are dropped throughout this movie, the entire movie may end up shocking you once it reaches its finality. It stands to reason though, that if you pay attention throughout the movie you’ll be on edge and most notably creeped out by the subtle external influences at work in this complex, comical, and downright terrifying film. In the end, the character’s realization of what is really going on is what sells this movie as a true gem in the realm of cosmic horror. Not only do they go through all of the stages of grief in a twenty-minute span, but they also cross over into the realm of acceptance within the insanity that they find themselves facing.

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The Thing (2011)

Even though The Thing (2011) came out almost thirty years after the original 1982 version, it actually serves as a prequel to John Carpenter’s first masterwork. More is revealed to us about this universe throughout the movie, but it’s almost like this prequel was meant to be watched after we’re already exposed to the monster and already know the havoc it can wreak within a small, claustrophobic, and insanely isolated region. In our opinion, watching this one as if it were a sequel really helps to keep the original mysterious and terrifying. So if you’re planning on watching these two movies back to back, watch this one last.

Prometheus (2012) Movie Poster

Prometheus (2012)

This movie was birthed from a movie franchise with an already extensive history, stemming from the Alien franchise that began its epic journey in 1979. The cosmic horror focus made this move unlike any of its predecessors, which all made their home in the action, science fiction, monster/alien horror, and thriller genres. We get to see the missing piece of this familiar Alien puzzle, but the Engineers weren’t exactly what was expected out of the story. It makes sense that fans of a violent and terrifying franchise wouldn’t be able to relate as well to a story that hinged on a narrative where human beings were simply a test species genetically engineered by an ancient race of beings. As a result and none-too-surprisingly, it didn’t do too well with the main following of the original franchise. So even though Prometheus (2012) was a highly anticipated movie, the fans of the original franchise weren’t too thrilled with this new cosmic horror focus of the overall story.

The Void (2016) Movie Poster

The Void (2016)

As creepy as it is confusing, this movie is a great example of cosmic horror. The creatures smack of Lovecraft’s strange influence, where there is no real ability to describe what they are. This all takes place in a pretty deserted hospital, which is creepy enough if you’ve ever seen a movie with the stereotypical abandoned and haunted medical center. All we really know when we watch this movie is that it attempts to convey the existence of evil things we can’t hope to know or understand and if that’s not cosmic horror, then we’re not sure what is.

The Endless (2017) Movie Poster

The Endless (2017)

If you’re the type that is intrigued by the psychology of cults and their idea of ascension within the context of mass suicide, then this movie is definitely for you. Outwardly it just seems like some kooky people who are looking for a form of validation through their belief system, but then we realize there are indescribable things at work behind the scenes. When we join two of the cult survivors who go back to find out what’s really going on we see that nothing is what it seems and that the mystery is hidden beneath the surface. The dread that we face from this movie is spurred by our need to know what is going on, so we sit on the edge of our seats waiting to see what our two protagonists came to find out.

Life (2017) Movie Poster

Life (2017)

It’s difficult to know whether or not a movie like this exists within the realm of cosmic horror–or if it’s just another alien movie. Here’s the thing though, even though we see the alien, monster, lifeform (or whatever you want to call it) throughout the entire movie, there is no viable way to know whether this is another evil alien, or just an uncaring being that has a predisposition to survive no matter what the cost is to another form of life. A huge part of cosmic horror is that the menacing force within the story doesn’t need to be evil–it just needs to be overwhelming and intangible, or unidentifable. Their trail of destruction needs to make you feel small, insignificant, and easily discarded.

Annihilation (2018) Movie Poster

Annihilation (2018)

If you didn’t quite understand Annihilation (2018) then you’re not the only one, but that was sort of the entire point of the movie. Even though Natalie Portman dominated this movie in her typical fashion, the movie didn’t get a lot of credit for how intensely original it was; perhaps it was because there was no determinable wrap up to the story, but no good cosmic horror story does. While the jump scares and monsters should have lent to it being an instant horror classic, the terrifying nature of what was going on inside of “the shimmer,” and the inability for people to completely understand the grand theme of utter helplessness in the face of something so large and indefinable led to a lot of people saying it was a bad movie.

In the defense of Annihilation (2018), it’s not that it was a bad movie, there are just not a lot of people who understand or appreciate the classic Lovecraftian influences that make this movie such a success. There’s nothing better than a movie that leaves us questioning everything we know about our own existence, that is the very core of cosmic horror. We see the invading force of the movie literally taking everything it encounters in its path and changing it from something we know and can easily recognize to something entirely new and foreign. Neither we as the viewers nor the characters themselves can fathom the existence of something that can literally rewrite how we define reality on our Earth. If you’re planning on reading the book that the movie was based on, don’t worry about whether or not you read it first–the movie and book hold little in common other than the name.

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.

H.P. Lovecraft
Bird Box (2018) Movie Poster

Bird Box (2018)

A movie that was simultaneously successful and a joke in the increasingly nihilistic attitude of today’s world; it earned its status as the most successful original Netflix film in the history of the platform, but it also caused the less intelligent people of society to take the Bird Box Challenge in an effort to take advantage of their fifteen minutes of fame. This challenge like its predecessor, the Tide Pod Challenge ended up getting people hurt and challenged a lot more people to denounce Darwinism in the face of such blatant disregard of responsible action. The social media frenzy that surrounded this movie may have been what everyone was really talking about, but it didn’t detract from the overall cosmic message of the movie.

Like any true Lovecraftian horror story, we see from the very beginning that the horror element of this entire story is the indescribable, madness-inducing truth of the evil they are facing. The perfection of cosmic horror is that the source of fear doesn’t have to be seen by the audience in order to really bring the point home. In fact, the less we see of the source the scarier it becomes, that which cannot be defined or that which cannot hope to be known speaks to our fear of the unknown. Fear of the unknown is one of the oldest fears to plague humanity, it harkens back to the days where our fight or flight response to dangerous situations was what kept us alive. This indescribable creature that terrorizes the survivors of the Bird Box universe is exactly what Lovecraft’s cosmic horror is truly all about–we see that just the sight of these creatures creates such a huge wave of existential dread in a person that they literally respond by committing suicide. Those who are already suffering from mental illness just see the truth of what they already know and seek to show their truth to others.

Color Out of Space (2019) Movie Poster

Color Out of Space (2019)

This take on Lovecraft’s Color Out of Space (2019) marks the first truly successful adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s writing to the screen. The original short story of the same title was noted to be Lovecraft’s favorite amongst his own short stories and can be listened to on YouTube.

Considering the failure of many of Lovecraft’s previous works being translated to the screen, this movie was both highly anticipated and doubted. Horror lovers eagerly awaited to see if it would be a true flop as all of the attempts that had come before it, or if it would actually capture Lovecraft’s vision. This undertaking, Nicolas Cage notwithstanding, was an incredibly solid effort to capture that lovely, wonderful, existential dread that Lovecraft made so popular. The jump scares in this movie are nearly non-existent, instead, we got the frightening tale that we were hoping for in true Lovecraft form.