If You Like This, Read That: Friday the 13th Edition
Happy Friday the 13th, CBTB readers!! Whenever a Friday the 13th rolls around, I always find myself in the mood to revisit some of my favorite horror movies—and in today’s blog post, I’m doing exactly that! I’m pairing a few of my personal favorite horror movies with crime novels that involve some of the same themes, topics, or tropes. I’ll be the first to admit: I’m no expert when it comes to horror novels. That being said, I sure do have a decent amount of experience with horror movies, and we know I spend even more time exploring crime fiction... so I thought today would be the perfect time to pair these two interests and put together a fun reading list for you! Since CBTB is a crime fiction-focused blog, the books recommended here will be primarily crime fiction, rather than straight horror - though they’ll each have a certain element of something particularly chilling or even directly horror-inspired to them.
Many thanks to the CBTB readers who answered my questions about what you look for in a horror book on Instagram a couple days ago! It was so fun to read the different qualities you love (or don’t love!) about horror books and movies - and the picks below are aimed at tapping into those qualities, too.
A note: Ironically, despite my affinity for watching scary movies on Friday's that fall on the 13th of the month, the movie Friday the 13th is actually not one of my favorites... which is why you won't find it on this list! All the movies mentioned below represent some of my personal favorite horror movies (or horror movie franchises) -- aka the movies that are always on my list to watch (or re-watch) when a Friday the 13th rolls around!
Scream X Final Girls
Book: FINAL GIRLS by Riley Sager
Why I Love the Book: I had the privilege of working with Riley Sager on the release of FINAL GIRLS last summer, but since I’ve recently changed jobs, that means it’s now fair game for me to officially share: I loved this book. Page-turning, horror-inspired fun, FINAL GIRLS serves up exactly the kind of horror and psychological thriller crossover that works so well for me. It’s just a fun read—one of those books you’ll fly through and still wish you had more of it to devour. Author Sager is a horror movie buff, too, and his love of all things horror shines through in the book’s references - both subtle and overt - to classic horror tropes. It's slasher-lite, if you will: a story that has all the makings of a horror movie franchise without quite the same level of blood needed to achieve that status.
Why It Works With Scream: Speaking of horror movie franchises, from the first moment I read FINAL GIRLS, all I could think of was how perfectly it fits into my longstanding obsession with the Scream franchise. (I even came this close to buying a Scream-branded notebook for my notes on FINAL GIRLS... and am still regretting that I didn't buy that notebook, honestly.) I’ve watched all the Scream movies so (so, so) many times, and I just love ‘em all. FINAL GIRLS pairs well with Scream on a few levels: Sid (Scream) and Quincy (FINAL GIRLS) are totally reminiscent of one another; the book has the same easy-to-binge quality as the Scream movies; and, most fundamentally of all, they both deal with a “final girl” (a survivor of a massacre) trying to be the last one standing when a killer comes calling for her… and comes calling for her again. So much bloody fun.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose x A Head Full of Ghosts
Movie: The Exorcism of Emily Rose
Book: A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS by Paul Tremblay
Why I Love the Book: There’s nothing stereotypical about Tremblay’s take on an exorcism story, and it’s a read made all the scarier by its reliance on horrors very much of this world. A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS delves into the life of a family who becomes concerned - and quickly disturbed - when one of their daughters begins exhibiting signs of mental illness. They consult a priest, who suggests an exorcism might be needed… and, in turn, suggests that a production company might want to film the exorcism and document its success. Now, naturally, things don’t go as planned—and I loved the author’s willingness to take this story in unexpected and atypical directions. This is not your standard exorcism story, but its interpersonal tension and alarming final explanation make it truly gripping.
Why It Works With The Exorcism of Emily Rose: Young women (potentially) possessed is the most obvious commonality between this book and movie, though the movie relies on an otherworldly explanation for the titular character’s disturbing behavior, while Tremblay’s book explores other options. What really make these two work together, though, is the idea of bringing in outsiders to observe and comment upon a seemingly supernatural event. In The Exorcism of Emily Rose, the story is told through flashbacks that occur while the priest who presided over the exorcism is being tried in court; in A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS, we get a number of different perspectives: a horror-focused blog, an interview with the afflicted girl’s sister, and more. I love the idea of an outsider perspective on an inexplicable event - and this pairing sure has that.
Saw X Security
Book: SECURITY by Gina Wohlsdorf
Why I Love the Book: SECURITY is one of those seriously-underrated - and also seriously divisive - crime novels that I've covered on CBTB. It’s unapologetically over-the-top—a cat and mouse game between an anonymous killer and the staff of a luxury hotel. There’s nothing subtle or quiet about this book: it’s tense, gory, bloody, and gripping. I know plenty of readers who have hated this book (one of my best friends included… but no hard feelings…) but I absolutely loved it. Wohlsdorf is a stunning talent, and her inventive and cutting edge thriller is confident and bold enough to pull off its ambitious plot. Bonus: this book has an ending that truly broke my heart—an unexpected dash of emotion in an otherwise brutal read.
Why It Works With Saw: Blood, guts, and gore—need I say more? But really, these two are a lot. The original Saw movie (unlike a number of its subsequent franchise installments, I’ll be the first to admit) had a plot as psychologically unnerving as it was just plain gory, and it was that combination that really made the movie work for me. SECURITY serves up a similar pairing of genuine gore with an unexpected overarching story that’s so much more psychologically compelling than I would have first guessed it to be. This is what really hooks me in a horror movie (or a horror book, when I read them): blood and gore must be balanced by clever plotting or psychological complexity. This pairing delivers that in spades.
The Conjuring X The Grip of It
Movie: The Conjuring
Book: THE GRIP OF IT by Jac Jemc
Why I Love the Book: There’s nothing like a haunted house story, and Jac Jemc puts her own literary spin on a classic concept in THE GRIP OF IT. In this slightly more highbrow rendition of a familiar horror setup, a young couple purchases their dream home in a rural area, only to discover that the house seems to have a personality - and a plan - of its own. What makes this book work so well for a crime reader, beyond its literary leanings, is the interplay of inexplicable horror and very real domestic tensions found within it. This isn’t just a haunted house story—it’s also an exploration of the tensions found within a marriage. In many ways, the “haunted house” is simply a device used to push this couple to face the cracks in the foundation of their life together. Consider it a refreshing new take on domestic suspense.
Why It Works with The Conjuring: I absolutely love this movie, and it also scares the living daylights out of me. More than anything else, this pairing might be based on my visceral reactions to both stories. In The Conjuring, we get a classic “haunted house” story, replete with creepy 3 AM wake-ups, ghostly sightings, paranormal investigators, and a whole lot more. In THE GRIP OF IT, we also get a house haunted by inexplicable occurrences: strange noises, bizarre markings appearing on the walls -- and on the owners, and much, much more. Though quite different in the kind of haunting portrayed, both film and book effectively draw the reader into houses that we would be much smarter to run the other way from.
The Descent X The River At Night
Movie: The Descent
Book: THE RIVER AT NIGHT by Erica Ferencik
Why I Love the Book: For those of you who like the idea of a horror story that takes place in the wilderness, but are hesitant about the actual horror part of that description, THE RIVER AT NIGHT is a great balance. This book is far from horror, but it certainly has some creepy and cinematic elements to it. THE RIVER AT NIGHT follows a group of women who decide to take an adventurous girls’ trip, and end up going white-water rafting in a remote part of Maine. As the trip begins to take a turn for the worse, the tensions in the group begin to show… and soon, they find themselves making a disturbing discovery out in the wilderness that puts their lives at risk. Like FINAL GIRLS, this is another easy to binge, just plain fun read—don’t expect to be deeply scared by this book, and don’t expect it to be the most realistic, but do expect to have fun on the ride.
Why It Works With The Descent: Both books tackle a group of adventurers who find themselves seriously in over their heads when what’s supposed to be a fun getaway goes very wrong. Though The Descent is (of course) much darker than THE RIVER AT NIGHT, this book will work for readers who want that same (for lack of a better phrase) outdoorsy-thriller vibe. Think: an unwitting group of people pursued by predators in the middle of nowhere, with no one to help them. Bonus: both books feature resilient women who are central the story. Though the scare levels are very different here, this pairing is a natural fit!
The Babadook X The Hours Before Dawn
Movie: The Babadook
Book: THE HOURS BEFORE DAWN by Celia Fremlin
Why I Love the Book: This might be the most abstract pairing on this list, but give me a moment to explain why I’ve put these two very different stories together. In its infinite complexity, motherhood has inspired some truly sharp and insightful crime fiction - this spring, look for two commercial thrillers to explore this topic further (THE PERFECT MOTHER by Aimee Molloy and YOU WERE MADE FOR THIS by Michelle Sacks). Predating these modern, trendy psychological suspense novels is Celia Fremlin’s masterpiece of crime fiction. First published in 1958, Fremlin’s taut and unnerving novel explores the pressures of motherhood, and the deterioration that can occur when a woman feels she isn’t living up to the standards set for her by society. It’s subtle and powerful - a must-read for fans of classic crime fiction.
Why It Works With The Babadook: Of all the recent horror movies I’ve seen, The Babadook is without a doubt my favorite. It’s so much more than just a terrifying story about a monster lurking in a woman’s home—it’s a raw exploration of post-partum depression, too. The main character in The Babadook is a widow, struggling to raise a difficult child on her own. “The Babadook” - the monster the main character “meets” through a scary picture book her son has at home one day - becomes a representation of the messy, isolating, desperate pieces of motherhood that aren’t often publicly discussed. THE HOURS BEFORE DAWN lives in this same space: a space of brutal honesty surrounding the pressures placed upon mothers. The Babadook is a terrifying film; THE HOURS BEFORE DAWN is a much more polite and refined novel. But the themes they explore couldn’t be more well-aligned.
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