Hulu’s “Castle Rock” was an ambitious gambit – an attempt not to adapt Stephen King per se, but rather to build a cohesive series inspired by the sprawling and often interconnected world of Stephen King’s novels. While arguably a bit uneven at times, “Castle Rock” was nonetheless a slow-burning, supernatural horror that had the spirit and vibe of Stephen King’s work well in hand. From the expansive cast of characters to the seamier underbelly of small-town life to the wholly unsettling central mystery, at its best “Castle Rock” felt like vintage King. Add in the stellar performances and “Castle Rock” made for some truly captivating – and haunting – TV. Of course, now that the finale has aired, you’re going to need something to fill that King-sized hole. Fortunately, there are plenty of literary scares centered around creepy small towns and all manner of supernatural horror. Here are a few of our favorites.
While there are obviously plenty of Stephen King stories for fans of “Castle Rock” to dig into, Needful Things is the quintessential Castle Rock novel. It’s a meandering (often too much), messy, and kaleidoscopic view of King’s fictional town. The story centers around the opening of a bizarre curiosities shop and its preternaturally charming owner. His Faustian bargains tear open old wounds and inflict new ones that quickly devolve the community into hellish chaos. It’s one of King’s more divisive novels and you either love its sprawling Peyton Place meets The Devil and Daniel Webster vibe or you hate it. Either way, it is the Castle Rock story.
Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Eccentric small-ish town with a grisly history? Check. Dark and twisted human drama woven around supernatural elements? Double check. A relentlessly bleak story? Well, that’s just icing. Originally a Dutch bestseller, Thomas Olde Heuvelt actually rewrote the novel and moved the setting to the Hudson Valley for the English language release. The result is a deeply unsettling tale of a reclusive community haunted by a seventeenth century witch whose eyes and mouth have been sewn shut.
Grady Hendrix took readers inside a haunted IKEA-like store with his fiction debut Horrorstor, his follow-up is more The Exorcist by way of “Heathers”. It’s 1988 and high school “it” girls Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since grade school. After an evening at a party gone wrong, Gretchen begins acting different – she’s sullen and strange things happen when she’s around. Abby has a theory on what’s up and a plan to deal with it, but it could mean bringing her friend back from the brink of literal hell.
Meddling Kids is a knowing riff on the kid-detective genre that asks the question, “What happens when a Scooby Doo-esque gang of kids finally grows up?” The answer is an entertaining supernatural thriller set in and around a decaying resort town with a bit of Lovecraftian-inspired scares thrown in for good measure. It centers on a group of adolescent detectives now all grown-up and reckoning with the fallout of their final, terrifying case.
This slice of small-town life centers around the mysterious disappearance of a boy named Jude Brighton. Gone for three days and counting, the town has largely lost hope that the boy will be found. However, his young cousin Stevie hasn’t. What he discovers is a twisted and horrifying truth worse than anything he could have imagined – one that the town has long kept hidden. It’s the kind of a slow-burning horror that settles in and burrows under your skin.
Ghost Story is the book that put Peter Straub in the conversation with the likes of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Set in the fictional town of Milburn, New York, the story largely follows the Chowder Society, a group of old men who gather to trade stories that have gotten progressively darker since the bizarre death of one of their own a year earlier. When the rest of men begin to fall in turn, the survivors come to realize a horrific mistake from their past may be at the center of it all. It’s a slow-burn, gothic-style horror novel that takes a little while to get rolling, but brings the scares when it does.
Set in a small New England town called Coventry, Snowblind takes place in the midst of a brutal snowstorm – one that could be far more sinister than it seems. Twelve years after a brutal storm nearly destroyed the community, the inhabitants of Coventry are still haunted by the lost loved ones and the terrible decisions made during that blizzard. Now another storm is bearing down on Coventry and the question is whether the once-tight-knit community can survive yet again.
Scott Snyder, Jock (Artist)
Given the surge in quality horror comics over the last several years, if you’re a horror fan it’s well worth checking out. Wytches is a perfect example. Written by Scott Snyder – one of the best in business at the moment – with truly unnerving art from the inimitable Jock, Wytches tells the tale of the Rook family as they relocate to the town of Litchfield, New Hampshire after a series of family tragedies. Something sinister lurks in the forest encircling the community, though. And its something the town’s inhabitants could well be aware of. With shades of The Lottery, Children of the Corn, and Harvest Home, Wytches is brutal and pitch perfect nightmare.
Universal Harvester centers around Jimmy,who’s living a small town life and working at a local video store. There’s not much to say about his fairly mundane day-to-day, at least until a visibly disturbed customer returns a video claiming there’s a different movie on the tape. This sets Jeremy on twisted and disturbing journey into the darkness that lies at the very center of the town and into a far more complicated story than he could have ever anticipated.
(Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)
We Have Always Lived in the Castle was Shirley Jackson’s final novel. It also may be her best – apologies to The Haunting of Hill House. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is an expertly crafted work of mounting dread, slowly unfurling secrets, and devastating truths. It chronicles the Blackwood sisters living in a large manor house and ostracized by the nearby village following the deaths of the rest of the Blackwood family. It’s a patient and steady descent into anxiety and isolation that also shows Jackson’s unparalleled skill for blending atmosphere, richly drawn characters, and deepening unease into pitch perfect horror.