We’re thrilled to have Nico Bell join us today to share her picks featuring dysfunctional families in horror fiction!
The holiday season is around the corner, and that means families will be gathering to celebrate and reconnect. For some, this is a joyous occasion, met with anticipation and delight. For others, this is a time filled with dread, anxiety, and a whole lot of Zantax. But before you write off your family as dysfunctional, take a look at these twisted relationships, and remember—it could always be worse.
Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage
If you haven’t read Baby Teeth, now is the time! For fans of We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, this is a must read. Stage explores the dynamics of motherhood in this terrifying thriller that will leave you hugging your children a little tighter. Or not.
On the outside it looks like Suzette has it all. A stunning ultra-modern home, designed by her handsome Swedish husband. A beautiful, but silent, seven-year-old daughter who is fiercely intelligent. But under the shiny veneer, the cracks are all too clear. For her daughter Hanna isn’t just clever, she’s dangerous. Her behaviour is carefully calculated. She adores her father, yet wants Suzette to disappear. And as Hanna’s tricks become increasingly sophisticated – from tampering with her mother’s daily medication, imitating a rabid dog, to setting Suzette on fire – it’s increasingly clear that there is something seriously wrong with their little girl.
Because what kind of child wants to kill their own mother?
Theme Music by T. Marie Vandelly
You can’t escape your past. Or maybe, you can? This is a story of one survivor’s quest for closure, and the demons who refuse to remain buried. This is a twisted tale of murder and family secrets perfect for horror and thriller fans.
She didn’t run from her dark past. She moved in.
For the lucky among us, life is what you make of it; but for Dixie Wheeler, the theme music for her story was chosen by another long ago, on the day her father butchered her mother and brothers and then slashed a knife across his own throat. Only one-year-old Dixie was spared, becoming infamously known as Baby Blue for the song left playing in the aftermath of the slaughter.
Twenty-five years later, Dixie is still desperate for a connection to the family she can’t remember. So when her childhood home goes up for sale, Dixie sets aside all reason and moves in. But as the ghosts of her family seemingly begin to take up residence in the house that was once theirs, Dixie starts to question her sanity and wonders if the evil force menacing her is that of her father or a demon of her own making.
In order to make sense of her present, Dixie becomes determined to unravel the truth of her past and seeks out the detective who originally investigated the murders. But the more she learns, the more she opens up the uncomfortable possibility that the sins of her father may belong to another. As bodies begin to pile up around her, Dixie must find a way to expose the lunacy behind her family’s massacre to save her few loved ones who are still alive—and whatever scrap of sanity she has left.
The Kelping by Jan Stinchcomb
Every marriage has a few secrets, right? Stinchcomb weaves a quick-paced coastal horror story about a wife with a secret, and a husband who is determined to unravel the truth. Part of the Rewind or Die series, this book is a fun bit of escapism with unpredictable twists.
Doctor Craig Bo has everything: a perfect wife and children, a thriving dermatology practice, and a house in a lovely coastal town. Nobody is surprised when he is chosen to be the Sea King of Beachside in his hometown’s annual festival.
But after the festival Craig’s world turns upside down. Something starts growing on his skin. His son tells him a story about a sinister mermaid who lives in the attic of the local history museum. And his beautiful wife, Penelope, can no longer hide her dark connection to the sea.
As Craig grapples with his own secrets and misdeeds, he finally understands the woman he married and the plans she has for him.
The Good House by Tananarive Due
Tananarive Due can do no wrong. She’s an exquisite wordsmith as she weaves together a family horror with passion and mystery. This book will instantly become a favorite.
The house Angela Toussaint’s late grandmother owned is so beloved that townspeople in Sacajawea, Washington, call it the Good House. But is it?
Angela hoped her grandmother’s famous “healing magic” could save her failing marriage while she and her family lived in the old house the summer of 2001. Instead, an unexpected tragedy ripped Angela’s family apart.
Now, two years later, Angela is moving past her grief and taking control of her life as a talent agent in Los Angeles, and she is finally ready to revisit the rural house she loved so much as a child. Back in Sacajawea, Angela realizes she hasn’t been the only one to suffer a shocking loss. Since she left, there have been more senseless tragedies, and Angela wonders if they are related somehow. Could the events be linked to a terrifying entity Angela’s grandmother battled in 1929? Did her teenage son, Corey, reawaken something that should have been left sleeping?
With the help of Myles Fisher, her high school boyfriend, and clues from beyond the grave, Angela races to solve a deadly puzzle that has followed her family for generations. She must summon her own hidden gifts to face the timeless adversary stalking her in her grandmother’s house — and in the Washington woods.
Lucid Screams by Red Lagoe
This is a collection of short stories, but the bonds between family members runs deep throughout. I highly recommend reading the entire collection, but if you’re pressed for time, “Lucid Screaming” is an incredible family horror story that will haunt you far after the last word.
Mythical creatures, inner demons, and fear are a few forms in which monsters present themselves. When confronted by such savage beasts, the vulnerability of humanity is often exposed. Will we rise above, or will we succumb to our inevitable demise? These sixteen horror stories by Red Lagoe explore the supernatural as well as human horror associated with grief, guilt, severed relationships, and severed limbs.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
New fans are still discovering this classic and for a good reason. A poignant and disturbing tale of sisterhood where nothing is exactly as it seems. This literary horror is an unsettling read about family and loss.
Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood and her elder sister Constance live alone in their ancestral home with their crippled uncle after the tragic murder of both of their parents, their aunt, and their younger brother. Having been accused and later acquitted of the murders, Constance confines herself to the grounds of their home, while Merricat contends with their hostile neighbors and with the ever-increasing sense of impending danger she feels is heading their way.
Now You’re One of Us by Asa Nonami
Nonami holds nothing back in this Japanese horror about a bride who marries into a family with secrets. This is a dark, gothic horror that will make you appreciate your in-laws a tad more.
All families have their own rituals, secrets, and credos, like a miniature religious cult; these quirks may elicit the mirth or mild alarm of guests, but the matter is rather more serious if you’re marrying into a household. If it’s a Japanese one with a history, the brace yourself: some surprising truths lurk around the corner
Brother by Ania Ahlborn
You may want to read this one with the lights on or perhaps with a vomit bucket nearby. There’s gore galore in this deeply frightening story about a young man and his twisted family. Brace yourself. This one gets messy.
Deep in the heart of Appalachia stands a crooked farmhouse miles from any road. The Morrows keep to themselves, and it’s served them well so far. When girls go missing off the side of the highway, the cops don’t knock on their door. Which is a good thing, seeing as to what’s buried in the Morrows’ backyard.
But nineteen-year-old Michael Morrow isn’t like the rest of his family. He doesn’t take pleasure in the screams that echo through the trees. Michael pines for normalcy, and he’s sure that someday he’ll see the world beyond West Virginia. When he meets Alice, a pretty girl working at a record shop in the small nearby town of Dahlia, he’s immediately smitten. For a moment, he nearly forgets about the monster he’s become. But his brother, Rebel, is all too eager to remind Michael of his place…
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
I couldn’t walk away from this list without including “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a short story by the incredibly talented Charlotte Perkins Gilman. This is my favorite short story. A woman desperate to have her feelings validated by her doctor husband descends into madness.
‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ is the chilling tale of a woman driven to the brink of insanity by the ‘rest cure’ prescribed after the birth of her child. Isolated in a crumbling colonial mansion, in a room with bars on the windows, the tortuous pattern of the yellow wallpaper winds its way into the recesses of her mind.