For many, like myself, the shelter-in-place continues and may persist well into the summer. Life remains in flux, constantly changing and constricting, and if you’re like me, you’re also having trouble reading. Staring at screens constantly has taken its toll. Every social interaction with others outside of one’s quarantine place is a Zoom meeting or something similar. My eyes and my mind are tired.
But one thing that’s really called to me are audiobooks. And not just any sort of audiobook—classic horror audiobooks! We’re talking the classic horror that has now become part of the literary canon, so integrated into our tropes, they have become identifiable origin points for our favorite horror concoctions. The following list are audiobooks you can tune into on Youtube for free.
Many are tales you’ve read and loved, but during this particular point in time, they just might do what they’ve done for me: become a sort of audio sanctuary, a lulling horror that is far more nostalgic and enjoyable than what’s happening all around us.
At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft
What classic horror list would be complete without H.P. Lovecraft? This 1931 novella is a Lovecraftian classic exploring the events of a doomed expedition through the Antarctic continent led by the story’s narrator, Dr. William Dyer of Miskatonic University. The whole unreliable narrator device is utilized in the way of Dyer telling stories to other explorers, evidentially outrageous and unsightly, in hopes of keeping others from also exploring the territory. There was a Guillermo del Toro adaptation in the works, but it was eventually shelved due to funding reasons.
The Willows by Algernon Blackwood
Lovecraft deemed Blackwood an inspiration and went so far as to say this novella, the 1907 classic, The Willows, to be among the best supernatural stories in literature at the time. The gist of it involves two friends on a canoe trip down the River Danube. Listening to the audiobook and all of this devilish descriptions of nature makes a person ache for walking and hiking in the woods… that is, until the story takes a horrific turn
The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley
Give me any story about mysteries about books and naturally Christopher Morley’s 1919 classic, among the first to explore the “bibliomystery,” is one of those audiobooks that ended up lulling me away from anxiety. Less outright horror, the mystery that often comes with classic horror tales is still present and what’s more, Roger Mifflin, the bookshop’s owner, gives readers countless stories about the ghosts of literature. If you want to wax nostalgic about adoration of books while enjoying a mystery, check it out.
Hop Frog by Edgar Allan Poe
Pretty much any story by Poe could fit nicely in this list, but it’s the spot-on reading by Barry Bowman for the Chilling Tales for Dark Nights Youtube channel that gets the win. The eponymously named Hop Frog is a man suffering from dwarfism who becomes the jester of a cruel king that enacts many practical jokes upon him. The story is reportedly semi-autobiographical, with Poe writing the story as a means of “literary revenge.”
The Body Snatcher by Robert Louis Stevenson
A bonafide tale of classic horror, Stevenson’s The Body Snatcher involves two young medical students, Fettes and Macfarlane, as they become inspired by their professor to become grave robbers in the name of science. It’s reportedly based on the surgeon, Robert Knox and the Burke and Hare Murders. I can’t help but think about the cult classic film, Flatliners, and how it might have been inadvertently influenced by Stevenson’s story, if only because the film likely could not have existed without the story.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
A true Halloween mainstay, Washington Irving’s legend has endured the eras and has become one of those tales so deeply entwined with our celebration of a holiday. Though there’s no point in explaining the plot, it’s worth mentioning that Sleepy Hollow is a real place, up in New York state in a town called Tarrytown. Likewise, though there are countless adaptations of the story, it’s worth living through the original tale, as it was initially told.
The Vampyre by John William Polidori
You’ve probably heard all about the backstory of this one but here goes: Polidori was Lord Byron’s personal physician and he, along with Mary Godwin (aka Mary Shelley) challenged each other to see who could write the best Gothic story. Shelley’s answer was Frankenstein. Polidori’s was The Vampyre. The tale itself was among the first to explore vampirism in a literary sense. Now it’s as overused as zombies.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
As mentioned above, Mary Shelley was dared into writing the best Gothic story she could write and in doing so concocted a true classic of horror. Victor Frankenstein, the obsessed mad scientist obsessed with how a being comes to life, concocts his own via a random assortment of body parts. The creature is so hideous the scientist locks him away. The poor creature just wants to understand but after a long enough period of loneliness and isolation, anger and vengeance replaces all emotion. It’s the quintessential tale of innocence and being misunderstood.
The Book of the Damned by Charles Fort
Charles Fort’s memorably titled The Book of the Damned is, in fact, a collection of nonfiction phenomena about everything from conspiracies to UFOs, missing persons and essentially the world of the strange that we now love dearly and often use as fodder to scare each other in the latest creepypasta. The audiobook version is a great rendition and works well in creating an ongoing flow of paranormal history.
The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft
The very essence of cosmic horror and the Lovecraftian tale, this story is perhaps the one most remembered and revered from the author. Written in multiple narratives and involving the diary of a deceased man, the story goes into great lengths to tackle the very essence of madness. The essence fuels nearly every work of horror—what of the unknown can push back, exceeding our ability to know it?
The Red Room by H.G. Wells
Long before Twin Peaks, H.G. Wells wrote a story about an ominous red room, a true place of terror. The setup is decidedly simple—the protagonist spends a night in a room said to be haunted. And yeah, it’s painted red. Oh and you bet, the protagonist is hoping to disprove the stories. It might be a derivative setup if this wasn’t, you know, from 1894. One of the first of its kind, it’s now the groundwork of pretty much any paranormal investigative narrative.
Dracula's Guest by Bram Stoker
Another classic of horror, Dracula is timeless. But did you know there was a deleted first chapter from the book? It’s true. Dracula’s Guest is a deleted chapter turned short story, about the protagonist venturing to Transylvania, with the same haunting imagery and travelers’ warnings.
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