When It Was Scary: A Look At Young Adult Horror of the Past

If you look at a Young Adult horror fiction shelf in your local bookstore (assuming you still HAVE a local bookstore), you’ll notice some very obvious trends. First and foremost, vampires and werewolves are EVERYWHERE. While it sounds like a good thing for burgeoning horror fans, it is quite the opposite. These are not vampires that want to bite, kill and enslave their victims; nor are these werewolves who can’t resist the full moon’s call to hunt and tear to pieces anyone unfortunate enough to cross their path.
But this was not always the case. There was a time when YA fiction was offering up some of the best in horror and suspense this side of Stephen King, aimed predominately at pre-teen girls. The likes of RL Stine and Christopher Pike ruled the early 90’s, while other publishers brought out titles under the Point Horror banner, and series after series of teens and kids in deadly trouble topped bestsellers lists. Many adult horror film fans of today grew up in this golden age of scary titles for kids. What follows is a list of some of the standout titles from the days when the things that when bump in the night in YA fiction wanted to kill you, not date you.

Beach House, by RL Stine

Before developing his best selling Fear Street and Goosebumps series, he was just another Point Horror author, and published this tale of summer fun gone wrong spanning the generations. Moving between the ‘present day’ exploits of teens enjoying the summer and the same of the 1960’s, the novel centers around a strange beach house that has stayed mysteriously empty. When people start disappearing and bodies start turning up – in both time frames – it becomes clear that there is a killer stalking the beach, and it is somehow tied back to the creepy, empty house. This was a very clever, engaging novel with just the right amount of creepiness, that came before Stine started turning out some of the more formulaic Fear Street duds.

A Deadly Game of Magic, by Joan Lowery Nixon

This novel begins with a cliche so obvious that it might have ruined the entire novel, if not for the intelligent premise that follows. A group of teens heading out on a long drive home get stranded in a violent storm and seek refuge in a large house in the middle of nowhere. Invited inside by a strangely behaving couple who soon take their leave, it becomes clear that not everything is what it seems. When the teens come across props and tricks from an old time magic show, and phones and electricity go dead, the title “deadly game” begins as they are stalked by mysterious stranger with murder on the mind.

The Dollhouse Murders, by Betty Wren Right

A long hidden family secret comes to light when a dollhouse replica of the family home is rediscovered in an attic, leading young Amy to find out that her great-grandparents were victims of a brutal murder. When strange sounds begin to come from the dollhouse and things inside begin to move about of their own accord, it becomes clear that dolls are telling the true story of their murder and that it is up to Amy to find out what really happened.

Nightmare Hall, Book 7: Pretty Please, by Diane Hoh

When a gorgeous co-ed suffers a disfiguring accident, she finds herself dealing with more than her own injuries to worry about. Johanna was a part time model and popular student at Salem University, the setting for Hoh’s Nightmare Hall series, until a party gone wrong changes her face and her life forever. She begins receiving threats and suffering small accidents at the hands of an unknown stalker who delivers the message that Johanna, once known for her beauty, is now too ugly to live. A psychological thriller that touches on societal ideals of beauty, the novel is ahead of its time and a fun, spooky read.

99 Fear Street: The House of Evil, by RL Stine

Not every Fear Street book was a dud. 99 Fear Street, the first novel in what would become a trilogy, tells the tale of a family moving into a new home, only to find that it’s far less of a dream house and more of a nightmare. Built on an graveyard and already victimizing people before it is finished being built, the house at 99 Fear Street is pure evil. Strange things begin happening almost immediately, culminating in deaths and disappearances that provide a higher body count than most Fear Street books. Though the subsequent sequels are not as good, the first book in the series is one of the better of Stine’s offerings.

Bury Me Deep, by Christopher Pike


Jean is on her way to a fun-filled week in Hawaii when the unthinkable happens: the charming young man sitting next to her on her flight chokes and dies before they can land. This troubling event kicks off what turns out to be a hellish vacation full of nightmares and mysteries. Mike, the man from the plane, starts turning up in Jean’s dreams, and when he turns up in real life – at least, his body turns up – Jean is left confused, terrified and neck-deep in a mystery that Mike, dead or alive, seems to want her to solve.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, by Alvin Schwartz


This was the book that caused actual fights in my sixth grade library session. Everyone wanted it. Everyone had already read it, but it didn’t matter: they wanted to read it again. A collection of urban legends from the world over, pulled together and told again in a single volume with deliciously macabre illustrations, this book was the first real introduction to horror for many schoolchildren. It is the ultimate horror primer, perfect to introduce any child to the world of the spooky and scary.

Some honorable mentions:
RL Stine’s Cheerleader series
RL Stine’s The Babysitter
Christopher Pike’s The Last Vampire

What were your favorites?

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