One of the best things about being a horror fan is discovering all of the weird tie-in merchandise for your favorite movies and franchises. Many if not most of the classics have received novelizations over the years. It’s to be expected. Or, it was, at least. Sadly that kind of thing happens very infrequently now. Growing up in the 1990s, it was still a time when everything got a novelization, from Child’s Play 3 to Deep Impact.
But something stranger would happen, too. Something that I thought was great as a young fan dipping my feet into the genre from as early an age as I can remember. Every now and then, some of these adult-themed horror franchises would launch young adult book series. It’s a baffling thing because, more often than not, that kid won’t be able to watch the movie their book is based on.
At the same time, though, these books were a great way for kids who weren’t easily able to see the films to experience those stories or the mythologies of those franchises.
I couldn’t get enough of books like this as a kid, even if I had already seen the movies they were based. I wanted to know more of the story. Sometimes, that’s all it comes down to.
The Universal Monsters
Some of the very first of these books that I encountered as a kid were the Universal Monsters. In the 1990s there was a great, wonderful period where everything from Burger King to Dunkin Donuts was celebrating the anniversary of these classic horror films. This period saw the release of a whole series of YA novelizations of the original pictures. Strangely enough, while they were some of the more slower-paced productions, Dracula and The Mummy were two of the best books in that collection.
The film is about Cole coming to terms with his ability and learning that he’s meant to use it to help people. It’s as much a coming-of-age drama as it is a ghost story, but it also feels a bit like a superhero origin. It leaves you wondering what happened after. Luckily, there’s a whole series of spinoff adventures that attempt to answer that question, titled The Sixth Sense: Secrets from Beyond.
Tales from the Crypt
Okay, so Tales from the Crypt wasn’t a movie, but it was definitely an adult-oriented show. And yet it kept getting marketed to children. There were toys and even a game show on Nikelodeon. Eventually, it spawned a kid-themed animated series. And there was a young adult book series in which budding fans could experience the Crypt Keeper’s gleeful wit and the macabre nature of the stories they might not have had a chance to see on TV.
The Blair Witch Files
Penned by the fictional Cade Merrill, cousin to Heather Donahue, these books are an investigation into the Blair Witch legend and history. The first book in particular has some distinct similarities to 2016’s Blair Witch sequel. It’s an investigative series attempting to get to the bottom of what really happened to the three ill-fated filmmakers of the original movie.
Friday the 13th
Written by Eric Morse, the young adult Friday the 13th books are pretty inventive. Given that they were released just after Jason Goes to Hell, it makes sense that they took a different approach to the story. Instead of simply centering on Jason going about his usual business, these books usually involved someone coming into contact with the iconic hockey mask and becoming possessed by Jason’s spirit. Other books just focused on people who wanted to use the Voorhees legend to cover up their crimes.
Freddy Krueger’s Tales of Terror
These books were like Freddy’s Nightmares on the printed page. They involved Freddy hosting macabre stories, some he was directly involved in, others he had no part in whatsoever. Thanks to the timing of their release, while these books were very much in the vein of the comedic Freddy of Freddy’s Dead, they were all marketed with the image of the grimmer Freddy from Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.
As a young Halloween fan, I could not get enough of these three books by Kelly O’Rourke. They were very clearly young adult oriented, but they were also atmospheric and at times genuinely scary, at least to a kid. More than that, they were gory. These books didn’t hold back. In fact, in some places, like the description of fingernails being snapped off that haunted me for years, they go even further than the films. I did a fourth grade book report on the second novel, The Old Myers Place, though neither my teacher nor my parents seemed all that impressed by it.