Joe Hill: America’s Scariest Literary Boogeyman


For over four decades, Stephen King has been the name most associated with horror in America. Books, shows, movies, music videos, King has done it all. But now as he continues to wind down, it does seem like his work has slowed down. There have been others to carry on the moniker of ‘Horror Author’ such as Clive Barker and Dean Koontz. However, one name has emerged in the last decade to possibly trump them all:

Joe Hill.

Born Joseph Hillstrom King, Hill has carved his own path in the world of literary horror. His style is an updated version of King’s mixed with the sort of horror that readers of this generation feel more familiar with, and his characters are the type that millenials and people who grew up and came of age in the 90s’ and 00s’ could feel familiar with. Plus, the fact that he looks like a young Stephen King isn’t a coincidence.

He is King’s son, after all.

Just as King himself wrote horror stories that readers could relate to in the 70s’, 80s’, and 90s’, Hill has managed to grip the horror genre with tales like that of Zakk Wylde/Rob Zombie/Ozzy Osbourne caricature Judas Coyne in Heart-Shaped Box. Although not his first publication, Box was his first feature novel. What made it unique was that aside from a legitimately terrifying villain in Craddock McDermott (who readers can’t help but vaguely associate with Johnny Cash), there were some very poignant themes as well, such as love and loneliness.

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Another excellent Hill novel (also a strong pick for next movie adaptation, in this writer’s humble opinion) is NOS4A2 (Nosferatu, get it?). So many things about this novel make it so right. There’s the lead character, Vic, who has suffered greatly over the course of the story and as a result isn’t exactly of sound mind. There’s the lovable Lou, who wants to do right both by Vic and their son Bruce Wayne Carmody (Lou’s an avid comic book fan/cosplayer, just so you know). Then there’s the source of all the trouble in the story, the scarier-than-hell proprietor of Christmasland Charlie Manx (Note to Hollywood: Martin Short better be your first pick for the role of Manx) and his beautiful yet monstrous 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith, in which he takes all the good boys and girls to Christmasland. Right.

There have been other stories as well, such as Horns, which became a Hollywood adaptation starring Daniel Radcliffe as Ig Parrish, and Hill’s short-story collection 20th Century Ghosts. Hill’s next novel, The Fireman, is set for release next year. He also writes the comic book series Locke & Key. Still, whatever is next for Hill, his grip is only strengthening as one of the best horror writers in America.

One of his strongest suits is familiarity. His characters, as stated before, have personality traits and quirks that we could see in people in our everyday lives. They’re not strong or heroic. They don’t wear the proverbial cape of bravery. They’re flawed, in some cases massively. Box‘s Coyne is a selfish jerk with a jaded streak. NOS4A2‘s Lou is a spineless coward who for the most part is a screw-up who doesn’t redeem himself until the end of the story. There’s more, but the point is that the heroes of his stories aren’t heroes. They’re just like the rest of us. That, coupled with the situations that they’re tossed in, is what makes Hill’s stories so scary.

Weigh in below on your thoughts on the works of Joe Hill.