There is something beautiful and haunting and even a little scary about the cold. The silent isolation of a snow-covered mountain, the rising unease that comes with being “snowed in,” the horror of knowing that there is a killer waiting for you outside, or worse–they’re trapped inside with you, as well. The stories on this list range generally between horror and thriller (and there is one nonfiction title on the list as well), but the one thing they all have in common is that they are based in a cold climate, and there is some level of threat. That could be a dwindling food supply, being holed up with a killer, or something outside that is trying to get in. Either way, these chilling (literally) tales of terror will leave you grateful that spring is (technically) here and warmer weather is just around the corner.
It’s perhaps my favorite Stephen King novel, and one of the few horror stories that has made me sob like a baby. The Shining is a terrifying tale of a family snowed in at a remote hotel for the entirety of the winter. Recovering alcoholic and writer Jack Torrance takes a job as the winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, which means spending several months alone in the hotel with just his family for company. But, soon, the isolation and supernatural forces within the hotel start to prey on his mind. Meanwhile, Jack’s five-year-old son, Danny is plagued by monsters of his own. You see, Danny has a very special gift–called the Shining. And the forces lurking about the Overlook want that power. And they will do anything necessary to ensure that little Danny never leaves there alive. This book creates a great sense of claustrophobia, playing on “cabin fever” and dark supernatural forces. It’s a chilling, terrifying book, and one that just might leave you sleeping with the lights on, or one eye open.
You’ve heard this classic story a hundred times before, even if you have never read it (and I highly recommend you do!). A brilliant medical student named Victor Frankenstein discovers the secret of life. So, he does what any of us would do and creates a human body out of parts of other bodies, in order to craft the “perfect” man. But, when he finally brings his creation to life, Frankenstein is horrified by what he had accomplished and abandons his monstrous offspring when he flees the lab. But, the creation, while hideous in appearance has the mind of a man, and he sets out of a vendetta of destruction, destroying everything that his creator ever loved. If you’re wondering where the cold comes in, the story is actually framed by a narrative told by Arctic explorer, Robert Walton, who discovers Frankenstein nearly frozen on a floe of ice. Despite being half-dead, the doctor shares his story with his savior, telling how his pride and hubris has brought him to this place, chasing after the man–or monster–he created.
I mentioned The North Water in a previous blog post, but it fits so well here, I wanted to mention it again. Henry Drax is a harpooner aboard the Volunteer, a Yorkshire whaling ship bound for the Arctic Circle. Likewise is Patrick Sumner, an ex-army surgeon with a shattered reputation, no money, and no other options. Sumner had hoped that his time as the doctor onboard the Volunteer would allow him a temporary respite, but rest proves impossible with Drax roaming around. When Sumner discovers the ship’s cabin boy has been brutally murdered, he is called into action, to discover who the killer is, and eliminate the threat before the killer can strike again. But, when his actions culminate in a confrontation between himself and Drax, all involved are left wondering: who (if any) will survive until the spring?
The Madhouse at the End of the Earth is the only nonfiction title on this list. This terrifying true story tells the tale of an ill-fated expedition, not to the North, but to the frozen South. In August of 1897, Belgian commandant Adrien de Gerlache set sail on a three-year expedition to Antarctica onboard the ship Belgica. While de Gerlache dreamed of glory as the first to reach the South Pole, everything quickly goes awry. Soon, he’s faced with a heartrending decision: turn back in shame or continue forward, forcing his men to endure an impossibly cold and inhospitable Antarctic winter as they continue to chase fame and glory. I’m sure you can guess what option he chose, and soon the Belgica is trapped in the Bellingshausen Sea, immobilized by ice. Condemned to months of endless night, plagued by illness, and faced with months of monotony, the group descends into madness. This epic tale of adventure and horror has been crafted from diaries and journals kept by the Belgica’s crew as well as an inside look at the ship’s logbook. This book will have you on the edge of your seat!
Girl in Ice is a chilling thriller set in the frozen North. Val Chesterfield’s passion is dead Nordic languages–not exactly the most popular of disciplines. Despite a successful career, Val lives a sheltered life, hidden in the shadow of her twin brother, Andy, an accomplished climate scientist stationed off the coast of Greenland. Andy is gone, though. A victim of suicide who, they say, willfully ventured unprotected into the 50 degree below zero weather. Val is heartbroken, but even more than that, she’s suspicious. Rather than believing the stories, she suspects foul play. Then Andy’s colleague Wyatt contacts Val with a scientific impossibility. He has discovered a young girl froze in the ice who thaws out alive, speaking a language that no one can understand. So, he turns to Val, asking her to come to the camp and meet the girl, try to talk to her, and figure out what she’s so desperately trying to convey. And Val agrees to come, secretly planning on investigating her brother’s “suicide” instead. But, something is wrong. The girl is deathly ill, and Wyatt’s research holds the key to saving her. But, can the data be trusted? And does it have something to do with Andy’s death? Time is running out on this frozen odyssey–will Val be able to discover the truth in time?
One by One deviates from the frozen seas and sets us up in a cozy ski chalet up in the French Alps. If you were to be snowed in somewhere, a place like this seems like it would be pretty tame. After all, you’d have a breathtaking view, full-service chef, a housekeeper, big cozy fire, and plenty of company. However, what would you do if that company happens to be eight coworkers, each of whom has something to gain, something to lose, and something to hide? The co-founder of Snoop, a trendy London tech startup organizes a week-long trip for the entire team to the French Alps. There’s the usual business talk, strategy sessions, mandatory team-building exercises, etc. But, when one shareholder starts pushing for a lucrative but contentious buy-out offer, tensions rise and loyalties are tested. A storm is brewing inside the chalet as well as outside, and when an avalanche leaves the whole group trapped with no contact with the outside world, tensions boil over, with deadly results.
In 1845, British captain Sir John Franklin lead a doomed expedition into the Arctic territory to search for the legendary Northwest Passage. This expedition was comprised of two ships: the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. This part is 100% true, historical fact. In his book The Terror, however, Dan Simmons imagines what really happened onboard those ships, crafting a terrifying story of a crew trapped in the icy wastes, entering a second summer in the Arctic Circle without thaw, stranded in a nightmarish landscape of encroaching ice and darkness. As the crew struggles to survive against increasingly impossible odds, with limited heat, poisonous food, and a ship that is literally breaking under the force of the crushing ice, they realize that the real threat is actually none of these things. For there is something out there–out in the frigid darkness. An unseen predator is stalking the ship, ravenous, horrible, and determined to get in.
Fans of horror films should check out John W. Campbell’s novella Who Goes There? as its the basis for The Thing movies (from 1951, 1982 and 2011). A team of researchers at an antarctic camp discovers the frozen body of some sort of ancient extra-terrestrial that has crash-landed in the frozen wasteland. When the creature is brought inside and allowed to thaw, it regains consciousness and unleashes a reign of terror upon the scientists. The creature has a taste for human flesh, and by consuming any living thing, can take on their form, mannerisms, and even memories, making it virtually indistinguishable from the person or animal that was eaten. What follows is a horrifying game of cat and mouse as the creature devours and impersonates the crew, and the scientists, nearly driven mad by exhaustion and terror, attempt to locate, capture, and destroy the creature before it can reproduce or escape from the base and threaten the rest of humanity.
During Christmas break, a group of thirty-something friends from Oxford meet for their yearly New Year’s celebration. This year’s location? An idyllic, isolated hunting lodge in the Scottish Highlands. It’s perfect, isolated, has a beautiful view, and they have the place completely to themselves. The Hunting Party gathers together on December 30th and the festivities begin. Soon after, a historic blizzard locks them away from the rest of the world. While the trip starts off innocently enough, reminiscing, catching up, enjoying some refreshments and drinks before the fire, things take a deadly turn, and by the time they ring in the new year, one of them is dead. While no one knows who did it (or at least, is not saying) the friends do know that it had to be someone in their group. Isolation, rising tension, and the weight of a secret resentment all come to a head and someone is pushed to do the unthinkable in this intricately plotted and suspenseful thriller. As the saying goes, keep your friends close, and your enemies closer…