September 6, 2022
Small Town Horror


Small Town Horror

Popular small-town horror in books and on screen

by Gary M. Martin

There’s something about a small town that makes a horror story more terrifying. Part of it is the isolation. People can relate to being alone and having the feeling that they are being watched or stalked. It’s not like the big city where one can run next door or out in the street to get help, especially when the houses are a great distance apart.

Add to that the dark streets, absent of the line of streetlamps normally found in a much bigger town. And the woods that encroach upon the yards with all the sinister sounds of the creatures lurking there. It can be a point of suspense and/or a precursor of something ominous lurking in the shadows.

When we think of a small town, we often envision a place of innocence and peace. A place where people don’t always lock their doors at night. It’s a “safe” place. Where life is slow and family life matters. Small towns harbor close-knit communities where families grow up together. They go to school together; they attend church together and many work together for the same company. So, when it is revealed that behind the façade of love and goodness there is a bubble of dark secrets and hidden evils straining to get out it becomes a greater shock. And when the bubble bursts it is much more powerful than it would be in the city. It is a black swath against a canvas of white.

When strange things begin to happen in a small town everyone is affected. Evil comes in many forms and from many places but seems greatest when the monster emerges from one of its own.

For an author, there are many props to draw from a small town. A barn on a seemingly peaceful night suddenly has an unexplained noise coming from inside it. A scarecrow in a cornfield appears to have moved its head ever so slightly. Eerie noises are coming from the woods behind the house. Dogs barking at unseen intruders. An isolated cabin nestled in the woods.

Numerous horror novels have taken place in small towns. Stephen King has created his share of small towns for his many novels. His most notable Novel IT took place in the fictional town of Derry Maine.


Goodreads, a reading and social cataloging website, lists 166 of their most popular small-town horror books according to their polls. I won’t go that far. I’ll just list ten.

  1. IT by Stephen King. Seven teenagers encounter an evil disguised as a clown. Years later as adults they are drawn back to their hometown to battle this evil. As mentioned before, it takes place in Derry Maine.
  2. Salem’s Lot. Another Stephen King book. The story is about a small town under attack from vampires. Set in the town of Jerusalem’s lot, or Salem’s lot for short.
  3. Summer of Night. Dan Simmons. Five 12-year-old boys are enjoying summer vacation when their friend vanishes. They discover that other kids in town have disappeared over the years. They set out to stop the evil that has beset their town. The town of Elm Haven, Illinois.
  4. Snareville 11: Circles. About a small town besieged by zombies. David Youngquist. The town is Snareville.
  5. Ghost Story. Peter Straub. A great book. The story of four older men who committed an evil act in their youth comes back to haunt them. The town of Milburn, New York.
  6. Dark Harvest. Norman Partridge. Every Halloween something evil comes out of the cornfield. Whoever can kill this evil will be able to leave the town. Simply a midwestern town.
  7. Tommyknockers. Yet another Stephen King book. People in this small town are suddenly gaining supernatural powers and are killing people. Soon an alien spaceship will be discovered. This story takes place in New Haven, Maine.
  8. The Other. Thomas Tryon. The story of identical thirteen-year-old twins. One is evil and one is kind. A terrific book I read many years ago. Set in a Connecticut country town.
  9. Snareville. The first book by David Youngquist. The people of Snareville defend themselves against the Zombies. The town of Snareville.
  10. The Wide Game (Harmony, Indiana #1). Michael West. During a high school tradition of seniors racing each other through a cornfield, one of the players is hurt. His friends help him through the cornfield. Night falls and strange things begin to happen in the cornfields. Can you guess what hometown this story takes place in? Yes, Harmony, Indiana.


Horror movies and TV shows are often created from these same small-town horror novels. On the big screen or the small screen, there are so many more creepy things in the small town that can be used to frighten people than in the big city. When one spots a large, dilapidated old house sitting on a plot of land overgrown with weeds one immediately thinks that the house could be haunted.

IMDB, a division of Amazon lists its top ten shows and movies according to popularity.

  1. Stranger Things. A mother of a young boy who disappeared along with the town’s police chief must confront supernatural forces to get him back. This is a great series but I’ve yet to watch the last season.
  2. The Black Phone. After a boy is abducted and locked in a basement he begins to get phone calls from a phone that is disconnected.
  3. From. When people enter this small town they are unable to find their way out. Then when night falls the monsters come out.
  4. Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City. This is an origin story about Spencer Mansion and Raccoon City.
  5. IT. A group of kids set out to destroy a shape-shifting monster that is often disguised as a clown. Later, as an adult, they set out to destroy it.
  6. Scream (2022). It had been 25 years since a string of murders shocked the small town of Woodsboro, California. A new killer wears the Ghostface mask and begins targeting teenagers.
  7. Locke and Key. After their father is murdered the Locke family moves into their ancestral home, Keyhouse. Here they find magical keys that open doors to extraordinary places and may offer clues to what happened to the father.
  8. Fresh. The story follows a woman named Noa who grows frustrated with dating apps. When she meets Steve, who is quite charming, at a grocery store she is instantly smitten with him. After their first date, he invites her to a romantic getaway. She gladly accepts. At their getaway, she learns that her new boyfriend has been hiding some unusual appetites.
  9. The Lost Boys. Two brothers move to a small town where they discover that the town is overrun with vampires.
  10. IT Chapter 2. It is twenty-seven years later since their encounter with Pennywise. They have grown up and moved out. A phone call will bring them back.


About the Author

When I was little, I read a lot of comic books.  That started my initial interest in books.  But back then I hadn’t considered writing.  I wanted to be a comic book artist.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have the talent to match my enthusiasm.

My books are self-published through Amazon.

I write in several genres: Christian fiction, Occult thriller, Science fiction, horror, and middle grade. Currently, I am seeking traditional publishing for a science fiction manuscript that I recently finished. Meanwhile, I am working on a book similar to the old “Night Stalker” show. |

small town horror author

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