Monday, October 25, 2010

Halloween horror

by Jim

Less than a week to go until Halloween, the best holiday of all time. Keep your fireworks, July 4th. I don’t need your candy canes, Christmas. I just want some candy corn, a scary movie, and the chance to see people wear crazy costumes and wander around.

I love a good scare. Admittedly, I go from zero to terrified pretty quickly and have been known to sleep with the lights on for days at a time when something really gets to me. But that’s never stopped me from going back for more.

I’ve said before (and maintain) that I’m looking for great horror novels. They’re not easy to find for a few reasons. There are no cheap scares in books—you can’t have a “gotcha” moment. So the suspense needs to be built, the discomfort seeded, and the terrifying aspects need to develop fully enough to stay with you as you turn each page.

As many folks know, House of Leaves is one of my favorite books. As the narrator begins to come apart, the narrative itself does as well. The author removes the safety net, and you realize that anything could happen. I still remember the act of reading one passage—how scared I was, and how hard it was to shake the feeling of being watched that the book implanted.

I’m also a big Shirley Jackson fan. Whether it’s the horror that people do in The Lottery or how convincingly spooky We Have Always Lived in the Castle is, she’s a master of unsettling.

Stephen King was pretty much my hero growing up. Looking back, some of his books don’t hold together as well as others. Let us never speak of Gerald’s Game. But when he’s on, no one can come near him. He has such an exceptional eye for what people are afraid of, and he can zero in on the most disturbing of our feelings. Whether it’s the viral fallout of The Stand, the killer clown of It, or the psychopathic fan of Misery, his great talent is in exploring (and exploiting) just what it is about these things that we find so terrifying.

What are your favorite scary books? And what’s the scariest?


  1. Rosemary's Baby. I Am Legend. 1984. Poe (all except the Rue Morgue ape murderer story) Green Tea (short story by Le Fanu). The Ruins. The Turn of the Screw. The Road. The Silence of the Lambs. The Horla. Man, I love Halloween.

  2. Funny how many of us grew up reading King, when we were probably too young. Forbidden fruit maybe? But yeah, a few were clunkers. From a Buick 8 comes to mind. I think my favorite horror novel might be Ghost Story by Peter Straub. You know a book is really scary when it still freaks you out on the second reading. Clive Barker also gives me shivers.

  3. Amen on the Halloween appreciation. Clive Barker was one of my horror heroes and I love The Hellbound Heart and Books of Blood in particular. They were so creepy and alien to my young mind.
    Have to agree with you, though, The House of Leaves is an all over fantastic book. Great title, great premise, and I thought the execution was mind-blowing. It was disturbing reading it late at night, but I couldn’t leave the book alone. It has to be the scariest book I’ve read, mainly because it felt the most real.

  4. Bentley Little is a lot like Stephen King. He'll write something that makes your insides crawl, like The Resort or The Walking, then you'll turn around and read a couple hundred pages of The Ignored waiting for the story to magically unfold (it doesn't).

    I love horror, movies and books. So, when I first started writing that's the genre I tried to focus on. Unfortunately, I sucked at it.

  5. Dean Koontz's "Odd Thomas". I'm an avid re-reader, but have only had the strength to read that book one time.

    The scene where he sees the evil shadows swarming around the beds of the children freaked me out so much I had to stop reading and study how he did it, because I can't figure out how to do creepy w/o music (and my current WiP has lots of creepy).

  6. It's hard to argue with Peter Straub's Ghost Story. A truly creepy story that I'm sure would keep me awake all night if I read it again now. I'm a huge Stephen King fan, especially The Stand, The Shining, and Bag of Bones. Of recent books, Scott Sigler's Ancestor is a real creepfest. You'll never feel at ease around a cow again.

  7. No one creeps me out more than H.P. Lovecraft. I will NOT read any of his stories now that I live alone. I won't even bring them in my home for fear they'll be "calling me" to read them. :o

  8. I read The Shining in my teens. Even now, (many) years later, it still has the ability to terrify me. Yes, the movie too. :-)

  9. Great post!

    Some of my favorites...

    Ghost Story--Peter Straub
    'Salem's Lot--Stephen King
    House of Leaves--Mark Z. Danielewski
    Hell House--Richard Matheson
    Off Season--Jack Ketchum
    The Road--Cormac McCarthy
    The Nightrunners--Joe R. Lansdale
    The Ceremonies--TED Klein
    Lord of the Flies, William Golding
    The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson
    Rosemary's Baby--Ira Levin

    Sorry to steal a couple of yours, Jim, but those novels deserve multiple mentions. :-)

    Jonathan Janz

  10. What Was I Scared Of? by Dr. Seuss. Thirty years later, and I'm still creeped out by the pale green pants with no one inside them.

  11. As a kid, my dad and a family friend had a long biblical discussion late into the night about the end of the world, so I would have to say that, as a kid, Revelations was pretty scary.

    Now I like Stephen King, Chuck Palahniuk, Cormac McCarthy, Dennis Lehane, and Chris Adrian, among others. (Why can't I think of any women who write horror?)

    But I have to say I find horror in all kinds of places. I haven't worked myself up to reading Room or The Road or Gone, Baby, Gone yet because what could be more horrible than a child in jeopardy?

  12. Oh! And my friend Pembroke Sinclair!

  13. It's more dark fantasy than horror, but I found Jonathan Carroll's "From the Teeth of Angels" to be deeply unsettling.

  14. I'm surprised that no one has mentioned The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty. Perhaps more people remember the film rather than the novel, but I was scared out of my wits by both!