Tuesday, September 27, 2011

On Scary Books That Freak-a-Me Out

I don't think anyone would argue that there are distinctly different categories of "scary." There is blood and guts scary, alien scary, ghost scary, gross-out scary, sacrilegious scary, unseen scary. Of all the scaries, I tend to fall prey to the "unseen scary" most of the time.

I am a sucker for Halloween and I am a sucker for the atmosphere of fall, and the weather changes combined with all the pre-Halloween hoo-hah, make me want to read a ton in the RIP VI vein and I always watch scary movies and TV shows this time of year. When it comes to categorizing "scary" I tend to think of TV and movies first. Maybe because when I was growing up, I unwittingly stumbled into a lot of scary movies that SCARRED ME FOR LIFE! For example, when I was three or four, I was changing the TV station for my mom, and it happened to be those pre-historic times before remote controls or on-screen channel guides. I happened to flip to The Exorcist just as Linda Blair got down with the pea soup vomit action. I kid you not, I was 23 before I ever watched The Exorcist in its entirety after that little foray into scaryville.

Another overtly scary and troubling movie I happened upon in my youth was House (1986). A guy moves into his dead aunt's house and all hell breaks loose. Ghosts, ghouls, dead servicemen with AK47s. Scared the crap out of me. Watch the trailer on YouTube...it's very 1980s horrorlicious.

While gore and supernatural stuff scared the stuffing out of me as a kid, as I've gotten older, I'm much more troubled by what I can't see. In movie terms, this means that films like The Others absolutely effin' terrified me!!!! Bumps in the night, ooky kids, skittering footsteps across parquet floors, big houses with weirdly calm staff -- CREEP ME OUT. I love psychological thrillers and "ghost" stories, and if there's a surprise twist at the end, all the better. 

In book terms, I also find myself much more frightened by psychological tricks rather than flash and gore. I was a devoted Stephen King fan when I was a teen, and back then novels like Pet Sematery, Carrie, Salem's Lot, and The Shining were the kind of scary I relished. They were outlandish, wild, and scary in a very overt way.

Now that I'm older and even more of a chicken than when I was growing up (ahem!), I prefer my books like I dig my movies: psychologically twisty and "unseen" scary. I know I've praised The Little Stranger up one side and down the other, but I'm GONNA DO IT AGAIN! That book scared the proverbial pee out of me. The plot unfolded very slowly, and for the first half of the book or so, "ghostly" events were few and far between. A moved cuff link here, an odd burn mark there. As the book progressed, though, the ghostly happenings came much more often to the point that there were some scenes that made me shudder. But again, in theory, it all could've been explained away by the characters' psychological state. Let's face it, the family in The Little Stranger could've all been nutters. Losing one's mental faculties is scary to me. What might or might not be moving around in the night is also unsettling.

I'm finding The Lantern to be the kind of scary I really dig. I won't mention any specifics, but the plot unfolds in a tortuously slow manner. The chapters are incredibly short -- just a few pages each -- and it builds wonderful tension. Also, I'm used to my Gothic scary stories taking place in ominous settings. Give me a moor and I'm happy. But the action in The Lantern takes place in a very sunny, pleasant French country estate. Birds singing, music playing, lavender a-growing. Throw in a creepy lantern or a weird occurrence and it's heightened all the more by the unconventional landscape.

I'm wholly overtaken by my love of subtly scary stories as of late. The thought of a wildly contemporary or Postmodern novel isn't appetizing at the moment. I want to be engulfed in crumbling estates and tortured characters. It's been a while since a "type" of book captured me so, but I have a feeling this current fascination will make for a very fulfilling RIP VI this year.

So what do you find scary? Any suggestions for other subtly scary novels for RIP VI? Is there a particular type of book that's interested you for an extended period of time in recent months?

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