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?


  1. The Others is one of my favorite creepy movies. I'm like you I like scary movies without the gore. I'm going to try and watch The Uninvited (from the 1940s) for RIP. I have it saved on Youtube.

  2. I'm so easily creeped out by things that absolutely no one but me would probably find scary -- and that keeps me from picking up anything I know others have been freaked out by! I'm okay with a little mystery and "off the page" supernatural happenings, but anything with overt gore or ghostly stuff just really creeps me out.

    I remember watching "The Ring" as a teenager and being seriously scarred for life. I know others thought it was silly, etc., but I'm telling you: I watched that during a lock-in at school -- when dozens of kids and I stayed overnight in the auditorium -- and didn't sleep at all that night. At. All.

  3. My husband is still mad at me that I laughed through The Exorcist. I just couldn't take it seriously! I do love scary books and movies though.

  4. I've never seen The Others but now I totally will! Haunted house stories are my favorite scary stories of all. I can't be doing with serial killer stories, because no matter how preposterous the story is, it still seems viable to me. But ghosts aren't real! So ghost stories are scary in the fun way. And it is awesome.

  5. I almost never watch scary and generally don't read scary because I'm a big chicken.

  6. I love anything scary: movies, books, roller coasters. You know it. And I love that you posted House. I saw that movie when I was a kid and thought it was hysterical. I adore the "ding dong your dead". Or was that House 2? Who knows. Do you remember this one movie from the 70's where the people were the sausage in the town? Can't remember the name. Now THAT movie freaked me out as a kid.

    But like you, I adore this time of the year. My only complaint is the weather. Man, it would make me one happy reader if it would cool down just a wee.

  7. I adore this post! I'm a big fan of creepy, mindblowing, horrorish stories whether in books or movies.

  8. I'm 42 and still haven't seen The Exorcist. Or The Shining.

  9. How about The Innocents, based on Henry James Turn of the Screw? In fact both the book and the movie are ghostly scary! I agree with you totally in that the scariest things for me are the unseen, the unknown, the things that slither and whisper and go bump in the night.....I've been reading a lot of horror for this challenge too, and really enjoying it.

    let's see, how about The Woman in Black by Susan Hill? you really have to try that, if you like eerie ghostly atmosphere fiction, this has spades. And, the Haunting of Hill House - both the book by Shirley Jackson, and the movie (1960's ONLY version!). They are on my top ten list of scary books and movies. I can't watch them alone :-)
    The Exorcist IS frightening, so much. I can scare myself just thinking about it!! Not good this late at night! lol

  10. Ever since I stopped reading RL Stine and Christopher Pike, I've stayed away from scary books. Why? Well, they say I have cat-like reflexes mostly because I flee away in terror at the slightest "boo!".

    But then I have this weird other side that emerges once every few years that seems to love self-torment, and I'll rent a scary movie or two. The Exorcist III made me lose sleep for three nights. Yeah. I don't even have the balls to watch the original. So, unfortunately, I can't offer many suggestions... but I'm excited to see what others say!

  11. I love scary books AND movies. I just started reading Salem's Lot last night. I've been meaning to read all of King's work and this is only his second published so I haven't gotten very far. The book that scared me the most was definitely Helter Skelter. True crime scares the bejesus out of me but I keep on reading it.

  12. I'm so excited to hear that you are enjoying The Lantern. I cannot wait to begin it myself. And I recently bought myself a copy of The Little Stranger by Waters and now I can't wait to read that one :) These are the types of books that instantly hook me and make me want more. Great post!

  13. Now I need to read the Lantern and The little stranger!

    I also read a lot of Stephen King when I was younger and loved him. Misery and Pet Sematary scared the hell out of me. I wouldn't even go to the bathroom at night.
    As far as movies, I don't watch anything scary as a rule. The worst film ever was The Ring, but the Japanese original, not the American version.

  14. I LOVE LOVE LOVE scary movies. However I am a big scaredy cat! I tend to watch things by myself and that doesn't help any. I did watch one movie when I was younger that scared the ever living daylights out of me and it was Hello Mary Lou Prom Night 2. I'll never forget it.....ugh! But yes, The Others really creeped me out too.

  15. I was about to suggest Stephen King but you already mentioned him. Then I was ready to move on to Susan Hill's "The Woman in Black" and Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw" but they've been mentioned in another comment. Hmmm...
    How about Joe Hill's "Heart Shaped Box"? That was pretty creepy.
    Or "The Monk: A Romance", a Gothic novel by Matthew Gregory Lewis?
    Dreamcatcher (the movie, based on King's novel) was both scary and creepy in a really disgusting way.

    Personally I'm more into the creepy side of horror rather than the "buckets of blood" version. I like to read books that make my blood run cold because I just had an idea of what was coming.

  16. Oh, dear. I didn't realize The Little Stranger was going to scare the crap out of me! :) I do like creepy, but as I get older, I find it very unsettling.

    Scary books...

    The Shining (S. King)
    It (S. King)
    Heart-Shaped Box (Joe Hill)
    The House Next Door (Anne Rivers Siddons)


    The Exorcist scared me.to.death. I was maybe 16 or 17 when we saw it in a theater. Nightmares forever!

    The Shining did the same thing. I can't even think of that little boy on his big wheel. And, guess what? King is writing a sequel! Yikes.

    Amityville Horror. Freak out if I look at a clock in the middle of the night and it reads 3:33. Eeeek!

    I'm sure there are more, but I'm getting spooked. :)

  17. Another great post, Andi! I remember the poster of House but I don't remember ever watching it. The People Under the Stairs was a 80s or 90s movie that just scared the crap out of me. Nightmare on Elm Street was always scarier than any Halloween movie that featured Jason.

  18. I find the same kinds of books creepy. Psychological and realistic scary (serial killers, stalkers, things I could imagine happening for real) really freak me out. Like, more than I like to be freaked out. Like, I avoid them. I'm finding I like classic scary. I'm reading Dracula now and LOVING it.

  19. Growing up Catholic, I had plenty of trouble with The Exorcist. And The Shining creeped me out too but I could not stop watching somehow. I even stayed in the hotel in Colorado that inspired the book where they run the movie continuously on its own channel. But like you, I have less and less tolerance for the frightening as I get older. Perhaps the real hazards of life are terrifying enough without subjecting myself to horror that is supernatural and uncontrollable in nature?

  20. Ohhh I feel absolutely identified with this post! I'm also a chicken :D
    I saw The others and I couldn't sleep for a week: every night I dreamt that Nicole Kidman was entering into my room... It was terrible.
    The exorcist made me don't want to see any film again!

    About horror books, I try to avoid them, but I feel that kind of morbid fascination and sometimes I think about reading one of them. For example, I liked what you have said about "The little stranger" :)

  21. I need to watch The Others, I'm pretty sure I have before, but can't remember much!


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