Friday, May 7, 2010

Top 5 lingering horrors

List by Danielle

"No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone."
- The haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson

Ever since I was a kid, I've loved reading horror. Earliest creepy memories? 'Bears in the night', the scariest and most nearly wordless of the Berenstain Bears' adventures, and 'The strange disappearance of Arthur Cluck', which had a (then) terrifying night-fight in a barn with an unknown assailant (rat vs owl, in case you were wondering). Then on through night-terrors about General Woundwort (Richard Adams' 'Watership Down'), well-worn Alfred Hitchcock short story paperpacks from the school library, and one memorable night when I had to put 'The Shining' in the laundry because I couldn't sleep with it in my room. Ah, those were the days. Now, I have to convince my three year old that there is, in fact, no monster under the bed, despite not being able to reach down and pick up anything that falls into that dubious area late at night...

Authors/titles which might have made the list, if we'd owned them: 'Ghost story' by Peter Straub; 'The talisman' by Peter Straub and Stephen King; the 'Dark Feasts' anthology by Ramsay Campbell; 'Mirror' or 'Ritual' by Graham Masterton.

Caveat: I'm not a big reader of gory horror, so these fall more into the category of 'spooky and atmospheric horror' than gorefest.

The shining / Stephen King
The Overlook Hotel claimed the most beautiful physical setting of any resort in the world; but Jack Torrance, the new winter caretaker, his wife Wendy and their five-year-old son Danny saw much more than its splendor. Jack saw the Overlook as an opportunity, a desperate way back from failure and despair; Wendy saw this lonely sanctuary as a frail chance to preserve their family; and Danny?...Danny, who was blessed or cursed with a shinning, precognitive gift, saw visions hideously beyond the comprehension of a small boy. He sensed the evil coiled within the Overlook's one hundred and ten empty rooms; an evil that was waiting just for them.

A total classic that made me terrified to go to the bathroom at night. Holds up so well on multiple re-reads as a beautifully-constructed novel. Stephen King at his best, though I also loved ''Salems Lot' and, of late, 'Desperation' and 'Duma Key'.

Collected ghost stories / M. R. James
MR James is probably the finest ghost-story writer England has ever produced. Along with a tail-piece by MR James, this title contains thirty tales that can be considered as classics of their genre, including "Casting the Runes", "Oh, Whistle and I'll come to you, My Lad", "The Tractate Middoth", "The Ash Tree" and "Canon Alberic's Scrapbook".

So very understated and British, and So. Damn. CREEPY. Without managing to describe anything at all clearly - and perhaps that's a big part of their strength - these stories creeped me out, bigtime. Fear the indistinct horror that may or may not be a curtain blowing!

The haunting of Hill House / Shirley Jackson
It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers - and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

Ok, not so much terrifying as just a fabulous piece of writing. Though you may notice a strong thread of 'house-related' horror on this list... scary buildings are a big fave of mine. Leading nicely to:

House of leaves / Mark Z. Danielewski
Johnny Truant, wild and troubled sometime employee in an L.A. tattoo parlour, finds a notebook kept by Zampano, a recluse found dead in a flat. Herein is the heavily annotated story of the Navidson Record.

A bit of a slog to get through at times, but SO worth it. Essentially, a retelling of the plot of a fictional documentary about a house with impossible spaces within its walls. With me so far? Seriously, it does it in sometimes long-winded and artsy ways, but this book has a very high creep factor. Nothing else I've read has managed to give me quite the same sense of 'something very wrong with the universe'.

Sandman, vol. 5: A game of you [graphic novel] / Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Shawn McManus et al.
Barbie has recently divorced and is trying to rediscover her own identity. At the same time, Barbie's rich but childish fantasy world is threatened by a malevolent creature called the Cuckoo. Her hard-pressed imaginary friends reach out into the real world for help, resulting in blood and death in both worlds.

Neil Gaiman, as catatonia will tell you, ROCKS. It was a toss-up whether to include this title or the earlier 'Sandman, vol. 2: The doll's house', which featured a serial killer convention and the sinister Corinthian, a man whose sunglasses hide wide smiles - within his eye sockets. *shudders* This one is a favourite, though. The scene that sticks in my head is the sight of black birds exploding from someone's rib-cage - that, and the bloody but matter-of-fact magic of Thessaly, one of Barbie's neighbours. Start with vol. 1, Preludes & nocturnes, if you haven't given this a go.


frida cascade said...

That "Collected ghost stories" by M. R. James sounds good, have added it to my book list.

And, you RULE for having Sandman on here :D

Danielle said...

Awesome, glad you liked it! Neil Gaiman just rules in general for bringing Sandman and other tasty treats to our bookshelves :)
Be interested to hear what you make of the M. R. James - he can be a bit dry and antiquated for some people's tastes, but it works for me!