Monday, March 26, 2012

My Quest To Find The Scariest Book Ever

My First Horror Novel was an R. L. Stine special. I'll tell you which Goosebump it wasn't - it wasn't Say Cheese And Die. I could never get my hands on that goddamn book. Next to the Guinness World Book of Records, it was the most sort after tome in my school library. I know it existed, because I actually saw it once. But somehow, it always slipped through my fingers.
I don't know how.
I was in that library a lot.

Anyway, I can't remember what my replacement goosebumps loan was called, but it was about a boy in a house fire who *SPOILERS* was ACTUALLY A GHOST THE WHOLE TIME. That book scared the pants off me. And I must have kept my mum up quite a bit that night, because she never let me read another horror book ever again. Scary movies had been outlawed long ago.

I remained convinced I was too special for horror until I caught the end of The Shining when I was about eighteen. I was thrilled, and enthralled. But the gorgeous creepy feeling was a dull ache compared to how hooked I was by the seduction of something other and uncanny. Too timid still to try the full movie, I picked up the book. From there I moved onto It, (the one with the clown), and after that....I found twin peaks, and forgot about horror novels entirely.

It was only when I stumbled upon The Dionaea House that I remembered how delicious horror could be. This was a couple of months ago, and I still haven't been truely satisfied (read: terrified) by anything I've read.

It should be noted I have a notoriously low tolerance for creep. Keeping that in mind, this is what I've attempted so far:

The Exorcist
William Peter Blatty

The devil possesses a child.

Could not. Keep. A straight face. However, it did introduce me to a new word: cunting. Probably the only scary thing about the book was how in love the author seemed to be with that word.
I'm told the novel did a lot of new things for the horror genre, but those new things are old now. Perhaps I've been more exposed to the genre than I thought, because this only held my interest as a mystery novel. I kept reading only because I wanted to know the truth behind Regan's possession.

I found the characters fairly unsympathetic, but perhaps they're just victims of a cruel generation gap. The mother's 'hip' colloquialisms made me cringe. And hell, the rest of the characters seemed like elaborate stereotypes. The book didn't manage to suspend my belief enough to stop me yelling "WHY DON'T YOU JUST....." at every poorly or elaborately solved problem. No. No. This book...this is not my kind of book.

Three Stephen King Novels

The Shining

An alchoholic, his wife, and their son, are trapped in a haunted hotel for the winter.

I feel that Stephen King has a little bit of a penchant for the ridiculous. Little gambles thrown in that could be utterly terrifying, or eyebrow-raisingly ludicrous. Moving demonic hedge animals are just one such example.
But you know, as ridiculous as demonic hedge animals are, they were still part of some very suspenseful moments.

Suspenseful AND adorable.

In case you're considering recommending something to scare my pants off, let me be clear: The Shining is where it's at. I may be biased, as it was my entry into this genre, and you always remember your first. But I am always lulled into tales of maddness and the uncanny, and that is pretty much The Shining in a nutshell. It hints at a world of which we are completely ignorant. And as year 10 English taught me, nothing terrifies quite as much as the unknown.


The spirit of fear picks on the wrong children. Or it might be an alien. Not really sure.

I confess. It was lust, not lust of fear, that motivated me to start this book. It's hard to feel attracted to anyone wearing a clown suit, but Tim Curry almost manages it. Besides, it's (clearly) not his looks - it's that voice.


But, I digress.
Does the premise of this book stretch out over the 800 odd pages? Thinly.
Does the ending completely kill any remaining fear as effectively as the image of Snape in your grandmother's hat? Absolutely.

But still, It is fear of the dark. Fear of never waking up. Fear of helplessness. It is chilling. Shame about the ending.

Daylight horror has to be one of my favourite ways to fear (it's a verb now!). When something attacks you at high noon, and not from under your bed at midnight, you know there is nowhere to hide. I begin to doubt the ordinary things around me, as if they too might warp into my worst nightmare. It does this well. I just wish the ending hadn't made me laugh.

The Dark Half

A writer's pen name comes to life, starts killing everyone.

I sincerely hope this is the last time Seth MacFarlane speaks for me on this blog. But damn, if this isn't accurate....

There was one moment, I think, where I might have been scared. One moment that wasn't utterly ridiculous. But I can't remember what it was.

The Haunting of Hill House
Shirley Jackson

A highly irresponsible Professor invites some strangers to a haunted house to help him investigate paranormal activity.

First, a fact: Did you know Dr. Jacoby from Twin Peaks is actually the guy from the black and white movie version of this book?

They don't write horror stories like this anymore. For me, it wasn't so much the subject matter, but the masterful way in which the book was written. I'm not sure I could say I was scared, but I was deeply unsettled. How hard it must be to write a first person narrative that makes the reader mistrust the protagonist.

I read this book in black and white. Its age shows through the prose, but it's not alienating, or quaint. The ending is tantalizing open. It's the Mr. Miyagi to The Exorcist's Karate Kid. If the two were to be compared at all.

The Silence of the Lambs
Thomas Harris

A rookie FBI agent uses the advice of Hannibal Lecter to catch a serial killer.

You know, I find it really irritating when a book casually drops its title into the prose. I feel like the author's giving me a big ol' vaudeville wink. And kids, that's not what you want when you're hoping something will scare the bejeesus out of you.

Lambs has all the trashy things I like. An underdog proving herself to her doubters. Easily identifiable cultural stereotyping. Ridiculously suspenseful hooks. Thrilling, but not scary. Not at all. Darn good read though. Appreciate an author who can keep one step ahead of his readers (or, just me). Oh yes.

Ghosts. Now ghosts are scary. Things doing what they shouldn't. A possessed serial killer, I could stretch to that. Aliens maybe. But just your common and/or garden psychopath? Fascinating, but I'll sleep just fine.

Assorted Lovecraft

I understand H.P. Lovecraft is kinda a big deal. But I am continually frustrated with people who suggest his short stories when I ask if they know of any scary books. Then, after wading my way through countless sea creatures and racist slurs, I come back to them with a perplexed look on my face and tell them it didn't stiffen my fear boner. And they all say the same thing: "Oh. Oh, no, it's not scary".

So enough Lovecraft. I've paid my nerdy sci fi dues.

That's it. Those are my attempts so far. But there must be so much more. There must be a book that people dare each other to read. That urban myths say will give you a heart attack before you get to the end. Ladies and Gents, where is that book?

So far, the winner is:

House of Leaves
Mark Z. Danielewski

I even devoted an entire entry to it. So keep scrolling, sportsfans.

Before I go, I'll tell you a secret, and please don't laugh. The thing that really got me back into horror was creepypasta. I'll leave a selection Let no one say I'm an elitist.

My quest is not over. I have been teased and taunted but my hunger is not sated. Please pile on your suggestions, on the condition they do not contain Lovecraft. In the meantime, go read The Raw Shark Texts. I did, and it blew my mind. Not my fear gaskets, but definitely my mind.

Till next time....


  1. Great post. I can't say I understand the urge to scare yourself though... but it is pretty impressive when a book, effectively words on paper, can make you wanna wet the bed a little. Books that have scared me in the past include: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets- I was up to the bit with the basilisk when i was told lights out, and had to keep reading lest I nightmare about snakes!!! and Sara Foster's Beneath the Shadows gave me a scary vibe too. Neither of these has what you're looking for though. Keep looking!

  2. Thanks for the tips! I know what you mean, Harry Potter scared me as well. Not the basilisk though, more Voldermort himself. I think nothing engages me quite like fear. When I'm scared, I'm completely immersed in a book. It's a cheap trick, but it works.