This is a double-edged question about a writer/book who/that evoked that emotion of fear in you. Not a horror writer/novel (for example not Stephen King), but perhaps an Epic Fantasy, Science Fiction, or Urban Fantasy novel where you found parts of it scary/creepy. To the point you might think to yourself, “I’d love to see a straight-out horror novel from this writer!” (Which some participants answered)
I have two, actually, one author and one director. First, the author, and it might seem like I’m fudging a bit here, but I’m not. When I read Alex Bledsoe’s The Sword-Edged Blonde (the first book in his “Eddie LaCrosse” series), I was unaware of Alex’s Blood Grove series with his Memphis vampires. Additionally, while the “Blood Groove” series spotlights Bledsoe’s ability to write darker stories, Blood Groove simply felt more like dark urban fantasy than outright horror to me.
So with that, I nominate Alex Bledsoe as the author who spooked me the most. The Sword-Edged Blonde was my first experience with Bledsoe’s writing and was, in many ways, the reason I started reading all of his works. In The Sword-Edged Blonde, the protagonist, Eddie LaCrosse, has to journey through a dark wood to reach Epona’s cottage. That sounds terribly clichéd, but let me assure you, even as jaded a reader as I am, there was nothing clichéd in the execution of that journey. I loved the creepiness of The Sword-Edged Blonde. Bledsoe wove Eddie’s past into the present journey to make the entire middle portion of the novel into borderline horror. And it wasn’t goblins and demons, or blood and gore, but the emotion involved in Eddie’s journey that made the novel work so well. To me that is the crux of horror: the dread of sinister encounters. Bledsoe handled the shifts between past and present quite masterfully as he rooted through Eddie’s psyche with dark, beautiful prose. I would love to see Bledsoe write a no-holds-barred horror novel.
My other pick is a director, and it is for all the same reasons that I would like to see Bledsoe write a horror novel. When handled correctly, a good horror story translates well to film. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu, who has an impressive filmography: Biutiful, Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and his latest release, Birdman, has his finger on the pulse of what frightens us.
Biutiful is one of my favorites. In Biutiful, Uxbal is dying, but this isn’t just a tale of dying man who is trying to make certain that his children are cared for once he is gone. Uxbal has a special gift in that he can talk to the dead, those who are held back by lingering emotions that hold them to this plane. Uxbal takes their confessions so the spirits can move on and the families may have peace. He possesses the ability to foresee his own death, and this gift (or curse, as the case may be) guides his actions throughout the movie, which at times is heartbreakingly sad. Javier Bardem gives a powerful performance as Uxbal, and Iñárritu’s sweeping ability to blur the lines of realism with magic is phenomenal. His movies are dark and subtle, and his grasp of sublime visual effects means that he would probably create a horror film that would be the ultimate psychological horror film—one that I would love to see.
Wow. Interesting question. I’m largely insensitive to most things these days, thanks to years of putting bodies in the ground and seeing families cry over them. That said, I remember watching What Dreams May Come, starring Robin Williams, and feeling the weight of that movie bearing down on me. There was something so oppressive in the way that movie came across that I found myself caught up in it like I’d never been with a movie before.
Though the movie was more a romance in is story line, I couldn’t help but feel for Williams’ character as he struggled to reach his wife, willing to risk his place in Heaven for a little longer with her, even if it meant suffering in Hell to do it.
The emotion of What Dreams May Come laid me bare, and were an author to set this feeling to the page, I would read it over and over and gladly suffer it each time.
To this day, the thing that scared me more than any other piece of media is probably the Harrison Ford K-19 Widowmaker movie. I was home by myself when I watched that (and I was in my early teens, probably, so WAY too young), and I can still remember how much it got to me. I still won’t rewatch it.
The other thing that got me—although the author says I’m not alone—was Alexander Irvine’s A Scattering of Jades. It’s a really great book, but something about it just got under my skin and freaked me the hell out. I think it was the gigantic, unstoppable, carnivorous baby that finally got me. In a shining example of my poor decision-making processes, I read this book primarily late at night, sitting in a draft, creaky old barn in the middle of nowhere. I probably should try that with something really fluffy and light someday, I’m pretty sure I’d still traumatize myself!
And, last but not least, Adam Troy-Castro’s “Her Husband’s Hands”. I was reading for the Nebulas, and this story just killed me. I was dating a recently-retired soldier at the time, and it hit so close to home. It touches on the fear of losing someone to war, physically or emotionally.
Mercedes M. Yardley writes whimsical horror and wears poisonous flowers in her hair. Her newest novel Pretty Little Dead Girls: A Novel of Murder and Whimsy was released this autumn by Ragnarok Publications. You can find her at www.abrokenlaptop.com and as @mercedesmy on twitter.
But this show had aspects that were dark. A man with a flute played a song and people would turn into human-shaped bricks. An evil sorcerer with terrifying, bugging eyes would use these brick people to build his castle. These bricks would march over and climb onto each other to form walls and turrets.
The wizard had a voice that sounded like chewed-up nails. It was horribly distorted, and his eyes were far too big, and he had this creepy long hair that fell in wrong ways when he hung upside down from his floating bubble.
That’s right. Mr. Nightmare floated around in a soft bubble and it managed to be horrific.
There’s a mechanical screaming dragon, dancing dolls, and people turned into toys. A fun, whimsical thing that taught me true terror can come in the form of something sweet and innocent.
I watched it again not too long ago, the first time in several years. Of course it wasn’t nearly as frightening as it was then. No, it was disturbing on a different level. The level of an adult crinkling her nose at something that was scary as a child, but distasteful now that she was older and could see some of the innuendo behind it. This sunny children’s movie with more than its fair share of sorrow? I’d love to see this group of people do some horror. If the sunny unicorn show made my heart pound like it did, what would something with intentional creep factor be like?
This is an intriguing question as it strikes to the definition of what constitutes “horror,” and which books or movies fall within this category. It is easy to see Stephen King’s Carrie as a horror novel but what about The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris? Is it a thriller, crime novel, or horror story? Or a combination? I see it more as a thriller, with horrific elements, but not as straight horror.
My choice for this Mind Meld straddles that same line, Battle Royale by Koushon Takami. It is a dystopian tale, an alternate history where Japan rules an expansive Republic of Greater Asia. It presents more as science fiction, and includes no supernatural elements, though the author originally submitted it to a literary competition, the Japan Grand Prix Horror Novel. It was rejected due to its controversial nature, but was published in 1999 and became a blockbuster in Japan, spawning two movies and a manga series.
In 2003, it was translated into English, and I first read the novel then. Since then, I have also read the manga (which is very different from the novel in many respects) and seen both movies. The first movie is excellent, and follows the book relatively closely, while the second movie was a letdown. I’m going to concentrate on the novel though for this question.
From the start of the novel, Takami sets up a creepy and terrifying premise. A class of 42 junior high students is riding on a bus, allegedly for a study trip, but on route, they are gassed into unconsciousness. When they awake, they are in a different classroom, on an isolated island, and told that they must kill each other until only a single person remains. They are part of The Program, a regular event which is televised, and none of the students ever expected they would be selected. Two students are killed in the classroom before the game even begins, solidifying the reality of the situation.
Throughout the rest of the lengthy novel, there abound scenes of psychological horror and terror, compounded by the fact that these are essentially innocent teenagers. The various characters exhibit a wide range of reactions to this situation, from suicide to murder. It is a dark tale, tense and compelling.
Unfortunately, Takami has not yet published a second novel, though it is alleged he has been working on some unknown project. He could easily write a straight horror novel which I think would be absolutely chilling.
The example that I get made fun of for the most is The Lost World: Jurassic Park. I loved the first Jurassic Park, so I was first in line to see the sequel. Do you remember the scene at the very beginning where a young girl gets eaten alive by little dinosaurs? (Wikipedia tells me they were Compsognathus.) The night after I saw the movie — I should note that I was a fairly mature teenager at the time — I had a nightmare that those dinosaurs jumped up onto my bed and devoured me. And for several nights after that. Even now the memory of it makes me shudder!
As for literature, I’d love to see what Emma Bull would do with a horror story. There are a number of scenes in her novels — I’m thinking of War for the Oaks particularly — where the villains show an uncanny ability to identify the heroes’ weaknesses in ways that make me squirm. I’m sure she could make audiences squirm out of fear, too.
Being part-sasquatch, I have always had a problem with enclosed spaces. I wouldn’t call it “claustrophobia” exactly, but when I can’t move my arms and legs freely, I start to get anxious. Whenever a work has a scene of physical entrapment, my palms start to sweat.
I can remember watching Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as a kid, and being absolutely terrified when they almost get crushed to death by those moving walls (moving walls are my greatest irrational fear). Still gives me the willies.
Crushed by stone, buried alive, locked in a box; all of those are baddoubleplusnotgood for my psyche.
Book wise, Harry Potter made some of my worst fears very realized, but in ways I didn’t expect. The Dementors, for example, represent a type of metaphysical entrapment with regard’s to the Dementor’s Kiss. They suck out your freaking soul. I don’t know about you, but the idea of the surviving portion of me being stuck in the sickle-bone ribcage of a ghoul for all eternity is one of the heights of fear.
A few years ago, I read Liane Merciel’s debut fantasy The River Kings’ Road. Good stuff, strong writing, gorgeous worldbuilding. Some nicely creepy elements with her creation of a sect of pain-worshipping priests/magic-users known as the Maimed Witches, but nothing that gave me nightmares. When I saw that she’d written a sequel, Heaven’s Needle, I hopped right on.
Nightmare city. It has epic fantasy elements, and they’re very well done, but Liane Merciel would’ve been right at home writing in the old Ravenloft series, and frankly I think that she really should go ahead and write a horror-fantasy – though, technically I think she already has with Heaven’s Needle.
Here’s the thing about Merciel’s second book, and why I think horror fans should be falling over themselves to check this one out – the writing here is extremely strong and descriptive, and what it describes is fundamentally disturbing and horrifying. Agonizing deaths for completely innocent characters, fates worse than death for many others, and a heavy emphasis on corruption of the mind. It’s scary stuff, and definitely a book that hung around in my brain for a long time.
Well, obviously the place to start is with a Fantasy novel, that opening Prologue of George RR Martin’s A Game of Thrones where we are introduced to the White Walkers by their meeting with Gared and Ser Waymar Royce:
‘Long elegant hands brushed his cheek, then tightened around his throat. They were gloved in the finest moleskin and sticky with blood, yet the touch was icy cold.’
Definitely creepy, that one! But it sets up what else is going to happen so well. It’s a masterpiece in both introducing a wider world and enticing the reader to read further.
This may be a little bit of a cheat though, as George has, of course, written horror himself, before Game of Thrones. I liked his Armageddon Rag (1983), although it was not a big seller originally. He won awards back in 1989 for his werewolf novella The Skin Trade (1989) and it is still a regular favourite for many, so perhaps this glimpse of Horror is not that big a surprise. I’d also recommend his award-winning SF story Sandkings (1980) too, which is definitely not one to be read by people creeped out by ants!
Some authors just have that ability to create a sense of chill without making it explicit. It is that overlap between the daily everyday routine and the things beyond our understanding that often stay with the reader. Two British writers immediately spring to mind. Christopher Fowler, also a Horror writer, who evokes a great sense of unease in his police detective “Bryant and May” series. The series comes across initially as a police procedural series – our heroes work for the Peculiar Crimes Unit in London – and the horror there is never explicit, but there’s usually just enough to make the reader feel that there’s something clearly not right in the great city of London, and that the discomfort therein may be due to greater powers at work. There have been times when following Arthur Bryant and John May, two rather decrepit police officers it must be said, through their novels around the older, darker parts of London have given me a distinct shudder.
Further north-west in Britain, on the English-Welsh border of Shropshire, lies my second choice, that of Phil Rickman and his “Merrily Watkins” series. The skill of the writer here is that although the main protagonist is a female parish priest and diocesan exorcist, the horror within appears at the same time as seemingly mundane, everyday events. Like the grand master, Stephen King, there’s a lot of social commentary in these books, with more humour than you might expect and people that you could meet on a daily basis, although there are often creepy things going on – never fully explained but clearly there, waiting to be explained away and yet never quite doing so. Like Christopher, Phil has written more explicit horror, but I think that for both writers the stuff that doesn’t stray that far from the norm (whatever that is) tends to be most memorable.
Interestingly, this series has been popular with those crime-readers who normally wouldn’t touch a horror novel with a bargepole, which shows, like Christopher does, that you can chill and be a writer often regarded as being from outside the realm of Horror.
What has chilled me the most, though? Not a book, sadly, but a television programme. There is an episode of the TV series “Millennium”, written by Chris Carter called Lamentation, which scared the hell out of me when I first saw it about fifteen years ago. In the episode Bob Bletcher (played by Bill Smitrovich), the policeman friend of our hero-consultant, Frank Black, is met in Frank’s house by a murder suspect. As the suspect comes down the stairs there is a flash of light and for a brief second we see that the suspect is actually a demon.
I think the reason why this one freaked me out so much was because it was so unexpected at the time. The first episodes of Season 1 were clever enough that most of the darkness and the violence could be explained by having insane, psychopathic criminals rather than explicitly due to any supernatural element. Here the Horror became an important, if not essential part of the plot, which took the series for me to a whole new level. It is still one of my favourites. I see its influence in so many new TV programmes these days. And that episode really creeped me out, even though that particular jump-cut effect has been done many times in film and TV (a similar scene in The Exorcist did it for me as well!)
If I remember right, to my embarrassment now, I actually shouted out at the TV set at the time! (And the lights stayed on that night for the first time in many, many years, with me a thirty-something adult…)
Horror novels have successfully held a mirror to show the fears of our society: fears about loss and sex (The Hellbound Heart), fears of a new cultural generation (The Exorcist), and fears about disease and death (World War Z, The Stand), among others. But rare is a book that can turn this mirror inside out and make us feel the emotion of fear by showing us a world that looks very much like our own, without supernatural plagues or other-worldly monsters. Where does one find such a book? And if one found it, would it have the same mysterious grip over us in the way that a traditional horror novel keeps us awake at night, sipping tea, turning every page in bed, while making sure we locked all our doors and kept at least one of our lights in the house burning to protect us?
2666, the last major work by the late Chilean author Roberto Bolaño, has kept me awake many nights, has terrorized and spooked me — spooked in a way that many other books can’t. You’ll likely never find this massive, 900-page novel in the horror section, I assure you of that. You’ll find it instead in the literary section, or in the hands of academics who cherish its incredible narrative control and language. But the novel holds secrets inside of it that are just as frightening as some of our best horror classics, including Turn of the Screw, I am Legend, Carrie, or The Haunting of Hill House.
Describing 2666’s plot could take as much as 2666 minutes, but in short, the novel kicks off with a central mystery surrounding the academic Benno von Acrhimboldi, a reclusive academic who never appears directly in the novel but everyone wants to find. The fact that this absentee character holds such power over these critics from all corners of the world in itself is chilling, and a great way to lure is into the story. Remember how we wall felt this while reading Dracula? I do.
2666’s massive universe is divided into five major sections of the novel, and as we go further, we follow two new main characters, a Chilean philosophy professor and an American journalist into the Mexican city of Santa Teresa in the state of Sonora. This town serves as an analogue to present day’s Ciudad Juarez in Mexico. Just like in real life, this small city near the border is one of the most violent places on earth, where violent crimes against women are so horrendous, and so numerous, that it is impossible to comprehend how a place could be so bloody and grim. Santa Teresa is the town where women disappear and end up murdered, their bodies found, and in many cases, their bodies are not found. Bolaño doesn’t need to create ghouls or monsters, or armies of zombies. Instead, he simply shows us the monsters that we already are. Ciudad Juarez is a real place, and thanks to Bolaño’s mastery of his characters and plot, so is Santa Teresa.
The novel’s fourth section walks the reader through in detail, and with precision, the forensic investigations into these crime scenes and disappearances. Sitting through this section required both a strong stomach and the resolve to not let the horrors of the novel seep into my dreams at night.
Bolaño’s story depicts details of everyday life in so much detail that it may keep some readers wondering where this is all going. That in itself is part of 2666’s mystery and terror. This is the very question we all ask ourselves about our careers, families, love lives and our own fragile lives: where is this all going?
Bolaño was rumored to have worked on this massive volume as liver disease consumed him. He died in 2003, but as 2666 published after his death, he left an amazing piece of work that not only celebrates the wonders of our existence, but one which also goes deep into the darkest, scariest places of the human condition. This is the kind of reading that will send chills down your spine, and leave you with unease for a very long time.
I actually thought quite a lot about this and finally decided on the “Charlie Parker” series, starting with Every Dead Thing, by John Connolly (which is now 12 books in). In Every Dead Thing, NYPD Detective Charlie must endure the aftermath of the slaughter of his wife and daughter, and it soon leads to the loss of his job. He eventually sets about investigating cases on his own, and the death of a young woman leads him back to his the one that started it all, The Traveling Man. Connolly is an Irishman, but you’d never know it with his exploration of the American South in Every Dead Thing, and although Charlie’s path soon leads him North, as the series progresses, Connolly’s sense of time and place is impeccable, and is a big part of what makes these books wonderful. Well, other than the ever tormented Charlie, of course, who, in spite of the near constant onslaught of odd cases (we’ll get to that in a moment), strives to find justice for those that can no longer speak for themselves, and for the most innocent of victims.
Connolly gradually introduces supernatural elements into the series, without deviating from the hard-boiled noir aspects that made the first book such a standout debut, and it’s this combo of PI procedural with some very weird, and very scary characters that make the series so terrifying at times, as well as the introspective and very personal nature of some of these terrors. There are elements of gothic horror in the books, but I certainly wouldn’t categorize them as horror. They’re so much more complex than that. It’s sometimes the subtle things that are the most scary, and no series does subtle terror better than this one.
I grew up on a steady diet of Vincent Price movies, made-for-TV horror, and whatever movies I could talk my mother into letting me see (some of which were probably not as age-appropriate as I tried to convince her that they were). I was a pretty happily jaded nine-year-old. I say “happily” because I am naturally nervous. Learning not to be afraid of the entire world was sort of a miracle for me. It made everything so much easier, in every possible sense of the word.
That was the year that they mis-shelved Watership Down in my elementary school library. Since, at the time, I had a “three books at a time” limit from the school, I basically chose my books based on weight. The more pages they had, the better. Watership Down was almost four hundred pages long, and it was about rabbits, which meant no one would take it away from me. I mean, rabbits. How scary can rabbits be?
Run, Prince With a Thousand Enemies.
That book scared the life out of me. I read every page twice over, relishing the terror and the texture of it, the depth of the fear that it crafted. There were parts I wouldn’t understand until much later, but I grasped the poison, the silver wire, the Black Rabbit, all of it. I think part of me has been reading that book, over and over again, ever since.