Thursday, October 27, 2011

My Favorite Scares

Well, Halloween is right around the corner, and everyone is going on and on (and on) about all of the best scary stuff out there. I figured I might as well jump on the bandwagon. I know I recently decried the genre of horror in the wake of how annoyed I am by all of the absolute crap that gets pushed in my face this time of year,  every year. But that was, I think, unfair to horror. It's not that I don't like horror, it's that an insanely significant percentage of what passes for horror is honestly crap. It's not good. It just isn't. Yes, there's this nebulous field in the middle comprised of stuff that is so bad it ends up being good (or at least enjoyable), but that classification is much rarer than most people think. Especially these days when people make (or pretend after the fact that they were trying to make) "so bad it's good" on purpose. I am pretty sure that can only actually happen by accident.

But I digress.

I have also mentioned before that my favorite author is Stephen King. I am sad to say that a lot of people out there who are only familiar with his filmed work might be under the impression that he often falls under the "crap" category himself. These people are dead wrong. Unfortunately, there have been many disastrous attempts to adapt King's work to film and television over the last few decades. The reason these attempts so often result in, well, horror (though not the intended kind) is that King's work very largely is about ideas and a lot of his best scenes exist in the character's minds, or in internal dialog. That kind of stuff is just really difficult to translate to a visual medium. But the fact that people keep trying to do so (and every once in a while succeed) should tell you something. If you've never read any of King's work but have watched something based on one of his books hoping for a good scare and come away disappointed you need to do yourself a favor and go read the source material. Then you'll get it.

I am actually lucky enough to be getting to go see King in person next month when he comes through Dallas on his current book tour. My husband is a wonderful person and decided this was an opportunity we just could not pass up. I am very very excited. Between that and all of the horrible not-horror being shoved in my face at present, I have been thinking a lot about King, and about those really enjoyable scares I have found along the way.

Which is all a rather long-winded way of saying that today I thought I'd give you my top three favorite scary books. I could make a whole top ten (at least) just out of King's work, more than likely, but he only wrote two of the top three that came to mind when I started thinking on the topic, so I thought I would just stick with that.

3. It by Stephen King

Oh man, this book. I first read it all of the way through when I was in high school, I think, although it might have been junior high. I had long been aware of King though, my mom being a big fan of his as well (where do you think I got it from, eh?). Like most people my age with a well-developed fear of clowns, I can lay the blame for that solely upon this book. When I was in fifth grade there was a television miniseries based on it, that of course my mom watched, and with one television in the house, so did I (and so did a lot of those kids who ended up scared of clowns). While this miniseries fell somewhere in the middle quality of adaptations of King's work, Tim Curry's turn as Pennywise the clown, amazing and frightening as it was, had nothing on the written version. I get shivers just thinking of it, and to this day I still can't hear "Für Elise" without getting the creeps. It was my gateway King, and during college I read it again every summer, staying up crazy late reading and terrified to turn the lights out once I had finished for the night. Worth every minute. 

2. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

I honestly don't know how to describe this book. It is simultaneously the most freaky and fucked up book I have ever read. (Sorry for the profanity but that is the most accurate word.) It's more or less about this guy's quest to find out about an ostensibly haunted house. But it is so much more. Somewhere along the way it takes about four left turns at once and you are left struggling to keep going. It is a complete mind-trip and even the way the book itself is designed and printed adds to the experience. I barely made it through one reading of this book, but once was enough. This is a book that will never leave me. It is real work to read, but I am glad that I did read it, to be certain, and anyone who likes horror and haunting stories should definitely check it out. But do it in a well-lit room, with plenty of people around. On a random but kind of cool note, Danielewski is the brother of musician Poe, and her album Haunted actually ties in quite a lot with the book, the version of "Hey Pretty" with the spoken dialog takes that dialog directly from House of Leaves.  In the book there are lyrics quoted from the album. There was definitely a bit of collaboration between the two when the book and album were being created. So if you're a fan of Poe and horror but haven't read this book I would definitely recommend you check it out.

1. Bag of Bones by Stephen King

The story of an author who retreats to a cabin in the forests of rural Maine and then becomes ensnared in a supernatural plot, Bag of Bones is trademark King at its best. This is an amazingly powerful story and being written later in his career truly reflects how much his writing skills continued to grow and improve the more he wrote. The imagery in this book is vivid and startling. My scare-factor from this book was heightened by my first reading experience of it, to be sure. During spring break my freshman year of college some friends and I went to spend a long weekend at the unfinished cabin one of my friends' uncle was building in the middle of nowhere, Texas. We were pretty much camping out, and I had more than one good scare staying up late into the night reading this book in that cabin. Reading this book I have been the honest to goodness most scared by a book I have ever been in my life. Needless to say, I was pretty delighted to find out that A & E has made a miniseries adaptation of this book (the miniseries always seem to do King's work better justice than outright movies) that is due to air in December. I am really looking forward to that!

So there you have it, my top three favorite scary books. If you were looking for something good to dig into before Halloween, well, now you've got an excellent list of suggestions, don't you?

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