Friday, September 25, 2009

Horror Literature

A fellow horror blogger recently asked the lot of us (LOTTD) to send submissions for our ten favorite examples of horror literature - to include novels, short stories, and/or poems.

Surprisingly, some of the group felt it necessary to undermine the effort and basically demand that the list be divided into sub-groups or categories. They felt it should be separated into three distinct divisions (novels, short stories, and poetry).
While I understand their reasoning on some level, a lot of people - including myself - would be hard-pressed to think of ten poems to include. I just don't read poetry that often, horror or otherwise. Sorry.

In any respect, I narrowed my choices down to ten and sent them on.

And here is what I chose, and why.

1) Dracula - Bram Stoker
What really needs to be said about this classic novel? I mean, it's been adapted into countless film versions and is a book most modern horror novelists (in particular anyone writing about vampires) quote as a major source of inspiration. I doubt there is a better known character in all of horror than Count Dracula.

2) The Tell-Tale Heart - Edgar Allen Poe
When I was a kid, I first heard this story on a record (yes, a vinyl LP) produced by Disney. The guy who read the tale was so into it - really scared the crap out of me. The story itself is a morality based dilemma. What would you do if something - or someone - bothered you to the point of madness? And how would you live with the concenquences? Could you?

3) Ghost Story - Peter Straub
Truly I think this is one of the finest horror novels ever written. Stephen King is my favorite author, and yet - this book is beyond even SK's finest works. It just crawls under your skin with unrelenting terror. A horrible accident haunts a group of men - causing their lives to unravel in a deliciously frightening way. Hard to forget, once you've read it.

4) The Woman in Black - Susan Hill
This is a book I read after seeing the movie, which is a rare thing for me. I like to form my own, unbiased opinions about a story, and picture the characters in my mind prior to seeing the film. But in this case, it didn't hurt me too badly. Granted, it was hard to imagine anyone else but the movie characters in their roles, but the story itself held up very well. Descriptions of Victorian England and the creepy moors and remote villages were really top notch.
A really great book to influence bad dreams if read before sleep.

5) The Shining / Pet Sematary - Stephen King (tie - sorry, I couldn't choose between the two)
How to compare two of my favorite books? I can't. So I just won't. Suffice it to say that I think these are SK's two scariest books. It's told in rumors that King himself was so scared when writing Pet Sematary that he put the manuscript down for awhile and had to come back to it months later. The idea of the dead coming back in any form is the stuff of nightmares. And when you put a child into the scenario, there's just no way not to scare the pants off people.
The Shining is a real masterpiece, in my humble opinion. The vivid descriptive narrative of how a man descends into madness has never been told in such a hauntingly frightening way.

Jack Torrance is one of the most powerfuly written characters in fiction. Period. A little bit of cabin fever and a whole lotta alcohol goes a long way, believe me.
The two films made from the work still cannot hold a candle to the gripping horror of the novel itself.

6) A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
Another book that I no doubt saw in film form before reading. How could you not? This has been made into countless movies over the years (my favorite being the George C. Scott version - it's our Christmas Eve tradition). But the book is Dickens for God's sake, how can you go wrong? Written in 1843 (seriously!!), this brilliant tale is a story of one man's collapse into irreverance and disrespect of his fellow man. Until his deceased partner comes back and sets things right.

7) Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier
I first read Rebecca as a teenager - the perfect time to discover the tale of secretive tension and suspense. It struck me as a great piece of literature then, and it still is today. The story revolves around a young woman who has just married a well-to-do widow. Unfortunately, the title character (the dead wife) is still very much a part of the lives of the people who live at Manderley. Seriously haunting, it would make anybody think twice about marrying someone who hasn't forgotten a lost love.

8) The Legend of Sleepy Hollow - Washington Irving
Published in 1820, this book is still widely read today, in schools and homes across America. It's an awesome story, and while many find it (and all its film adaptions) silly or amusing, the actual story is a scary one. I mean, a man without a head is chasing a geeky schoolteacher all over Sleepy Hollow. Yeah, that's a bit creepy in my book.

9) The Raven - Edgar Allen Poe
Many people do not read poetry. It's my guess that hoardes of folks don't even know who Robert Frost is. But Edgar Allen Poe was a novelist as well - a weaver of frightening tales not to be forgotten. The Raven is his most famous poem, of course. It tells the story of a man who is mourning a lost love and is disrupted and disturbed by a raven tapping on his window.
Ravens are creepy, right? (the answer there is YES), but this one, even moreso.The man allows the raven inside and from then on, the bird utters only one word: Nevermore.
Isn't the fact that the bird actually talks weird enough?

You really have to read it to understand the jist of it. But it is powerful in its own right.
That Poe was one creepy dude.

10) Hell House - Richard Matheson
Matheson has so many works it is hard to choose. But I think I like this one best. Four people have been chosen to discover the reason why this house is called the Mount Everest of haunted houses. Studying the paranormal, a physicist, his wife, and two mediums try to debunk the legend and try to figure out why only one person has survived a night in the mansion. It was made into a movie with Roddy McDowell, and it wasn't too bad. Read the book. As always, read the book.

*Okay, that being said...I have ten more to add.
Coming up with only ten is like, crazy hard for me. So I stopped at twenty.
So, without further adieu, my also-rans.

11) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
If I really have to explain why this book is on this list then hell has indeed, froze over.
Written in 1818 by a 19 year old (can you imagine?), this is a truly fine example of gothic horror. So many stories and movies have been influenced by this tale it isn't even funny.
But the story itself should be read and appreciated. I don't think I have to relate the actual plot. Man tries to make another man from parts. Really good stuff!

12) The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker (inspiration for Hellraiser)
Clive Barker is one disturbed individual. I mean, really mentally unbalanced. Which of course makes for good horror. He's written some really bizarro stuff, and this novella is no exception. Demons from hell, puzzle boxes, degrading sex, loads of gore... what more could you ask for?
Pleasure and pain - indiscernible from each other. Selling your soul to discover true bliss - or true horror. Mistakes are made, prices paid with flesh and blood. God, this is weird shit.

13) The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
Waaaay before the rhyming strains of the Andrew Lloyd Webber's famous Broadway extravaganza, and well before Claude Raines' portrayal of the tortured Erik, there was the 1910 novel. The story of Christine Daae's climb up the Paris Opera House's proverbial ladder is richly detailed with the horror of her "Angel of Music", a disfigured musical genius roaming the bowels of the Opera house. He mentors her - first with his voice, then later appearing to her with an obsessive madness. Romance blurs with delusional irrationality.
A true classic.

14) The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
Another book I was lucky enough to read before seeing the film. However, I firmly believe that casting Anthony Hopkins in the role of Hannibal Lecter was cinematic brilliance.
That said, this is one nasty novel. A young FBI trainee gets the opportunity of a career when she is asked to interview Hannibal the Cannibal in order to gain insight into the mind of a current serial killer. But instead, she has to proceed with caution, as Lecter might just gain access to her own mind. Quid pro quo.
Harris based his Buffalo Bill on several of the most prolific and disturbing serial killers of our time. It's a well written, enthralling page turner.

15) Jaws by Peter Benchley
Okay, I was like - maybe eleven when I read this. I hadn't seen the movie - wasn't allowed to at that age. But the book, another story. At that point I'd already read Stephen King. Who were my parents to tell me I couldn't read a story about a killer shark. Hell, we live in western Pennsylvania - no ocean to worry about.
Too bad I was freaked out even taking a bath after that.
I still have that old copy of the paperback, and I pick it up sometimes - but not as much as I watch the outstanding film made from it.

16) The Exorcist - William Peter Blatty
Anyone who says this book didn't scare them is lying, and that goes twice as far for the fantastically terrifying film. Based on supposedly true events, The Exorcist is a truly scary book. Poor little Regan - a conduit for the devil himself. For those who wonder what merit reading the book has after having already seen the film - Read the book. In 99 out of 100 cases (The Godfather being a clear example of that one out of a hundred), the book is always better than the film.

17) The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Easily confused with Matheson's Hell House, this book also tells the tale of four people trying to debunk a haunted house. Made into a woefully bad movie not too many years ago that starred Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta-Jones. God-awful to say the least. Read the book. Much better. The house itself is a hulkingly large mansion, complete with gables and gargoyles to die for. At the real heart of the story is one of the four guests, Eleanor - who is having problems of her own before ever arriving.
And if you have to watch a film version, be sure to check out 'The Haunting' (1963) - dated but a much better film by far!

18) I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
This work of fiction is said to be a major influence on Stephen King and his own vampire story (Salem's Lot)... Understandable. What I don't quite understand is why, when this book was made into a movie of the same name starring Will Smith, the creatures were never called vampires. I'm confused, as that is really the heart of the story.
Poor Robert Neville - somehow he survived a world-wide siege by undead bloodsuckers. Now he's just out there, trying to survive - perhaps find a cure, all before losing his mind to encroaching madness.

19) Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
And who wouldn't want to make dinosaurs? What a smart, yet scary book. Scientists who find a way to clone dinosaurs don't take into account what might happen if something goes awry. Uh-oh. I think we've all seen the movie, so we know what happens. But do yourself a favor and read this book. Science can be a thrilling rollercoaster ride. You just have to remember not to stand up once the car starts moving.

20) Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
Forget the damn movie. Read the book. I still get bent out of shape when I think about them casting Tom Cruise as Lestat. I'm just not feelin' it, dude.
Anyway, the book really led the way for all future vampire fiction. The concept of vamps living in the now and not all stuffed back in Victorian times was a fun and new idea. Granted, we learn the backstories of our Louis and Lestat, but putting them in the here and now - really upped the ante for all future forms of the genre.
Vampires, being hotter than ever in this day and age, have been around since people started telling stories. But with Stoker's 'Dracula', Matheson's 'I Am Legend', and this gem - the genre continues to be blown out of the water.
Here's hoping the trend never ends.


Jeanette said...

I love some of your choices, especially Jurassic Park and your two Matheson picks. I will be checking out Hill House soon

Max the drunken severed head said...

Excellent choices.

"Hill House" is one of the most haunting novels I have ever read.