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Thread: Scariest short stories, novels, and movies

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    Scariest short stories, novels, and movies

    I started to name this Scariest Horror stories, but one of the novels won't be of that genre. Maybe a movie, too. These will all be supernatural, though, because that's what I like. This is an incomplete list, because sometimes all I remember are impressions. Pay no attention to the number rankings, at least after number 2.

    1. The Room in the Tower by E.F. Benson. Before I read this story, I saw it referred to as the scariest story ever written, so I lowered my expectations. I shouldn't have. If you don't mind early twentieth century prose, read this nightmare of a tale involving progressive dreams, a forbidding tower, a bloody portrait, and a sort of a vampire. But I've said too much. Benson's "And No Birds Sing" deserves honorable mention.

    2. Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad by M.R. James. A wandering professor finds an ancient whistle and makes the poor decision to blow it. This one's a classic and features a sheet-wearing spirit that's actually scary (the sheet forms his appearance--just read it.) James is the greatest ghost story author ever, and it's hard to pick out one or two stories from his output, but An Episode of Cathedral History (vampires again!) is another favorite. He mostly wrote ghost stories for Christmas, btw. Stay away from the filmed version starring John Hurt. They start with the story, then go as far away from it as humanly possible. There's not even a whistle.

    3. They Bite by Anthony Boucher. This one's a little different. Set in the California (or maybe Nevada) desert, a shady man hears stories about "Carkers", a race of little people who you only see out of the corner of your eye, and uses this to cover a murder. Things don't end well. This one gave me nightmares and first introduced me to the story of Sawney Bean, which was one of several referred to. Stark horror, worthy of its setting.

    4. The Colour out of Space by H.P. Lovecraft. Proto-Cthulhu mythos, edges out The Dunwich Horror right at this moment. That could change. The Blasted Heath and all.

    5. Carmilla by J. Sheridan LeFanu. The Irish write the best vampire stories. This one pre-dates Dracula and is still compelling. It was hard to find for a while, because some found the title character's stated love for the heroine scandalous. LeFanu's usually hard to read, but not so much here.

    6. The Calamander Chest by Joseph Payne Brennan. When I was a child I found the idea of what happened when you turn out the lights scary. This one involves scratching and a disembodied finger.

    7. Jerusalem's Lot by Stephen King. This is why I said not to pay attention to the numbers; this should have been higher. Lovecraftian; the vampires would come later. King's been known to disparage this story, which he wrote as a student, but I found it terrifying. The one with the guy growing eyes on his hand is a close second.

    8. The Inner Room by Robert Aickman. After recently reading all of Aickman's short weird fiction, this one, which I read years ago, is still my favorite. It seems to play on M.R. James's The Dollhouse, but with an even weirder turn. Honorable mention goes to The Trains, The Hospice, and Bind Your Hair. Aickman was a big influence on Neil Gaiman and Peter Straub.

    9. The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen Just realized I hadn't included Machen, one of my favorites, who was an influence on Lovecraft and everyone after. Because of him, I'm terrified of Leprechauns and the like. But not because of this story, which is more shocking than you might think.

    10. The Pattern by Ramsey Campbell At last, a writer who's still alive! No, Stephen King doesn't count. I'm not a fan of gore, and the closing scene here is goreful, but it's foreshadowed in an almost literal way. This one still bothers me. That's all I'll say about it.

    I'm embarrassed by the ones I didn't include because I can't remember the name, such as the story from the eighties that involved a boy going into the crawl space beneath his house and encountering something I've blocked out, or the one from the seventies about a cynical girl who goes outside after the town has placed all their sins on the scarecrow they've built, or a bunch of others. This list is very much of the moment. fwiw, Poe's not there because after the hundredth reading, the fear wanes. I will still wear my Poe shirt on Halloween, though.
    Last edited by marcshoe; 10-24-2018 at 09:53 PM.
    “[Reading] is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another's skin, another's voice, another's soul" -- Joyce Carol Oates

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    Re: Scariest short stories, novels, and movies

    Poe.

    I recommend The Masque of the Red Death, and The Cask of Amantillado.
    The world is a messy place. People are inconsistent and complicated. Maybe we should see how different things could be if we gave grace and forgiveness to our fellow human beings when they fail to be perfect in our eyes. -- me

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    Re: Scariest short stories, novels, and movies

    I love this, so many new things I need to check out.

    Here's some slightly more modern stuff that I guess would be some of my top picks, mostly things I have come across in the past few years, but not all:

    The Lottery, Shirley Jackson
    I think about this all the time. I hate that so many things bring it to mind, actually.

    The Jaunt, Stephen King
    You read a lot of things and it's scary, sure, whatever, but too rare is to truly feel something in your chest. The end of this one does it.

    Hereditary
    I can't say anything without spoiling, I was just really grateful I didn't watch this with my wife because she'd have been scarred. It's dark, and like The Jaunt, you really feel it deep. Not jump scares (which I'm not even against, especially in a theater, that can be fun) just truly horrific.

    A Head Full Of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
    I've brough Tremblay up in a marcshoe thread before, but this is so good. So, so good.

    Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix
    Thought I was reading something trashy with a funny concept, and good god, no. Cinematic, I have to think this will be a movie at some point.

    The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll
    This is another one that has stuck with me, and that I still think about quite often. It's a truly bonkers story. I need to read more of Carroll.

    Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt and The VVitch
    I feel like these sort of go together. I think The Witch is one of my all time favorite movies, and I think time is going to be really kind to it. I believe it'll be looked at as one of the best movies of this decade, eventually.

    Run by Blake Crouch
    Crouch is sort of a hack, but good at writing page turners. You get a short way into this and feel incredible dread and tension and then you start thinking about all the people who have gone through something like this, in the normal non-supernatural ways human beings are terrible to each other at scale, and it's much, much worse. You could probably teach this in a high school.

    House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
    One of my favorite books ever. I think some people dismiss it as gimmicky (for the layout) too quickly and miss how great it is. I wish I could read it for the first time again.
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    Re: Scariest short stories, novels, and movies

    Now for novels. I shouldn't have started this; it's impossible. Since RF included Trembley, I'll leave him out. I ended up with 13, my last, painful, cut being Coraline. btw, I'm thinking the Calamander Box shouldn't have been on yesterday's list, but that's okay. If you want, replace it with Saki's Sredni Vashtar.

    1. Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. If you don't know what this is about, I'm not going to tell you. Edges out The Shining, Pet Semmetary, It, etc. Some of this has to do with reading it in the dead of winter alone in a dorm room. Some of it is that I love vampires.

    2. Shadowland by Peter Straub I haven't been able to read as much Straub as I like, because he goes further than I am willing to follow. He does so a bit in this book, which is difficult to describe. It's a surreal experience of a boy and his friend visiting, I think, a magician uncle who is more of a sorcerer. The name of the boys' bully, Skeleton Ridpath, is etched deep in my mind. I'm not sure why, but I think it's the best character name this side of Dickens. And the book is immersive and frightening.

    3. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury I devoured Bradbury for a while, and he remains my literary hero. The movie was better than it was given credit for being at the time, an era of over-the top horror, and the book is even better. Mr. Dark is my last nightmare. Always.

    4. Our Lady of Darkness by Fritz Leiber I read this fairly recently. I have always been slightly disappointed by Leiber's short fiction, but this was right in his wheelhouse. It's a perfect seventies story set in San Francisco with horror oozing out of what would be simply weird.

    5. Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill I didn't know who he was when I started reading this, and I kept thinking that he wrote ridiculously like Stephen King, so I looked him up, saw his picture, and thought he was even trying to look like him. This one's great, as a less-than-heroic aging rock star orders a ghost in the mail.

    6.Summer of Night by Dan Simmons. This one's a flat-out Stephen King pastiche, but I still found it scarier than Carrion Comfort (although The Terror came close). Think 'It' or 'Stranger Things'. The last day of school before the kids move to a new building leads to some horrific discoveries and a threat caused by something called the Borgia Bell. Teachers and Principal are evil, both before and after death.

    7. December by Phil Rickman The Merrily Watkins books, about a CofE exorcist, I mean deliverance minister, are Rickman's best work, but this is his scariest. Some of the character return in the Watkins series. This book involves a recording studio in a haunted mansion and the ghost of John Lennon. Seriously.

    8.Dracula by Bram Stoker. Did I mention I like vampires? This one holds up. You might have heard of it.

    9. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern who really needs to write another book. Surreal and as good as you've heard. It's been impossible to film to this point, but I'd love to try. The black and white circus with splashes of red is too cinematic to leave alone.

    10.The Historian by Elizabeh Kostova Did I mention I like vampires? This one's about a woman whose father disappears after receiving a book that's blank except for a drawing of Vlad Tepisch, aka Dracul. This book made me want to go to eastern Europe, and I will one day. Also features an evil, Renfield-ish, librarian. It's a slow book, but the writing's so good I didn't care.

    11.Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein. Not horror, but terrifying, from the barrow-wights through the ringwraiths, balrogs, and Sauron himself.

    12.The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. He said it was a ghost story, and who am I to argue. Very much like M.R. James, involves a gentlemen's club (no, not that kind!) a confused governess, an evil dead man, and, of course, the turn--children.

    13.Intensity by Dean Koontz I absolutely hated Watchers and wasn't crazy about one or two others I read, but this one, which isn't supernatural, gets inside the head of a psychopath in a way that made me want to crawl in a hole and shovel dirt over me.

    Let's leave it there, even if there is no At the Mountains of Madness or Graveyard Book, I guess.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Quote Originally Posted by Redsfaithful View Post
    I love this, so many new things I need to check out.

    Here's some slightly more modern stuff that I guess would be some of my top picks, mostly things I have come across in the past few years, but not all:

    The Lottery, Shirley Jackson
    I think about this all the time. I hate that so many things bring it to mind, actually.

    The Jaunt, Stephen King
    You read a lot of things and it's scary, sure, whatever, but too rare is to truly feel something in your chest. The end of this one does it.

    Hereditary
    I can't say anything without spoiling, I was just really grateful I didn't watch this with my wife because she'd have been scarred. It's dark, and like The Jaunt, you really feel it deep. Not jump scares (which I'm not even against, especially in a theater, that can be fun) just truly horrific.

    A Head Full Of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
    I've brough Tremblay up in a marcshoe thread before, but this is so good. So, so good.

    Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix
    Thought I was reading something trashy with a funny concept, and good god, no. Cinematic, I have to think this will be a movie at some point.

    The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll
    This is another one that has stuck with me, and that I still think about quite often. It's a truly bonkers story. I need to read more of Carroll.

    Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt and The VVitch
    I feel like these sort of go together. I think The Witch is one of my all time favorite movies, and I think time is going to be really kind to it. I believe it'll be looked at as one of the best movies of this decade, eventually.

    Run by Blake Crouch
    Crouch is sort of a hack, but good at writing page turners. You get a short way into this and feel incredible dread and tension and then you start thinking about all the people who have gone through something like this, in the normal non-supernatural ways human beings are terrible to each other at scale, and it's much, much worse. You could probably teach this in a high school.

    House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
    One of my favorite books ever. I think some people dismiss it as gimmicky (for the layout) too quickly and miss how great it is. I wish I could read it for the first time again.
    The Hex and House of Leaves are on my to-read list.
    Last edited by marcshoe; 10-25-2018 at 11:14 PM.
    “[Reading] is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another's skin, another's voice, another's soul" -- Joyce Carol Oates

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    Re: Scariest short stories, novels, and movies

    Quote Originally Posted by marcshoe View Post
    House of Leaves are on my to-read list.
    Just pay attention to which edition of this you get and make sure you have the colored fonts, inexplicably there's a completely black/white version.
    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
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    Re: Scariest short stories, novels, and movies

    Novel wise, I recommend "Flowers in the Attic".
    ...and this one belongs to the Reds.

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    Re: Scariest short stories, novels, and movies

    It probably wouldn't register as scary to me now, but I read Stephen King's "The Boogeyman" late one night when I was 13 and then watched my bedroom closet in fear until the sun came up.
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    Re: Scariest short stories, novels, and movies

    Hereditary let me down so hard.

    NON-SPECIFIC MILD SPOILERS:



















    I thought the tone and suggested subject matter of the trailer were perfect. The movie ended up being affectively unsettling and dark, like said above, for the first half and then shifted gears to being disappointingly conventional and silly then shifted gears again to a final sequence that, to me, felt like more of a young director 'calling card' short film that you'd see posted on Vimeo and shared as a viral embed on movie blogs than a culmination of the film I was watching. All that said, my expectations (propped up by the trailer and very good first half of the movie) are what ruined the overall film for me. It's a very interesting, flawed movie that is definitely worth a watch for horror fans.

    I still wish someone will make the movie promised in that trailer though!

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    Re: Scariest short stories, novels, and movies

    "Where are the Children?", Mary Higgins Clark.
    ...and this one belongs to the Reds.

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    Re: Scariest short stories, novels, and movies

    Quote Originally Posted by Larry Schuler View Post
    All that said, my expectations (propped up by the trailer
    I try so hard to avoid trailers. I know what you are saying about the end, but there were a couple of specific things that happened towards the end that I thought were phenomenal + I went down a completely optional but still satisfying Wikipedia rabbit hole that was bananas, specifically concerning the ending.
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    Re: Scariest short stories, novels, and movies

    I need to check out the wiki. I didn't think the ending was set up nearly enough, even though I got a Rosemarys Baby vibe early on. I was ready to do a movie list tonight, but my power cord came in two, and I can't type on a mobil. Gives me another day to decide about Jacobs Ladder.
    “[Reading] is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another's skin, another's voice, another's soul" -- Joyce Carol Oates

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    Re: Scariest short stories, novels, and movies

    Two scariest movies I ever saw as a kid....."The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "The Exorcist".
    ...and this one belongs to the Reds.

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    Re: Scariest short stories, novels, and movies

    Quote Originally Posted by WrongVerb View Post
    Poe.

    I recommend The Masque of the Red Death, and The Cask of Amantillado.
    The Tell-Tale Heart gave me nightmares as a kid. And hooked me on Poe. And I was part of that cult audience that played this album to death (LOL)

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    Re: Scariest short stories, novels, and movies

    Quote Originally Posted by M2 View Post
    It probably wouldn't register as scary to me now, but I read Stephen King's "The Boogeyman" late one night when I was 13 and then watched my bedroom closet in fear until the sun came up.
    Mine was going down in the basement. The weird noises the furnace made were from the monsters inside.

    It's funny how much the standard for what is scary has changed so much since I was a kid. I'm really not into the gory slasher movies. Never seen one of the Saw movies. Some of today's scary movies are just to much for this old man (LOL). But when I was growing up, and what gave me constant nightmares, were the Universal monsters (Frankenstein, Wolfman), and believe it or not the Wicked Witch on Oz, and those flying monkeys, which sent chills down my spine. Margaret Hamilton was perfectly cast. Studio executives cut some of Hamilton's more frightening scenes worrying that they would frighten children too much (LOL).

    But what scared the crap out of me as a kid would be shrugged off by today's generation.
    Last edited by GAC; 10-28-2018 at 10:19 AM.
    "In my day you had musicians who experimented with drugs. Now it's druggies experimenting with music" - Alfred G Clark (circa 1972)

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    Re: Scariest short stories, novels, and movies

    Quote Originally Posted by GAC View Post
    Mine was going down in the basement. The weird noises the furnace made were from the monsters inside.

    It's funny how much the standard for what is scary has changed so much since I was a kid. I'm really not into the gory slasher movies. Never seen one of the Saw movies. Some of today's scary movies are just to much for this old man (LOL). But when I was growing up, and what gave me constant nightmares, were the Universal monsters (Frankenstein, Wolfman), and believe it or not the Wicked Witch on Oz, and those flying monkeys, which sent chills down my spine. Margaret Hamilton was perfectly cast. Studio executives cut some of Hamilton's more frightening scenes worrying that they would frighten children too much (LOL).

    But what scared the crap out of me as a kid would be shrugged off by today's generation.
    I can believe the Wizard of Oz...I had no problem with it, but my kids sure as hell did.
    ...and this one belongs to the Reds.

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