Thursday, 30 October 2014

Thursday List: Scarey Stories for Halloween








Like the Fat Boy in Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, the blog would like to make your flesh creep. So - inspired in part by the crime writer Christine Poulson’s blog post on scarey stories – here’s a list of shockers of one kind or another, not in any special order (links are to blogposts on some of the books):


1) The Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe – scared me half to death the first-time I read it as a teenager, with that amazing first line:
TRUE! --nervous --very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?

2) This is the one I mentioned to Christine: Don’t Look Behind You by Fredric Brown, which I read in a Hitchcock collection many years ago. It is TERRIFYING because it manages to convince you, the reader, that you are going to die. It is incredibly creepy, and leaves you looking over your shoulder. I really wouldn’t have wanted to read it if I’d been alone in the house. Brown was more famous for his sci-fi, but was obviously a talented writer in all directions…

3) Darkness over Pemberley by TH White   featured on the blog this week, and certainly had a pretty good concept involving a villain locked in the house with the good guys, and apparently able to make murderous and very creepy ventures into locked rooms. (I found it completely preposterous, but you have to give it some credit.)

4) Susan Hill, The Woman in Black. I’m not a huge fan of Hill, but this book (and the play based on it) really work.




5) Charles Dickens The Mystery of Edwin Drood – left unfinished on his death, and not that mysterious, but still the spooky atmosphere of a Cathedral town is very well done, and the two men going out for a walk, from which only one will return, is wonderfully tense.

6) The Aspern Papers by Henry James The climax of this novella has the grasping literature student creeping around a palazzo in Venice in the middle of the night, searching for elusive documents. He gets a surprise, and so does the reader…

7) … and similarly The Queen of Spades by Alexander Pushkin is another tale of an unscrupulous young man trying to make his fortune, and getting himself and the reader a bad fright in the process.

8) Dracula by Bram Stoker – quite the chiller, and dealt with nicely by a Guest Blogger here.






9) MR James short stories, particularly Whistle and I’ll Come to you My Lad & The Mezzotint. They give you that uneasy feeling. 

10) The Girl in a Swing by Richard Adams. The book is close to forgotten now – the author known mainly for Watership Down. It’s a strange book, always going off on tangents, and it’s not at all clear what is going on. But the ending is genuinely terrifying, and the sight of a green toy turtle would give any reader palpitations…


11) Don’t Look Now by Daphne du Maurier – story and film both traumatizing, and (like green turtles above) some of us can’t ever see a red raincoat and feel calm. The story of a bereaved couple trying to mend their relationship on a trip to Venice is perfect in its way. And as the blog post was titled: Red Coat. Don't Go There. And Don't Look Now.

My list ran to 11, and I'm sure I'll think of more in the next few years. I'd love to know which books and stories readers would add to the list. 

26 comments:

  1. Moira - Oh, yes indeed, you've chosen some very scarey stories! So glad you included Don't Look Behind You, too. It's masterfully done! I'l have to think about what stories I'd put in a 'scariest story' list. You've mentioned some that would definitely be there...

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    1. You must do a list Margot, I'd love to hear which ones scared you...

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  2. Not really a fan of the Stoker and have not read the Adams (must change that - couldn't get through WATERSHIP though ...), but I really agree with all your other choices here Moira (I love the one-of-a-kind twist in the Brown story). If you have not read CONJURE WIFE or OUR LADY OF DARKNESS by Fritz Leiber, than I really think you should :)

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    1. Girl on a Swing is nothing like Watership Down, and it is very odd and almost amateurish - but he certainly got my heart beating dangerously fast at the end of his long winding story. And thanks for the tipoff - will definitely look up the Fritz Leiber titles.

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  3. Some great books here, Moira. I love Dracula and the Susan Hill. Edwin Drood never did it for me but is very atmospheric. I'm going to read a Mary Stewart for Halloween I think.

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    1. Great idea! One of the pictures above was used by me to illustrate a Mary Stewart book, Wildfire at Midnight, where the heroine goes creeping round the old dark house....

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  4. Bah humbug. I never really get Halloween TBH. It didn't do much for me as a kid and does even less now, despite my children's best efforts. I will admit the film of The Woman in Black had me jumping a few times - my nervous disposition obviously.

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    1. There needs to be a Scrooge/Grinch word for someone who disapproves of Halloween. It was very different when I was a child - certainly no trick or treating - but we lived in America when our children were young, so no avoiding it, we are over on the dark side!

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  5. The movie Don't Look Now was indeed hauntingly beautiful and VERY creepy.

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    1. Yes indeed, Bert, once seen never forgotten. And if I go to Venice I think about the film all the time.

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  6. Moira, I haven't read many of these authors, like Henry James and Daphne du Maurier, and of the two I want to read something by du Maurier. My grandfather had some of her paperbacks; of course, back then I didn't know she was a famous writer. I have read anything scary recently but I did read a couple of psychological thrillers, including THE NINTH CONFIGURATION by William Peter Blatty, also known as "Twinkle, Twinkle, "Killer" Kane!" The film version was directed by Blatty himself though I haven't seen it.

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    1. Now, is he the man who wrote the Exorcist? That makes for a promising track record, I'll have to look this one up. Thanks Prashant.

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    2. I've only seen the movie of NINTH CONFIGURATION - it is utterly bonkers! But I think it exists in several versions ...

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    3. Between the two of you, Prashant and Sergio, you're going to make sure I read/watch this...

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  7. Du Maurier's short stories are creepy and very, very weird. Will someone read the one about the woman who ends up in a kind of convent at the top of a mountain???

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    1. I don't remember that one, but there others I do remember very clearly, she had a real talent for the genre.

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  8. The stories in E J Howard's Mr Wrong. Title story, and the one with the people on a barge, and the one with the mould and...

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    1. Haven't read any Howard short stories, obviously I'm missing out.

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  9. Mostly, this is not my kind of story or book. Don't like to be scared. I do want to read Dracula someday though.

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    1. I prefer scarey stories to really gruesome ones. And now, at my advanced age, I think any story that can frighten me has to be pretty good!

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  10. "The Blue Lenses" by Daphne du Maurier. She wrote so many great scary shorts, but I find this one really quite disturbing.

    Gerald Durrell - yes, the My Family and Other Animals chap - came up with a truly terrifying short story called "The Entrance."

    Jan Mark's scary stories for children are really quite creepy too.

    There's a short story I am trying to track down and failing miserably - I think it is by Christianna Brand, but may be wrong on that. It is about a trapdoor in a ceiling and nothing much happens, but at the end, someone is earnestly asked whether they looked up - and oh my god, it scared me so much. Have had no joy with finding it again - I know it was in an anthology with the Jan Mark story "Absalom, Absalom," and I recently bought a book with "Absalom, Absalom" in it but - no luck! So frustrating.

    Robert Westall wrote some incredible scary stories too - witty and horrible and imaginative. "The Ghost in the Boy's Toilets" is great.

    I also have to STRONGLY recommend Ghislain de Diesbach's "The Toys of Princes" - although they are generally not horror or ghost stories in the strictest sense of the word and are in fact very hard to categorise, they have a delicious macabreness, ominous lushness and richness about them that I just absolutely adore. They are also extremely witty and very, very funny. Richard Howard has translated them beautifully. If you like Angela Carter I think you'd love these short stories. They are barking mad, and stunningly beautiful. I'd recommend starting with "The Apparitons of Kurmunster."

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    1. Fabulous suggestions Daniel, thanks - The Blue Lens I know (and agree about) but the others are ones to track down. I have read a few Christianna Brand stories, but that one doesn't sound familiar. Lots to look up now! (like the person standing under the trapdoor...)

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  11. I do like Halloween, used to dress up in costumes and go trick or treating with my sister. And now I enjoy my neighbor's children all dressed up -- as a cowgirl and an ambulance. And I love the Halloween Parade that goes near my house, and seeing the incredibly creative costumes worn by participants.

    But I don't like the scary stuff, never did. I avoid those movies and books.
    Maybe it's because when my sister and I were young, we were dropped off at the neighborhood YMCA, where a production was going on of "The Tell-Tale Heart." I remember a big heart on the wall pounding and beating loudly. I still can hear that heartbeat. It was terrifying.

    I liked "Murders in the Rue Morgue" by Poe, one of the first locked-room mysteries, but I refuse to read any of the horror he wrote.

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    1. That sounds like a really bad introduction to the Poe story... I'd rather read something which is subtly scarey than something too gruesome - we all have to find our own enjoyment point don't we?

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  12. I confess I love Halloween. October is my fave month of the year. Great list of titles. Love the photos. Is the first photo from one of those Hammer movies from the 1950s?

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  13. It's Yvonne Monlaur in The Brides of Dracula, 1960, so very well spotted - yes exactly, Hammer Horror. I like Halloween too - even though it's rather corny and very commercialized, there's something about the dark nights and the excitement and the way children love being spooked....

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