Tuesday, October 19, 2010

5 Horror Great Horror Reads Not Written By Stephen King

Despite The Vitagraph American’s rather strong warning against list based posts. I’ve decided to brave the wrath of Cole and give a quick list of five horror books that October is the perfect time for. Now I’m off to take a shower…. AAAAHHHH!!!!

“So,” I thought, reading the back of the book I’d picked up from a random table of Halloween picks at the bookstore “A story about a lovelorn dog catcher who falls in love with female werewolf about to break from her pack. There’s another novel I’ll read when they invent the eight day week.”

And I ALMOST put it down, but cracked it open, hoping perhaps to find some chuckle worthy sub Stephanie Meyer’s writing within, despite the Nick Hornby blurb on the front.

“Well huh, that’s funny it’s not a novel at all. It’s apparently a 300 page epic poem… Well that was unexpected. Just a few stanzas…” But by then I was as helpless as one of the pack’s victim’s once they have their jaws on their throat.

I can pretty much guarantee that Sharp Teeth is unlike just about anything you’ve ever read. Unless of course you regularly read books composed long form free verse poetry about weredogs that are one part gang warfare epic, one part enticing mystery, one part surprisingly effective soap opera, one part surprisingly(er) effective love story, and one part seriously balls out brutal horror story.

Didn’t think so.

If you’re looking for a quick bloody read this October, I don’t believe you can do better.

As has been stated rather conclusively, I am more or less totally in the tank for Joe Hill. The question then is what to recommend. The moving combination of The Haunting and The Royal Tenenbaums that makes Locke And Key one of the best things going on in comics right now? What about the darkly funny Horns. Or 20th Century Ghosts, which showcases the full range of Hill’s talent from the Juggernaut “Best New Horror” to the wistful “Pop Art” and the disturbing Lynchian “Masks” Not to mention the titular story one of the most loving tributes to cinema I’ve ever seen in print.

But there’s still no better place to start from then Heart Shaped Box. Which as balls out a ghost story as has ever been written.

Hill’s dark fertile imagination gives Box it’s haunting power. But it is the unexpected story of a man coming late in life to his better nature, that gives it its heft.

Read one Hill and I can guarantee you’ll be hooked for life.

Walking Dead is of course the graphic novel zombie epic soon to be transformed into a TV series on AMC.

In the word’s of Henry Jones Senior, Most zombie movies “leave just when they were getting interesting.” With the last vestiges of human civilization overrun by the zombie hordes.

Walking Dead uses that as it’s starting point. And explores how society rebuilds itself. Or doesn’t. The zombies, which are basically ringers anyway, aren't nearly as scary as the answer's Kirkman comes up with. But the real subversive thing about Kirkman's work isn't the fact that he shows humans doing horrible things in the wake of societal breakdown, it's the fact that he posits that societal breakdown itself as a boon.

The world being overrun with zombie hordes portrayed almost as a Thoreau like awakening of the human spirit rather then a tragedy. The Walking Dead is at its core a story of the anesthetic wearing off.

Before Seth Grahmn Smith kick started the most annoying meme of all time with the still funny despite its predecessors, Pride Prejudice and Zombies and then proved he was more then a one gimmick man with Doris Kearnes Goodwin (That still blows my mind) approved Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer, he penned this little ditty. Which provides advice for surviving everything from encountering Satan (hard) to surviving a night of babysitting (harder).

Fleet and “Laugh out loud so hard you disturb the strangers on the bus” funny Smith’s book is a thorough deconstruction of horror tropes with a thorough understanding and an even thorougher affection for the genre. This belongs on the shelf of every horror aficionado in the country.

If I had to encapsulate it in an annoying horror blurb (which I am) I’d say it’s like Shaun Of The Dead, if our heroes were trapped not in a Romero film but in a Raimi one.

I would go on. But why should I when "Dave Wong" himself does such a better job telling you why you should buy his book.

Every once in a while you run into a porn video or website that you can't, in good conscience, recommend to your friends because it's simply too erotic. The actress's boobs were too perfect, the scenario too plausible, your erection too firm--almost to the level of exquisite pain.

This is the situation I find myself in with the horrortacular, John Dies at the End. A friend will say, "Hey, David, I see you have a copy of John Dies at the End. I like horror, and it's getting awesome reviews. Should I run down to Borders and... Jesus, what is that in your pants?"

What am I to say? Sure, my friend likes horror, but he "likes" beer, too. That doesn't mean he would enjoy being trapped inside a half million-gallon vat at the Anheuser-Busch brewery, forced to drink his way out or die trying. And he would like it even less if, instead of beer, the vat was full of horror.

John Dies at the End is like that, it's the porno you hesitate to recommend. My answer to such friends is always the same: "Are you sure you know what you're getting into? Because imagine an all-you-can-eat buffet. Only instead of food, it's crack cocaine. And instead of crack cocaine, it's horror. And the object in my pants? It is but my erection--an erection I've had ever since I purchased my copy of John Dies at the End... THREE WEEKS AGO. So sure, go right ahead and buy a copy if you dare. Just know that you won't be able to give out any hugs to family members at Thanksgiving."

And if that wasn’t enough. Here's some text from the actual book…

We kicked through the slithering things and stomped up after the dog, just as the stairwell door banged shut on its own. I reached for the knob.

At the same moment it began to melt and transform, turning pink and finally taking the shape of a flaccid penis. It flopped softly against the door, like a man was cramming it through the knob hole from the other side.

I turned back to John and said, "That door cannot be opened."

I believe the word you're looking for is "Add To Cart"


Jonathon Howard said...

I don't know penis doors are maybe too terrifying for me...

Sharp Teeth was a great poem though

Anonymous said...

I loved Heart Shaped Box. Really great ghost story.

Neil Fulwood said...

I am totally and utterly with you on 'Heart Shaped Box'. One of the best first novels in the last twenty years, simple as that. Hill did a signing session at my local Waterstones in the UK earlier this year. I got 'Box', 'Twentieth Century Ghosts' and 'Horns' signed by him in hardback. The man is immensely cool: self-assured, witty, slightly self-deprecating.

If I were to pick my top five non-Stephen-King horror reads, 'Heart Shaped Box' would be number one, followed by:

'The Survivor' by James Herbert. No subtlety whatsoever in Herbert's fiction, and he's got a lot more pompous as he's got older to the point where his last two or three novels were virtually unreadable, but 'Survivor' was at his post-'Rats', pre-self-importance stage; I read it at 15 and it gave me nightmares. No pretentiousness, no bullshit, just straight-ahead scare the piss out of you intensity. In other words, what horror should be.

'I Am Legend' by Richard Matheison - the only novel I know that appears in both the horror and sci-fi sections of my local bookstore. It's horror in that it deals with vampires; sci-fi in that it explains every classic trope of vampire fiction in scientific terms. Mathieson forces you to understand vampirism. He explains. He takes it out of the dark and puts it under the microscope. Result: it still fucking scares you.

'Canon Alberic's Scrapbook' by M.R. James - only a 20 page short story, but he shows up most 300 page novels by packing in a haunting, a provenance, a terrified protagonist trying to make sense of his plight and a terrifying conclusion into such a short example of the genre. M.R. James was elegant, intellectual and darkly ironic - the first time I read 'Canon Alberic', I marvelled at how old-fashioned it was ... then promptly had nightmares about it.

Number five is a short story I can't even remember the name or author of; I read it at eight or nine in an anthology of ghost stories borrowed from the library. As best I can recall, it involves a large house with a lake at the bottom of the garden. Something emerges from the lake. The narrator is initially dubious but encounters the apparation by the end of the story. He tries to flee, but the thing passes through him. I seem to remember that the author describes it as a "green stench". The encounter leaves the narrator changed. It was the literary version of watching your first horror movie and spending the next week hiding under the quilt. The story gave me the shivers in a way that was delicious to begin with but genuinely fucked me up at the end. I wish I could remember what the story was called. I'd love to re-approach it, see if it has the same power.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ JH: That'd be a good tagline "Can your mind withstand the PENIS DOOR!!"

@ PoT: I think it gets better every time you read it to.

@ Neil: Oh man, that was very lucky to meet Hill. Is Locke and Key published in Europe yet? If so I really can't recommend it enough. Even if comics aren't usually your thing L&K is well worth reading.

Just a quick note of clarification though, these weren't my all time favorite non SK reads, just five that have been occupying head space recently.

That's a pretty good Top five you have there though.

I've always wanted to read James Herbert ever since King profiled him in Danse Macarabe. But like Ramsey Campbell his books go out of print fairly quickly in America (And unlike Ramsey Campell he doesn't really have an easily anthologized short story presence to make up for it either).

I Am Legend was one hell of a call. And it's now my mission in life to find a copy of Scrapbook.

The first Horror novels I can remember reading as a child are Bill Brittain's books. Whose Coven Tree trilogy had some pretty wicked stuff in it.

Everything turned out well in the end, but Brittain played rough while doing so. Like in The Wish Giver when an infatuated young girl wished that her crush, a traveling salesman, would put down roots in the county, and inadvertently slowly and agonizingly turned the poor bastard into a tree.

cole roulain said...

you are in the clear, my friend. you need not fear my wrath. you give us a list we can actually use. "sharp teeth" and "john dies at the end" look very interesting. i've read the other titles you chose and, if the quality of all these choices is as consistent as i suspect, i am sure i will enjoy them a great deal.

Jinx said...

I've been toying with buying Heart Shaped Box for ages, I keep seeing it but never picking it up. But, I have just bought it now after your recommendation. Looking forward to it.

Matt Keeley said...

I don't know how you feel about classic ghost stories, but Neil Fulwood's recommendation is right on.

Susan Hill's The Woman in Black is a more recent James-like ghost story. Not only is it literate and scary, it seriously addresses the nature of evil. I believe there's a movie coming out next year. Read the book and beat the crowds.

Peter Straub can be quite good as well. Portions of Ghost Story stick in my head five years after I finished reading it.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ cole: Phew. I have one more list based post planned before the end of 31 days, this one concerning Pumpkin Beer. Hopefully you'll find it useful as well.

Would be interested in what you make of Sharp Teeth and John if you ever pick them up.

@ Jinx: Aw Jinx, I'm touched. Let me know what you think of it. That way if you don't like it I can send you a formal letter of apology.

@ Keele: I'm definitely on the hunt for Woman In Black now.

I've always had a hard time finding an "in" with Straub. Though I have wanted to read Ghost Story, and his last title looked interesting and was blurbed by more or less every author I like.

cole roulain said...

a few things:

the pumpkin beer list does me no good, as i do not drink, but i am sure it will come in handy for someone.

"the woman in black" is a killer. there is already a great adaptation that was made for british television. the dvd is out of print and extremely expensive but if you can find a way to see it i highly recommend it. chilling.

if you guys like classic horror tales for your mobile device, check this out: http://www.vintagehorror.com/node/167
usually this show is old-time horror radio shows but this is part one of a fantastic reading of algernon blackwood's "the willows", reputed to be h.p. lovecraft's favorite supernatural tale. once you're at the site you can easily get to part two.

happy halloween!

Biba Pickles said...

I was just ranting and raving about how excited I am for The Walking Dead. Yet again you have read my mind.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Cole: Awesome site. And thanks to your's and Keele's recommedations I ordered The Woman In Black Today.

@ Biba: It's what I do.