Monday, August 2, 2010

Things that Scare the Crap Out of Me

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Julie Dao, whom I love and have the privilege of critiquing with, did a post back in March called "books the scare the crap out of me" and quite frankly I don't know how I missed that post at the time. Her excerpts scared the crap out of ME! In particular was her description of the great book The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, which I'm reading right now because of Julie's post. This book is fantastic and SUPER creepy. I am going to reprint the excerpt Julie posted because it is so creeptacular that it was what made me want to read the book (Julie said that scene gave her the heebie jeebies for a week; it did me too!) (pp. 227-228):
My eyes closed almost as soon as he left the car, and when I opened them again I found I was curled up on the empty seat like a child, with my long cotton skirt pulled over my ankles. Someone was sitting on the opposite bench reading a newspaper... I couldn't see anything of his upper body or face.

... The man's legs were crossed, and he wore immaculate black suit trousers and fine black silk socks... there was something wrong with those shoes, or with the feet they contained, although I couldn't understand what made me feel this. I thought that a strange man shouldn't have come in while I was sleeping - there was something unpleasant about that, too, and I hoped he had not been watching me sleep...

The man behind the newspaper was so still that I began to tremble in spite of myself. After a while I realized what was frightening me.

I had been awake for many long minutes by now, but during all the time I had been watching and listening, he had not turned a single page of his newspaper.

Now, I am a big scaredy cat when it comes to scary movies. I find scary things so unpleasant that I have been known to shake. I watched The Exorcist in fast-forward because I couldn’t stand it when I was a kid. Even non-scary things scare me. Remember that movie The Dark Crystal? My uncle took me to see it when I was a kid and I had to “use the bathroom” during a dark and scary scene. And the Blair Witch movie? Shook in my seat and focused on the popcorn in my lap. I’ll only watch scary movies now if they’re old and if there’s potential to laugh at them for being so bad (like Halloween).

However, reading scary stories is another thing altogether. I LOVE THEM. And it’s easy too-- any kind of scary tension is enough to set me on edge.

The best scary stories for me are ones that have a twist so hideously heinous that it not only scares me, but appalls me. One of my favorite books is one I picked up years ago when I was a teenager called Alfred Hitchcock's Stories They Wouldn’t Let Me Do On TV, part two. I still have this, but I got it used, and alas, it and its companions are out of print. If you ever find this in a used book shop, GET IT. (There was also one called Stories that Scare Even Me by Hitchcock). In the copy I have, the best story is one called The October Game by Ray Bradbury, and ooooh the last line still gives me shivers:

“Then.... some idiot turned on the lights.”

I think that’s all I even need to say.

Another book that scared the beejeezus out of me was HG Well’s The Time Machine. Wells was a fantastic writer and I’ve read most of his stuff, but man those Morlocks gave me the creeps like nothing else. I had to put the book down several times. Note that the movie Morlocks did NOT scare me....well, that’s a lie since I didn’t see them. I wouldn’t watch it. The book had done enough.

Stephen King’s The Langoliers also sticks out in my mind as hideously scary -- I have repressed most of it now but I recall really feeling shaky over the whole running from some unknown creep that was going to eat them. Of course, the clown in It was hideous and frightening. The trick is not to reveal what the dark evil is too soon in a story because once you do, it’s not as interesting. Dean Koontz’ The Watchers, one of my most favorite books scared the crap out of me at first because you didn’t know what was chasing the protag, and that was bad, bad, bad.

Here’s a list of what works to scare me. Admittedly, it doesn’t take much. But here you go:

  • Drawing out the tension
  • Not revealing the bad thing until the last minute
  • Ghosts
  • Hideous engineered beasts that are cobbled together like the orc-things in LOTR
  • Sarah Palin
  • Anything unseen (ala Blaire Witch)
  • Twisted or appallingly dark punchlines, anything that is a perversion of the natural order (see the Ray Bradbury story I mentioned above).
  • Anything that wants to eat people
What are your favorite scary stories? What gives you the creeps in a story?


Linda G. said...

Good topic!

Let's see...almost anything by Stephen King. He seems to know just where my fear buttons are, and never fails to hit them. Have you read his ON WRITING? Terrified me! (Okay, just joshing with that one. But everything else.)

The thing that most gives me the creeps in a story, whether it's a book or a movie, is not seeing the bogeyman. The idea of some hidden danger waiting to surprise you (like in the movie Alien--I could cope with my fear much better once I got a good look at the monster) gets to me more than anything.

Jck said...

OMG Sierra! I also hate scary movies, can't watch them, I'm a coward! But scary books... well, I love those!
I read almost everything Stephen King and some Edgar Allan Poe.
One thing you forgot to mention in the list, at least I get the creeps, but total darkness is one of the scariest!

Suzi McGowen said...

There's a scene in Dean Koontz's first Odd Thomas book that gets me.

Odd Thomas can see creatures that seem to feed on impending disaster. They also seem to have the ability to kill anyone that can see them. So when Odd Thomas sees them start to gather in huge numbers in his town, he knows something Very Bad is going to happen.

Every time he sees them, he has to react as though he can't see them.

Actually, come to think of it, almost every seen in that book got me. I guess that's why I've only read it once.

Anne R. Allen said...

I misread #4 to say "hideous engineered BREASTS..." Those really scare the hell out of me(& SP is an engineered phenomenon I find even scarier.) I'm not into most horror, and if I really want to get scared I just watch the news, but I love Alfred Hitchcock-type suspense.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Linda, I have to agree that NOT SEEING the bogeyman is the worst ever. It makes me shake!

JCK - total darkness hides lots of things!! Creeps!

Suzi - that is super scary sounding. Now I'll have to read it :)

Anne - ha ha on the news, that scares me too. Did you see the cover of Time magazine this week? Holy Krakow!!

Amber Tidd Murphy said...

I love the Amityville Horrors... that movie is beyond SCARY. (But Ryan Reynolds is beyond hot.)

Oh, wait... you meant books? ;)

Simon C. Larter said...

I am afraid of nothing. Okay, maybe the monsters from Aliens would put a little fright in me in a dark alley, but that's about it.

I am engineering a hideous, flesh-eating, invisible, Sarah-Palin-esque monster as we speak to send to your house for Halloween. >:)

Anonymous said...

Yea totally scary!!!
Like the reincarnation of Gerbils.

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