To be Afraid

“There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart- an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime.” Poe- The Fall of the House of Usher

I was reading reviews on Goodreads for Tananarive Due’s The Good House and Brandon Massey’s  Dark Corner. People called them scary which bothered me a lot. Both stories are interesting, well written and put a unique spin on a theme that’s been done to death but there’s nothing scary about them. It got me thinking. Recently, far too often, I browse the horror section looking for truly creepy books, find a winner and end up disappointed by the lack of fear it invoked in me.

The last movies that delightfully made my skin shudder was Devil and I wasn’t even going to see it because M. Night Shyamalan had so thoroughly mutilated  The Last Airbender. But before Devil, I can’t remember a movie that had me sleeping with the lights on. What happened to movies like The Ring, The Grudge, Dead Silence, Darkness, Quarantine and The Descent? Far too often people are mistaking gore for horror. Gore is not scary, it’s just gross and often unnecessary. It’s a tool to enhance horror not replace it.

I tried out Peter Straub’s Shadowland as well as his novel Black House written with Stephen King, Sarah Langan’s The Missing, and Jonathan Maberry’s Bad Moon Rising because reader reviews said they were frightening tales. I didn’t find any of them scary and couldn’t get into Bad Moon Rising. Richard Laymon’s Darkness, Tell Us was like a bad teen slasher flick with an extraordinarily pointless ending. I also tried John Saul’s House of Reckoning and wasn’t the least bit disturbed.

I do enjoy Bentley Little’s novels. He holds nothing back and the endings are never predicable. With his books, I often cheat and read the last page because you never know who’s going to die. The atmosphere and the scenes ensnare you so even though you are afraid of what happens next, you’re compelled to turn the page. My favorite is The Ignored. Although the protagonist is often unlikable and whinny, the story is brilliant and the ending is satisfying even though he never answers why those things were happening to the characters.Though, I do like the writing style and the worlds created by Kim Harrison, Laurell K. Hamilton and L.A. Banks, I don’t consider them when discussing frightening tales because I don’t think the authors intend the books to be scary.

 It’s become so hard to find new books where I reach the end breathless and amazed at how beautifully macabre the story was. Not only were the scenes and situation frightening but the atmosphere had me feeling like rough finger were scrapping my spine. I don’t often want to do the mental gymnastics required to read authors like Edgar Allen Poe and Henry James but I also don’t want a storyline that doesn’t give my brain a little exercise.Frightening situation are great but a terrifying atmosphere is gold. 

  “Never did tombs look so ghastly white. Never did cypress, or yew, or juniper so seem the embodiment of funeral gloom. Never did trees wave or rustle so ominously. Never did bough creak so mysteriously, and never did the far-away howling of dogs send such a woeful presage though the night.” Stoker- Dracula