Horror

Halloween has past* but since horror is one of my favorite genres, I figured I'd list out some good examples of horror books & movies because it's always fun to scare yourself witless. When it comes to film, horror is one of the more difficult genres to execute effectively and, as such, the genuinely great horror films are few and far between. What's left are a series of downright creepy, but flawed, films. Because of their flaws, many horror films are often overlooked and underrated and these are the films I'd like to mention here. Books, on the other hand, tend to be overlooked and underrated as a medium. Horror books doubly so.

Film
I've never been a fan of the classic 1950's horror films like the Mummy, Dracula, or Frankenstein... They're not without their charm, but when it comes to the classics, I prefer their source materiel to the films. For classics, I would mention Halloween (1978, it started the lackluster "slasher" sub-genre, but it is an excellent film, particularly it's soundtrack), Jaws (1975, another excellent soundtrack here, but there was plenty else that made people afraid to go back into the water again...), Psycho (1960, the sudden shifts and feints coupled with, again, a distinctive and effective soundtrack, make for a brutally effective film), Alien (1979, "In space, no one can hear you scream." Director Ridley Scott really knew how to turn the screws with this one), The Exorcist (1973, The power of Christ compels you... to wet yourself in despair whilst watching this film) and The Shining (1980, Kubrick's interpretation of King's masterwork is significantly different, but it is also one of the few examples of an adaptation that works well in it's own right).

But those are all films we know and love. What about the one's we haven't seen? Director John Carpenter built an impressive string of neglected horror films throughout the 1980s and early 1990s (a pity that he has since lost his touch). Aside from the classic Halloween, Carpenter directed the 1982 remake of The Thing, which was brilliantly updated and downright creepy. It has its fill of scary moments, not the least of which is the cryptic and ambiguous ending. He followed that with Christine. Adapted from the novel by Stephen King, Carpenter was able to make a silly story creepy with the sheer will of his technical mastery (not his best, but impressive nonetheless). His 1987 film Prince of Darkness was flawed but undeniably effective. Many have not heard of In the Mouth of Madness, but it has become one of my favorite horror films of the 1990s.

If you're not scared away by subtitles or foreign films, check out Dario Argento's seminal 1977 gorefest Suspiria, which boasts opening and ending scenes amongst the best in the genre. Argento's rival, Lucio Fulci, also has an impressive series of gory horror classics, such as the 1980 film The Gates of Hell. Both Argento and Fulci have an impressive body of work and are worth checking out if you don't mind them being in Italian...

The 1970's and early 1980's were an excellent period in horror filmmaking. Excluding the films already mentioned (a significant portion of the classics are from the 1970s), you may want to check out the 1980 movie The Changeling, an excellent ghost story, or perhaps the disturbing 1981 film The Incubus. And how could I write about horror movies without mentioning my beloved 1979 cheesy creepfest Phantasm. Other 70s flicks to check out: The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Dawn of the Dead (1978), Salem's Lot (a 1979 TV miniseries based on Stephen King's book), The Omen (1976), Carrie (1976), Blue Sunshine (1976, almost forgotten today), The Wicker Man (1973), The Legend of Hell House (1973, a personal favorite, adapted from a novel by Richard Matheson, who we'll get to in a moment), and of course we can't forget that lovable flesh-wearing cannibal, Leatherface, in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).

Ok, so I think I've inundated you with enough movies, hopefully many of which you've never heard of, for now so let's move on to books (naturally, I could go on and on and on just listing out good horror flicks, but this is at least a good start).

Literature
My knowledge of Horror literature is less extensive than horror film, but I have a fair base to work from. We all know the classics, Dracula, Frankenstein, and the works of Edgar Allen Poe, but there are many overlooked horror stories floating around as well.

M.R. James (1862-1936) is one of the originators of the modern Ghost Story, and there are several exemplary examples of this sub-genre in his oeuvre. His works are public domain, so follow the link above for online versions... I especially enjoyed the creepy Count Magnus.

Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House is a classic that is rightly praised as one of the finest horror novels ever written.

Richard Matheson's brilliant I Am Legend is a study of isolation and grim irony that turns the traditional vampire story on its head. This might be one of the most influential novels you've never heard of, as there have been many derivatives, particularly in film.

H.P. Lovecraft is another fantastic short story author whose work has been tremendously influential to modern horror. His infamous Cthulhu Mythos and Necronomicon were ingenious creations, and many have seized on them and attempted to follow in his footsteps. Indeed, many even believe his fictional Necronomicon to be real!

You might have noticed Stephen King's name mentioned a few times already, and there is a reason so many of his books are turned into movies. I've never been a huge King fan, but The Shining is among the best horror novels I've read. I've always preferred Dean Koontz (sadly he has absolutely no good film adaptations), who wrote such notable horror staples as Phantoms, Midnight, and The Servants of Twilight. Both Koontz and King can be hit-or-miss, but when they're on, there's no one better.

Other books of note: Clive Barker's The Hellbound Heart (which was adapted into the 1987 film Hellraiser) is an excellent short read (about 120 pages), and some of his longer works, such as The Great and Secret Show and Imajica, are also good. F. Paul Wilson's The Keep is one of the few books that has ever truly scared me while reading it. I've always found William Peter Blatty's novel, The Exorcist, to be more effective than the movie (and that is saying a lot!). Brian Lumly's Necroscope series is an interesting take on the vampire legend, and his Titus Crow series builds on Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos nicely.

Well, there you have it. That should keep you busy for the next few years...

* One would think that this post should have been made last week, and one would be right, but then one would also not be too familiar with how we do things here at Kaedrin. Note that the best movies of 2001 is due sometime around mid-2004. Heh. This whole being timely with content thing is something I have always had difficulty with and need to work on, but that is another topic for another post...