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  • Jeff Somers 4:00 pm on 2017/10/30 Permalink
    Tags: , bentley little, bird box, blindness, , carrion comfort, , , , dathan auerbach, dawn, , exquisite corpose, , ghost story, , hell house, , , , jack ketchum, jose saramago, josh malarian, koji suzuki, lionel shriver, , , , night film, , penal, , peter straub, poppy z. brite, ramsey campbell, , richard matheson, ring, rosemary’s baby, scott smith, , something wicked this way comes, , the face that must die, the girl next door, , the ruins, the walking, , , we need to talk about kevin,   

    25 of the Most TERRIFYING Horror Books Ever 

    Literature can be a moving, beautiful artistic experience. Skilled writers can bring us face to face with scenarios and emotions we might never encounter in real life, expanding our understanding of both the universe and our fellow man.

    It can also scare the living daylights out of us. Horror novels don’t always get the respect they deserve; just because something is scary doesn’t mean it’s not “literary” or well-crafted art, but if the core purpose of a story is perceived to be “making you soil yourself in fear” for some reason that story won’t get much respect. Of course, a story can be terrifying without necessarily being great art. If your goal is to be so terrified of a book that you put it in the freezer and book a hotel room for a few days, here are twenty-five books that might not necessarily be the best horror novels, but are certainly the scariest.

    Literally Everything Edgar Allan Poe Wrote
    Poe had a knack for infusing everything he wrote with visceral dread. His characters and narrators tend towards the mentally fragile and the insane, people who are haunted by things that might be literal or might be manifestations of their unsound thought processes. Either way, stories like The Tell-Tale Heart or The Cask of Amontillado retain their power to petrify more than a century-and-a-half after their publication because Poe tapped into the fundamental fear we all have that the world and people around us are not what they seem.

    House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski
    Put simply, House of Leaves is one of the most frightening books ever written. From a fairly standard horror premise (a house is revealed to be slightly larger on the inside than is strictly possible) Danielewski spins out a dizzying tale involving multiple unreliable narrators, typographic mysteries, and looping footnotes that manage to drag the reader into the story and then make them doubt their own perception of that story. It’s a trick no one else has managed to such dramatic effect, making this novel more of a participatory experience than any other work of literature—which, considering the dark madness at its core, isn’t necessarily a pleasant experience.

    Rosemary’s Baby, by Ira Levin
    The film adaptation has supplanted the novel in pop culture, but the novel was a huge hit for Levin—and the film actually sticks to the plot and dialog so closely you really do get a feel for the novel from watching it. The story of a young woman who becomes pregnant after a nightmare gets its terror not from the well-known twist of the baby’s parentage (hint: not her husband), but from the increasing isolation Rosemary experiences as her suspicions about everyone around her grow. So many threads tie into the terror, from the emotional and economic uncertainty of a struggling young couple to the simple fear any mother has for their child, all expertly knotted into a story that will keep you awake at night.

    The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson
    When you think about clichés in horror fiction, the haunted house is at the top of the list, an idea done so often it’s frequently an unintentional parody. Shirley Jackson, however, was no ordinary writer, and she takes the concept of the haunted house and perfects it. The Haunting of Hill House is simply the best haunted house story ever written. The scares come not just from the malevolent actions of a house that seems sentient and angry, but from the claustrophobia we experience from the novel’s unreliable narrator, Eleanor, whose descent into madness is slow and excruciating and only begins after we’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by the seeming relatability of her early persona.

    Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
    The great sage Pat Benatar once sang that hell is for children. Golding’s account of children stranded on an island without supplies or adult supervision is absolutely terrifying for one simple reason: there’s nothing supernatural going on. It’s a story about insufficiently socialized humans descending into savagery because that’s our fundamental nature. You look into the abyss at the center of this novel and the abyss looks back.

    We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver
    Another story centered on the terror of children, the horror inherent in this story comes from the fact that the human beings we create eventually become their own people—and possibly strangers to us. Not everyone has a close and loving relationship with their parents, and while the idea that your own kids might grow up to be criminals isn’t pleasant, most people assume they will at least recognize themselves in their kids. But what if you don’t? What if your child—your child—is a blank monster?

    Night Film, by Marisha Pessl
    In the Internet Age it’s pretty easy to fall down a rabbit hole of pop culture obsession, and there are still dark areas of culture that haven’t had a wiki created around them. Pessl’s story about a mysterious underground filmmaker whose movies may or may not contain hints of dark power and horrific events and the journalist who becomes obsessed with him asks the reader how you can be certain there’s a clear line between fact and fiction, then, once that wedge of doubt is established, presents a terrifying fiction to fill that space.

    Ring, by Kōji Suzuki
    The novel that inspired the horror films of the same name, the premise is well-known: anyone who watches a mysterious videotape of creepy images is informed that they will die in seven days—and then they die. The investigation into the tape and how to avoid this grim fate leads to what remains an incredibly shocking backstory involving rape, smallpox, and a forgotten well. Technology has shifted, but the terror never really relied on VHS tapes—it’s the concept that ideas can be deadly, that simply by experiencing something you can be doomed, that’s so horrifying.

    Penpal, by Dathan Auerbach
    Pivoting on the idea that we’re often blinded by the details we can see, making it impossible to see the bigger picture, Auerbach’s debut began life as a series of creepypasta stories on the Internet. The episodic nature of the story is ideal for the effect he achieves; the narrator tells of being a young boy and sending a penpal request attached to a balloon with his classmates, including his best friend Josh. He doesn’t receive a response until nearly a year later, and his life takes a turn for the bizarre shortly afterwards. A series of tragic and strange things happen to him and everyone around him, building a sense of dread that is only increased when the truth is revealed.

    Carrion Comfort, by Dan Simmons
    Simmons’ novel follows several groups of people who have The Ability, a psychic power that allows them to take control of others from a distance and force them to perform any action. When one of their puppets murders someone, the person with The Ability is invigorated and strengthened. Simmons doesn’t shy away from the implications of this power on history and the future, and the book will destroy any sense of security you have in the world around you, revealed to possibly be simply a worldwide board game for those who can control us all like pawns.

    Pet Sematary, by Stephen King
    Several of King’s books could be on this list, but he frequently blunts the terror of his stories with the richness and humanity of his characterizations and the sprawl of his narratives. Pet Sematary manages to be his most terrifying novel by dint of its simple, devastating concept: a magical cemetery where buried things come back to a sort-of life—but aren’t quite what they once were. From that simple idea King ramps up to a climax that gets under your skin in a fundamental way most horror stories fail to.

    The Girl Next Door, by Jack Ketchum
    Horror often pivots on the corruption or warping of societal norms and rules; once you feel like you can’t rely on the natural social order, literally anything is possible. Ketchum’s disturbing novel about the unimaginable abuse suffered by two sisters when they are forced to live with their mentally unstable aunt and her three savage sons is based on real events, but it’s the central theme of an adult giving official sanction to the atrocities that makes this story so utterly horrifying.

    Blindness, by Jose Saramago
    Helplessness is a key factor in a lot of horror; most people labor under the delusion that they are in charge of their destiny and their lives, and horror is often effective simply by reminding us how little control we actually have. An epidemic of blindness leaves an entire city’s population secluded in a mental institution as society within and without crumbles. The brutality and descent into animalistic madness is all too realistic, and Saramago manages to capture the terrifying confusion and helplessness experienced by people in a society that no longer functions.

    Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy
    McCarthy’s entire writing style and technique is terrifying; the man could write a grocery list that leaves the reader dripping with dread. This tale of extreme, ruthless, and pervasive violence in the American west emerges from under a sheen of the unreal to become all too real, and the greatest trick McCarthy manages here is by making the single most terrifying aspect of the story—the main character’s death—the one act of brutality he doesn’t depict, leaving the terrors contained within that scene to our imagination—which is infinitely worse than anything he might have conjured.

    Exquisite Corpse, by Poppy Z. Brite
    Brite’s most famous novel follows two serial killers who initially aim to kill each other but, upon discovering a fellow traveler, instead engage in a spree of horrific sex and murder. The matter-of-fact way the pair concocts a plan to kidnap, torture, and then consume a beautiful gay man named Tran is the sort of stuff that could simply be shocking, but Brite continuously considers the value of existence and what we could all be doing with the time we have left—time we too often imagine to be infinite when, of course, we’re all going to be consumed someday by something.

    Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
    Bradbury’s epic rumination on childhood and adulthood tells the story of a magical circus come to a small town, offering the residents dark gifts they weren’t aware they wanted—most notably the carousel that can change your physical age, making boys who yearn to be adults grow older, and middle-aged men and women who yearn for their lost youth to grow younger. Bradbury knows the worst horror in the world is losing the natural order of your life, and perfectly captures the combination of dread and excitement everyone experiences as they crack the mysteries separating them from adulthood.

    Hell House, by Richard Matheson
    What Matheson taps into in this classic haunted house story is the universal fear that we are already lost, already broken. Hired to investigate the existence of an afterlife by exploring the notoriously haunted Belasco House, a team moves in and slowly succumbs to the influence of the entity within—an entity that only uses their own weaknesses and secret shames against them. Their descent into the depths of horror is too close for comfort as a result—for everyone reading the book knows all too well that they have weaknesses, and secret shames, as well.

    The Face That Must Die, by Ramsey Campbell
    Campbell wrote a number of books that are absolutely terrifying, but this one stands out in the way he forces the reader to completely inhabit the mind of a very sick man, Horridge. As he fixates on an overweight man living in his neighborhood, the reader is forced to see the world consistently through his eyes. Everything is off-beat, everything drips with ominous meaning and horrific intent. Horridge sees the entire world as a horror that must be destroyed, and for a while the reader is carried along on that uncomfortable point of view, leaving them exhausted and terrified.

    Haunted, by Chuck Palahniuk
    Told in alternating chapters that depict a group of aspiring writers voluntarily secluded in an unusual writer’s retreat and the stories they’re writing, Haunted not only contains one of the most disturbing short stories ever published (“Guts,” which caused several people to faint when Palahniuk read it in public) it’s also a deep dive into madness as the reality-TV obsessed characters start sabotaging their experiment in a quest for fame. The sense of suffocating dread that Palahniuk applies grows so incrementally you don’t notice it until you suddenly realize you’ve been holding your breath for five pages.

    Dawn, by Octavia Butler
    Although technically science fiction, this story of the human race centuries after a devastating apocalypse is straight terror in many ways. Lilith is one of the last surviving humans, awakened on an alien ship. The aliens, three-sexed and many-tentacled, offer Lilith a deal: they will help her repopulated the Earth, but their price is to breed with humanity to gain humanity’s “talent” for cancer (and the creative possibilities it offers) while blunting their self-destructive tendencies. The horror imbued in each page is subtle, but it exerts tremendous mental pressure as you progress through the story.

    The Walking, by Bentley Little
    Far from just another tale of zombies, Little’s story of a man whose father rises from death after a stroke sizzles with a sense of doom long before the reader understands what’s at stake. Discovering that many families are hiding zombie relatives, and have been for some time, private investigator Miles Huerdeen digs into the mystery—and what he finds is easily the scariest stuff about zombies you’ll ever read. If you watch zombie movies and shows and laugh at their shuffling, mindless threat, this book will change your mind.

    The Ruins, by Scott Smith
    Smith’s story is deceptively simple: a group of tourists in Mexico go off in search of an archaeological site where a friend has set up camp; they find a pyramid covered in odd vines, the land around it salted and barren. Once on the pyramid, they discover the dead body of their friend, covered in the vines, and that the nearby villagers have arrived with guns to force them to remain on the pyramid. The vines are one of those simple monsters that seem so easy to defeat at first blush, yet the inexorable doom that descends on the characters slowly, grindingly proves otherwise.

    Bird Box, by Josh Malerman
    Malerman’s intense story of a world that slowly crumbles as people go murderously insane after seeing mysterious creatures—referred to simply as The Problem—is so scary because the reader only has the information that the characters have, and that’s not much. The world collapses and the survivors can only seal themselves off from the outside and try to avoid the worst, leading to a torturous wearing down of hope that leaves the reader defenseless against the horrible images Malerman conjures.

    Ghost Story, by Peter Straub
    A good old-fashioned ghost story is designed to terrify and entertain, and Straub’s breakthrough novel does both. Five old friends gather regularly to trade ghost stories, but when one of them dies mysteriously and the survivors begin to dream of their own deaths, a secret from their past is revealed—and the simple pleasures of a ghost story are explored to their most frightening ends by a master of the form.

    Beloved, by Toni Morrison
    If you don’t think of Beloved as a horror story, you haven’t been paying attention. Morrison’s skill as a writer is in full effect as she draws the reader into what is assuredly one of the saddest and most horrifying stories committed to paper. There’s no more terrifying sequence than the long slide into madness as escaped slave Sethe, convinced the young woman calling herself Beloved is the daughter she murdered in an attempt to keep her safe from slavers come to reclaim them, grows steadily thinner and weaker as she gives everything she has—including food—to Beloved, who grows steadily larger.

    Did we leave off any truly terrifying books? Let us know in the comments.

    The post 25 of the Most TERRIFYING Horror Books Ever appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 5:00 pm on 2017/05/23 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , i'm huge, james clavell, , , l.a. confidential, , , night film, pillars of the earth, reamde, shogun,   

    10 Doorstoppers that Aren’t Literary Mysteries 

    The Doorstopper: though common in the fantasy genre, in literature these books—topping 600 pages or so, heavy to carry around, and difficult to read in bed—are sometimes more of an exercise in expansive character and thematic immersion than thrilling potboilers. Think War and Peace or Infinite Jest, rewarding literary tomes that make you work for it.

    That’s not always the case, though. The ten books on this list are huge, yes, but they’re far from the traditional definition of literary fiction—they’re exciting, thrilling, terrifying, and, yes, very, very long.

    Reamde, by Neal Stephenson
    Stephenson doesn’t seem to write anything that’s short and sweet these days, as all of his books written in the last 20 years are pretty much doorstoppers. 2011’s Reamde is in some ways the ideal Stephenson novel—long, detailed, and thrilling, telling a story that combines an online virtual world, gold farming, and real-life murder and kidnapping that make you forget just how long a book it is.

    Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett
    Follett’s famous pivot from straight-ahead spy thrillers to historical fiction is certainly heavy enough to break a toe if dropped on your foot, but there isn’t a dull moment in this ambitious story. You might learn that it chronicles the building of a cathedral in a town in England in the 12th century (during a period known as The Anarchy) and think it’s got to be a tedious literary affair—but far from it. It’s closer to Game of Thrones minus the dragons, and thrilling stuff..

    The Crow Girl, by Erik Axl Sund
    Creepy and disturbing, this huge novel gets under your skin and ruins your sleep. In modern-day Stockholm, detective Jeanette Kihlberg investigates the murder of a young boy who was horribly abused and disfigured. Jeanette works—and flirts—with child psychologist Sofia Zetterlund, who is not exactly what she seems. It’s dark, it’s violent, and not once does it feel like a doorstopper.

    Musashi, by Eiji Yoshikawa
    Translated from the Japanese, this novel, based on the life of the very real and very awesome Miyamoto Musashi, is not so much a biography as a samurai epic. Musashi lived in the 17th century and first mastered, and then revolutionized, the art of fighting with swords, becoming the most famous swordmaster in Japanese history. His life story makes for an exciting tale of adventure and swordplay, two things that are almost never boring.

    The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
    Dumas was paid by the word for this serialized novel, and he made hay with that arrangement. Despite its length, there’s not a single bit of this classic adventure novel you want to cut (though there are various abridged editions out there, you owe it to yourself to read the whole thing), and it remains an exciting tale everyone should read at least once in their lives, the story of a man who is falsely accused and imprisoned, only to escapes, find a fortune, and return under an assumed identity to exact his monstrous revenge.

    L.A. Confidential, by James Ellroy
    Ellroy is well-known for lengthy novels that perfectly straddles the line between pulp and literary, offering up dense, lush noir streaked with blood and black violence. L.A. Confidential may be his greatest achievement, combining deft character work with a bleak view of society and the people who populate it as it traces the complicated threads of corruption stemming from the investigation of a bloody massacre in 1950s Los Angeles.

    Flood Tide, by Clive Cussler
    Cussler’s novels are brisk adventure stories that combine well-researched historical detail with fanciful modern touches—and regular cameos by Cussler himself. That has never stopped him from writing some pretty lengthy novels, and Flood Tide—the 14th Dirk Pitt adventure—may be his longest. Trust us, you’ll never notice.

    Orient, by Christopher Bollen
    A young man arrives in the small town of Orient Point on Long Island, where the money and glamor that has afflicted areas like the Hamptons has just begun to encroach on the old way of life. When a series of killings shock the tight-knit community, it’s easy to point a finger the stranger in town—but no one in Orient Point lacks for dark secrets. While some have called this one “literary”, it doesn’t lack for suspense or lurid thrills—both of which keep it humming along, despite its length.

    Night Film , by Marisha Pessl
    Terrifying and disturbing, Pessl’s long literary horror novel plays with your mind in ways both fair and unfair. A troubled, disgraced journalist begins investigating the death of an underground filmmaker’s brilliant daughter and falls down a rabbit hole of corruption and possible black magic. You’re never quite sure what’s actually happening—or what’s coming next—meaning the book is over in a blink, despite being thick enough to hurt someone.

    Shōgun, by James Clavell
    Clavell’s classic is another one that welcomes comparisons to Game of Thrones, except set in the real world, in an 17th century Japan boiling with politics, violence, lust, and sword fights. Thirty years after it was originally published, it remains an incredibly popular book—and a fast, thrilling read for every one of its more than 1,000 pages. The story is wonderfully complicated, but Clavell’s prose never leaves you in doubt as to each character’s motivations and loyalties (if any) as he pulls you into a sweeping, romanticized epic of the past.


    The post 10 Doorstoppers that Aren’t Literary Mysteries appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 5:00 pm on 2014/11/12 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , night film, these books will blow your mind,   

    Four Brain-Bending Doorstoppers that Will Challenge, Intrigue, and Possibly Break You 

    Marisha Pessl's Night FilmIf you’re like me, you spent some variable period of time in your youth thinking you were smart, perhaps even some sort of unrecognized genius. And then you had an encounter with true genius—or the yawning abyss of your own dumbness—and had to issue a retraction. A retraction no one saw, because no one was taking your claims of genius seriously anyway. Perhaps, like me, your brush with true genius came in the form of a book, but not just any book. One of those thick, heavy tomes with a thousand pages of dense, twisty prose that left you humbled, scratching your head, and not entirely sure you “got” it. If you didn’t encounter one of those books, this is your chance: here are four huge books that will hurt your brain—but in a good way.

    Night Film, by Marisha Pessl
    Night Film is an imperfect book, but what it gets right it gets right. The spooky, creepy story of a legendary reclusive filmmaker who may or may not be involved with black magic and/or literally committing terrible crimes for verisimilitude in his films and the disgraced journalist who investigates the death of the filmmaker’s daughter, Night Film pulls off a head-spinning trick by establishing a very real-feeling universe that it then begins to destabilize, until you’re not sure what’s real and what’s not. Using a few modern multimedia tricks like reproducing webpages and articles right there on the page, that link out to extra information and images or videos on the web, the whole book slowly warps into an unreliable narrator that still somehow feels grounded in reality. The ending, on the surface, feels surprisingly reasonable—for a moment. Then you realize you don’t actually know if you can trust the words you just read. It’s one of those maddening narratives where you’re certain all the necessary information is right there in the pages, but you can’t seem to solve the puzzle.

    House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski
    When it comes to books that have the power to break brains, it begins and ends with House of Leaves. Part haunted house story, part celebration of the unreliable narrator, part brain-destroying puzzle you will never solve, this book is so crammed full of puzzles, wordplay, and downright trickery that endless Internet debates have sprung up around a single word choice. Everything about this book, from the layout on the page to the footnotes that circle back and lead you on a mazelike trip through pages you’ve already read, to the anagrams and mini-riddles that pepper every paragraph, gives the impression that the story itself is just the proverbial iceberg tip—and the roots go down into a deep, dark, place you might regret traveling to. In fact, the debate about what’s real, what’s imagined, and who, exactly, is telling the story in the first place continues to be lively and unlikely to be solved any time soon.

    Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace
    If you’ve never read Infinite Jest, it’s likely the only thing you know about it is that it’s incredibly long and concerns, to some extent, tennis. While both of these things are true, the book is complex, filled with a huge cast of characters who dip in and out of the narrative, and constructs what is essentially an alternate universe to our own that nevertheless feels absolutely real. While not as formally perverse as House of Leaves, Infinite Jest is a book that has several layers, and on first read you can only hope to understand the surface story, about an “Entertainment” that is so entertaining people starve to death watching it over and over; a tennis prodigy who loses the ability to express himself; and a future where time is subsidized, resulting in things like the Year of Glad, where “Glad” refers to the brand of trash bags. The rest of it is buried in the dense prose, clever plotting, and yards of complex and well-researched footnotes.

    Haunted, by Chuck Palahniuk
    Even if you haven’t read Haunted, you may have heard about one of the stories it contains: “Guts,” which is so disturbing in its imagery people reportedly walked out of several readings Palahniuk gave before the book published. The story of a writer’s retreat that takes a left turn into horror, there are two tracks to the book: One the tale of the trapped writers, who are locked inside an ancient theater with food and water and other comforts and told they cannot leave until three months have passed—time in which to write their masterpieces—and the other the short stories each writer produces while at the retreat. To say things go sour would imply you’re unfamiliar with Palahniuk’s work, but understanding how it all ties together is something else entirely. In fact, considering that the characters in the book are all obviously self-sabotaging, the best question you can ask after reading this book is simple: Why is it titled Haunted?

    What’s the most mind-bending book you’ve ever read?

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