Friday 1 October 2010

Fear on Friday

What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read?

I ask this question because I’m currently the Keeper for my Call of Cthulhu pbem and as such, am delving into the realms of horror literature for hints and tips on what scares people.

There is, however, one problem. None of the stuff I’m reading really frightens me. Nothing unnerves me, nothing sends a chill down my spine. I go to bed after reading them and my dreams are normal.

Is it just me? Perhaps it's because, being a bit of a rationalist, I don't really believe in ghosts, the supernatural and paranormal happenings.

However, I like to know what scares people because it means that I can tailor my Keepering more precisely to achieve a truly spine-chilling and memorable experience.

Note that I’m not including films in this impromptu survey – they’re a different medium. Books is what I’m interested in today.

So what’s given you goosebumps after reading? What would you never read at night? What title truly encapsulates fear in your opinion?


  1. Alan Moore's Swamp Thing got pretty creepy in spots. I can't really remember which parts were scary (but they're all good). I don't know if they'd be scary reading them on the porch on a summer afternoon, but i can say with certainty that they really creeped me out reading them alone at night in my not-quite-as-quiet-as-it-should-be house...

  2. I don't think I'll be any help...

    I'm like you, and not one to read much horror either.

    The only one that really stands out for me was a in a Pan Book of Horror Stories called ‘The Snail Watcher’ by Patricia Highsmith, and American Psycho. I still can't go into a pet store without thinking of Patrick Bateman when I see those things...

    I find more horrors in fact than fiction, like 'The Hot Zone' by Richard Preston.

  3. I recommend using more of human cruelty and allowing the PCs to see more disturbed people or disturbing situations. These things will hit closer to home than monsters. If the characters are driving away from a gug or leng spider and it goes after a nearby innocent family instead of them, and they have to witness it! That is disturbing. Perhaps real-life serial killer books would be useful for ideas, or just watch the news.

  4. Like you, I am a rationalist, and though I enjoy the horror genre I rarely, if ever, find any books particularly frightening. Not even Lovecraft, who is one of my favourite writers of all time ever managed to scare me so much as captivate me with his evocative imagery.

    One exception to this is a book I read last year called 'The Rising' by Brian Keene, which is one of the most disturbing stories I've ever read. I will be reviewing this book in greater detail in the next few weeks as part of my Halloween Book of the Week series on my blog.

  5. Well, it's kind of cheating to harken back to my easily-spooked early teen self, but M. R. James' stories and Stephen King's _Salem's Lot_ caused me a lot of night vigilance and strange nightmares.

    Back to your players, one good way to make them scared is to make them fear for the existence of their characters - overpowered monsters, level drainers, things that leave an unraisable dead husk at 0 hit points.

    Nowadays I'm more easily disturbed than scared by literature, and for sheer existential creepiness it is hard to beat Thomas Ligotti.

  6. Clive Barkers Books of Blood without a doubt or some of the more supernaturally themed Shaun Hutson titles.

  7. Like Roger the GS I would have to think of the stuff I read when I was at school for proper scares. It by Stephen King was the book that made me scared to fall asleep after reading it. Horror isn't something I've read in a while, although the Tales of the Uncanny anthology was good - probably more scary than horror in a way. No gore, no death - just an intangible unease.

  8. I feel similarly to you, while I enjoy the horror genre, it rarely horrifies me.

    I will have to second Biopunk's suggestion of Hot Zone.

    But here are four short stories that creep me out:

    The Lottery - Shirley Jackson (they made us watch the film in elementary school!!) Pretty famous, but here's a link:

    A Piece of Linoleum - David Keller - (can't find it online)

    Man from the South - Roald Dahl:

    Sredni Vashtar - H.H.Munro:

  9. I'm in the rationalist "nothing is really scary" school of thought.

    What I do recall, though, are books where the tension is high. For some reason, the Bigwig/Efafran General fight at the end of Watership Down stays with me.

    And for a bit of existential dread, I read many factual books about Genocide, A Problem from Hell and Shake Hands With the Devil (also a fine Canadian indie film), being the ones that stuck most with me.

  10. Shutter Island. Worth reading even if you've seen the movie.

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  12. I had mentioned movies, until I saw you said no movies. I would second the creepiness of Thomas Ligotti. Also, focus on nonsupernatural horrors--cannibals, sadistic home invaders and the like--none of those things violate any laws of physics.

  13. As also a rationalist, I'd discard supernatural books, and mention "The Trial", by Kafka. Although it is not an horror book, can be pretty scary if you think about...

  14. I don't know if scary is the right word, but I will say that Stephen King's Dreamcatcher was very engaging and made me very worried about the characters.

    I normally don't like him.

  15. Creating 'the mood' is a tough one. Evoking the sense of smell: iron, rust or blood, ammonia, urine or decomposing flesh, then something like a perfume, pleasant at first after all the stink, then cloying and then there is a shortness of breath or a choking sensation.

    Emptiness, silence and absence of 'normal' human behaviours, like an abandoned village without signs of human activity, like Chernobyl, are probably the strongest for disturbing.

    Add a lone, unwashed, bug-eating survivor who freely defecates where she squats in the shadows, mumbling religious verse interspersed with nursery rhymes to the players.

    Children, who behave like the ones in the Midwich Cuckoos, are good fodder too.

  16. Being a player in this game I probably shouldn't arm you with additional material :P but... while I typically find real life scarier than fiction some good fiction that I read in my teen years would be early Steven King books - Skeleton Crew is a really good book of short stories some of which are very Cthuluish. I remember one about a teleportation machine where they put you to sleep but this guy stays awake and then is driven mad by the multi-billion years of experienced time that he goes through in a microsecond of real time. There is also a really good one about self cannibalism (they taste like ladyfingers...) and another one about a serial killer (Strawberry Fields Forever was the title I think... The Shining is a good book about Hotel horrors (similar to the Majestic :).

    Also, the Hell Bound Heart (the inspiration for Hellraiser) is a really good short book that can be read in one night (the best is to start reading it alone in a room or in a hotel after dark).

  17. Ah - another Stephen King short story volume with some good stories which have all blended together in my mind with the Skeleton Crew stories was Night Shift!!!

  18. I'm in the rationalist camp here as well, and I have to agree with biopunk. Fact beats fiction nine times of ten.

    I've found that in my game, one of the factors that really help keep the players uncertain and desperate is the way the rest of the world reacts to the Elder Gods. Religion plays a big role here, and without going into a longer argument, I would suggest you give some thought to how the cult(s) can be used. It also cuts down on the tentacle-budget ;)

    And I don't see Propnomicon on your blogroll. I highly recommend going through the archive over there. He's got lots of good props, handouts and inspirations for a Tulu-game.

  19. T.E.D. Klein's "Children of the Kingdom" short story gave me the creeps.

  20. I don't know that anything I've read has been scary overall, but there are some genuinely frightening and creepy sections in The Shining. It adds up to just a 'Bad Place' story and there's nothing metaphysically or cosmologically terrifying in it, but those few sections... brrrrr!

  21. The Nightmare Factory - Thomas Ligotti