Picture it: the year is 1992, and your Blog Fairy Princess here is still a very over-imaginative eight-year-old who takes everything way too literally (so nothing much has changed….anyways…). One dark and stormy night, Poltergeist comes on TV in celebration of the film’s tenth anniversary. I knew my mom liked the movie, even finding parts of it funny, so I figured I’d sit back and enjoy.
And then I didn’t sleep for weeks. WEEKS.
Looking back, my mother was right. It is a good movie, and there are plenty of moments that are funny–intentionally or otherwise. Granted, some of those moments are because CGI was in its infancy, so some of the special effects need to be taken with an generous helping of salt, but this is a movie that isn’t afraid to take itself lightly at times. That scene when the ghosts slide the helmeted kid across the kitchen floor for no apparent reason is still among my favorite parts of the whole film. And those moments make the dramatic action that much more impactful.
Because the truth is that there are some parts of this film still stand up as genuinely shuddersome, even today. TV static, for those of us who remember non-digital TVs, was annoying, yes, but there was also something thoroughly unsettling about that unrelenting shushing sound. The essential premise behind the movie, not just the burial ground, but the reason the ghosts needed the children specifically for their nefarious plot, is remarkably creative, especially for a horror movie, which usually relies on loud music stings and jump-takes to cover up their shallow storyline . And that clown doll. Goodness gracious me, that clown doll…..
And now, since we live in the age of the remake, we have Poltergeist the repeat. The film hasn’t been getting the best of reviews, mostly because the original did what it did so well that there seems very little, overall, to do better; not to mention the fact that digital TVs just aren’t scary. But it has allowed some of the film junkies at the library to reminisce a bit about the books and movies that kept us up at night.
We’ve seen a number of supernatural horror films cross the circulation desk, from classics like The Uninvited or The Amityville Horror, to newer, but still thoroughly shiver-inducing stuff like The Others, Oculus, or The Sixth Sense (though I think living on earth may have spoiled the novelty of this particular film for you). But what about the good old-fashioned ghost story? So here is a brief list of some of the best paranormal/supernatural/generally creeptastic novels on our shelves for your perusal. Make sure to leave the lights on
…and be sure to turn off the TV.
…I mean, you never know, right?
The Supernatural Enhancements: It took about eight pages for this book to become one of my favorites of all time. Wildly creative, not only in its plot, but in its story-telling, this book has also become a quick favorite among the rest of our library staff, as well. A, a youngish European man, inherits a house from an uncle he never met, but, eager for a chance of pace, moves to Point Bless, Virginia along with his enigmatic friend Niamh, who is mute, but far from silent. As the two begin to explore the odd house, and the legacy of A’s family, all of whom were changed and broken by living there, this story just continues to grow creepier and more intense. Told through letters, transcriptions, and descriptions from the video surveillance cameras Niamh sets up around the house, the reader is never quite sure what is going on, but simply can’t stop flipping the pages in order to discover what happens next. This works perfectly in this story because seeing the ghosts always ruin something in the story–when the reader is forced to imagine what A and Niamh are experiencing, it’s infinitely more scary. Though there are some odd twists and turns at the book’s end, this is a story I cannot recommend too highly, and can only hope that Edgar Cantero comes out with a new book soon!
Those Across the River: I felt about this book much the same way as I did about Poltergeist itself–the premise is superb and the build-up is wonderfully creepy, but the climax and eventual falling action feel just a little flat in comparison. This is purely due to my own reading preferences, however, and should not detract you from trying this book for yourself. Christopher Buehlman is a wonderfully gifted author, who can tell a gripping story that is as beautiful as it is unsettling. This is another inherited house story, but this time our hero is First World War veteran Frank Nichols and his beloved who have run away from her husband and moved to his family estate deep in rural Georgia, where Frank plans to write a history of the house, and the horrific slave uprising that took place there. Full of strange, hostile characters, the town itself is haunted by legends and the fear of an ancient curse that Frank learns has far more to do with this family than he dreamt.
The Haunting of Maddie Claire: Simone St. James’ debut novel won a number of awards and accolades, and while it’s not difficult to appreciate the artistry in her work, this is also a fascinating story that captures the shattered disbelief of post-First World War Britain beautifully. Sarah Piper is trying to make her way in London following the death of her parents in the Influenza Epidemic. Poor and desperately lonely, she still isn’t convinced that her new assignment from the temp agency is fitting–she is expected to take notes of a ghost hunt. But when she and her two employers, who both carry deep scars from their time in the trenches, arrive at the haunted barn, they find a much darker force–and a much deeper mystery–than they ever imagined. St. James’ prose is somewhat stark, which makes it sound perfectly authentic both to her no-nonsense heroine and to the bleak times in which these characters are living, and the story of Maddie Claire is so heartbreaking and so real that readers will find it incredibly easy to suspend disbelief and following this chilling story to the very end.
The Devil You Know: This some lighter fare for those of us who are starting to think about hiding under the bed for a little while. Mike Carey is probably best known as a graphic novelist, but his series of five novels featuring the freelance exorcist Felix Castor deserves more attention. In Castor’s debut, he is just trying to make ends meet, and agrees to take an assignment in a small London museum that seems to have some paranormal trouble. But when Castor begins to investigate, he realizes that the spirit at work here may be the biggest and baddest that he’s ever faced. Carey brings a fun noir-ish feel to these books, and his imagination in creating supernatural powers is impressive, but these books are much more complex and emotionally powerful than your typical urban fantasy. Felix’s powers have had plenty of negative effects on those he loves, and he is always followed by the shadows he has cast, making his work that much more dangerous, and his cases that much more compelling.
So there is our first list of spooky stories to keep you up at night. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments, or mention them to your friendly circulation staff at your next visit!