At this time of year, I like to read scary books, watch scary movies, and play scary games. With that in mind, what follows is a list of some of my favorites of each type. I think I’ve blogged about all of these individually before, but I decided to compile them into a list for a convenient reference.
- The Haunter of the Dark, by H.P. Lovecraft. My favorite Lovecraft story. I don’t know what it is exactly, but something about the setting, and the mysterious pull of the distant church that draws the protagonist’s eye really works for me. I feel its one of his best for not over-explaining things.
- The Omen, directed by Richard Donner. (1976) The scariest movie I have ever seen, and the only one that’s ever kept me awake at night. The opening music is, as I’ve said before, absolutely chilling.
- Green Tea, by Sheridan Le Fanu. There are other good stories–notably Carmilla–in the collection “In a Glass Darkly”, but this is the one that stuck with me. I like the idea of overdosing on a commonplace drink causing someone to be haunted.
- The “We Don’t Go To Ravenholm” level of Half-Life 2. I’ve been critical of this game in the past, and even this level has its flaws. Nevertheless, I have to give Valve credit for putting a survival-horror level in the middle of what is otherwise a sci-fi action game. That’s a great way to do horror: drop it in where the audience isn’t expecting it.
- The King in Yellow, by Robert W. Chambers. The best example of a “weird tale” I have ever read. It’s so good that I recommend it even though only the first four of ten stories are actually in the horror genre. They are that good. “The Repairer of Reputations” is particularly memorable.
- The Haunting, directed by Robert Wise. (1963) This is cheating a bit, since it’s based on a book. But the movie is very good. I didn’t like it when I first saw it, but it’s an acquired taste, and after repeated viewings I came to appreciate how subtle and ambiguous it is.
- Quake. In terms of game play, this is just a Doom knock off, which means it’s basically all fighting and no suspense. How does it get on this list, then? Two things: the artwork, though primitive by today’s standards, is very atmospheric and ominous. And the intriguing level names, like “The Haunted Halls” and “The Tower of Despair” evoke a more subtle fear and deserve better than the mediocre gameplay within.
- Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore. Did you think I could get through ten whole things without mentioning Gilbert and Sullivan? You must be new here. Anyway, yes; this is technically a comic opera. That doesn’t make the scene of the paintings coming to life or the Wagnerian “Ghosts’ High Noon” any less creepy. Gilbert complained that Sullivan’s “ghost music” was too scary for a comedy. He was right–and that’s why it works.
- The Damned Thing by Ambrose Bierce. Horror is what you don’t see and don’t understand. This story probably packed a bigger punch when it was first written; the concept is old hat at this point. Nevertheless, it’s still effective.
- Spec Ops: The Line. I thought long and hard about whether to put this game on here. Unlike everything else on this list, it contains no supernatural elements… or at least, no overt ones. And also unlike everything else here, it is in no way “Gothic”. But it is very dark, very disturbing and above all, a prime example of psychological horror. It does share certain storytelling elements with The Haunting and “the Repairer of Reputations” and is just bizarre enough that I decided to include it.
Not particularly my genre, but I have enjoyed reading Harlan Ellison, who sometimes dabbled in creepy, not necessarily scary stuff. His Death Bird Stories starting off with The Whimper of Whipped Dogs comes to mind. The Outer Limits episode with Robert Culp named Demon With a Glass Hand was interesting too.
More often than not, I think that “creepy” ends up being more interesting than “scary” anyway. I’ll have to check out some of Ellison’s stories.