Like any good horror movie franchise, this series of blog posts just keeps coming back for more sequels.
Happy Halloween, everybody! Given that my wife and I are gearing up for our own Halloween festivities this week, I’m a little more strapped for time than usual. So, for this week’s blog, I thought I’d do one last follow-up to my series on horror and name a few of my personal favorite horror stories, films and games. I’ll try to pick some examples that aren’t as well known, so maybe you can find something new to give yourself a good scare.
At the Mountains of Madness, by H.P. Lovecraft: While Lovecraft’s emphasis on unknowable horror and verbose writing style can make his stories hit or miss, this is one where Lovecraft’s style works in his favor. The detailed descriptions of creatures and the involved fictional history combine with an emphasis on the unknown to create a story that ratchets up the tension and creates some deeply unsettling scares. Best of all, it’s in the public domain, and you can read it legally and for free online!
John Dies at the End, by David Wong: This is one of the few horror comedy novels I’ve ever come across, and it’s a great one. Full of laughs, dick jokes and legitimate terror, John Dies at the End is a modern-day masterpiece of horror. Better still, it has a sequel and is part of an ongoing series, so if you like it, there’s more where that came from! Check it out!
Jerusalem’s Lot, by Stephen King: Fans of Stephen King probably know that Lovecraft is one of his biggest literary influences, and this short story is a direct homage by King to his literary hero. Told in an epistolary style, this story practically screams “Cthulhu Mythos,” but has the gritty, linguistic flare that King is known for. It’s published in the short story collection Night Shift, which also contains some other great King stories like Graveyard Shift, The Mangler and Children of the Corn.
Rulers of Darkness, by Stephen Spruill: Before Stephanie Meyer reinvented vampires as sparkling high school students, Stephen Spruill brought them into the medical horror subgenre, applying science and logic to the vampire mythos and creating something fascinating and tangible, but no less frightening, and with all the gore and sensuality you’d expect from a good vampire story. Sadly, it seems to be out of print, with no sign of an ebook edition in sight, but you can buy it used on Amazon for very cheap.
World War Z, by Max Brooks: This may be the definitive zombie book. Taking the brilliant approach of framing the narrative as an oral history, the story consists of a number of personal accounts from survivors of the zombie apocalypse, detailing the major events in a fascinating, horrifying and immensely relatable fashion. Too bad the movie did the exact opposite of that. Ah, well. If you want a multimedia experience, the audiobook is a star-studded, full-cast recording that’s a lot more faithful to the source material.
The Innkeepers: This is one of the scariest horror films I’ve ever seen. It has great pacing, amazing cinematography, good performances and strong writing, all resulting in one of the best ghost stories I’ve ever seen told on film. It’s got a slow build-up, but if you’ve got the patience, it’s a damn good chiller. And it’s available to stream on Netflix!
The Frighteners: Another great ghost story, this is one of Peter Jackson’s first big films, and it’s indirectly responsible for him going on to direct Lord of the Rings. It’s got a lot of good CGI that still holds up today, clever writing and a great ensemble cast including Michael J. Fox in his last live-action theatrical film. This movie was forgotten for a long time, but it seems to be making a bit of a comeback. And once again, it’s available to stream on Netflix.
Ghost Hunt: Man, I’m on kind of a ghost kick here, aren’t I? Anyway, this one is an anime series based off of a long-running manga. It’s almost a kind of police procedural show about ghost hunting and paranormal investigation, so it blends the addictive quality of shows like CSI or Criminal Minds with good scares and well-crafted paranormal mysteries. If you’re new to anime, this isn’t a bad way to ease yourself into it, either. And say it with me folks; it’s streaming on Neftlix.
The Call of Cthulhu: Finally getting away from ghosts, this is one of the few film adaptations of a Lovecraft novel out there. Released in 2005, it’s actually a black-and-white silent film that makes great use of the conventions and style choices common to that medium to craft an engrossing and surprisingly suspenseful film. Unless Guillermo Del Toro’s long-delayed At the Mountains of Madness adaptation finally gets made, this is the best Lovecraft movie you’re likely to find, and you can find it on Netflix (Netflix, you can find my e-mail in the “Contact” section if you want to talk endorsement deals).
Prince of Darkness: This is one of my favorite John Carpenter films, and it’s one that often seems to get overlooked when discussing his filmography. It’s a rather clever take on the Satanic horror subgenre, with some great effects, chilling music, and a few alums from Carpenter films like Big Trouble in Little China and Halloween rounding out the cast. Definitely worth a watch, especially if you’re a big Carpenter fan. Sadly, this one is no longer streaming on Netflix, so here’s an IMDB link instead.
Parasite Eve: This game’s unique in that it’s one of the only horror RPGs I’ve ever come across. One of the earliest games that Squaresoft released on the PS1, Parasite Eve combines an excellent combat and customization system with a cool, creepy science fiction storyline, a great soundtrack and then-state-of-the-art graphics and CGI cutscenes. Unfortunately, its sequels, Parasite Eve II and The 3rd Birthday are both pretty terrible, but the original game is still a real gem, and if you have a PS3, it’s available to download for only $5.99.
Clive Barker’s Undying: One of the only games I’ve come across that had an author tie-in, apart from the Tom Clancy games, Undying is a horror FPS and one of the most effective ones I’ve ever come across. The game combines the combat of a shooter with the limited resources of a survival horror title and a spell that both lets you see in the dark, and shows you horrible visions. It’s a tense, frightening experience that will likely be appreciated by anybody who’s a fan of the System Shock and Bioshock games. You can get it for $5.99 off of GOG.
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem: I briefly discussed this one in my last post, but it’s worth bringing up again. Eternal Darkness is about as close as you can get to a perfect horror game; it’s got a great combat system, challenging puzzles, and a sanity mechanic that is perfectly designed to screw with the player. It’s a great game that more developers and players should have paid attention to. Unfortunately, there are no re-releases of the game in existence, and it looks like the proposed spiritual sequel is never going to happen, so the only way to enjoy this sublime horror experience is to get a Gamecube or a Wii that can play Gamecube games and track down a used copy for yourself.
The Lurking Horror: This one’s a text-based adventure game from the glory days of 5 1/4-inch floppy disks and DOS command lines. Released by Infocom, The Lurking Horror is almost more of an interactive story than a game. You type commands to move from room to room and interact with objects, there’s no music, and the only visuals come in the form of your imagination when you read the descriptive text. And yet, this is one of the scariest games you’ll ever play, and one of the best adaptations of Lovecraft’s ideas into game format. And best of all, the game is now considered “abandonware,” and can be downloaded and played legally for free.
ZombiU: This is easily one of the best zombie survival games out there. It really captures the sensation of being a survivor in zombie-infested London, and it has some unique gameplay features that make it stand out even further, including unique touch and motion controls and a perma-death mechanic. It’s also hard as hell, but for all the right reasons. If you currently own a Wii U, it’s available at retail or via download from the eShop, and if not, when you finally break down and buy a Wii U to play Smash Bros., check this title out, because right now it’s being tragically overlooked.
Well, that’s all for me, folks. Next week, it’ll be business as usual, but for now, have a happy and safe Halloween!