‘Are we at the 100th post already?’ I hear you ask. Or to put it another way (I hope): ‘Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun?’ Either way, it’s a minor milestone but I thought it was worth an equally minor celebration so I hope you’ll all forgive me if I shamelessly devote this post to my own guilty and not so guilty pleasures. I’m not usually a fan of those ‘Best of…’ list programmes but what I’d like to do is share with you what, in my humble opinion, I consider to be the very best novels, novellas, short stories, films, television series and graphic novels in the field of horror, the paranormal and the supernatural.
The Haunted House at Latchford, Charlotte Riddell – The ghost of Crow Hall is a woman whose presence effects the health of the residents, but ultimately leads to the discovery of a skeleton and some hidden jewellery.
Night Sequence, J B Priestley – A quarrelling husband and wife lose their way while on a night drive and are forced to seek shelter in an old, decaying house inhabited by a weird family and their servants.
The Malachite Cross, Frank Norton – Occult thriller about a spectacularly haunted house in New York and a curious religious cross, which holds the key to solving the paranormal events.
More modern fare:
The Amityville Horror, Jay Anson (1978) – Based on a true story about a family of five, including three children, who move into a new house on Long Island and are subjected to a terrifying plague of strange voices, extreme cold and green slime issuing from the walls.
Coldheart Canyon, Clive Barker (2002) – When ageing actor Todd Pickett has a facelift that goes wrong, he retreats to a house on the outskirts of Hollywood. The owner is Katya Lupi, a film star of the 1920s who has not aged a day, and Pickett is soon surrounded by a plethora of ghosts of past stars and creatures from the dark realms.
The Ghosts of Sleath (1994) and Haunted (1988), James Herbert – Two terrifying entries in the casebook of the psychic investigator and ghost hunter David Ash.
The Shining, Stephen King (1977) – Author Jack Torrance agrees to look after an old hotel while it is shut up and snowed in for the winter. Soon he and his wife and small son are experiencing strange sights, sounds and inexplicable occurrences as the building takes on a life of its own.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson – You might like to read more about this one in my post on Edinburgh: Dark Deeds in the Old Town.
The Canterville Ghost and The Picture of Dorian Gray – Two, very different, examples of Oscar Wilde’s rare talent for writing tales of the supernatural.
The Turn of the Screw, Henry James – Another of the great landmarks of supernatural fiction – allegedly based on a true story told to the author – about a pair of dead, evil servants who return to haunt a house and gain control over the two small children living there.
The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – One of the greatest crime novels ever written, pitting rationalism against the supernatural, good against evil, as Sherlock Holmes seeks to defeat a foe that is almost his equal on an ancient, wild moorland haunted by the savage apparition of a hound.
The Shunned House, H P Lovecraft – Classic novel of an old house on Rhode Island which destroys the sanity and health of all those who live in it, until its terrible secret is revealed.
In The Toll-House and The Monkey’s Paw W W Jacobs has written two of the finest and most anthologised of all ghost stories in English Literature.
The Beast with Five Fingers by W F Harvey has been filmed, anthologised and adapted for radio and television numerous times, as well as being the title story of his most famous collection of supernatural tales.
The Trial and The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka are masterpieces of surreal horror fiction, which will make you question the reality all around you after reading them.
Four Past Midnight is a collection of four terrifying tales by the king of horror himself, Stephen King, published in 1990. The four stories are The Langoliers; Secret Window, Secret Garden; The Library Policeman and The Sun Dog.
R. Chetwynd-Hayes was an English author, best known for his ghost stories, several of whose short works were adapted into anthology-style movies, including The Monster Club, which was also the title for his excellent 1975 short story collection.
A M Burrage is one of my absolute favourite authors – one of the few whose stories I actively seek out wherever I can find them. Two of his best, The Waxwork and Smee, illustrate both his range and his talent for scaring the pants off people!
Two more recent English ghost stories by contemporary authors which deserve attention are Uninvited Ghosts by Penelope Lively and Philip Pullman’s rare but excellent Video Nasty.
Lastly, I couldn’t possibly talk about good short stories without mentioning one by Ray Bradbury – the now-almost legendary Heavyset, which should in my opinion be required reading every Halloween.
Universal Pictures’ takes on both Dracula and Frankenstein remain icons of modern cinema, just like their stars, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. Lon Chaney and Lon Chaney Jnr also deserve honourable mentions for their sterling work in the golden age of horror cinema in The Phantom of the Opera and The Wolfman respectively.
Horror cinema’s second great flowering, or silver age if you prefer to put it that way, was the era of Hammer, who also did worthy versions of Dracula and Frankenstein. More original and memorable for me, however, are The Wicker Man and The Witchfinder General (they are also much scarier, even when watched today).
The third great era of horror in the movies began with Night of the Living Dead, continued with Halloween and slowly became a (still fun) parody of itself in the 1980s with films like The Lost Boys and Fright Night. The 1970s was probably a better time for scary movies, though, if only because it was the decade that gave us The Exorcist, The Omen and Rosemary’s Baby.
Saw, The Human Centipede and other torture porn flicks don’t really do it for me but modern twists on the horror genre, including new ways of telling the classic haunted house tale (a la The Others and The Woman in Black) and an ironic, post-modern approach (a la Scream) show that there’s life in the old dog yet. No mentions of Twilight please…
The best of the 1950s-1970s for me was The Outer Limits, Dark Shadows, Doctor Who and Quatermass, all of which I talk more about in my post Where no one can hear you scream. In terms of one-offs, The Stone Tape, Casting the Runes, Ghostwatch and, most recently, Crooked House, also deserve a look from any discerning fan of horror.
I should also give an honourable mention here to children’s television, which has over the years produced some of the classics of the supernatural genre. Again, the 1970s was the golden age in this respect, producing iconic series such as Children of the Stones, Shadows, The Clifton House Mystery, The Nightmare Man and The Owl Service. This grand tradition was continued into the 1980s and 1990s with excellent, original shows such as Russell T Davies’ Dark Season and Century Falls, Into the Labyrinth, Chocky and Moondial. Sadly, the standard has not so far been maintained into the new millenium, apart from the odd exception like The Magician’s House and The Sarah Jane Adventures (that man Russell T Davies again!).
As I’ve said once before, although the majority of posts on this website concern authors, novels, short stories and films, one of my favourite forms of entertainment media is the graphic novel. Over the years I’ve read a number of comic books which are as compelling as any other form of storytelling and it continues to mystify me that this medium never seems to receive the same respect as the more traditional prose novels. Sandman, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Watchmen, 300, Slaine, Judge Dredd, 30 Days of Night, The Walking Dead, Witchblade, House of Mystery, Spawn, The Books of Magic, Promethea, Hellblazer and Preacher to name just a few are full to the brim with imagination, original ideas, witty dialogue and searing imagery.
That’s more than enough from me for now. The twin limitations of time and space mean that I have by no means been able to mention everything (or even a fraction of everything) that I would have liked to, but hopefully I’ve given everyone some ideas of what to check out in the multimedia genre of horror (and if I’ve made any horrendous omissions let me know!). I’d just like to thank everyone who has followed, liked and commented on Ghost Cities over the past few months – I hope you’ll stick around till the 200th post!