Fear is pretty subjective. Obviously. Some people laugh at horror films and others scream. Around Halloween, there’s often lists of the scariest films/TV/books ever, but it’s impossible to agree with all of them. Is Kubrick’s film of The Shining a masterclass of tense, slow horror or a dated relic lacking in terror? Zombie flicks—scary or ridiculous (or Shaun of the Dead)?
This isn’t about books, you say. I know. My point is, this is all subjective. Books are maybe even more so because it is up to the individual to picture the scares, to be drawn in and see them as more than words (I hope that hasn’t derailed you into thinking about the Extreme song). So when I talk about books I’ve found scary, I know it won’t be the same for anyone else.
The book I remember finding most scary is a Point Horror novel called Fright Train. It was from the ‘Unleashed’ range, which I think was meant to be more intense in some way (I’ve talked a bit about my love for Point Horror before). In Fright Train, a couple got on a train only to find their fellow passengers acting weird and the conductor terrifyingly rude. It turns out (spoilers, in case you really fancy trying to track down a secondhand copy) they’re on a train to Hell, incorrectly. A different couple were meant to get on that carriage instead of them. Their fellow passengers all have horrible recollections of whatever it was that got them on the train to Hell and our heroes try and convince the devilish conductor they should leave.
Doesn’t sound that scary, I know, but there was something about it that caught my imagination aged about ten or eleven. Maybe the combination of scary devil stuff, people who had actually done bad things, and the injustice of it all. Whatever it was, it threw the Goosebumps story about the Halloween mask you can’t get off seem like a fun trip to the park (Google tells me this is The Haunted Mask).
I have to admit, I don’t think I’ve read anything since that has made me personally feel scared in the same way. I think Cujo is probably the scariest Stephen King read for me, for the tension, and there’s definitely a horrifying factor to some of the stories in Chuck Palahniuk’s Haunted (one about a swimming pool drain sticks in my head), but it’s not the same. Maybe it’s because I don’t read much horror any more, or I became too immune, or because it is so dependent on time and place of the reading experience as well.
Maybe you think the scariest stories now are the dystopian fiction that feels like it is coming true. Maybe it’s still the horror genre, which can be tense and the fear believable even when it is otherworldly. Maybe nothing is scarier than real life. Regardless, pick up one of your favourite creepy books this Halloween (unless you opted for the last option there, then sorry).