There are three authors that I think of when I think of “horror.” Stephen King, Clive Barker, and Dean Koontz. Yeah, we could count Poe and Lovecraft. I have no objections there, just that neither of them ever wrote anything that actually scared me.
So, of horror authors, who has really got the nack? My offer is King, but that judgement is based on quantity. The Shining’s animal bushes really got to me when I read about them. Desperation? The whole frigging book got to me. Pet Semetary? Ugh, I see Gage’s shadow every time I read it (which is a total of four times now).
As far as Barker goes, I include him because many consider him to be a horror author, but I honestly can’t say much ever scared me from him. There were a few chapters in Imajica which got to me (Dowd and his mites were just evil), and I can say that the Sisters from Weaveworld were pretty creepy, but nothing I’ve read of his ever left me with anything after the chapter ended.
Koontz? I honestly consider him to be pure pulp, though he also managed to work some creep into me. Darkfall’s little rat things seriously work me over. The baddie from Hideaway left me slightly disturbed for some time. But, for that even, Koontz just doesn’t leave me with the impression King did, and doesn’t have the depth that Barker displays.
So, my vote goes whole-heartedly for King. He’s the master in my book.
I’d have to go with King, too. The scariest King book, for me, was Misery. (SPOILERS AHEAD) Especially the end, where Paul arrives home to find Annie Wilkes there. Shudder. Or in Cujo when Tad sees the monster in his closet, and when Tad falls asleep the monster is watching him with “glowing amber eyes”.
Poe first, then the darker works of Bradbury (I know he’s not classed as a horror author, but he’s definitely got some work that I think falls into that genre), then King, then Lovecraft. I’m not rating them in order of quality of writing (it’s apples, oranges and kiwifruit) or by quantity of what’s been produced, but by how hard their works hit overall. (I will not, will NOT, be buried, thanks to Poe.)
I like some of Dean Koontz’s stuff, but what I liked most wasn’t really horror, in my book (Lightning and Watchers).
I’m sure someone will nominate Thomas Harris eventually, although he’s almost too much for me.
elucidator, are we talking about the French existentialist there? i wasn’t aware he dabbled in anything that would be considered horror, unless you are just joking about trying to wade through his philosophic writings…
Lion, I haven’t read much of Bradbury, except for 451 and “The Illustrated Man” short stories (which were awesome). Interesting.
>has anyone ever read “Book of the Dead”, a collection of short stories by various horror authors, all dealing with zombies? It was interesting to see the different takes.
I just finished reading that book tonight.
I enjoyed most of it, but found that by halfway into the book I was really tired of reading the details of each author’s zombie descriptions (like physical appearance and behaviour)just because they were essentially the same from story to story.
Robert McCammon. A southern writer. He’s not writing horror any longer, but he did a couple of pretty good ones. Mine and Stinger come to mind. He also wrote a good collection of short stories called Blue World. I think that was it, anyway. Good stuff.
Stephen King is one of my favorites, but it’s so hard to choose just one, you know? Others include: Ira Levin, William Peter Blatty, Roald Dahl (yes, those were horrifying tales), Daphne DuMaurier (if we’re counting suspense as horror too), and Robert Bloch. I’m leaving some off the list, but when it comes down to horror, I can never choose just one.
SK is always the first who comes to mind because he was the first horror writer I ever read. Nostalgia, you know? Pet Sem is the scariest, IMHO, though Apt Pupil was disturbing and Christine was also a good one. Still, Pet Sem has that creepy aspect to it.
Oh yeah, and Cujo. Great story. The movie really sucked, though. They entirely omitted the dog’s POV, which I thought was a highlight of the story.
In fact, the only movie based on a king novel I really liked was Misery. Christine was nothing more than an exercise in special effects. No bones, as it were. The novel was good. IMO anyway.
Eris, the stories of Bradbury’s I’m thinking of are “The Small Assassin” and “Skeleton”. (“The Veldt” wins an honorable mention.) <cringe> It’s not that he’s that graphic in his descriptions – it’s just that he brings up concepts that just kind of take up residence in the bottom of my mind and lurk there. I’m sure it’s more properly classed as dark fantasy than horror, technically speaking. You can get all three stories, though, in The Vintage Bradbury. I’m sure he’s got them in other anthologies, too.
King does the same thing to me on occasion – I couldn’t eat or prepare meat for a good month after I read “The Survivor Type”. And I have NEVER been able to eat ladyfingers again.
I just had to remember that story the day before we do a barbecue, too, didn’t I? Blerrrrgh…
Of those authors I’ve read, I’d say that Stephen King and Thomas Harris are the upper most on the list.
The Dark Half scared the p’jeebees outta me and at age 22 or so, I slept with the lights on…also, his short story The Mist, most disturbing.
Of course, you all remember Thomas Harris from such books (and subsequent movies as) Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon (which became “Manhunter” on the screen).
I think the most disturbing aspects of horror are not merely allowing you to imagine awful things while you read, but drawing you into the characters (either as victims or in the other scary place, as somehow empathizing with the evil) and playing on the most common or base fears.
Though I haven’t read the book and can only judge my opinion based on the mini-series, It is a prime example of that as “It” cues its attacks off of the characters’ greatest fears–even as adults when the fears of childhood are either repressed or replaced with completely new and more “practical” fears (i.e. fear of the dark replaced by fear of winding up alone or fear of the boogie man replaced by fear of failure in business or marriage).
Another issue for me, personally, and am not nearly so effected by such authors as Poe, who are certainly masters in their own rights, is the fact that for me a lot of horror has to do with the vividly imagined. While Poe certainly weaves some wonderful words into disturbing tales, his language is such that the imagery–for me at least–is secondary and thus less impactful. I am impressed by his language and that seems to override the fear factor…
Again, that’s not to say he wasn’t a master at what he did and couldn’t be consider “the best” nor to imply that more eloquent or poetic language shouldn’t be a part of the genre, but since this is a genuinely subjective matter, I have to say for me, the contemporaries push my fear and horror buttons a bit more.
I don’t know about the “best,” but I can tell you what book scared me the most: *** Ghost Story*** by Peter Straub. How scared? I read the final third of the book one sunny day at the beach. The weather was perfect, the waves were gently lapping at the shore, and I was shivering reading about that cold snowy night in the movie theater!
I really liked John Skipp and Craig Spector’s string of 80s novels, like The Light at the End, about a vampire hunting victims in the New York Subway system, and The Cleanup, about a man who finds out that getting wishes granted costs a lot more than he thought. I wonder whatever happened to them.
I also gotta speak up for the Master, H.P. Lovecraft. While his writing style tended to overuse the vocabulary set, e.g., “the rugose, slimy skin of the eldritch beast,” his creation of the Elder Gods mythos is, IMHO, the single greatest contribution to 20th century horror fiction and a bottomless well of inspiration for other writers.
I also gotta give a shout out to Robert Bloch, an unjustly neglected horror writer. His short stories, like “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper,” have the swift, steely impact of a stiletto in the heart.
Kim Newman is also a terrific horror writer. His alternate history novels in which historical and literary figures coexist in an England where Dracula killed Van Helsing, like Anno Dracula and The Bloody Red Baron, are absorbing reads. They also give the discerning reader a bit of an ego boost when one spots the literary allusions.
Dan Simmons seems to have left the horror genre behind, but he has written at least two genuinely scary novels: Song of Kali and Carrion Comfort.
I also dig James Herbert’s novels, like The Spear, The Rats*, and The Fog. He is a British writer whose books have an atmosphere of dark knowledge and Things Better Left Alone. Great, gory fun!
One of my favorite horror authors is Graham Masterton. He’s a British author whose work is a bit hard to find in the U.S. (a lot of his books are out of print) but if you like dark, extremely gory, creepy supernatural horror, he’s a good one to read. Many of his books concern Native American mythos–probably his most famous in the U.S. is The Manitou, which was made into a B-movie in the '70s, but it’s not one of his best or goriest. Its two sequels, Revenge of the Manitou and especially Burial are much better.
A warning for all those young under-the-covers horror readers, though: Masterton isn’t an author for the kiddies. Aside from without doubt some of the most extreme gore I’ve ever seen in a novel, he also has some rather graphic sexual stuff going on, most of it as horrific as the blood-n-guts.
Maurice Level’s best work was collected into Tales of Mystery and Horror (U.S. edition 1919, completely out of print, but you can probably find it with a booksearch engine), and included such jewels as
“Blue Eyes,” in which a grisette is forced into prostitution to be able to afford flowers for the grave of her recently-executed young lover, who had been falsely accused of a crime. After she does so, she learns that the man she slept with was the guy who pulled the lever on the guillotine. Imagaine the poor girl’s feelings!
and “The Last Kiss,” in which a blinded, disfigured man who has had acid thrown into his face by his jealous lover invites her to his home to forgive her. As she weepingly begs his pardon, struck by his humility, he (yeah, you guessed it) throws acid in HER face.
…she fell writhing to the floor. Already her face was nothing but a red rag.
Then he straightened himself, stumbled over her, felt about the wall to find the switch, and put out the light. and round them, as in them, was a great Darkness…
David H. Keller is best known as the author of “The Thing in the Cellar,” about a small boy who is terrified of the cellar door in his rural home, not without reason. It’s in dozens of different horror anthologies.
He’s done several other fine tales, such as “The Dead Woman,” “The Doorbell,” “Tiger Cat,” and “The Revolt of the Pedestrians.”
His work was collected in Tales from Underwood (1953) and The Folsom Flint (1967), both from Arkham House publishers.