I love to be scared. It’s why I love Halloween and walking late at night. When other people want to unwind with a good book, they choose something light and funny. I go for straight-up horror—the creepier, the better—which is why I recently looked up what are broadly considered the scariest books of all time. There are tons of lists, but here is a pretty accurate accumulation of books that were mentioned repeatedly:
The Shining by Stephen King (and several other books of his. The movie is one of my all-time favorites, and his short story collection, Everything’s Eventual, is still the best collection of all time.)
Hannibal Lecter by Thomas Harris (Silence of the Lambs made the cut, as well. Also a great flick.)
The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty (Also a great flick.)
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis (ALSO a great flick.)
The Road to Madness by H.P. Lovecraft (anything by him, generally)
Ghost Story by Peter Straub (I remember this one scared the crap out of me in college. Movie was so-so.)
The Works of Edgar Allan Poe (Duh. Goes without saying.)
Turn of the Screw by Henry James (The Others with Nicole Kidman was an adaptation of this story.)
I could go on for a while here, but you get the idea.
I went to the library and picked up The Exorcist, a book of Poe stuff, Turn of the Screw, and The Road to Madness. I felt it important that I read some of the “great horror authors” in order to become a better horror author myself. The Exorcist, as expected, was creepy. I adore Poe—always have, always will. Turn of the Screw was terribly boring and not scary in any way. Lovecraft may be over my head a little, but I haven’t passed judgment on him … yet.
The point of all this? I think something’s wrong with me. Because I wasn’t scared at all.
The same goes for movies. I adore horror movies. I watch them all the time. I think I remember that they used to scare me, but they don’t anymore. Now, I watch them for the cinematic value and because I just, well, like ‘em. But I’m not necessarily scared of horror films, especially when you consider I have to walk our dog at 3 AM, by myself, and all I do is yawn. After watching Halloween or The Shining, any normal person would probably look over her shoulder at least a little bit and wonder if someone’s there.
Our country as a whole has a similar problem, I think, and it has never been more apparent to me than right now. Yesterday, the White House announced they would not be releasing photos of Bin Laden’s shattered, bloody forehead, and everyone started to complain. What the hell is the matter with us? Have we watched too many episodes of CSI? Why on earth do we want to see a picture of some dead guy, even if he was a terrorist? It’s because we’re not afraid anymore of what we should humanely be afraid of. We’re not scared of gore, which is why we watch terrible, grotesque torture films like Saw, Saw II, Saw III … you get the idea. We are turning into the ancient Romans, watching the lions eat people. We’re totally desensitized, and I don’t think it’s a good thing at all.
I’m guilty, too. The books don’t scare me; the movies don’t scare me. No, I don’t want to see pictures of Bin Laden’s corpse, but I do watch crime shows constantly. So what is the matter with me? I challenge you, dear reader, to suggest a book or film that really scared YOU. I will read your suggested book or watch your suggested film and get back to you. I dare you to scare me … just so I know it’s still possible in this bloodthirsty, heartless, unsympathetic world of ours to be scared of things that should be scary.