Friday, September 04, 2009

Frankenstein never scared me...

...and neither do most things in the "horror" genre. Besides, why would I read something to be scared?

Anyway, Stephen King always struck me as an ace storyteller whose true metier was the short story, although he could write a bang-up novel when he brought his A Game, which was about one try in four, by my tastes, with the rest being workmanlike tales with a certain 'contractual obligation' feel about them.

The only novel of his that ever really scared me... I mean really gave me the creeping willies... was Pet Sematary. I was living in a rented room in a lake house in the middle of the woods at the time, and I had finished reading the book at closing time at the little local pub. I found myself sitting there in the front seat of my Z-car after pulling into the driveway just after midnight, and for some reason I just had to reach over and flip the book upside-down before I could get out of the car, because I was actually too creeped out to look at the cover.

It was therefore with some interest that I read this at John Ross's recently-revamped website:
King is alleged to have said that he always wanted to write a book so scary he couldn’t finish writing it, and Pet Sematery came the closest. True story: In 1986 I had to make an emergency weekend trip to London as an underwriter for Lloyds. I decided to stay on Midwest time, staying up at night and sleeping during the day, since I’d be back home in two days. I bought a paperback to read in my hotel room. It was Pet Sematery. Reading that book at 4:00 AM in a strange hotel room in London was an experience I find difficult to put in words.
Incidentally, the only other thing I've read by King that honestly scared me was the short story "1408", from Everything's Eventual, and that had the distinction of doing so in a well-lit, crowded restaurant at lunch.

33 comments:

Robb Allen said...

Marsupials do, however. Because they're fast.

Ok, with that out of the way, Pet Semetary was very creepy and a pretty good yarn to boot. However, the one story King did that tweaked my psyche more than any other thing I've ever read in my life was The Long Walk which he penned under Richard Bachman.

I was stationed at Pendleton in California at the time, so walking everywhere was just something you did. And for weeks I found myself walking as fast as I could, thinking in the back of my mind "God, I hope this is faster than 4MPH".

Noah D said...

Marsupials do, however. Because they're fast.

Well played, the both of you. :)

I read The Mist on the way back from a school trip to Canada. The bus happened to be going through very heavy fog at the time, nice and slow, so I had plenty of time to read.

Brr.

Caleb said...

dammit, Robb beat me to it.

Mikael said...

It's been ages since any fiction scared me(and I don't count sudden jump scares in movies, and it's been a while since one of those got me too).

That said, last time I was scared by a book... was probably an Edgar Allan Poe short story, or one of the short stories from Roald Dahl's "Black Book", when I was about 11-12. The last movie to scare me(gave me trouble sleeping that night) was Omen, when I was 12.

Lissa said...

Oh my god that book scared the crap out of me. I lived in the woods in high school and I spent several nights not sleeping and two weeks with the lights on at night. The only other book of King's that really frightened me was The Shining.

My favorite King is definitely Different Seasons. One book, four short stories, three resulting movies. That's pretty incredible.

Anonymous said...

Pffft, who needs Stephen King when we have the United States Congress? Now that's scary stuff!

Shootin' Buddy

Matt G said...

"...he could write a bang-up novel when he brought his A Game, which was about one try in four, by my tastes, with the rest being workmanlike tales with a certain 'contractual obligation' feel about them."

I'll buy that. But good Gawd-- given how prolific the guy is, that's still a damned good rate.

Whether or not you think he's too commercial, or needs a stricter editor, the man's a hell of a People's Storyteller, not the least of which because he not only has good ideas for plots, but because he can sketch a character well. That's golden, when you're trying to suck me in.

Another Gun Guy Brian said...

I read "Pet Sematary" as a 7th grader, just barely on the other side of childhood. Church. Gage. Scalpel. "Son, why do you have the light on again tonight?" Umm. No reason Dad.

"The Long Walk" was the first story I read that was set what I would later understand was a "dystopian" version of the future and an alternate history to boot. Heady stuff for a 7th grader - like the rest of the "Bachman Books". Oddly enough, I think when the one kid got shot early on after cramping up from blue balls was the part that creeped me out the most.

"The Mist" was the last thing that I read by King that genuinely scared me until "1408", which I read 14 years later.

"This is nine! Nine! This is nine! Nine!"

Yeesh.

Honorable mention goes to "Graduation Afternoon" in "Just After Sunset" for shock value alone.

Thus endeth the book report.

Fjolnirsson said...

I started reading King when I was in 3rd grade. Some of his short stories creeped me out, but like Tam says, he seems to really hit about one in four novels. Which, as someone else said, is pretty good, given the sheer volume he's written. The short stories are where he shines, though. That and the Dark Tower series.

I don't read King for scary, though. For scary, it's gotta be Lovecraft.

Dave said...

Yeah, the voice on the telephone, once the mood has been set, is terrifying.
The God of the Lost in The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon gets to me every so often.

Tangalor said...

What part of "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn." Do you not understand?

Love that mythos.

As to King, the best, (and this is saying a LOT) series I've ever read is his Dark Tower series. The first book, "The Gunslinger" was quite slow, but I still enjoyed it tremendously. By the time I got to the 10th page of "The Drawing of the Three" I was hooked. For life.

Every time I reread this series, I find new things, which is why I like it so much... part of me is torn on whether Abrams (JJ) should be making a movie out of the series... There's just... too much stuff to miss.. and I'd actually like to see it, if it ever gets made, that is.

Anonymous said...

His books never really did much for me.

The one that still gives me the creeping willies is Twilight Eyes, by Dean Koontz. For some reason, the notion that they are out there like that is just grrrr

shooter said...

Gawd, some books I've not read in a loong time. "Twilight Eyes" brought me into Koontz's world in college. Loved reading his stuff. "The Long Walk" has to be my favorite 'Bachman' tale. I still creep out a bit thinking about long walks.

Weer'd Beard said...

The Myst is one of my favorites. Really Creepy and hopeless tale, and scarier yet, my Great Grandfather used to take me grocery shopping in that exact IGA Grocery store when I used to spend time with them up in Bridgton when my folks wanted to get away for a vacation.

Reading a story can be even scarier when you know the details that aren't written....

BTW the Recent movie looks SPOT on for my memories....too bad they fucked up the ending...

Christina LMT said...

Pet Sematary didn't scare me...but "IT" did, and how!

I couldn't put the book down until I finished it, and it was the very last King novel I ever read, because of how much it terrified me.

Clowns are just plain creepy.

Anonymous said...

Pet Sematary is the first--and ONLY--King book I have ever--or will ever--read.

Read it in my 30s, couldn't sleep for days, still get the willies thinking about it.

Old Squid.

Atom Smasher said...

I agree with everything Tam said about King's novels vs. short stories. And I agree about Pet Semetary.

First off, I'm a rather cold fish, entertainment-wise. Things fictional rarely move me and nothing fictional scares me. Nothing. Ever.

Pet Semetary scared me.

Home for summer after freshman year in college, GF lends me PS, I start it that night. Bad Move. Around 4am, about 2/3 through it, I have to go to sleep.

Have to. Don't want to, because that means I have to turn out the light.

Next day, finished the book. Made gorram sure that I was in the swivel orange chair in the den by the open window with bright hot summer sunlight streaming in.

The closing sentence still sent a cold shudder through me.

cj said...

Not scary, but a mishmash of memoir and writing instruction, King's "On Writing" is excellent, and really shows how skilled he is as a writer.

The Freeholder said...

Same book, same reaction. Since I read for fun, entertainment, enlightenment and education, I'll not read that one again.

Yeah, I'm a wuss.

LabRat said...

Pet Sematery didn't scare me, but it did disturb me. That was written during probably the worst period of its author's life, and a lot of despair and rage sunk straight into the page.

I'm with Matt G- he's got a hand with story, and better than that he's got a hand with character. That's a useful tool for a horror writer to have- the ability to make you care about a character in some way in only a few pages, which is handy if you want your audience to react when you then behead them a page or two later.

Oddly enough while I agree about 1408, the only other short story of his that's really gotten to me was The Road Virus Heads North; there was something about the sense of inevitability in it that had me feeling as trapped as the main character.

Tam- pick up Twentieth Century Ghosts. It didn't get out until he'd published that and his first novel that Joe Hill is actually Stephen King's oldest son, and it has to be the first and only case I've ever seen of that sort of talent actually transmitting to the next generation. If I compared his first stuff to his dad's, I'd say he has the potential to be better than this old man if he doesn't self-destruct in some way.

The Captain said...

Salem's Lot scared the crap out of me as a young adult way back when. The movie was not so good, though.

The TV version of IT with Tim Curry as the clown... awesome.

DaveFla said...

Pet Sematary was 300 pages or so of the best suspense I'd ever read. Unfortunately, the hardcover book was around 400... and that last was a huge letdown of slashin' 'n stickiness. I stopped reading King as a result.

Ed Rasimus said...

My vote goes for Salem's Lot. When I started reading it I firmly stated that there was no such thing as a vampire. Half way through I was locking the bedroom windows at night. I believed!

Best King ever IMHO was The Stand (extended version). Over the last fifteen years however (maybe since the accident?) his stuff is simply delivering an annual contract obligation.

jon spencer said...

I read Dreamcatcher alone at deer camp.
With just a headlamp for reading and the flickering wood stove door for light.
There are lots of noises in and around camp at night, especially when you go outside for a nature call.
Did not have any problem staying up to read.

trebor1415 said...

I mentioned to my Mom once that I'd never read, "The Shining."

She was astounded and said, "Yes you did, in 6th grade. Don't you remember, you read it and then woke up at night screaming "The shin-ing, the shin-ing."

(I pronouced it "shin" like your leg, not "shine".)

Guess I blocked it all out.

(And, man do I miss my Mom. She's been gone 20 years now and it doesn't seem like it.)

rickn8or said...

"'Salem's Lot" was the first King novel I read, and did a pretty good job of scaring me, but "IT" remains my favorite. (and scared me the most)

It's like King followed me around during my growing-up years with a notebook. "Yeah, THAT scares the crap out of him; I'll put it in the book, too."

But the worst was putting the wife and kids on a plane for the states, going by the base theatre and seeing "Halloween" and then going home to an empty house... I mean JLC's boobs will only offset so much terror.

Beaumont Guy said...

Ditto. King said in the afterword that he had to put the manuscript away for a while because it unnerved him so badly. I stopped about 2/3 of the way thru and had to muster the courage to pick it up again.

But, for sheer atmospheric creepiness, I vote for "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward". If HPL had lived longer, imagine the influence his work might have wielded (beyond what it already does, of course).

John B said...

I have to hand it out hands down for The Shining. I was tending computers at a secret squirrel facility north of the arctic circle one winter. It's not there anymore. The place had driven several people mad, and the only book they left me to read was THE SHINING! The nice Air Force guy wearing mukluks, came back three weeks later with four large boxes of cast off books from the nearest used book store.

I always thought the most oblique form of suicide would be to give Tam a copy of Gerald's Game, then three days later stand in front of her, waggling my eyebrows, and holding a pair of handcuffs up by my index finger.....

Only way I'd survive, is she'd spend three days going through her collection of S&Ws to decide which one to shoot me with :D

staghounds said...

PS and Shining scared me. But I locked the doors and made a cross in Knoxville, Tennessee- when Ronald Reagan was President- for 'salem's Lot.

And for those who like editing, here's a brilliant youtube. As Eisenstein said, "montage is everything".

benEzra said...

Pet Semetery royally freaked me out, particularly so because I have kids the age of the kids in the book. Ditto to the freakiness of The Shining as well.

I didn't realize at first that King writes far more than horror. The Dark Tower epic has more in common with Lord of the Rings than with the horror genre, and The Stand is post-apocalyptic fiction along the lines of The Road.

IMO, one of King's remarkable talents is his ability to make practically anything scary. Christine is not his scariest book, but I have to admit to a little feeling of wierdness when I next sat down in my own car late one night, in the dark garage. And I have to admit to a little twinge of deja vu when I saw this photo...

http://www.allpar.com/images/tulsa/unveiling.jpg

http://www.allpar.com/history/auto-shows/time-capsule.html

It just happens that the zombie car in the time capsule was a '58 Plymouth Belvedere, the year, make, and model of the car that played Christine in the movie...

Anonymous said...

The Stand was incredible, and The Dead Zone was prolly my favorite, but do we have to read one more book in which a famous author is the main character? Seriously? Is there no one else about whom he could write?

wrm said...

I read Lovecraft in primary school and burnt out my horror synapses I think...

Cowboy Blob said...

I absolutely abhor the horror/ suspense genre... a fault that might cost me in my film school days to come. Still, I got suckered into seeing "Pet Sematary" with a tall, stacked, Barbara Feldon-look-alike, who, after the movie, restricted my use of her "facilities" to the one bathroom containing the psychotic cat she was pet-sitting for a week.

Serves her right that her own cat chose that night (sans me) to jump around and do weird stuff on its own.