Top Ten Tuesday: scares and spooks

Top Ten Tuesday bannerTop Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created and hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, in which we all talk about a bookish topic and have fun making lists. This week we’re getting in the mood for Hallowe’en.

I am not a big fan of horror, perhaps because I didn’t grow up with it. I read a little Stephen King as a teen (It, Carrie, The Dark Half) and enjoyed it – but not enough to seek out more. My heart had already been stolen by fantasy, mythology and scifi, and I was happy sticking to what I loved. My Mum was absolutely anti-horror movies, and I didn’t have the interest to push that boundary beyond the blurred lines of Aliens and serial killer crime thrillers.

I grew up, and gorenography and found footage happened. I never wanted to see Saw, and I’ve even less interest in the industry it spawned. I did see – through half-closed eyes, because I’m really bad with hand-held shakycam – The Blair Witch Project; but I get bored by franchises, so I was never going to see the knock-offs (*cough* except Troll Hunter) or sequels.

This keeps me from most horror movies. I don’t want splatter. I don’t want a familiar set-up followed by a bunch of things designed to make you squirm or jump. I’m not that comfortable being scared. I can scare myself silly without the help of a movie, just by watching the news or running through the woods as it gets dark.

My beloved is even less sympathetic to the genre than I am. He laughs at me for jumping at loud noises (and I do, every time), but he’s the one climbing the walls and grabbing the armrest when it gets tense. If we see a horror movie, it’s always because I wanted to (bless him), and almost always on the small screen. So intentional horror is a rare visitor in our household (and, I’ve just realised, pretty much always monsters not ghosts. Huh). Let’s take a look…

28 Days Later

Movie poster: 28 Days LaterI watched this because I’ll see anything by Danny Boyle (yes, even The Beach). Twenty minutes in, I was so stressed I was nauseous, and… hooked. This is not the typical way into my regard. The unflinching focus on the human cost and the top notch performances won me over, slicing through my cynicism and tangling up my empathy. This is one of my favourite films, although not one I watch often.


The Cabin in the Woods
Movie poster: The Cabin in the Woods I like Whedon, so I gave this a look – although I live-tweeted through it to cope. Delightfully, it’s a gleeful hell-ride of embracing and exposing horror tropes, with an excellent tongue in cheek script. Like Scream, it’s knowing and has evident affection for the material. Besides, who doesn’t like an international conspiracy of sadistic governmental organisations executing horror to save the world from worse?


Dog Soldiers

Movie poster: Dog SoldiersNeil Marshall’s debut is horror we both love, a low budget monster movie that embraces B-movie tropes and adds in two beloved actors (Sean Pertwee and Liam Cunningham) chewing all the scenery in sight. The splatter is matched by the silliness, and thankfully very few well-lit werewolves. I also have a lot of time for The Descent (To a point. Then it’s too scary for me).



Movie poster: Alien (1979)Like Dog Soldiers, I can convince myself Alien isn’t a horror movie, but who am I kidding? In space, no one can hear you scream. Of course it’s horror, and it vies with 28 Days Later as my favourite horror movie for being atmospheric, tense yet oddly low-key. No shiny heroes or big action sequences – just some excellent actors in a tight space with a killing machine. And some spectacular art design.


Troll Hunter

troll-hunterThe only found footage film I whole-heartedly love: Norwegian film students go in search of bears that have been exciting bounty hunters in the woods, and find more than they bargained for. Rescued by Norway’s least likely government employee, they discover their country is full of creatures they never imagined. The cave sequence is masterful, as is the comedy grumping of the Troll Hunter himself.


When it comes to books, the list of horror I own and love is very, very short – and, ironically, is mostly about ghosts. My reading and movie tastes appear to be opposites (this probably has a lot to do with coping strategies; it feels like failure to put a film on hold and go make a cup of tea while you calm down):

The Woman in Black

Book cover: The Woman in Black - Susan HillSusan Hill’s classic ghost story still sends chills down me. I’ve read the book, seen the movie and been to the play (twice; I recommend it highly) and it terrifies me every time (although the film annoyed me too; it over complicated something very elegant, although the set design was great).


Dark Ages

Book cover: Dark Ages - John PritchardA modern peace activist gets caught up by a time-travelling 9th century warband – it’s every bit as weird as it sounds, but it’s also gripping, gritty and very, very spooky. The author captures the terror of abandoned spaces and overpowering hatred a little too well.


Harvest Home

harvest-homeRead now, this feels trope-driven, but it’s the same age as The Wicker Man rather than a copy cat rural horror: a city family moves to a rural village that seems too good to be true, and the father begins to suspect there’s a conspiracy only to discover a cult. My delight in this one is the ending, which I won’t spoil; although it’s a simmering potboiler, so you need patience to get there.


The Owl Service

She wants to be flowers, but you make her owls. You must not complain, then, if she goes hunting.

Book cover: The Owl Service - Alan Garner (are those flowers or owls?)Alan Garner has always been good at atmosphere, but The Owl Service is still a book I think twice before reading, even as an adult. Three teenagers find themselves re-enacting a myth from the Mabinogion (Blodeuwedd), with added subtext about identity, class and privilege alongside the creepy story in case it didn’t have sharp enough claws.


Midnight is a Lonely Place

Book cover: Midnight is a Lonely Place - Barbara ErskineWe’ll end with a guilty pleasure: our heroine rents a cottage on the Suffolk coast to write a book about Byron; but her landlord’s son is an angry artist who resents her (we can see where this is going, y/y?) and his sister has discovered a Roman burial in the dunes nearby (so shall we have ghosts or possession?). It’s by the numbers and OTT, but Erskine delivers with panache – read until you can hear a pin drop.


What horror gems do you think I’ve missed out on?