4 Horror Books To Read This Halloween

“What do you usually read?” is a question I often get whenever people find out that I like reading. And when I reply that I like horror, there’s always this funny expression on their faces, as if I have just committed social suicide by daring to admit this in public lol.

I mean, I get it. Horror movies and books have always been considered ‘low culture’. They’re popular and they have mass appeal, but they rarely talk about contemporary social problems and issues, and seem to serve little purpose except to entertain. Even if there are moral values, they’re often expressed on an individual level eg how a protagonist beats the odds to outsmart a bloodthirsty killer, or how a priest overcomes his doubt to find faith and strength to banish demons.

But even though many horror titles might not be as ‘groundbreaking’ as books like Uncle Tom’s Cabin or To Kill a Mockingbird, I still feel that horror offers value. Perhaps not in the sense that it highlights social issues to invite discourse and change, but in that it recognizes something primal within ourselves : our sense of self-preservation as a species, and how we cope with ideas and things we cannot fully control or understand. Just as our ancestors used to tell fantastic stories about mythical creatures, demons and things that go bump in the dark as they huddled around campfires or in caves for protection, so do we as modern humans retell these stories and think of our mortality – even when we’re safe and snug in our comfy beds.

But I digress.

Since it’s spook season, I’ve rounded up a list of my favourite horror books to get you into the Halloween mood. Some of these are classics which have been made into films, so you might already have heard of them – but they’re worth reading to see how different they are from the depiction on the silver screen.

It by Stephen King

With King’s novels, I was a late bloomer: I only started reading his books when I was in college and had access to a public library. Which is just as well, because I don’t think a younger me would have been able to deal with the dark themes and mature subject material in many of his books.

My first King book was It, and it remains my favourite to this day, alongside Misery, The Dead Zone and Desperation. As kids, my brother and I had coulrophobia (I still have an irrational fear of clowns actually lol), and the idea of an alien clown that feeds off the flesh of young children and has shapeshifting powers is just … terrifying. That aside, I think It was peak King – it is well written with great pacing, and the villain and characters are well developed. More than just kids banding together to fight an ancient evil, it’s also a brilliant coming-of-age-story and a heartwarming one (when you’re not being scared shitless by Pennywise popping up everywhere) about the power of friendship.

Ring by Koji Suzuki

Here’s an online review which encapsulates how I feel about Ring by Koji Suzuki:

‘one.. you really can’t bear to read and want to lock away and bury away as far as possible, yet at the same time each word is enticing, putting you in a trance, making you read on.’

I have watched the Ring films (both the Japanese and the American versions), and while they’re creepy, they can’t hold a candle to the book. Despite being a grown ass adult when I first read it, I still found it hard to fall asleep as my imagination ran wild with thoughts of Sadako popping up at the foot of my bed, or standing just behind my curtains lol. I did something really childish too: I put the book underneath a pile of books, because I had this silly thought that if I left it on top, the ghost would somehow ‘come to life’ hahahaha. 😛 I guess that’s the mark of a good horror novel… (or maybe I’m just chicken). There’s very little gore or violence in the story, but Suzuki is so adept at playing with the psychological aspect of horror, you can feel the tension and creepiness ooze off the pages like miasma.

The Exorcist by William Peter Blaty

Do you believe in demons? Demons exist in various cultures and faiths because like the concept of yin and yang, where there is good, there will always be evil. The Exorcist is a classic that deals with themes of demonic possession – that of 12-year-old Regan, whose family is dragged into a nightmarish hell as they attempt to rid her of the evil. It is horrifying to read about the abuse that the young girl suffers as the demons torment her. I can’t help but think that it is a literal and figurative representation of the ‘demons’ within humans that drive people to do truly evil things, even without demonic possession. The story has a classic good vs evil plot, and you can’t help but cheer when the big-guns priest – him of the staunch faith and the back-up power of god – comes to smite evil.

The Beaver Book of Horror Stories – edited by Mark Ronson

Image via ebay because I don’t know where I’ve put my copy…

Okay this one is kind of a cheat entry because it isn’t a novel per se, but rather a collection of short stories. I found this gem in a 2nd hand bookstore and even though the cover was super campy, flipping through a couple of pages was enough for me to fork out five bucks. BEST. FIVE. BUCKS. SPENT. EVER.

There are 10 stories within written by different authors, including Mark Ronson himself, and they cover a wide range of horror subgenres including body horror, monsters and the paranormal. Most of the tales are from 19th century authors, which lends them a gothic quality. Some of my favourites are Pickman’s Model by HP Lovecraft, which talks about an artist whose monstrous paintings are so brilliant and terrifying one wonders where the inspiration comes from – and The Seed from the Sepulchre by Clark Ashton Smith, where explorers discover an ancient man-eating plant after stumbling upon some ruins in the jungle.

And there you have it! If you’re new to horror, these are my recommendations – but the world of horror fiction is a vast one, and there are still plenty of terrifying stories to unearth.

What are some of your favourite horror titles? Share them with me so I can look out for them.

Happy Halloween!

Book Review – Spiral by Koji Suzuki

Spiral

Remember that creepy chick who crawled out of the well, through the TV set and straight into our nightmares? The Ring wreaked havoc on an entire generation in the 1990s – kids (or at least, me) were afraid to turn on their TV sets in fear that the long haired woman with extremely clean clothes (I wonder what cleaning agent she uses?)would appear and lead them to die a horrible death. The movie ushered in a whole generation of Japanese horror that was creepy and brilliant, relying more on psychological horror and fear of the unknown over jumpscares, busty blondes being stabbed, and gore.

But before the film, there was… the book. Ring was the first of a series of novels by Koji Suzuki, where Sadako(aforementioned creepy chick) curses anyone who watches her videotape, dooming them to die horribly a week after. 

I read the first book a couple of years back, and it was scary – way scarier than the movie, I must say. It was a great piece of horror, praised as ‘combining Haruki Murakami with Stephen King’. You can read my read my review here

In Ring, journalist Kazuyuki Asakawa investigates a series of mysterious deaths where the victims appeared to have died from no apparent cause at the same time. This leads him to a videotape containing weird footage, which claims that he will die within 7 days if he doesn’t follow instructions at the end of the tape – but it has been erased as a joke by the earlier victims. Racing against time, he enlists help from his friend Ryuji Takayama to unravel the curse. They discover that the footage was imprinted by psychic Sadako Yamamura, whose hatred from being raped and murdered was channeled into the tape. Towards the end of the novel, it seems that the pair have unraveled the mystery, followed Sadako’s wishes and laid her body (which was thrown into a well) to rest.

The last few pages show that this was not the case at all. Ryuji dies, while Asakawa lives. Realising that the key to unravel the curse is to make a copy of the tape, Asakawa races to show two other people the cursed tape in order to save his wife and child, both of whom had watched the tape out of curiousity. The novel ends….

I recently got the second book in the series, Spiral, which picks up where the first left off. Can it live up to the first ? 

Synopsis: 

Coroner Ando Mitsuo is struggling to lead a normal life after the death of his son by drowning and divorce from his wife. It is then that the body of his ex classmate Ryuji is discovered, dead from mysterious circumstances. Ando and his colleague Miyashita discover a tumour as the cause of death, with symptoms similar to smallpox (now extinct). During the autopsy, a piece of newspaper comes out of the suture, with numbers on it. Curious, Ando deciphers them and discover the code ‘Ring’. This leads him to Ryuji’s former assistant and lover, Mai Takano. In search for answers, the two strike up a friendship.

Unbeknownst to Ando, Mai watches the copy of the tape left at Ryuji’s home and is infected with the Ring virus. She then disappears. Unable to find her, Ando continues digging deeper into the mystery, and discovers a copy of The Ring, written by Asakawa as a report, which details the entire incidence. He discovers that Asakawa, while not dead, has become catatonic after a car crash, where his wife and daughter are found dead from the curse despite him copying the tapes and showing them to someone else.

Too late, he discovers that the curse has mutated from video tape into Asakawa’s report, and that he has been infected with the curse after reading it. During this mutation, the characteristics of the curse changed, which meant that he did not die within the week. But the virus and Sadako has other plans – not just for Asakawa, but for the entire human race which might lead it to its extinction. Worst still, the report will be published as a novel and made into film and adapted to various media, which makes it virtally unstoppable…

Verdict: 

Spiral starts off differently from Ring. In the first novel, fear radiated off the first few pages instantly as we witness the last moments of one of Sadako’s victims, before we are gradually eased into the story.

Spiral, on the other hand, starts off with Ando, giving us a background of his broken personal life, and his gradual ‘spiral’ into the mystery – first as an observer and later his increasing involvement which endangers his life. However, it builds tension brilliantly, as the reader flips page after page wondering what comes next. Is Mai alive? What is the true nature of Sadako’s mutated curse? The novel plays on psychological fears with simple but effective prose : I felt my hairs standing on end while reading some parts in a quiet room alone at night.

A main characteristic shared by the protagonists in both novels is curiosity. Just like Pandora, Asakawa and Ando can’t help but search for answers until the bitter end. And like the ‘heroes’ in our story, the curious reader has to finish the novel in spite of ourselves.

Rating: 7.5/10

 

 

 

 

Book Review – The Ring by Koji Suzuki

thering

The Ring novels by Koji Suzuki and it’s subsequent film adaptations have got to be one of THE most popular titles in modern day horror-based film and literature.  Published in 1991, it was made into a Japanese film in 1998, with an American remake in 2002. As a kid, I’ve watched both the Japanese and American films. I know many critics have applauded it for being ‘psychologically creepy’ but it has never left a deep impression in me.  I’ve actually forgotten how the actual movie was like. So when I saw the book up for sale at the local bookstore, I decided to grab a copy to read.

Set in modern day Japan, it revolves around a journalist (Asakawa), who, after the death of his niece and three other teens after visiting a cabin in the mountains, decides to investigate the mysterious circumstances surrounding their death. His investigations lead him to the cabin where he discovers a videotape which the teens had allegedly watched a week prior to their deaths. Curious, he watches the tape himself. Unknown to him is that the tape contains a powerful grudge conjured by one Sadako Yamamura, a dead telepathic whose curse carries on in the form of the videotape. Those watching it will die within seven days, unless they follow instructions at the end of the tape, which the teens have erased as part of a joke. Left with no hints, Asakawa must race against time to solve the riddle using his connections and skills as a journalist.

(Spoiler: I know one famous scene in the movie is the image of Sadako ‘crawling’ out of the TV set, but the book is rather different. She is never portrayed as having long hair covering her face in a ghostly white robe, as in the movie.)

Right from the get-go, the book wields a grip over the reader. It starts off describing how Asakawa’s niece was ‘visited’ by Sadako after a week from watching the tape. The tension and creepiness level is impalpable: it practically radiates off the pages. For people with vivid imaginations like mine, who find horror novels scarier than actual visual representations, it was nail-biting. You can almost feel as if you’re in the character’s shoes, and that once you turn behind, Sadako would be there.  The entire novel had me holding my breath, even though there was very little description of gore or violence. Suzuki Koji plays with the mind and things we fear on a subterranean conciousness – the unknown and the unseen. It leaves a long lasting impression compared to cheap shock stunts.

I loved the twist at the ending (I kind of knew since I’ve watched the movies, but it was still a brilliant turn) where the protagonist thought it was over.. and BAM. It’s not. Everything they had been working on was in the wrong direction. That sense of relief the reader feels when he thinks it’s over comes back full-fold. Suzuki (well the translator as well!) has a real way with using simple words that brings out vivid imagery. There are some things that are never explained, but the whole novel works out better that way.

The RIng is the first of a three-part novel. I’ve yet to read the other two, but if they’re anything like this, I’d gladly buy them.

I read a review which described the book as ‘one.. you really can’t bear to read and want to lock away and bury away as far as possible, yet at the same time each word is enticing, putting you in a trance, making you read on.’

I think that’s the closest about how it made me feel. I had to put it underneath a pile of books coz I have this silly thought whereby it would somehow come to life if I left it on top. hahaaa. Definitely a great read if you’re a horror fan. Just try not to read it before going to sleep like I did.

Rating: 8/10.