REPOST – Open Call: The ChillerPop Top Ten Influential Books

[Originally published March 29, 2010]

Open Call: The ChillerPop Top Ten Influential Books

My first Open Call response.

Of course I read more than
horror fiction, and of course there’s been many other books/novels
of higher and lower quality that have been more important and
influential to me.  But this blog being what it is, I had to come up
with the list below of the horror books that influenced me the most. 
And you can be sure that this is just a spur of the moment top ten
list.  There’s no order here (maybe chronological by when I read them,
but even that’s uncertain).  I don’t really have much use for these
kinds of lists – ask me tomorrow and the list will be completely
different.
So here we go: 


Miss Nelson Is Missing! by Harry Allard: you
better believe I count this as horror! Let your
inner misbehaving-with-substitute-teacher juvenile delinquent quake in
fear as sweet, timid Miss Nelson undergoes a shocking transformation
into horrendous goth diva Viola Swamp!
Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Witch series (The Witch’s Sister /Witch Water /The Witch Herself):
It might be easy, the way this series has been packaged since the early
80’s (when I dove into these books as a fifth or sixth grader), to
dismiss it as light “girly” young adult fiction (and there’s nothing
wrong with such a category anyhow).  But the dread, suspense and horror
Naylor infused into these books made them quite a gripping ride.  The
horror was none too light, either, as we follow a young girl in suburban
Illinois battling black magic, trying to save her little brother from a
gruesome human sacrifice, fearing her ensorcelled and/or disbelieving
family members, and attempting to murder her witch antagonist’s familiar
demon/household pet. She’s isolated, she’s coming of age and she’s
facing the forces of darkness strictly on her own – way before Buffy
Summers did and without any supernatural gifts of her own.  I know it
was made into a TV special back in the 80’s, but it calls for a decent
TV adaptation that won’t skimp on the more frightening aspects. 
Dracula by Bram Stoker:
reading this was a sublime act of courage on my part that merely
cemented my love of macabre entertainment.  I don’t need to say anything
about how hugely influential the book is, but I do need to mention how
the story of Dr. Seward’s band of heroes facing Dracula head on helped
me get over all those Hammer films I had to watch as a
little kid and be traumatized by at night. Above all, Stoker’s novel was
to me an invention of the ‘Scooby Gang’, the coming together of
ordinary men and women to share a horrifying, thrilling and secret battle against a great evil.
The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories:
The best overview of fiction’s favorite monster, from Dracula’s
ancestors to the wildly imaginative takes by pulp science fiction
writers to the romantic precursors of today’s current craze.  There’s
nothing New under the Moon, but I’d argue it was better expressed back
in the day.
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury: In
a small town, a young girl is out with her friend, having a good time. 
It’s late at night.  A rural legend is all over town, a story
about about a maniac killer with a knife that targets women who are out
at night.  The girl has a long, scary walk home in the dark.  Corpses
are encountered.  The relative safety of a home is reached.  Or is it? 
Think I’m talking about the latest Halloween, Friday, Scream or Nightmare
Nope. I’m talking about the profoundly scary Chapter 30 of Ray
Bradbury’s classic “Dandelion Wine.”  I will blog extensively about this
in a future post.
Carrie by Stephen King:
there’s no shortage of work from The King I could put on this list, but
it’s really his moving teen angst telekinesis melodrama that left the
biggest impression on me.  It inspired an iconic and excellent film. 
It’s also quite a commentary on extreme, warped evangelical
Christianity. It’s no surprise that a recent (2003?) for-TV remake of
the movie flopped.  Anyone who feels the need to remake De Palma’s film
just to add hip references and internet and cell phones – or to launch a
supernatural girl-power TV series (Carrie travels all over the country
and fights crime!) –  is deeply, deeply misguided.
From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell:
yes, it’s a book/novel, there’s absolutely no reason to separate from
any list just because it’s also a funny book.  My love of Alan Moore is
immense, and his psychography of the Jack the Ripper murders,
intrinsically bound with Western occult traditions and the misogyny of
Victorian culture, gives you much to think about.  Eddie Campbell’s art
is superb.  Ignore the film adaptation, and make sure to read the
chapter notes.
The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker
I went through a brief Barker period, and while I don’t feel any great
connection to it (sometimes it just made me ill at ease), his weird
morass of horror, sadomasochistic sexuality, epic fantasy and Catholic
iconography is definitely unique, and most powerfully expressed in “The
Great and Secret Show.”
The Witching Hour by Anne Rice:
I dreaded putting her on this list, probably because the quality of her
novels has degraded to the point of ridicule.  And sure, her first two
vampire novels, “Interview With The Vampire” and “The Vampire Lestat”
are probably more influential than “The Witching Hour”.  To me though,
Witching Hour is an extremely compelling gothic horror epic, weaving a
tale of incest, psychic power and a mysterious spirit that haunts a
family line through the generations.  Her historic flourishes make the
tapestry all the more rich.  Ignore the sequels at all costs – pretend
the story ends with Book One.
The Ultimate Evil by Maury Terry:
whooo-boy!  There’s volumes I could – and will – write about this book
which purports to be non-fiction.  The great American Satanic Panic is
one of my deep fascinations, and “The Ultimate Evil,” together with
Geraldo Rivera and Morton Downey Jr. helped to fan its infernal flames. 
In this horror novel piece of investigative journalism based on the insane rantings of Son of Sam David Berkowitz
exhaustive research, reporter Maury Terry claims that every major
serial killer case/occult crime in the United States – Manson to the
Zodiac Killer to Son of Sam to the Atlanta Child Murders – is linked to
the Process Church of the Final Judgment.  Allow me to be a responsible
blogger for a minute: if you pick up this book, please realize that
it’s largely false and unproven, and that it was actually very harmful –
a lot of innocent people suffered as a result of the Satanic Panic. 
Your local wiccan tarot reader/shopkeeper is not abusing scores and
scores of children – the Vatican Hierarchy has that market locked up. 
But conspiracy theories are seductive aren’t they?  I’ll admit I still
wonder if there was more than one Son of Sam killer, and I wonder about
the dead dogs found at Untermeyer Park in the Bronx.  This book is
hooey, but it’s still a lurid thrill ride, a shiver-inducing conspiracy
of widespread satanic murder cults.  See my note about “Dracula”: the
general Satanic Panic inspired no shortage of homegrown local Scooby
Gangs looking to rout Lucifer  from their small towns.  It’s the best
horror movie never made.

 

 

 

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Comments

You and I might be
psychic twins. I haven’t heard anyone mention Witch’s Sister in years,
but in my own fiction it is so influential.

 

Great list.

Thanks Maureen! yeah, I
think Naylor hit creative gold with those books. They should have been
bigger. I understand there’s more books in the series – I wonder if
they’re any good.
A comment on the last
one, the newspaper where I lived ran a story on a witch circle they
found out to the east of town. They even found bones from an obvious
satanic sacrifice. They got a letter from the art history professor at
the local university pointing out that the circle was made by a student
to represent Stonehenge and the bones turned out to be those of a rabbit
who had crawled under a rock and died of natural causes. But you have
to love public hysteria brought on by the popular media.
That’s great, ocular –
I’d love to read the story. My hometown had it’s many instances of
satanic panic – one even gained national notoriety.
I love your list because it really brings new books to my attention. good descriptions, too. rated.
This diabolical selection has brought a sinister smile to the visage of this remorseless horror fan!
Caroline – keep me posted on which of those you check out (and also realize you might find some of them to be very bad).

 

Monsieur Chariot, you are 100% class, and I’m about to dive headlong into your blog!

There’s a book that
discusses satanic panic at length called simply, “Satanic Panic” by
Jeffrey S. Victor. It’s a fascinating read on that subject.

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