Read before Sunset

on Monday, June 01, 2009

I love horror stories. For some perverse reason, I like to be so scared that I pee in my pants. Coupled with my preference for spicy, hot, tongue scalding chili encrusted meals, that should be enough to label me as a masochist. Anyway, I started on this post late last night but was scaring myself so much I decided it would be better to stop and only continue during daylight hours if only to evade getting nightmares when I slept.

Anyway as I was saying, I love horror stories. It doesn't even have to be a particularly good story. For example, the campy King of B-Grade Horror movies, "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" is so bad that it is good. You know what I mean?

However, as much as I like monster movies, I really, really like supernatural stories. When I was 12 years old, my 26 year old brother was supposed to take his girlfriend to watch the special midnight movie but for some reason, they had a tiff. I benefited from the rebound when he offered to sneak me in to see the movie which had an 18 only rating. I was thrilled. The movie was "The Exorcist" which in retrospect gives a clue to the subject of their lover's tiff. Not unexpectedly, I was severely traumatised by the movie and could not sleep for weeks as I awaited an arm to come out of the wall to grab me.

Although Hollywood has come out with many outstanding supernatural horror stories, in recent years the far more scary movies have come forth from the imagination of Asian directors such as "The Ring", "The Grudge", and "One Missed Call".

Below are some of the horror concepts that work well at getting my goosebumps up.

  1. Shining eyes. Eyes that glow in the dark. Imagine looking around in the dark. Everything looks normal. Suddenly you do a double take and you notice two dots of glowing red in a dark corner or at the window looking in. Scary! This effect was used in "Amityville Horror" when two glowing eyes appear in the window.
  2. Mirrors. Often a hint or glimpse of some horror in a mirror or shining surface is far more effective than showing the whole horror. This is probably because when you get to see the whole thing, it looks too much like a guy with makeup on. I used to have to drive along a jungle road at night. All around was dark except for my headlights. Occasionally, out of habit, I would look into the rear-view mirror. Fortunately all I saw was darkness. Can you imagine how I would freak out if something suddenly appeared out of the darkness in my mirror? The urban legend of Bloody Mary uses the concept of the mirror leading into the spirit world.
  3. Images on Photos. Sometimes the horror is scene as blurry images on photos or as images on the negatives. This has an interesting horror factor when the story protagonist and the audience are suddenly aware that the entity had been along side them all the while. In one very scary Thai movie, the hero realises that he has been capturing images of a ghost when he takes pictures of his friends. He figures this out when his friends all die ghastly deaths. Now trying to protect himself, he uses a polaroid camera to try to see the ghost approaching him. He takes photo after photo but despite no image of a ghost, he still senses its presence. Finally he realises something and he points the camera on himself and when the photo comes out, he sees the ghost sitting piggy-back on his shoulder and smiling into the camera. Creepy!
  4. Evil Clown. Take something that kids trust like a clown or a teddy bear and make it evil. Probably because it affects our childhood security blankets, this can be a very effective vehicle for representing horror. The clown, well, clowns around but when he smiles his broad smile, why are his teeth shaped like needles. This concept was famously done in Stephen King's "It".
  5. The Old Hag. One of the scariest effect for me is the Old Hag. This is when someone sleeps and has a nightmare but it doesn't end when he/she awakes. Instead, he wakes, he cannot move, he feels a weight on his chest making it hard to breathe and as the fog of sleep fades, to reveal the old hag's ugly face just inches from his. The Old Hag is an idea that evolved from the idea of witches and/or the incubus/succubus. I think this is scary because we feel vulnerable when we sleep and we are afraid to wake up to such horrors. I know it isn't quite the same but I once went to sleep in a jungle camp and woke up to a dead giant praying mantis right next to my face. I gave a little shreek. If it was an Old Hag, I would have jumped out of my skin. Speaking of skin, Ol' Skinner has an Old Hag experience in the X-Files. In an interesting twist, although the X-Files' Old Hag was darn scary, she turns out to be a benevolent protector.
  6. Levitation. Levitation is a very good horror vehicle if used subtly. It's most effective when you do not realise that there is any levitation to start with at the beginning. When you finally realise it, the horror seems to just roll over you. This was in the closing scene of "The Blair Witch Project" when the last survivor thinks she sees a friend and only realises a little late that his feet does not touch the ground.
What Horror concepts works for you?


Owen said...

What is it about being scared that has such a visceral attraction for some of us ? For me at an early age it was the basement, because there was a dark crawl space that went on under the house from behind the heater, and there were all sorts of horrible things that lived in that dark space. Even into my teens going down into the basement late at night alone required a supreme effort of will.

Stephen King was one of the best writers of horror stories for me, like "Christine" and "Pet Sematary", although when I was younger my brother's collection of stories by H.P. Lovecraft were perhaps the most terrifying of all.

Hmmm, I would have thought your most eminent lone grey squirrel would have included a few items in the list of sources of terror like :

a) Speeding trucks with big wide black looming tires with deep zig zag treads

b) Teenaged boys with .22 caliber rifles hidden on the decks of houses using dum-dum bullets

c) camouflaged traps full of tasty nuts for bait

d) poisoned walnuts

e) booby-trapped bird feeders that become electrified once a squirrel has gotten near the food

Now that is the stuff of squirrel nightmares !

Dr.John said...

I loved the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Well I loved the movie.
I used to go to horror movies from my grandmother's house and run all the way back after the show because I was sure one of whatever it was was going to get me.
Thank you for bring back memories.

Joyce's Ramblings said...

Not to age myself but the movie that scared me the most was "The Mummy's Hand".

I remember that night because half of the movie goers were in the lobby of the theater waiting for the movie to end. Double features were in then.

the watercats said...

I'm a complete wimp and hardly ever watch horror, unless it's non-gory..(I have a blood phobia).. However, brilliant scary concepts for me are;
Children's echoey laughter

Toys moving on their own (particularly bouncing balls).. (down stairs).

a much loved pet suddenly going skitz... or staring wildly..

everything going silent and still, even the birds, but it's sunny and otherwise nice.

writing left in dust, flour, lipstick, ash, cocaine, talcum powder..etc, etc...

handprints on ceilings or other odd places...

curtains. shut. but awaiting opening...

Neil Diamond.... nuff said!..*shudder


xup said...

I stopped being interested in horror stories suddenly one day when I was in my early 20s. I was a big Stephen King addict and got totally freaked out by The Shining. It scared me so much I took it far away from my house and burned it. I never read or watched any horror after that.

mago said...

It's a kind of "switch" ... when normal things are not normal anymore. They are "loaded" with something that is in a way or seemingly unpredictable.
The horror is in the "in-between", im "Dazwischen".

You know I am up many nights and I am walking in empty buildings at strange times. It always depends on one's "posture", or attitude. I can not allow things to come in, I'd freeze on the spot. I walk, I have to look, to be alert for certain things, I get paid for this work. I am alone in the dark, the house is empty. That's the way it has to be.
Small things. Like, I look out of a window over to another part of the complex, a light goes off/out. I was there and it was empty. Or I'll have to go there. In some minutes.
An elevator decides to go down by itself.
You walk a corridor up to a crossing. A door clicks. Nobody in, nobody out. You lock up the door and stand in a fog. It's the deep-freeze cadaver storing room.
Simple things, small things, no screaming, no gargling monster sliming through the tubes: Small nasty concussions of your perception when you are alone in the dark and ALL you can rely on IS your perception.

There was some years ago a Danish production called "The Hospital". Describes fairly what I mean.

geewits said...

I was 12 when the exorcist came out and a large group of us went to see it: My parents, some of their young party friends and maybe some of my big brother's friends. On the ride over, one of the guys in his mid 20's asked, "Are you sure "geewits" should be coming with us to see this?" Dad replied, "I don't see hy not, she read the book when she was 10." The book was scary, but I knew what to expect with the movie.

As for horror elements, what creeps me out the most is a seemingly kind benign person being secretly evil like the little old Jewish lady in Rosemary's Baby.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Stop! You're scaring me!!Nightmare on Walnut Street!

Dr. John,
One of the best creature feature ever!

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I have to admit that I have never seen "The Mummy's Hand" but it does sound interesting. I know there were later, probably inferior, versions of the idea.

I agree with you. Blood gore slasher fests like the Halloween series does not scare as much as the subtler hints of evil which you have described. Okay, I'll bite.....Neil Diamond? I kinda like Neil. I would have said "Tom jones". :)

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I am surprised. I didn't think anything could shake you. The Shining is scary but I would put it in the middle of the pack.

Have you considered writing a ghost story? You have the material. I found all that you have described creepy. I too did the night "graveyard" shift before so I can relate to what you describe.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I know what you mean. I think that is creepy too especially at the moment of realisation. I remember the Buffy episode which featured Joel Grey. He played the part of a sweet old gentleman that felt like everyone's favorite grandfather; that is until we glimpse his tail and his eyes darken with evil. Creepiest!

the walking man said...

I used to read horror and fiction of the supernatural, then I discovered newspapers and found out what horror really was.

ArtSparker said...

I used to like to climb into a tree in summer in the middle of the day (a loooong time until dark) to read stories from the August Derleth anthology "Sleep no More"( with illustrations). Lafcadio Hearn said that the most terrifying thing he could think of was the sound of someone striking a match in an empty room. Recently a great Dr. Who episode called "Blink", which was derived from Asian horror films. it won a bunch of awards.

Clowns=always creepy.

Jocelyn said...

I'll tell you what horror concept works for me: reading this post alone, at almost midnight, while everyone else in the house sleeps.



All this talk about scary stuff reminds me of childhood. An uncle of mine painted the portrait of a clown's face for my mother as a gift one year. And he did it so well that whenever you walked past it the eyes seemed to follow you.

My mother hung it in the hallway and at night the effect was terrifying. My brother and I begged her to take it down and it still lies in a box, in our garage. We don't like clown portraits.

But I'm with you Mr. LGS. I like a good, well-told horror stories. I have enjoyed them since I was young. My father would tell us true stories, of the supernatural kind, that happened to he and his father in Guatemala. I'll have to post some of them sometime.
And I think for me, a veteran, the more subtle the better. Then save the in-your-face scares for the end. :)

Caio Fernandes said...

hi 1 i just found your blog today , it is realy good .i like the way you see yourself and the world .

Lorac said...

I love horror stories as well, at least good ones with a plot. I dislike horrors that are just all killing,no story line. When my son was 7, some older kids snuck him in to see Jaws. he scared to death of the toilet for days!

Lorac said...

I love horror stories as well, at least good ones with a plot. I dislike horrors that are just all killing,no story line. When my son was 7, some older kids snuck him in to see Jaws. he scared to death of the toilet for days!

Owen said...

Oh most eminent grey squirrel,
I felt duty bound to inform you that there is a most worrisome story posted about the future of your relatives in England on this blog today :

Hope you see this and can warn them in time...

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

That IS sadly very creepy!

Welcome. Thanks for coming by and commenting. You are absolutely right about the sound of a match struck or other sounds in an empty room.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Well, the title was actually an instruction, "Read before Sunset."

Guatamalan ghost stories? I can hardly wait.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Why, thank you for your kind words. Hope you will come by again.

Jaws was quite scary but it is what I call a creature feature and isn't supernaturally scary. Now if a hand reaches up and pulls you into the toilet, that's got to be supernaturally scary.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Owen said...

And don't mean to pester you like a chipmunk at a tourist trap, but another blog just caught my eye with a post on the same subject, but with an interesting twist, and photo...

Marja said...

I nearly never look at horror movies Only like the very mild ones with a bit of excitement. Maybe that's why I have never scary dreams.
I am fascinated by images on photo's though or ghost stories but again these ghosts have to be a bit friendly

MedStudentWife said...

The Grudge.. I saw that one nite in a strange hotel while I was on business. Man - that freaked me so out,that it was good !!

Funny you mention the hag... I was on another business trip the other day & watching early morning TV as I was ironing pants, someone was telling about their experience.

I have experienced the hag.... :0

I've always been a horror fan... vampires especially.. I had several books once just about the movies.

Christoper Lee, Peter Cushing & Hammer films. :)

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

News of the intended ethnic cleansing of the greys have reached my twitchy ears. Apparently suggested by Prince charles the monarch in waiting. In my opinion, his judgement has suffered from being in waiting for too long. Thanks for the heads up though.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Perhaps you are wiser than I. Don't really know why I set myself up for bad dreams!

Wow! The old hag is scary as it occurs when you are not capable of reacting effectively.

olivia said...

Wow ... that example w/ the camera and the ghost on the shoulder just gave me the willies! And it's late here ... and dark. LOL ...

I think my list would be similar to yours ... the eyes appearing ... the shadowy, furtive figures in the dim light ...

When I was a kid I was completely freaked out by some show about toy dolls coming to life and hacking peoples feet and legs, so much so that I was scared to get out of my bed when it was dark for fear the toy would be under there.

Andre said...


I don't know why, but children scare the life out of me. The twins from the Shining creep me out the most. In fact, I just moved into a new place with a hallway pretty similar to the Overlook Hotel. Doing laundry at 2 in the morning has never been more frightening. :)

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Toys coming to life or moving on their own is really spooky. I forgot about that.....largely due to the rather poorly done, unsubtle, overkill Hollywood treatment of that idea in the "Chucky" series.

Children! Yes! They can be very creepy. Even the use of children voices singing nursery rhymes can be used to powerful effect in horror movies. Good suggestion.

Lisa said...

I must say I do not like horror films at all. They scare me and give me bad dreams and I know, for me, that they really pollute my thoughts. The shining eyes really gets me, watching someone being stabbed is horrifying, any sort of animal cruelty, watching someone "die", ugh, no no no!!!!
(Pulling the covers up over my head).

兩津 said...


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