Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I call this story… the tale of the terrifying text. Few things can inspire fear quite like great fiction, and few authors are as adept at spinning scary stories as the great Edgar Allen Poe.
Although all of his work is as skillfully crafted as it is viscerally chilling, Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum” makes number five on my list for purely personal reasons. The crushing claustrophobia of the poor prisoner resonates with my own fear of tight spaces, and Poe’s sensory-driven prose makes it impossible not to imagine being right there with him. It’s by far the most realistic of Poe’s tales, and also the most likely to linger in the back of my mind after a riveting re-reading.
Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye is really more of a mystery than a horror novel, Chandler’s eye for detail and talent for spinning a truly engaging tale makes it impossible not to get lost in the gritty streets, vast mansions and maniacal maneuverings of hero Philip Marlowe’s Hollywood, rendering the reader utterly unable to resist feeling a real fright when the plot gets thick. It’s noir at its best, and it’s number four on my list.
Number three is a throwback to the great Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine, and specifically to the book that started it all – Night of the Living Dummy. With the wisecracking dummy of death, Slappy, as its villain, and a surprise twist at its end, the book remains a favorite childhood read and a major reason why I still don’t trust performers with puppets.
Number two is also a throwback, but to an entirely different era in our collective conscious. Bunnicula is James Howe’s darkly funny tale of the bloodsucking bunny. The story centers around the titular rabbit that drains the juice out of vegetables, and the crazy cat, Chester, that tries to stop his vampiric veggie-sucking. It’s funny, sweet and scary enough to have inspired a series of nightmares when I was seven. Perfection.
Number one on my list is another Poe classic, “The Tell-Tale Heart.” This short story of murder, deceit and all-consuming guilt is fraught with finely drawn moments and eerily evocative emotion, and the result is a taut tale of tension and terror. It’s beautifully crafted, utterly chilling and definitely the scariest story I have ever read.