So with the front door securely locked and the curtains pulled tight, now is also a good time to grab yourself a horror classic, but which one is best? Here are my top five monster stories.
5) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Ken Kesey(1962)
The film of the same name will always be connected to the brilliant performance of Jack Nicolson portrayal of the protagonist, Randal McMurphy. Although Nicolson delivers a magnificent performance, it is the talented imagination of author, Ken Kesey who created the memorable character’s, including the narrator of the piece, Chief Bromden, half-American Native American who since his incarceration has feigned, being deaf and dumb as a way of surviving. Having been continuously belittled by those who invaded his tribes land, and more so by the staff of the institution, Bromden believes that the building is filled with machinery that constantly monitors and controls the patients and that all the staff are nothing more than cold mechanical robots, which in reality they are.
Miss. Ratched, the main villain of the piece is a clever construction, using fear and power of authority to keep her patients in a constant state of submission. All this changes when red headed Irishman,Randle Patrick “Mac” McMurphy is sent to the Miss Ratched’s ward. Having been convicted of statutory rape, McMurphy wangles a stay at the psychiatric hospital, believing doing time there as opposed to the farm jail would be much easier. The battle of wills is at time brilliantly funny as McMurphy takes great pleasure in getting a rise from the staff around him, while showing the men around his that the real prison is the one inside their mind. Determined to liberate his fellow inmates from the clutches of nurse Ratched, McMurphy goes for all out war against those in power. Although through his brute strength and dogged determination McMurphy scores several significant home runs, he finds in the long run even he can be rendered defenceless when pure evil holds the keys to absolute power and is determined to rid the cuckoo from her nest.
4) The Forbidden. (taken from Books of Blood) Clive Barker. (1984)
“There’s thing young couple canoodling at a secluded beauty spot. He’s trying to move to third base, when the radio announcers interrupts the rock and roll station and warns all young lovers out there that there’s a hook for a hand maniac escaped from the local asylum. We all know the rest, right?
From then on, I was fascinated by urban myths, from the Kentucky fried rat to the vanishing hitch hiker. So when it came to Clive Barkers collection of short stories in the Books of Blood collection, I knew I had found wordsman with a gift for creating new terrors. The Forbidden, (later filmed as the brilliant Candyman), sees the hero of the piece, Helen, go in search of the mythical monster the Candyman. Although never seen by the residents of Cabrini-Green, the Candyman is everywhere; from the graffiti covered walls, to whispers that linger in dark corners, everybody knows of the hooked hand man, say his name three times when you’re looking in a mirror, and he’ll appear behind you with his bloody hook in his hand… The lengths Helen goes to first prove that the Candyman is nothing more than a myth, then later to prove he is real to save her own sanity leads her to commit the ultimate sacrifice as she becomes part of the legend of the Candyman and Cabrini-Green.
3) The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson (1948)
Set on a Summer Solstice Day, Jackson introduces us to a bustling village town square, along with the colloquial village references, from the children running freely in the street, to the women exchanging gossip, as they seek their husband’s faces in the crowd. Jackson then unveils the village traditions; so old, no one can rightly remember the how and why’s of its meaning, but the traditionalist (all men) of the village, demand that the lottery continues; even when there are the beginning of (female) voices expressing that the practice should end.
However, when the lottery is drawn, everyone takes a collective sigh of relive when they realise they have not been picked as they gather to extract the historical lottery’s violent conclusion.
At the time of publication, Jackson was inundated with hate mail, by people who where incensed that a story of such horror could have been ever written. It has since appeared in a number of anthologies, dramatised, turned into a Television piece and even a ballet. However, time has done nothing to eradicate the feeling of unease one is left with, long after the story has been read.
2) Psychoville: by Christopher Fowler
Over the years Christopher Fowler has created some of the best horror worlds, including: Spanky, Disturbia and his brilliant collection of short stories, Uncut. But my all time favourite story by Fowler, has to be Psychoville.
Written in two parts, the story follows the spiralling downfall of Billy March and his working class family at the hands of the horrified middle class residents of the new town, Invicta Cross who go out of their way to rid their town of a family they see as little more than a fly in their organic, naturally perfumed ointment.
The first part of the novel is peppered with real life accounts taken from the red top papers, detailing the horrors neighbours commit on each other, making Fowler’s fiction all the more horrifying.
Part two of the novel takes the reader back to Invicta Cross, ten years after Billy and his family has left and moved back to London. The town is now well established as the place to be, with Invicta Cross, voted as Britain’s favourite town. All the residents, are still living their insular lives, but they have recently been joined by the extremely rich and incredibly handsome new young couple, Jack and Polly Prentiss.
From here on in, Fowler gets nasty and delivers some of the best revenges, laid down in fiction for a long, long time. The dog turd/chocolate cake gift has permanently put me off cruising the window of Brighton’s choccywoccydoodah.
The bloodbath that unfolds will churn deep inside you, as neighbour turns on neighbour ripping the heart out of their beloved town. But equally you’ll be punching the air, as you remember the horrors the residents of Invicta Cross spewed out so freely on the working class March Family.
1) The Turn of The Screw Henry James, 1898
Within this novella, all gothic traditions are present and correct. Beginning with a story, told by a friend of a friend (classic urban legend device), a group of men gather to hear the story of a young governess sent to a remote country house, to tend to two orphaned children, Flora and Miles. Before leaving the young governess is given strict instructions to never contact their guardian uncle, regardless of how serious the situation.
Mrs.Grose, the housekeeper, adores the children, and is key in revealing the houses murky past. The previous governess, Miss Jessel, had fallen in love with the shifty employer, Peter Quint, both had met untimely deaths. Despite this, the new governess sees apparitions of the dead employees and becomes increasingly distressed when she begins to believe they have come back to steal the living souls of the children. Much has been written about James’ novel, asking the question, was the young governess driven crazy by the isolation (ala Stephen Kings, The Shining), or had she really bared witness to a supernatural evil. The story allows for multiple readings, leaving the reader questioning what they believe to be the real truth of this classic horror story.