I’ve just finished Dean Koontz’s The Taking, which I found fascinating. Honestly, most of my fascination came on a professional level, much as a Disney animator in the 80′s would have watched even the stupidest anime with complete interest. The Taking is sort of sci-fi horror, though not a particularly great example of either. Mainly because it pulled punches on the two things that are really scary.
The Unknown. I do not like supernatural stuff, because we don’t understand it. And if we don’t understand something, we are incapable of forming a reasoned (or even intuited) response. Which is scary. Action is really soothing to me, so as long as I can do something that will have an effect, I’m not so scared. This is classic horror. Just keep the monster out of sight for long enough and, even if the monster isn’t really that scary, you will freak me and most others out. The book House of Leaves and the movie The Ring are pretty decent examples of this. The Taking was a bit too concerned with explaining to achieve full-on scariness in this regard. I started analyzing the explanations and got so wrapped up in that that I forgot to be scared.
The Taking also touched on, but didn’t focus on, the next, possibly scariest of all scary topics: Man’s Inhumanity to Man. People are torturing, killing, raping, and doing horrendous stuff to other people right now. Why do you even need horror, as a genre, when you’ve got a world with mass genocide and human trafficking? Some of the scariest of horror stories come from this, like Hannibal and it’s siblings, though stories about one dude acting horrendous don’t hold a candle to stories about groups acting horrendous. 1984 is the scariest book ever, in my opinion.
1984 is a good contrast to The Taking in another respect. The Taking included lots of grisly, horrific scenes of otherwordliness, often described quite well by Koontz. Unfortunatley, that stuff works so much better in the movies. H.P. Lovecraft, the king of literary horror, spent a lot of time not describing the baddies, giving you just a sursurrating membrane of slimy green skin and letting your imagination drive you nutso from there. Scary books are usually scary because they hint at scary ideas and concepts, like 1984, not because they describe scary visions. Yes, a dead body is scary, but reading the words “a dead body” is not. In contrast, innocent people dying on death row might not look scary, but the concept is enough to make me want to stay in bed with a flashlight and the covers pulled up high.
Happy Halloween, everybody.