The Genre of Scary


It’s almost October, and you know what that means…HALLOWEEN!! In honor of one of my favorite decorating holidays, here’s a post on the topic of scary books. What makes them scary? Do they have to contain ghosts or witches? Do they have to be gory or gruesome, or can they just be suspenseful and thrilling? I have recently discovered the author Jennifer McMahon. Let me tell you, that woman knows scary. I just finished her latest two novels, The Winter People and The Night Sister. Those books were dark and creepy. There was some descriptive gore in a few moments but to be honest it was the unknown that scared the pants off of me more than anything. Did you ever watch Alfred Hitchcock movies growing up? I mention these because one of the characters in The Night Sister is quite obsessed with his movies and he no doubt inspired the macabre subject matter in McMahon’s books. There was never any real gore in Hitchcock’s films. His most controversial film, Psycho, about the murder of a young woman in the shower of the famed Bates Motel frightened a whole generation of women. My father told me there was an epidemic of housewives who feared to shower while at home by themselves, preferring to wait for the security of their husbands to return from work. This is what scary is all about. Things that go bump in the night, the shadows on the walls, the creepy child’s voice singing some beloved lullaby. These are all elements of a true horror book. I remember watching Jaws as a kid and it was never the image of the shark itself that scared me, but rather the foreboding music that has become an icon of Hollywood. There is a moment in one of the McMahon books where a little girl, who has been brought back from the dead and is scratching on the closet door from the inside trying to get out. I have a cat. And she likes to scratch at my bedroom door. Let me tell you, that story did more to me at one o’clock in the morning with my cat scratching at my door than any gory horror film ever did! So for me, it is the unknown elements, the lingering questions, the mystery surrounding a story, and the general creepy feeling I get from a book that makes me frightened. So pick up a good scary story this October. Read a ghost story or a book about a haunted house. Scare the pants off yourself! Trust me, it’s a right good time!

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