It’s that lovely time of year, as the holidays descend upon us, that the best holiday of them all prepares to swoop in and rescue us from the evils of the summer. The heat begins to evaporate, moisture once again starts to saturate the air, those silly brilliant blues, bright whites, and gleaming reds give way to browns and dark greens and oranges as though someone had shifted the color balance twenty degrees.
And we start thinking about how much we like to be scared.
So as to kick things off as we enter this year’s Halloween season, I figured I’d throw together a quick list of (semi) recent spooky things that you might want to check out, to set the mood. In no particular order I present to you some of my picks of the season, in a variety of mediums:
If you haven’t read it yet, Stephen King’s Revival is an excellent return to form; while Mr. Mercedes (and it’s follow up, Finders Keepers) were both entertaining, they weren’t “scary” the way the aging master’s original works were. The last time King tried his hand at a real horror novel, Dr. Sleep was honestly – in this ‘umble servant’s opinion, anyway – pretty horrible. Revival on the other hand brings in Mythos-style gods, mad scientists, questions about quality-versus-quantity of life and the occasional plain ol’ gross out and does it well, while being subtly unnerving. It’s not going to dethrone ‘Salem’s Lot or 11/22/63 as my favorites, but it comes damn close.
If, like me, you’ve waited a long time for Clive Barker to start tying up all the loose ends in his shared universe that includes illustrious individuals such as Pinhead and Harry D’Amour, you finally got your wish this year; The Scarlet Gospels pits one grumpy (and often unwilling) paranormal detective against everyone’s favorite sadomasochistic angel-to-some-demon-to-others in a suitably gruesome final showdown. Now if only we’d get the Third Book of the Art, I could die happy so far as Barker is concerned.
Last, for those in a more retro sort of mood, I stand by my personal favorite; ‘Salem’s Lot. “Peyton Place with vampires,” some wits have called it. What more do you want? (Okay, maybe something a little less mired in the ’70s, but still…) Take one broken writer, one drunken priest, a doctor having the worst day ever, a curmudgeonly old English teacher and a movie-obsessed kid. Pit them against a haunted mansion and a transplanted king vampire. Wacky hijinks ensue. And also set up some amazing moments in the Dark Tower saga. (Father Callahan makes me happy inside, for oh-so-many reasons).
I don’t spend as much time watching movies as I used to. I’ve only been to two films this year. Only one of them was a horror movie. While Netflix keeps telling me to watch more horror – occasionally slipping in such gems as Dark Water, Mirrors or My Little Pony into the list – I just find it difficult to do; sitting still for two hours and keeping focused on a movie grows more difficult for me as time goes on, especially because I do most of my viewing on a magic screen that is also capable of other things. “Sure,” says I, “I could find out what this Apartment 143 is all about… but I could also go play Diablo III.” “Hey, you wanna watch an episode of Supernatural?” my PlayStation helpfully suggests. “Kinda… but Metal Gear Solid V just landed, and…” “Hey, hey! I found list playlist of awesome paranormal clips on YouTube!” the iPad chirps. “Maybe, but the new manuscript needs it’s daily word count increased,” I say.
Still, there was one horror movie I watched this year that I heartily recommend. The new Poltergeist was incredibly entertaining. I know it’s got mixed reviews, both from fans of the original and those ignorant savages who were never exposed to the masterpiece, but give it a chance. I really think it embraced the spirit (pun most definitely intended) of the original while giving it a modern spin that didn’t break the whole thing in the process.
In the retro department, you can’t go wrong with the original Poltergeist, of course; I’m rather fond of the remake of Amityville Horror; and for the “What, you were scared by that?” winner, I am still terrified of What Lies Beneath.
Horror games have always been hit or miss with me. There’s a lot of games that I consider “horrific” or frightening that wouldn’t technically be classified as “horror games,” and there’s plenty of actual horror games that I look at, quirk an eyebrow and just say “Uh. So, that’s what passes as scary these days? Um. Okay.”
But there was one outstanding contender this year, and while it’s very much in the schlocky-slasher genre of horror, Until Dawn was an incredibly entertaining experience, with mechanics and gameplay that could easily be used to create something with more atmosphere and psychological horror as well. Also, there’s Wendigos. Which are one of my favorite underused beasties. (I mean, how many decent things can you think of with them in it? They’re referenced in the book of Pet Sematary; they’re implied in Ravenous; they’re in an episode of Supernatural. That’s about all I can remember off the top of my head.)
For the runner up, the Victorian Mythos-inspired Souls game, Bloodborne, takes the cake; while it may not technically be horror, and the story is hiding in the game environment and the things that aren’t said, the mechanics and concept could have stepped out of a well-done mash up of Jack the Ripper versus Cthulhu.
I would have loved to be including Silent Hills on this list, but since Konami decided to go full retard, alas, I can’t. Maybe next year I’ll be able to put Allison Road (or, if I’m a good little boy, say my prayers, bribe Santa and offer sacrifice to the dark gods, Alan Wake 2? Pretty please?) on here.
For the retro entry, I have to go with Silent Hill 2. My second-favorite game of all time, it remains a masterpiece in terms of disturbing atmosphere, excellent enemy design, psychological as well as jumpscares.
Speaking of jumpscares, I’m just going to leave this here. Because it entertains me. Warning, it’s loud, there’s cursing, and if you don’t like Let’s Play videos, you probably won’t like it (or if you’re anti-Freddy, in which case I heartily recommend you give it a chance or poke at some of the lore websites out there.)
Oh, Markiplier. What would I do without you?
So what about you folks out there? What bits of media have grabbed you and made you want to keep the lights on at night of late? Share them down below!