To Scare the Bejesus Out of You
In the spirit of Halloween, I offer up these thoroughly terrifying books. I can vividly recall where I was when I read almost all of them. Feel free to weigh in on these and tell us what books have left you sleepless on a dark and stormy night. Pleasant dreams.
1. Dracula, by Bram Stoker (1897).
It's probably less scary than I remember it, but Stoker's epistolary novel about the undead count from Transylvania mesmerized me on a family roadtrip one summer. Eventually, twisting and turning through the Pennsylvania mountains while reading about all that blood -- buckets and buckets of blood -- made me so nauseous that we had to stop the car. That sucked.
2. Salem's Lot, by Stephen King (1975).
To keep King from dominating the whole list, I purposely restricted myself to just one. This was King's second novel, and it describes a little town in Maine that's gradually taken over by vampires. I read it in a single night in the absurdly formal, oak-paneled reading room of my college library when I should have been studying for finals. But the more I read, the more afraid I was to stop and walk across campus to my room. I'm lucky I ever left.
3. The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty (1971).
This is the story of an 11-year-old girl in Washington, D.C., who is possessed by a maniacal spirit. Among other things, Blatty's novel had the odd effect of making me, a good little Protestant boy, terrified of Catholic priests for many years. I hadn't thought of the book for a long time, but the day my grandmother died, I sat in the living room with her nurse, who insisted on watching the "Exorcist" on TV.
4. The Amityville Horror, by Jay Anson (1977).
After becoming engaged to a woman who lived not too far from Long Island's most famous haunted house, I read "The Amityville Horror" while standing in a Walden's bookstore in the mall. The bright lights, the Muzak -- none of it helped: I was still scared white as a ghost by this "true" story of a nice family that buys a house in which six murders had been committed. And I've never forgotten the pig's beady red eyes.
5. Helter Skelter, by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry (1974).
The only true crime book I've ever read, "Helter Skelter" describes the Charles Manson murders and the court cases that followed. Its ghastly details and the lack of any paranormal elements make this more terrifying than any of the other books here.
-- Ron Charles
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