Inspired by The Little Professor's annual posts about scary Victoriana and James Hynes' Halloween reading and viewing lists (which, this year, includes a YouTube link to a filmed version of one of my all-time favorite ghost stories, M.R. James's "Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad": w00t!), here are a few recommendations of my own, just in case you need something to get you in the proper Halloweeny mood.
- "The Midnight Express," by Alfred Noyes. A story with a recursive twist like a Moëbius strip, about reading, about the uncanny (and how), and about the way some things are just inexplicably terrifying. The descriptions of the boy's candlelit room late at night, and the deserted railway station, have stuck in my head for years.
- "August Heat," by William Fryer Harvey. A very short, rather stark little story that packs an enormous punch in its last line.
- "The Beckoning Fair One," by Oliver Onions. One can read it as an allegory of the destructive effects of certain fantasies about "ideal" women; simultaneously, it's a very effective horror story. We're in the main character's head, and we see what's happening to him long before he does. One of those stories that make you want to break through the fourth wall and scream "Get out of that house NOW!"
- I'm pretty sure I've seen "The Specialist's Hat," by Kelly Link, recommended in a few other places. I don't care; if you haven't read it, you should. It's the kind of story I wish I'd written: eerie, sad, nonlinear, and hauntingly unexplained, like a cross between a haunted house story and a prose poem. (There's also an audio version at Miette's Bedtime Story Podcast.)
- Not available online but worth tracking down: "The Summer People," by Shirley Jackson. It isn't as well known as her short story "The Lottery," or as overtly shocking, but the atmosphere of menace is amazing. A couple decide to stay at their summer cottage for a month longer than they usually do. All the locals warn them that nobody ever stays past Labor Day. But what could go wrong? Well, they were warned...
- Film recommendation: The Eclipse, dir. Conor MacPherson (2009). A quiet, understated Irish horror movie with some unexpected satire DNA (the haunting takes place during a literary festival, and the movie alternates between scare-the-pants-off-you moments and sendups of the world of writers). I'm a bit of a wuss where movie horror is concerned, and parts of this were almost beyond my scariness tolerance level—but I kept watching, through my fingers, because Ciarán Hinds' performance is so moving and lovely.