Friday, 10 December 2010

The Power of Three - 4th Installment

It’s that time of the week again, when I take a long coffee break to present thumbnail sketches of three more of the best horror stories I’ve ever read. I received an email the other day suggesting that, as it’s nearly Christmas, I should break my own house rules and, instead of picking tales at random, select some with a specific seasonal theme. My response to that is: “I may do … when it actually is Christmas, which it isn’t yet.” So here we go, still drawn by lot and with no core theme, three more recommendations to whet your jaded appetites.

Left Hand Drive by Christopher Fowler

A harassed businessman attempts to negotiate the complex paths of a vast underground car park, only to be drawn further and further into an evil nether-world.

Theoretically it shouldn’t be difficult finding one’s way out of an underground car park, but I’m sure we’ve all felt them to be confusing and spooky places late at night, and that’s the basis for this hugely enjoyable slice of urban ‘slipstream’, which achieves the remarkable feat of steadily increasing the mystery and the tension with each turned page, and at the end still managing to deliver a shattering and completely satisfying denouement. The first Fowler tale I read, and still unforgettable.

First published in CITY JITTERS, 1986.

The Silver Mask by Hugh Walpole

A middle-aged woman makes the big mistake of befriending a handsome young man, and is reduced to the status of helpless observer as his unpleasant family start to take over her life and home.

Masterly scare fare with a subtext (don’t pick up strangers, no matter how inoffensive they may seem). There are no ghosts in this story, and even the human monsters have a penchant for song and dance rather than violence, but such is the skill with which Walpole pulls off the gradual destruction of a good-natured woman’s once orderly world that the chill stays with you for ages afterwards. Contrary to some opinions, this macabre tale is indeed a horror story – and a very frightening one.

First published in ALL SOULS NIGHT, 1933.

Vortex Of Horror by Gaylord Sabatini

Deep in the Kalahari desert, a travelling doctor crashes through a dimension door into a parallel universe, where plants are the rulers and humanity provides the food.

Ultra-gory, ultra-nightmarish fantasy, as weird as it is disturbing. Some of the imagery – particularly the descriptions of the shambling monstrosities – is highly reminiscent of Lovecraft in his early days, though it’s a lot more bloodthirsty than HP ever was. There’s something almost biblical in the notion of rows of humans tied to stakes, calmly waiting as, one by one, they are hacked to pieces and drained of blood. And if you think that’s a grim moment, wait until the pay-off. Superb sci-fi chiller of the sort they really don’t write any more.

First published in the 14th PAN BOOK OF HORROR STORIES, 1973.

1 comment:

  1. The story by Gaylord Sabatini was one of the first truly horrific stories that I had come across among all the translated stuff available in Bengali. The other two are definitely worth looking for, now that you have recommended them.