Friday, 18 February 2011

The Power of Three - 14th Installment

Oh yes, it’s Friday morning (at last, we all say), and to while away the first coffee break of the day, here are three more random selections from my 90-page list of the world’s best horror stories.

Once again, my choices – made entirely on the luck of the draw – cover a broad spectrum of the genre, and an immense time-zone as well. As always, I wish I could reprint these stories for you in full, but that wouldn’t be possible. All I can do here is offer heartfelt recommendations for some choice, coronary-inducing reading. If you haven’t already shuddered your way through any of this terrible threesome, I suggest you quickly go out and do it. How can you enjoy the bright side of life if you don’t occasionally immerse yourself in its darkness?

The Man Upstairs by Ray Bradbury

Young Doug faces a long, boring summer at his grandma’s boarding house. But then Koberman, the strange-looking guest arrives and by coincidence a series of bizarre murders commences. It isn’t long before Doug knows who he blames for the crimes.

Another poetic masterpiece from the limitless imagination of Ray Bradbury, though this one is perhaps more macabre than most. On the surface, it’s a vampire / serial killer / alien intruder tale – take your pick. But by the end we’re facing an altogether different kind of monster. A weird and surreal outing for Bradbury, who often found magic in the mundane but here really lets rip – with suggestions of transcendental windows, altered realities and parasitic menaces which occupy no place in the physics or biology of our world. High concept horror at its most exquisite.

First published in HARPER’S MAGAZINE, 1947.

Where Angels Come In by Adam L.G. Nevill

A pair of mischievous kids bunk off school to investigate the big white house on the hill, which everyone in town seems to be frightened of. The things they discover there will claim the life of one and the sanity of the other.

Adam Nevill is fast emerging as one of the top genre writers of the 21st century. Aside from the eloquence of his writing, he also understands that generating fear is the spook story’s primary purpose, and this has to be one of the best examples I’ve ever read. I won’t say too much because this tale’s other great strength is its originality, and it would be a crime if I revealed anything about the living nightmare our heroes encounter inside the edifice of evil on the hill overlooking town. Suffice to say that this essay in terror starts out like a traditional haunted house mystery, but quickly becomes so much more than that. If you haven’t read it, you simply must.

First published in POE’S PROGENY (pictured), 2005

No Man’s Land by John Buchan

An outdoor sportsman plans a fishing and hunting trip in the remote Highlands of Scotland. But when he discovers evidence of a lost subterranean tribe, it becomes clear that he is the one being stalked.

Perhaps a little overlong – though that’s more to do with the era in which it was written, this is still a classic slice of Edwardian action-horror. It starts out like a rousing adventure from the Boys’ Own stable, but the excitement soon gives way to raw fear as a hardy, red-blooded male is forced to learn that modern man, for all his weapons and intellect, is no match for the savagery of untamed nature. In some ways a precursor of the cannibal/hillbilly movies of the late 20th century, but of course far more elegant and restrained, this is a cut above so many of its imitators thanks to Buchan’s lyrical prose. Rarely has the wildness and grandeur of the Scottish lochs and crags been more vividly captured in print.

First published in BLACKWOOD’S MAGAZINE, 1899.

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