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Ever louder bumps in the night: Scares for all ages

Posted on October 24, 2017 at 6:00 am

by Susan Goertz

As a chill grips the autumn air and the chlorophyll leaches from the leaves, my mind turns toward the spooky. Nothing to get your heart racing and the cold sweat pouring on a crisp night like a good scary story. Horror is a very broad genre. There are a lot of options out there, from family friendly to guffaw inducing to blood curdling. With that in mind, I’d like to offer a spectrum of what the library has to offer for spooky fun for all ages.

In my family, the annual October movie tradition has been to watch Young Frankenstein. The “walk this way” jokes may get stale, but the genius of Gene Wilder never does. If you are in the mood for more lighthearted and family friendly spookiness, I recommend Arsenic and Old Lace (sweet old ladies are the scariest) or Hocus Pocus (Bette Midler is insanely meme worthy in every scene). If you want to be grossed out while wiping away tears of laughter, try Tucker and Dale vs Evil and Shaun of the Dead.

I love those slightly silly movies. But dark nights turn to dark thoughts. When I really want to feel the fear, my tastes run a little darker. A Korean film that keeps creeping around my brain months after viewing is The Handmaiden, based very loosely on Fingersmith by the British author Sarah Waters. This stunningly beautiful movie had so many twists and turns I was nearly nauseous, but I didn’t dare look away. The French horror film Raw first garnered notoriety for its ability to make audience members pass out in the theater. Raw lives up to its grisly reputation. Yet underlying the gore is a surprisingly nuanced and touching coming-of-age story, as an awkward young veterinary student named Justine struggles to navigate her own urges in an environment far from her sheltered family.

Want to scare your socks off but not in the mood for a movie? Hoopla has an amazing selection of music to set a haunted mood—everything from Halloween Disco to horror movie soundtracks (and lots of Halloween albums in between). Or give Regina Spektor a listen (her name means queen ghost, after all).

Looking for some twisted titles to tweak the imagination of younger readers? Try The Lunch Witch by Deb Lucke, Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola, and Magic Trixie by Jill Thompson. For some nonfiction fun, Joshua Foer’s Atlas Obscura is a wonderful compendium of curiosities and natural wonders, with something to disgust and delight everyone (also available on hoopla).

How about frights for teenagers? For your YA readers, I suggest these stories about teens trying to navigate the horrors of school, growing up, and adulting—paranormal and otherwise: Paper Girls by Brian Vaughan has a lovely Stranger Things tone. Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol is surprisingly poignant. Friends with Boys by the always wonderful Faith Erin Hicks teaches that sometimes what scares you the most is the lesson you most need to learn.

For grown-ups, here are some works that might just give you the goosebumps. Ever been terrified by Shirley Jackson’s classic The Lottery? If so, I highly recommend her novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle, available as an audiobook on hoopla as well. Daphne Du Maurier’s writing isn’t usually classified as horror (even though Hitchcock based his movie off her story “The Birds”), but her brooding landscapes and untrustworthy characters are certainly the stuff of nightmares. Print and film versions of her classic novels Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel are available for checkout. Her short stories are just as spine tingling. Give Echoes from the Macabre a try, if you dare.

The leaves are falling and crunching creepily underfoot. Soon they will be skittering along the windy sidewalks beside little trick-or-treaters. The light dims and the moon wraps herself in a shroud of fog to set the scene. As the dark and stormy nights surround us, I hope you find just the right spooky story to keep you and yours company. To all a spooky good night!

Susan Goertz

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