I have trouble finding things that scare me. In stories, I mean. When a movie is supposed to be terrifying, it often turns out “terrifying” means “jump cuts and gore,” which is not what I consider scary. It’s a trick! It’s a trigger for my autonomic responses! Surprise and disgust are not the same things as fear. On the other hand, if it’s trying for a more subtle terror, I don’t even notice. Which is also what happens with books.
But I think I’m figuring it out. (You’re also free to argue that I need to watch more movies, which is valid.)
Movies have too much going on. The backgrounds, the actors, the music, the framing. It distracts from the creeping terror of a black night and an unknown sound.
Novels and short stories are too distanced. When it’s words on the page, I get engaged, but I’m not involved. I read The Haunting of Hill House and had no idea it was supposed to be scary. Atmospheric, internal, psychological. But scary?
Maybe I expect too much. Maybe I define scary too narrowly.
Then I come to my current read: On Sunday I picked up Through the Woods by Emily Carroll. I’ve been reading no more than one story per night, and should finish up tonight, only to re-read it all, I’m sure. Only one of the stories is already online: His Face All Red.
I love Emily Carroll’s work. It’s beautiful, and her horror comics are slow-burn terrifying, the unexplained creeping up through the blackness of each page (or the stark whiteness of snow). The new stories in this book are just as good as I’d hoped, if not better (because my imagination is not Emily’s).
This is my theory: Comics are better at terror for me. In the hands of the right artist and writer, I have the visuals to connect me with the story, but not so many distracting elements to distance me again. The pacing is deliciously excruciating, so long as I can keep myself from peeking ahead. The restraint in the art, the cadence of the words, even the choice of when to turn the page…
This merits further research. Is it the medium of comics, or is it Emily Carroll and the style she uses? Are there movies that are Carroll-esque?
As a side note, I was concerned about this being in paperback but there was clearly a lot of care taken creating this book as an object. The cover has tantalizing textures, and the entire thing is printed well on high quality paper so the illustrations are vivid and the colors pop. It really is worth having on your shelf.