Pumpkin carved, costume on, monkey nuts shelled, neighbour’s house egged and TP’d… Now what? You’ve exhausted your list of Hallowe’en activities and that means it’s time to curl up in front of the fire with a nice glass of warm blood and a good book. Here are some of my spooky (and sometimes schlocky) favourites:
Resident Evil: City of the Dead by S.D. Perry (1999, Titan Books)
Aaach, zombies! Resident Evil 2, the original 1998 PlayStation One game, is still my favourite video game of all time. It was scary, tense, the graphics (considering the time it was made) were gory and detailed, and the story was ridiculous, the voice acting and dialogue stilted and reeking of stilton. Which, for me, made it all the better. This year’s remake is absolutely amazing, a perfect balance of old and new, nostalgic yet still innovative. After far, far too many zombie apocalypse games, films, and books, the Resi 2 remake actually made the undead scary again. Quite a feat! But if, like me, you’ve now played both games to death (pun intended) and still want more, there’s always the 1999 novelisation by S.D. Perry, called City of the Dead. Perry sticks closely to the game’s plot, doing her best with the silly sci-fi backstory and even throwing in some lines of dialogue ripped straight from the game as fan service, all while managing to humanise and develop the characters who, despite a certain romantic subplot (no spoilers!), feel largely blank in the game – a difficult problem to tackle in that medium in general. Ultimately, Perry’s book, like her other adaptations of famous sci-fi properties, is great fun for hardcore fans.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (1962, Viking Press)
Definitely not the first time I’ve recommended this book on my blog or in other places (check out my Reads of the Year article published by The Glasgow Review of Books at the end of 2018), Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a piece of eerie, Gothic brilliance. Narrator Merricat has one of the most striking and unique voices in all of literature – a sheltered yet wild young woman who clings to a childlike, personal kind of magic based on ritual. She talks her way around the rotten secret of the crumbling estate she shares with the few remaining members of her family. While the smash hit Netflix adaptation of Jackson’s earlier novel The Haunting of Hill House (1959) has brought that story a new audience and popularity, We Have Always Lived in the Castle remains Jackson’s masterpiece, beautifully written and brooding with menace.
Tam O’Shanter by Robert Burns – Adaptation by Richmond Clements, Art by Inko (2019, Cranachan Books)
I’ve been lucky to get my hands on an advance review copy of this baby – the ghoulish Robert Burns poem Tam O’Shanter now in Manga form. The spooky and funny tale of boozy Tam stumbling across the devil and his dancing demons after a late night out in Ayr is brought to life on the page by Japanese comic book artist Inko and Scots writer Richmond Clements. It really is the mash up you never knew you wanted but has turned out to be a joyous mix of Scots and Japanese tradition, a great coming together of disparate cultures. Out just in time for Hallowe’en, I’ll be taking part in the blog tour for its release, writing a full review published here on this blog on 9th November.
Exquisite Aberrations – Edited by Laurie Moran and Amber Newberry (2019, FunDead Publications)
Full disclosure: I have a short story in this collection of Gothic horror stories, so I’m a little biased when I say it’s an absolutely excellent anthology stuffed with ghosts, witches, zombies, haunted houses and all manner of creepy goings-on. But only a little biased, because it is (wearing my objective reviewer’s hat as best I can) very good indeed. The premise of Exquisite Aberrations is traditional Gothic horror with a modern twist – the stories focusing on characters formerly maligned, marginalised, ignored, and othered by the genre. Here we have LGBTQ+ characters, women, people of colour, explorations of mental illness and disability. My personal favourites are ‘Beatrice’ by Ellery D. Margay, ‘The Gravekeeper’s Daughter’ by C.W. Blackwell, and ‘Ravenglass’ by E.F. Sweetman. My own addition, ‘The Lunatic Song’, focuses on a celebrated pianist who returns to London in disgrace after a romantic scandal involving another man. His dubious chance at redemption involves being tutored by a fellow musician currently held in Bedlam for mass murder.
20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill (2005, PS Publishing)
Joe Hill is now a worldwide best-selling author with several novels that have been given big-time screen adaptations (Horns, NOS4A2, In the Tall Grass) but before all that, his first ever book to be published was a collection of short horror stories called 20th Century Ghosts. And it is fantastic. For any nay-sayers who point to Hill’s famous father as the reason he got published, I would direct them to read and reread these stories. In particular, ‘Pop Art’ – the story of an isolated, working class kid who becomes friends with a plastic, inflatable boy – is wonderful and beautiful and elegantly captures the casual cruelties of childhood. ‘Last Breath’, featuring a museum of dying breaths captured in mason jars, is spooky and original yet playful. ‘Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead’ is a tale of failed romance and nostalgia on the set of the film Dawn of the Dead in the 1970s, with cameos from Tom Savini and George A. Romero himself. Highly original ideas married to sharp prose and relatable characters. Fill your boots!