Christina Ladd: Area X
Cross-contamination between various media was always inevitable. Books that read like movies–and now books that read like video games–were always going to happen, and I’m not sorry they did. But there’s always a special pleasure reserved for books that do what other media can’t, taking full advantage of not only a story but of the way of telling it. And I almost wish Area X hadn’t done it so well.
There’s something inherently claustrophobic about reading that I had never realized until reading Jeff Vandermeer’s trilogy, collectively titled Area X. You’re only ever doing it by yourself, and generally you need to be left alone, too, to concentrate. Then you gradually become ensconced in this world that only you can see and feel. And if that world is itself both claustrophobic and agoraphobic, full of unseen menace and madness…? Well, screw that. I forced my husband to sit with me and hold my hand while I turned the pages.
The premise is, appropriately, about contamination. A site called Area X has appeared, a literally impenetrable wilderness surrounded by some kind of barrier. Various researchers had found a way in, but when they do go, they never return. Only a series of tantalizing clues and samples have made their way out. And so it is that an unnamed biologist sets off with the twelfth expedition, as prepared as science and the military can make her. Which is to say, not prepared at all. There is an entire town that was swallowed up, and now it’s empty. There’s an underground chamber with strange, fungal writing on the wall. There’s a lighthouse, and it’s calling her whole team to ruin on the rocks. Something about the biologist’s semi-detached observations make for an even more frightening story, since we can’t dismiss her as delusional. This is not (all) in her head. This is real. And it’s coming for us all.
Costume Idea: Be a lighthouse–and drive everyone around you mad! Be a rabbit with disturbingly human eyes–and drive everyone around you mad! Be a giant X–and drive everyone around you mad! Be a ghost bird–and go mad! The options are endless.
Kelsey Low: Heart Shaped Box
Have you ever read anything by Joe Hill? No, well you should. If you’re unaware of who this fantastic gentleman is, he’s the son of famed horror writer Stephen King. Some of Hill’s works include: Horns and the graphic novels Locke and Key. While I do recommend both these titles I’m here to tell you about the first work of his I’ve ever read and that is Heart Shaped Box.
The story follows an aging rock star named Judas Coyne. He likes to collect all sorts of creepy things, like say a suit that was worn by a dead guy? Well, with this being a spine-tingling horror book it wouldn’t just be suit. Judas soon learns that the suit is haunted by a ghost named Craddock McDermott, who is, to put it lightly, a bit cranky. McDermott is out for revenge, I don’t want to give away too much just know that it’s an amazing read. If you’re a fan of horror or Stephen King and want to read something similar then I definitely recommend this. Hill’s writing is well done and his characters are flawed to the point that they feel real. This and all of his other titles deserve a read.
Costume idea: This works best as a duo. You and a friend or romantic partner dress up as an aging rock star and the ghost of an old man in a nice suit, and then the one in the suit gets to torment the one in the rocker costume all night. Fun!
Jackie Chaisson: Hostel
I love all things Halloween. Hell, I got married in Salem, Massachusetts on Halloween because it’s the greatest day out of the whole year. Ghosts, vampires, werewolves—I love them all, but they don’t really scare me. If we’re talking about the kinds of things that have me hiding my eyes or images that haunt my dreams, then hands down torture movies are that for me. The Hills Have Eyes, The Last House on the Left, Saw, Hostel—these are the movies that scare the crap out of me because, though they are unlikely to happen, they’re still possible.
Hostel is the one that ended my watching these types of movies. It’s the story of some college students visiting Amsterdam who make an unscheduled detour for the promise of some Eastern Bloc punani. Once they arrive at the Slovakian hostel, it doesn’t take long before people start disappearing. As it turns out, there’s a company called Elite Hunting who created an outlet for bored, rich people to act out their torture fantasies on other human beings. One such customer always dreamed of being a surgeon, but he didn’t have steady enough hands. Thank goodness for American college students travelling abroad, ’cause now he has his chance! I don’t know how drilling holes into someone’s chest and legs while they’re still conscious is living out the surgeon’s life, but hey, there’s nothing normal about this guy. Oh, and while we’re talking about horrible things, do you know the one thing that never gets easier for me to watch in a movie? Someone getting their achilles tendon sliced. I cringe and cover my face every single time.
For me, there is nothing more horrifying than the thought of being kidnapped by a psycho and abused in the slowest, most painful way possible. It’s actually kept me up at night. Torture movies remind me that evil isn’t an ancient demon or a hideous witch; it’s a guy that wants to cut off my foot and make me watch while he eats it.
Great, now I’m going to have nightmares.
Costume idea: just get a med school app, stamp REJECTED on it. It will scare everyone who’s seen Hostel, and–bonus!–everyone thinking about applying to med school.
Bijaya Shrestha: Psychopath movies
Things that go bump in the night and jump out at scare the bejesus out of me. I am that person that watches scary movies through my fingers. But you know what really scares me? The movies about psychotic people who torture and kill people just for funsies. Those scare me more than ghosts, demons, and monsters because, at least I can brush those off as not being real. How do I do that after watching movies like The Strangers, The Last House on the Left, Funny Games, and You’re Next?
Crazy, psychotic people actually exist in the world and random acts of violence actually happen. Sure, they’re not the norm but they happen. That’s why these movies scare me: because they could actually happen. There are people in the world who do think it’s great fun to hurt people. If the media didn’t report every one of these stories, maybe I wouldn’t be as scared but we live in the era of 24-hour news cycle, people! They have to fill those time slots if not with every single horrifying detail of every terrible crime. Every time I watch one of those movies and see one of those news stories, I think back to the scene in The Strangers in which Liv Tyler asks the attackers are trying to kill them and they calmly reply, “Because you were home.”
Costume idea: be completely, utterly normal. Your normal self. But ruin the lives of everyone around you, one at a time.
Karie Luidens: The Metamorphosis
Tomorrow morning, I will not blink awake to find that I have morphed into a monstrous vermin. Such things are not possible—I know this. But then, so did Gregor Samsa, and you know how he ended his days? As an unloved ungeheures Ungeziefer.
The terror of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis isn’t in the monster itself, whose features he barely describes. It’s the fact that any of us could end up being the monster, suddenly and inexplicably. Samsa has been living a life of hard work and family values; he embodies normalcy. Until the day he doesn’t. Until the day he embodies horrible freakishness instead. In one fell swoop he loses his taste for milk, his sister’s affection, his job, his independence, his identity—everything he holds dear—apparently through no fault of his own. Just like that, he’s condemned to a (short) life of voiceless estrangement. What’s more chilling than that? And if it could happen to him, it could happen to you. Shiver.
Part of the brilliance of Kafka’s writing is that he leaves so much to the imagination. We know that Samsa’s new body is inhuman, but aside from a few references to his “many little legs” and a hard shell, we don’t know what’s become of him. Does he have a jaw full of needle-teeth? Beady black eyes or reptilian pupils set in yellow? That’s left to readers’ imaginations, ensuring that everyone will picture whatever’s most horrifying to him or her.
Costume idea: the details of your Kafkaesque Halloween costume are up to you. Just one tip to maximize the fright-factor: dress up the bug costume with German. When others ask why you’re scrabbling at the walls, explain that you like to kriechen (crawl) on ceilings to escape your unruhigen Träumen (troubled dreams) and if they don’t get their hands off your Panzer (exoskeleton) you just might bite.
Harry Huberty: Dead Space
Released in 2008 and still available on Steam, Dead Space is a truly horrifying achievement for the survival horror genre. The game puts the player behind the steely facemask of engineer Isaac Clarke, an interstellar maintenance man who arrives at his latest service call, the “Planetcracker-class” mining ship USG Ishimura, and finds it teeming with undead horrors. These “Necromorphs” are the hideously mutated corpses of the Ishimura’s crew, reanimated by a mysterious alien force; they are very lethal, very tough, very numerous, and very intent on brutally dismembering you.
Space is already an terrifying setting, existentially speaking, as it reminds us how small and fragile we are in a vast and dangerous universe. Dead Space makes that sense of vulnerability and isolation very literal. Any monster can kill you with trivial effort, and malfunctioning equipment on the ship can be just as deadly. As the Ishimura itself is in constant need of repair, it serves as an unwelcome reminder that only a few metal bulkheads separate you from oblivion. If you’re even that fortunate—in some of the game’s most terrifying sequences, Isaac must navigate blown-out or decompressed sections in zero gravity, one small misstep from spiralling into the void.
Dead Space does a lot to maintain that atmosphere of physical and psychological dread. Inventory is flashed up on Isaac’s HUD in real-time, so you can’t pause mid-battle to switch weapons or use a med-pack. There are are never quite enough supplies or ammunition, and it produces a profound despair to press on into the unknown without enough shots to defend yourself. And under the mental strain, Isaac begins to hallucinate: first barely-audible whispers, then encounters with people who aren’t there, begging Isaac to “make them whole again.” If you haven’t had a chance yet, give Dead Space a try. Some horrors are best experienced.
Costume idea: Gotta be Isaac, right? It’s easy enough, since his outfit for the first game is essentially coveralls accessorized with random bits of metal. Spend some time on the faceplate and you’ll look great.