I finished this on Wednesday and then magically lost it somewhere in my computer system, spending at least two hours searching for the document that afternoon because I didn’t want to have to redo it over.
Well, I eventually had to write the whole thing over again.
In many ways computers are a blessing, but they are also a pain in the buttocks (that’s my Forest Gump impersonation). Fortunately, I didn’t throw my computer out the front door of my apartment. I thought about it. Boy, did I think about it. I believe there’s a horror story in this somewhere.
So, I present the second part of my Top 10 List of horror novels. I can hear the applause sounding in the background. Oh, that’s me and my wishful thinking.
6) The Keep by F. Paul Wilson—To my knowledge, this was F. Paul Wilson’s first novel and man is it a humdinger of a read. Mr. Wilson flipped the basic theme of vampires (though the term vampire is never mentioned in the novel) right on its back and had evil fighting evil, which was a very dramatic change in the genre at the time.
The story centers around a squadron of German soldiers taking over an old castle keep in the Transylvanian Alps during 1941. They are on the lookout out for Russian soldiers and plan on staying in the keep for quite a while. The important thing is that they’re warned by an old man from the nearby village not to touch anything inside the castle fortress, especially the nickel-plated crosses on the walls. Do the soldiers pay attention to the old man’s warning? Hell, no. If they had there wouldn’t be a novel.
During the first night inside the dark, cold structure, an evil power is accidentally released and the Germans quickly find themselves being killed off one by one. The captain of the group calls military headquarters and tells them that something is killing his men. An SS squadron of soldiers is sent to the keep, thinking local terrorists are at work. It isn’t long before they, too, are being slaughtered like sheep. After weeks have passed, a strange man with red hair and blue eyes appears and thus the real battle between good and evil begins.
I remember this novel being on the New York Times Bestseller list in paperback for several weeks. It was thick, fast-paced, creepy, and oh, so good. F. Paul Wilson showed what could be done with the genre and how something new and different could be created, entertaining the readers from the first page to the last. The eighties were definitely the Golden Years of Horror with Stephen King, Robert McCammon, Peter Straub, Dan Simmons, Charles Grant, Ramsey Campbell, Clive Barker, Anne Rice and F. Paul Wilson to name a few, putting out some of their best work.
A year later or so later, Mr. Wilson came out with The Tomb, which was the first Repairman Jack novel. This is the novel the movie studios have been trying to make into a movie for ten years.
A film by Michael Mann was made of The Keep. Though most of the people who have seen the film don’t like it, I think it’s okay. I’ve watched it three-or-four times and enjoyed it, especially Scott Glenn with his shiny blue eyes.
7) Misery by Stephen King—This novel did for writers what Fatal Attraction did for cheating husbands. Any writer who read this book and saw the movie with Kathy Bates and James Caan in it can’t help but view their fans in a slightly different light. Fortunately for myself, I haven’t had to worry about someone coming up and saying they’re my Number One Fan! If they did, I’d hobble away with my cane as fast as I could.
As everyone who has read the book knows, the story centers around author, Paul Sheldon, who has become successful writing the Misery Chastain series for the female fans out there. This time around, however, he’s decided to write something different and more serious. After finishing the new novel, he’s on his way back home from Colorado when he gets caught in a snow storm and experiences a terrible car accident. He rescued by Annie Wilkes, who happens to be a former nurse and his number one fan. At first Annie tells Paul the telephone lines are down due to the storm and there’s no way of letting anyone know what has happened to him. Paul glances out the window and sees the falling snow being blown around by the harsh wind.
Sure, no problem.
As time passes, however, Paul begins to suspect that he may be a prisoner of Annie’s, especially when she burns the manuscript of his new novel and then chops off his foot with an axe and uses a blow torch to cauterize the wound. Of course, as Annie does this, she tells Paul how much she loves him. I guess love does mean never having to say you’re sorry.
Anyway, Annie wants to make sure his Misery Chastain series is continued and forces him to write another novel in the series. Needless to say, Annie Wilkes is every writer’s worse nightmare. She was definitely mine as I read this unforgettable book. Steve King tapped into something primal here and captured the brutality of what a fan is capable of doing when pissed off with his or hers favorite author. Of course, if Annie had been really attractive, the captivity would have been a lot more fun, except for the foot-chopping-off part.
The theatrical film stars Oscar winner Kathy Bates, James Caan, with a screenplay written by William Goldman (I hope all of you know who William Goldman is), and is directed by Rob Reiner. This movie is certainly one of the best that’s been adapted from a King novel. The performance by Kathy Bates as Annie will stay in your mind long after the film is over. I would have hated being her husband at the time. “I love you so much.” Whew, hide the sledgehammer! She uses a sledgehammer in the movie to break both of Paul’s ankles. Boy, that was gruesome.
8) The Green Mile by Stephen King—I have to tell you that I cried my eyes out when I finished the final part of this serialized novel. Spoiler Alert! I couldn’t believe King killed off such a great and wonderful character as John Coffey. I even wrote him and asked why he’d killed Coffey off. Of course, King didn’t reply to my letter. He probably thought I was as crazy as Annie Wilkes.
The fact that King was able to write such a fabulous story about a huge black man who has the ability to heal people and has been wrongly accused to killing two little girls proves what a gifted writer King is. He gave this novel a sense of humanity and unbelievable heart. King made the characters of John Coffey and Paul Edgecomb come alive in such a way that readers became emotionally attached and wants to see the scales of Justice balanced at the end. But, sadly it didn’t happen.
The story takes place during the Depression era in the South. John Coffey, a huge and simple black man who has the gift of healing, is accused to murdering two little girls and sentenced to be executed by way of Old Sparky. He is housed with a number of other prisoners who also have a date with the electric chair. Paul Edgecomb is the prison guard who’s in charge of this section…the section that has a lime-colored floor leading to Old Sparky and is known as the Green Mile.
Over the weeks Coffey is housed here, Edgecomb comes to know him and to realize that the man is incapable of brutality and didn’t kill the girls. He also learns that John Coffey is truly one of God’s greatest miracles; yet, he has to follow through with the execution, knowing it’s wrong and that an innocent man is going to die for a crime he didn’t commit.
The Green Mile is Stephen King at his best, asking the reader to accept the impossible and to take the journey with Coffey and Edgecomb to its heart-breaking ending. This novel would probably be the third best book I’ve ever read, ranking behind The Bottoms and 11/22/63.
The movie is directed by Frank Darabont and is based on his screenplay, starring Tom Hanks and the late Michael Clark Duncan. Both performances, as well as those by the other actors, are all Oscar caliber. The movie is also a real tearjerker just like the novel. Great stuff!
9) The Terror by Dan Simmons—The movie that’s based on this novel will be on HBO this fall. I can’t wait to see it. I’m probably as excited to see this as I was the new James Bond movie last November. There are scenes in this book that are utterly terrifying like when the creature gets below deck of one of the ships and kills a half-dozen men in the darkness, while their screams fill the freezing night.
Dan Simmons has found an intriguing area to write in and has proven he’s the man who can succeed at it. He takes a historic situation in which not much is known, other than the basics, and then expands upon it, adding elements of intense horror to its eventual conclusion. He’s done this with The Terror, Drood, The Black Hills and this fall, The Abominable.
Published in 2007, The Terror deals with the Franklin Expedition’s hazardous voyage in 1845 to the Arctic to find the legendary Northwest Passage. There are two ships, the Erebus and the Terror, along with 130 men. The ships get trapped in the ice and are unable to move until the coming spring. That’s when a deadly creature appears from the surrounding ice pack and begins to kill the men, usually coming at night when it can’t be seen. When the leader of the expedition is savagely murdered, Captain Francis Cozier takes over and has to make the decision about staying or risking the rest of the crew in a hundred- mile trek over frozen ice with death following close behind.
For me this novel was utterly brilliant in how it was carried out, making me believe this could have actually happened. I could feel the chill of the coldness through my old bones and was filled with inexplicable fear of what was hidden in the darkness of night. I dare say that The Terror was probably one of the scariest novels of the decade, displaying the skills of a master craftsman in that of Dan Simmons. This is an author who knows how to scare the bejesus out of the reader; yet, leaving the fans wanting more.
10) What the Night Knows by Dean Koontz. Seldom has an author created such a terrifying villain as Dean Koontz did in this novel. Alton Turner Blackwood was a serial killer of the worse kind (not that there are good kinds, unless you count Dexter). He massacred entire families for the thrill of it. Then, John Calvino, a fourteen-year-old boy, killed him when he came home late one night from a date and discovered his parents and sisters dead. Twenty years later, the spirit of Blackwood returns to seek revenge against John Calvino, who’s now a homicide detective. Before Blackwood strikes out, he teases Calvino with the brutal savagery of entire families living close to the detective’s own home. When Calvino finally realizes what’s going on and that the spirit of Blackwood is coming for his own wife and children, he has to quickly figure out a way to kill a ghost when no one believes him. I mean how do you stop an evil entity when even the local priest doesn’t believe your story?
Dean Koontz has been writing novels for over forty years and man, has he written some good ones. What the Night Knows is in many ways the culmination of Dean’s career, not that he’s quitting anytime soon. He threw everything he had into this novel, determined to give readers the ultimate thrill ride for their money…a ride that would leave them shaken to the core of their being. For me, he was successful in his attempt, and I wonder if he’d be able to surpass it with his new novel, Innocence, which is coming out this January.
Below are some follow-up titles that would certainly be on my next ten list—They Thirst, Swan Song and Mister Slaughter by Robert McCammon, Phantoms and From the Corner of His Eye by Dean Koontz, Floating Dragon by Peter Straub, Fallen Angel by William Hjortsbert, The Travelling Vampire Show by the late, great Richard Laymon, Summer of Night by Dan Simmons, and NOS4A2 by Joe Hill, who has written a horror novel that’s every bit as good as his dad’s Salem’s Lot.
Let it be known that what constitutes a great horror novel is totally depended on each individual reader and what they bring to the experience. We’re all going to have different titles on our list. This is as it should be, offering us the chance to experience new authors and novels that we have missed, or maybe haven’t heard of.
In my own case I’ve listed a lot of Stephen King books. The reason for this, as I mentioned in Part One, is because King really paved the road for horror fiction and introduced me into a world of fun that I could now visit on a regular basis. Without Steve King opening the door, I don’t think Dean Koontz, Robert McCammon, Dan Simmons, Peter Straub, Ramsey Campbell, Charles Grant, Clive Barker, and others would have been writing in the horror genre. Think of what a lost that would have been to us.
What young readers take for granted today with regards to the “fright factor” was brand new to me in how it was presented back during the late seventies, the eighties, and the early nineties in written format. The above authors brought horror into our home and showed it could happen to ordinary people who lived in small towns across America. Also, I’ve read so many books over the last forty years that it’s difficult to surprise and even scare me with a novel. It can still be done, but it now takes genius and creativity and loads of writing talent. King and Koontz still have what it takes to do the job. Then there’s McCammon, Simmons, and the new kid on the block, Joe Hill, who I suspect will be taking over his father’s mantle in the years to come.
The important thing for any reader is to enjoy what you read and to share it with others. That’s why I write book reviews. The money I’ve made from my reviews over the last thirty years wouldn’t even pay for a month’s rent at the Budget Suites I live in. I’ve done it and continue to do it only because of my love for books. When I read something I really enjoy, I immediately want to share it with other readers. I hope I’ve had some success with that.
Now, why are you reading this when you could be reading a great novel? Get the hell out of here and let me know when you come across something fantastic because I may want to read it, too.