If you weren’t alive in the 90s or were too young to stay up to watch Friends you won’t get this reference. The rest of you can skip this next paragraph.
Friends was an NBC show that aired on Thursday nights from the mid-90s to the early 00s. It’s a situational comedy about six young adults living in New York City attempting to navigate the funny, awkward, heartbreaking situations that were universal for young, white, educated, upper-middle-class urbanites. A year or so ago I decided to re-watch the entire series, and it’s problematic at best, but we’re not here to talk about the show. There’s one episode where Joey and Rachel read each other’s favorite books; Joey has to read Little Women, and Rachel has to read The Shining. In the scene where they discuss this, Joey says that the book is so scary that he has to put it in the freezer. To me, this simultaneously makes no sense but also perfect sense. I remember watching this episode as a teenager and thinking “THAT’S A BRILLIANT IDEA!!” and even now, as an adult, there is occasionally a book in my freezer.
So here, in no particular order, is a list of books I’ve found so terrifying that I literally put them in the freezer.
The Shining by Stephen King
Joey, man, I’m totally with you. This book is fucking terrifying.
I read it for the first time two or three years ago, and obviously I’ve seen the movie, but I didn’t realize how many differences there were between the two. Getting inside the heads of the characters is terrifying; Tony is far more sinister in the book and bearing witness to the rapid decline in Jack’s mental state is… I don’t really have words for it. There are other elements of the story that scared me, but more than anything it’s King’s writing style. He’s so good at building suspense and then not doing the thing you expect him to do. Then once you let your guard down, BAM! Ghost twins or possessed hedges. It has way more impact.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
I have to be honest with you: I didn’t finish this book. At best this book made me uncomfortable. At worst, it went in the freezer.
At it’s most basic, it’s a story about a family that moves into a house and discovers that it’s bigger on the inside than the outside. I know, it sounds a bit lame, but a huge part of what makes this book so scary is the way it’s written. It’s got footnotes, pages with colored text, text of all different sizes and in different patterns. The story alone feels so surreal, and these visual elements help blur the line between dreams and outright madness. Someday I’ll have the emotional fortitude to finish this book, but today is not that day.
Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
I had read several of Joe Hill’s books before I found out that he’s Stephen King’s son. It all made sense after that.
I’ve read four of his novels and this is by far my favorite. It’s about an aging rock star who buys a “haunted” suit off the internet. I know this sounds like the plot of a terrible B-movie starring that girl from that thing you loved as a kid but, like his father, Hill is able to keep the reader guessing for 400 pages. Nothing in this book happened when or in the way I thought it would. For me that’s the mark of a good horror writer; horror is my favorite genre and in too many cases I’m able to accurately guess what’s going to happen. They’re formulaic and predictable. Not with this one. Highly recommend.
The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
A throwback, classic horror story that is now, almost 50 years after its initial publication, is the basis of an extremely successful and Oscar-nominated film and a surprisingly good tv adaptation starring Geena Davis.
The premise of this book should be familiar too; an actress and single mother living in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C. has her world completely rocked when her young daughter becomes possessed. The book includes significantly less green vomit but more pre-teen sexual deviancy than the movie, and in a way, I’m glad they left some of it out. I’m generally a stickler when it comes to adherence to the source material, but there are some things no one wants to see an 11-year-old do. The book is disturbing on its own for many reasons, not least among them is the death of so many of the main characters, but it takes on a new level of scary when I think about it being (supposedly) inspired by (allegedly) true events. I won’t get into details, but the case of the 14-year-old Maryland boy, dubbed “Roland Doe” to protect his true identity, is definitely worth the three minutes it takes to skim the Wikipedia article.
The Demonologist: The Extraordinary Career of Ed and Lorraine Warren by Gerald Brittle
This might be my favorite book on this list. I’ve mentioned that I’ve always been fascinated by the paranormal so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a book billed as the truth behind the careers of the world’s most prolific ghost hunters would capture my attention. My dad gave me a copy when I was a teenager and I read it over and over until it practically fell apart. I was obsessed with the photos in that edition, the famed Annabelle doll in particular. That copy was lost in one move or another and I’ve replaced it, but newer editions aren’t quite the same. Revision is a hell of a thing.
I could spend the next 5,000 words debating the lives and careers of Ed and Lorraine Warren and discussing the controversy surrounding them, but that’s not what I’m here for. The book isn’t particularly well-written, and there’s a lot of talk of religion and belief and Catholic rituals that could have been left out, but those things were important to Ed. The biggest draw for me is: what if? What if they’re telling the truth? What if these things really happened? What if there is life after death, but not in the way we’ve come to understand it? I’ve always thought it was a bit arrogant to think that we’re the only species in the galaxy (though aliens scare the shit out of me), or that there’s only one plane of existence, and IF these things are true, we might have to re-examine some of those beliefs. That alone is enough to make this book freezer-worthy.
Any book with clowns
Clowns are evil and should all be killed with fire. I really hate them.
Have you read any of these books? What do you do provide the illusion of safety when you’re reading something scary?