Once again, today’s challenge was daunting enough for me to put it off for a few days while I gave the question some thought. Pinpointing a book that has scared me, really instilled fear, is far more difficult than I thought. I first thought about books like Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World, Shelley’s Frankenstein, or even Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, but although those dystopian novels did certainly fill me with a sense of dread about our future and what the kind of world that we can potentially create, it was not fear in a classic sense; my heart didn’t race, my palms didn’t sweat. Then I thought about the works of authors and poets like Edgar Allen Poe and Robert Browning whose work, although clearly dark, is really more beautiful than scary. I didn’t have to check under the bed after reading “Porphyria’s Lover.”
I searched in my memory for a time when I felt truly scared while reading a book, the kind of visceral fear that forces you to keep the light on (even as an adult), and as embarrassing as this post may be, the book that holds this distinction is none other than The Amityville Horror, written by Jay Anson.
The book recounts the experiences of the Lutz family after they move into the now infamous house on 112 Ocean Avenue near Long Island. The dust jacket describes the story as follows.
In December 1975, the Lutz family moved into their dream home, the same home where Ronald DeFeo had murdered his parents, brothers, and sisters just one year earlier. The psychic phenomena that followed created the most terrifying experience the Lutz family had ever encountered, forcing them to flee the house in 28 days, convinced that it was possessed by evil spirits. Their fantastic story, never before disclosed in full detail, makes for an unforgettable book with all the shocks and gripping suspense of The Exorcist, the Omen, or Rosemary’s Baby, but with one vital difference – the story is true.
Clearly the story is fiction, but there was something about the book’s journalistic style that gave it a “scarier” edge. Moreover, I read the book while I was still quite young, maybe 13 or so, after having already watched the movie. The combination of the imagery of the film (as terrible as it was), combined with the vivid descriptions in the book (of the red room, the eyes in the window, of Jodie, and of the little girl singing whenever she entered her room) I was downright scared. I can honestly say that I slept with a light on for years after reading that book. Even more potentially embarrassing is that I reread the book several years ago (I was probably 34 at the time), and I was still scared by it.
A lot of that can be explained (or rationalized), by the fact that I am a product of a Catholic school education, and for better or worse, anything dealing with devils, demons, or possession really does still scare me. I think those Irish nuns really implanted the fear of the devil deep in my subconscious, that no matter how skeptical and rational I am, books like this one will always have the power to elicit a true fear response from me. And let me just add that nothing can or will ever convince me to move into a house with those windows that look like eyes….
Here’s the first part of a segment about the Amityville haunting on that old tv show, “In Search Of”. Creepy.