Day 8: A Book That Scares Me

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.


13 thoughts on “Day 8: A Book That Scares Me

  1. “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 do still scare me.”

    I was too brought up in a mainly Catholic society and totally agree. I know it doesn’t exist, I know EVERYTHING can be explained… I just don’t know how not to be terrified.

  2. I read this when I was 14 and despite being a rational science sort of chap when ever I see a red light reflected in a window at night (especially double glazed so you get two red lights!!) my heart races and hairs stand on end!

  3. Pophyria’s Lover is one of my favourite…as I probably have said before too, don’t know how many times. The very “open to interpretation” horror, the odd psycho-eroticism is something that is unbelievable…plus my girlfriend read it to me first, long back, so a different kind of sentiment is attached to it.

    Having said that, Amityville Horror is definitely great, as all Victorian Gothic-romantic novels, but my favourite horror stories will always be the short stories of Poe. Undeniably the best, according to me. Especially Tell-Tale Heart, Premature Burial, and Cask of Amontillado…simply cause they are not unnatural at all, and can happen to us anytime…which is why it is terrifying.

    • That’s the thing with Browning… that line between eroticism and horror, blurred in his writing, blurred for you, the reader. Makes for an uncomfortable yet, as you said, unbelievable experience.

      Poe is wonderful, but I’ve never been able to be really “scared” by what he wrote… as with Kafka, Shelly, or Byron, the exceptionally beautiful writing gets in the way!

  4. Books like The Amityville Horror don’t have any effect on me. They are too unrealistic.

    If you want a super-scary book, let me recommend to you Kafka’s The Trial or The Castle That’s true horror. I still have nightmares about them.

  5. I’ve finished The House of Leaves. I’ve owned the book for a number of years but only recenty opened it. I’m not easily scared but this one did a job on me. I was freaked out on a number of occassions and I know it will never completley leave my mind.

  6. For me, one of the scariest books ever is Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi. It’s non-fiction which makes it all the scarier. I think I was too young to be reading it (10!), and I will never forget the image of Charles Manson hiding under the kitchen sink at the Manson Compound. And the descriptions of the attacks on Sharon Tate et al and the LaBiancas still terrify me.

  7. As for me, I don’t know if it is a valid one since it is not fiction, but the book that made me more scared was “Among the thugs” by Bill Buford…. I was many times reading and thinking like “oh my god, just get out of there you crazy reporter!!!!”.

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