Weird & Wonderful Excellent Esoteric Nightmare Narratives
October 15, 2013 2:05 PM   Subscribe

Please recommend as much artsy, intelligent, literary horror fiction (in any medium: books, stories, films, whatever) as you can!

With Halloween fast approaching and the weather outside getting increasingly gloomy, I've been indulging quite a bit in my annual October horror binge. This thread over here was a fantastic tent for people to talk about interesting horror movies under, but I'd like to both narrow and broaden things here.

The narrowing: I, like a proper connoisseur of weird fiction, have very particular tastes. What I tend to enjoy most in horror is creativity and artistic merit, whether that implies a vein of cosmicism/existentialism, uniqueness of vision, highly abstract and "out there" concepts or just clean, beautiful prose. Some of my favorite writers here are H.P. Lovecraft (for a beautiful, dreamlike non-human outlook), Thomas Ligotti (for an ultimate derealization and distrust of reality), Shirley Jackson (for narrators closer to events than they initially let on) and Junji Ito (for raw, unbridled creativity and emphasizing that embracing the Weird makes everything okay). Films I like include The Vanishing (for putting a price to knowledge), The Wicker Man (for gradual immersion in an elaborate culture that turns out not to be so fun), Jacob's Ladder (for the sense of disorientation and inseparability of psychology and reality) and Něco z Alenky (for sheer otherworldliness). You get the idea; creature features and more mainstream conceptions of horror are very welcome, as long as they're in service to something more interesting than definable external threats like monsters. I want things that emphasize atmosphere, characterization and sense of mystery, wonder, doom and hopelessness more than things that have what basically amount to dangerous animals lurking in the shadows. I like the kind of horror that protagonists never recover from.

The broadening: I'm leaving the door open for suggestions in any medium. Surprise me! I'm focusing on prose and film here, but I'm just covering the bases. Indeed, some of my favorite works of horror are actually videogames (the most intriguing, intelligent take on zombies that I know of is a game). If you know of any particularly unsettling poetry, or online fiction projects, or whatever, then please, by all means. Don't take the namedrops here as discouragements, either; feel free to gush about your favorite story by the authors listed. Go wild. I just ask that you try to explain a bit why you find something interesting. Convince me of its terrifying braininess.

In summary: give me all your smart scary things.
posted by byanyothername to Media & Arts (44 answers total) 103 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: House of Leaves
posted by Rock Steady at 2:08 PM on October 15, 2013 [8 favorites]

I don't read a lot of horror, but found Lindqvist's Let the Right One In to be quite satisfying in both the literary sense and in terms of entertainment value -- perhaps all of the characters are leading lives of quiet desperation, and the exact motivation of the vampire is not quite clear. The film adaptation is alright, but glosses over much of the nuance that distinguishes the novel, and leaves out some of the entertaining bits as well.
posted by mr. digits at 2:20 PM on October 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

Sounds like you'd probably enjoy The Terror and Drood by Dan Simmons
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:22 PM on October 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

I submit The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
posted by payoto at 2:23 PM on October 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Definitely seconding House of Leaves in the (perhaps unlikely, given your tastes) event that you haven't read it already.
posted by pont at 2:24 PM on October 15, 2013

Caitlin R. Kiernan's The Red Tree and The Drowning Girl are great for unreliable narrators, dreamlike prose, disorientation, and weirdness.
posted by therewithal at 2:25 PM on October 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I think you'd like Kazuo Ishiguro's first novel, A Pale View of Hills. At first it seems relatively simple and straightforward, but it slowly builds towards a spooky, unsettling narrative. If all you've read by him is The Remains of The Day (or Never Let Me Go, I suppose), I think you'll be surprised by APVOH. I think it fits your preferences quite well.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:27 PM on October 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Laura Kasischke's The Raising is one of the best scary books I've ever read. I think what made it work for me was that under the superficial "horror" plot, which I found to be a lot of fun, there was a real, meaty sense of what can actually be lost in a person's life. It's like, setting aside murders and monsters and acts of God, what is the "ending" to your life you fear the most? Without giving too much away, there was a lack of sentimentality, a kind of coldness to the way the plot of The Raising unfolded that I think is rare even in horror novels, and which really shook me. "That protagonists never recover from..." Exactly.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 2:31 PM on October 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

I want things that emphasize atmosphere, characterization and sense of mystery, wonder, doom and hopelessness more than things that have what basically amount to dangerous animals lurking in the shadows. I like the kind of horror that protagonists never recover from.

Scott Smith's The Ruins might fit the bill. And it has no dangerous animals lurking in the shadows.
posted by scratch at 2:36 PM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding The Ruins (novel), which I had picked up assuming it was ridiculous airport reading, but it was utterly terrifying and unputdownable.

The Others (film) was really excellent.

The Terror is often recommended here on the green for its sense of foreboding.

And speaking of ships, I really enjoyed The Lifeboat, about a set of adrift and stranded survivors. Cleanly written, and a wonderful narrator who stays with you.
posted by mochapickle at 2:43 PM on October 15, 2013

For film, I recommend They Came Back, Pontypool, The Devil's Backbone, Cabin in the Woods, and Suspiria.

I feel like I'm forgetting some really great indie horror that I've dumb-lucked into on Netflix, but those came to mind. And perhaps a good recommendation engine like imdb will lead you to some more.
posted by jbickers at 2:43 PM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nthing The Ruins. Deeply unsettling, surprisingly riveting. Couldn't put it down.

The first book I thought of was The Master and Margarita which, I know - there's a lot of political subtext going on there but I found it very disconcerting and atmospheric and atmospheric in its own way. I think it probably gave me nightmares more than any other book I've read.
posted by Tevin at 2:46 PM on October 15, 2013

Best answer: Thomas Ligotti! Thomas Ligotti, Thomas Ligotti, Thomas Ligotti!
posted by Ipsifendus at 2:48 PM on October 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Takiko Takahashi writes short fiction about rather creepy women who creep around consciously or subconsciously lashing out at the forces that keep them quiet and wound up in their society. Some of my favorite short fiction ever, especially good if you like stories by/about women and female anger.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:50 PM on October 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

You make have seen this already, but there's this Korean movie called The Host (2007). The plot reads like a creature feature, but it's so much more than that -- terrifying, hilarious, heartwarming, and oh man very, very bleak. The dubbed English version is horrible, so just do subtitles.

(I like this question and am following it closely.)
posted by mochapickle at 2:51 PM on October 15, 2013

The Devil All The Time was pretty gruesome but very well-written.
posted by jabes at 2:56 PM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, and a short story! This was posted on the blue some time ago: The Witch of Duva
posted by mochapickle at 2:57 PM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you don't mind old black-and-white movies, I'm going to recommend the films produced by Val Lewton. They were famously made on tiny budgets, forcing the film-makers to place the emphasis on characters and atmosphere rather than scary monsters. In particular:

- Cat People
- The Curse of the Cat People
- I Walked With a Zombie
- The 7th Victim

All four films have an incredible sense of melancholy about them and deal with stuff like psychological alienation, loneliness, mental illness... there's a lot going on beneath the surface.
posted by afx237vi at 3:03 PM on October 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

Lives of the Monster Dogs. Not scary but brilliant and tragic. One of my all time faves.
posted by alms at 3:09 PM on October 15, 2013

Night Film got mixed reviews, but I really liked it. The first chapter is one of the more unsettling things I've ever read.

The New York Trilogy isn't horror per se, but the first novella especially really haunted me. It is extremely esoteric and existential, and a great, quick read, too.
posted by oinopaponton at 3:09 PM on October 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: To expand on therewithal's suggestion, Caitlin R. Kiernan's short stories definitely fit this bill as well. Extremely atmospheric, and the horror is definitely of the "creeping sense of unrest" variety. My favorite collection is A is for Alien, and her stories are in a number of anthologies as well. This page rounds up some of her stories which are available online as well.

I'd also like to recommend Jeff Vandermeer's City of Saints and Madmen and Shriek (You should definitely read City of Saints and Madmen first, although Shriek is really the more "horror" one of the pair). As with Kiernan, Vandermeer's stuff isn't traditional horror at all. It's weird and unsettling and mixes wonder with a sense of impending doom in a way I've really never felt from another author. Also, can I say how much I love this thread? You totally described my own taste in books and I'm excited to check out so many of these suggestions!
posted by augustimagination at 3:29 PM on October 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You wrote "every medium", right? So I will take a chance here on something unexpected: A computer game that came out recently that scares the living crap out of me, Knock Knock by Russian developer Ice Pick Lodge. It isn't about monster closets or jump scares-- the terror is slower, creepier and just so weird. I think it fits with the other works you mentioned liking. I find it absolutely terrifying, but my wife watched me play it and was not as affected. Some write-ups here and here. My first link is for the game on Steam, which is probably an easy way for someone who doesn't game much to get it.
posted by seasparrow at 3:36 PM on October 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

Oh, and you also might like Ludmilla Petrushevskaya's There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales. Troubling, lingering -- so many beautifully crafted lines of offbeat unease.
posted by mochapickle at 3:46 PM on October 15, 2013

I don't know if they're really scary scary, but they are... weirdly, lushly terrifying, like deep dark acid trips. Catherynne Valente's Deathless and KJ Bishop's The Etched City.
posted by WidgetAlley at 4:01 PM on October 15, 2013

I want things that emphasize atmosphere, characterization and sense of mystery, wonder, doom and hopelessness more than things that have what basically amount to dangerous animals lurking in the shadows. I like the kind of horror that protagonists never recover from.

I read a lot and watch a lot, and I submit Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy as truly horrible.
posted by thinkpiece at 4:06 PM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Perdido Street Station, book by China Mieville. Fantastical fiction with strong horror elements. Science gone wrong. The tossing and turning of a fever dream. The protagonists do not recover.

There's a Korean version of Hansel and Gretel that I really loved--there were striking visuals, it doesn't go quite where a default horror movie would, and the atmosphere was fantastic. Additionally, nothing all THAT gorey happens in it, which is perfect for me--I like tension more than actual torture. I want to see it again but the only way I'll get to do so is if I buy the DVD, and I'm considering doing so.
posted by foxfirefey at 4:11 PM on October 15, 2013

Chiming in my recommendation for Cait Kiernan as well.
posted by Kitteh at 4:27 PM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Scorch Atlas by Blake Butler for its doomed universe and unforgiving, senseless, abstract, cosmic horror.

From one review:
"Scorch Atlas is an artifact from a potential, horrific future. It shows slivers of lives of people not after an apocalypse, but during. These are not survivors’ stories. We are not reading these people’s stories after they’ve already come through the other side. They’re in it, right down in it. The ash and the water and the mud, the strange diseases that cause their skin to mold and bubble, that causes babies to grow rinds and pelts… Butler sinks us down there with them: ordinary people with ordinary lives, unable to make any more sense out of what has become of their world than we can. There is no 'how' in this book, no 'why.' There is only the sure fact that the world has gone to hell, with no end in sight."
posted by naju at 9:18 PM on October 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

Also, this thread describes my tastes so perfectly. I'm excited to explore the other recommendations.
posted by naju at 9:30 PM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I read this and thought about Lanark by Alisdair Gray - its a deeply unusual book, part Kafka, part Wizard of Oz, part love letter to the Glasgow School of Art - its a fantastic book!
posted by Middlemarch at 9:34 PM on October 15, 2013

Best answer: You will enjoy Present at a Hanging and Other Ghost Stories by Ambrose Bierce, which is kind of like if HP Lovecraft was a newspaper reporter. The Mysterious Disappearances section is the best, and not only because the author followed up with his own mysterious disappearance. If you'd prefer, you can listen to the stories being read (very well! which is not always the case on librivox much as I love it) here
posted by velebita at 9:39 PM on October 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Have you read any Michael Cisco? If not, you may enjoy his novels, for example The Tyrant and The Great Lover.
posted by misteraitch at 1:18 AM on October 16, 2013

Best answer: Seconding Ligotti, Kiernan and Cisco.

I'd also recommend Kathe Koja (especially The Cipher and Skin) and Helen Marshall's short story collection Hair Side, Flesh Side.

There are some good suggestions from other horror writers here: Our Favorite Women Horror Writers.
posted by inire at 2:44 AM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, seconding Kathe Koja (I've only read The Cipher so far, and will check out Skin - thanks, inire).
posted by daisyk at 3:04 AM on October 16, 2013

Liminal States - it's kind of genre-bending but stick with it through the bits that seem more non-horror, because it's worth it.
posted by marginaliana at 6:50 AM on October 16, 2013

Malpertuis, Vlad and Circus of Dr. Lao are all attempts to situate ancient/classical beasties into modern-ish settings. Those first two are a bit more dreamlike and horrific -- Dr. Lao is pretty funny but still chockablock full of crazy shit.

Shriek: an Afterword
, as mentioned above, has a fantastic setting to start with and leverages it to its fullest potential. (Skip the forgettable noirish followup Finch, and only read "The Hoegbotton guide to the early history of Ambergris" and "The transformation of Martin Lake" out of City of Saints and Madmen, as they are the two that help set up Shriek.)

The Adventures of the Ingenious Alfanhuí isn't true horror, but it has some truly bizarre stuff going on, especially the puppet.

All of Walter Moers's Zamonia books (Rumo, Captain Bluebear, City of Dreaming Books and particularly The Alchemaster's Apprentice) and A Wild Ride Through the Night have fantastic settings, silly humor and amazingly deep and wide dark streaks. "Nobody understands the leathermice!"
posted by cog_nate at 8:05 AM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Malpertuis (which is great) was also made into a film with a bibulous Orson Welles (previously - the Youtube links in the post are dead, but others can be found via Google).

If you want to pick up The Circus of Dr. Lao, try to get the edition with Claire Van Vliet's etchings.
posted by inire at 8:24 AM on October 16, 2013

Best answer: Other suggestions (last post, I promise):

Joseph S. Pulver - The Orphan Palace (an unsettling account of a serial arsonist's coast-to-coast road trip in search of his childhood nemesis; "one long hesitation between the real and the supernatural").

Brian Evenson - everything, but Altmann's Tongue or Contagion are good ones to start with; alienating, brutal emotional and physical violence, extremely well-written. Interview here.

Robert Irwin - The Arabian Nightmare (fantastical, unsurprisingly nightmarish, "an infinity of torment experienced in sleep").

Peter Watts - the oft-recommended Blindsight is SF with a heaping helping of horror focusing on various types of philosophical and neuroscientific 'consciousness' (and if you have the stomach for philosophy, Watts was partly inspired by Metzinger's Being No One and the less-grueling, rewritten-for-laymen version The Ego Tunnel, which attack psychological stability at the most fundamental level by arguing that the self does not exist).

Eric Basso - The Beak Doctor (the narrator journeys through a dream-like city suffering from a sleeping sickness; a "gothic-inspired tale of anguished longing and horrific discovery").

Stefan Grabinski - The Dark Domain (cerebral, psychosexual uncanny stories; "horror as rigour [...] weird tales of a heretic intelligence").

Reza Negarestani - Cyclonopedia is hyper-theoretical and large swathes of it will pass you by if you don't have a grounding in philosophy and critical theory (previously on Ask MeFi, though with sadly few responses), but it's a fascinating and deeply unsettling book even if you can't hack your way through the denser theoretical undergrowth. "[A] multi-disciplinary work of scholarship that draws on archaeology, history, linguistics, mathematics, geology, political science and continental philosophy to construct a Theory of middle-eastern politics that suggests that Mesopotamia is a sentient entity that uses various occult agents to act upon human affairs in order to further the spread of desert over the face of the planet a.k.a. “the dry-singularity”." And if you like that, keep an eye out next year for the sequel, The Mortiloquist, "[a] unique blend of horror, Beckettian drama, and classical philosophy".

Jeff & Ann Vandermeer - The Weird anthology (which you're probably already aware of, but it's bursting with the sort of thing you're after - including a lot of lesser-known European stuff - and will lead to an unmanageable expansion of your Amazon wishlist; table of contents here).

Further to seasparrow's recommendation of Knock Knock, Ice Pick Lodge's other masterpiece, Pathologic (an amazing, technically flawed Brechtian stumble through a dying city; here's a review and a spoilerrific but more in-depth three-part review).

Finally, the Amnesia games (The Dark Descent and A Machine For Pigs) will exceed your RDA of dread by approximately one billion percent.
posted by inire at 9:57 AM on October 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow, guys. Thank you for such an amazing, in-depth list! Some of these are familiar to me, but many are not. I'm especially appreciating the recs for things outside "horror" as a genre that are nonetheless horrifying. Totally looking forward to diving into a lot of these and scaring myself witless!
posted by byanyothername at 11:01 AM on October 16, 2013

Best answer: Two outside-of-horror ideas: "derealization and distrust of reality" makes me think of
>Chrisopher Priest
, and of Alex Garland's The Coma.

(I think you'd particularly like Priest's The Inverted World, which also has the sense of disorientation and perception vs. reality aspects you mention. But forget I said that before you read the book!)
posted by snorkmaiden at 11:53 AM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

read Jayne Anne Phillips - Black Tickets. One of the bleakest, saddest books I've ever come across.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 12:42 PM on October 16, 2013

Command F + "Night Vale" No results. Thread is broken.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:03 PM on October 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Everything by David Nickle.
posted by bleary at 9:14 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think you might enjoy Pilgrim by Timothy Findley.

Great thread, thanks for posting.
posted by Paris Elk at 4:22 AM on November 16, 2013

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