The other day I saw someone mentioning Apartment 16 by Adam Neville on Twitter and referring to it as scary, and it got me thinking back to when I read it. It was over two years ago now, I think, that I picked up Apartment 16 in my local WHSmith, read the back, and it decided it seemed like a good start into the horror genre. At the time, I was the GM (game master) for a campaign meant to be more like a horror/ghost story and having never really looked into the genre I thought it would be a good reason to get started.
The book came with me to work for a while, being read here and there when I had a break. I plodded slowly through the book. At first, I was extremely intrigued by the setting Neville had put forward, but about half way through the book, all elements of scary seemed to have been gone. I went from disgusted to grossed out to plain-old puzzled, but never truly scared. It seemed that the second Neville tried too hard to scare me, he lost me, and as a reader I suspended disbelief and my capacity to be terrified down to my core disappeared.
But I know there are people out there who found this book scary, and being reminded of it yesterday left me fairly perplexed, and wondering what I had missed when I read the book.
I wouldn’t say that I’m not easily scared, that would be a lie: I hate walking around the house without the lights on as my imagination has a tendency of running away with me and inventing ghosts and ghouls at every corner. I have to steel myself when watching movies if I know a scary bit is coming, and hell, even Criminal Minds has managed to scare me half to death at times—and no, I’m not talking about when things go boom or cast members are in death-defying danger. So surely finding a book that can scare me shouldn’t be so difficult.
The back of Apartment 16 made me expect that I would be really creeped out and probably quite scared, as well as intrigued. It was what I wanted, and as it was the only book in the horror section that seemed to appeal to my liking of ghosts and strange things over gore-fests, I plunged into it quite eagerly.
But past a point, I just wasn’t scared. Parts of the first few chapters might have creeped, even scared me. But then I stopped caring about the characters: the male protagonist was not someone I could empathise with and the female seemed to lose her capacity to make me care for her half-way through the book, although her earlier chapters were the ones that truly got under my skin.
So instead, a good half of the book simply made me feel sick with disgust or just bored me towards the end. The supposed climax where all is revealed and unfolded seemed awfully self-indulgent, convoluted, at times almost pointless, and it took away from some of the best elements of the story.
So I’m sat here wondering, what the hell did I miss?
And I have, quite frankly, no idea. This isn’t a problem I have encountered just with a book. I have rarely found scary games truly scary, or scary
movies particularly scary. My attempts at playing scary games have been complete and utter disasters. Generally this isn’t because I get scared, but it’s because I get so utterly physically bothered by what is going on in the game that I end up feeling sick and end up throwing the remote aside in disgust.
But clearly, this doesn’t appear to affect other people as much as me. And it’s a great source of frustration when I’m looking for some ghost stories that could perhaps get under my skin and scare me, and instead I end up with something that attempts to scare by using things that simply disgust me and make me feel ill-at-ease (the boy’s appearance, the way the old people look through the main character’s eyes, and the grossness of the paintings in the apartment).
So perhaps I’m missing the point of what is supposed to be scary these days, or maybe I just haven’t found the right book—not that I’ve looked very hard, mind. I remember reading ghost stories as a child that genuinely scared me, and still scare the hell out of me when I think about them for too long. But these days most of the scary stuff I come across is either a gore-fest or monster-fest with, more often than not, some sort of zombie-resembling creatures that go about slaughtering everything in their path.
What happened to things like The Others? That is one movie that truly petrified me, rooted me to my seat and didn’t let
me relax until the end, but managed to do it all without shedding any blood or throwing a monster at me. Hell, some movies need neither ghost, nor gore-fest to be scary, as The Village proved some years back.Maybe it’s just me, and maybe the reason I don’t appreciate scary stuff is because I don’t want to be scared-out-of-my-wits-that-a-monster-is-going-to-kill-me, but I want to be spooked. As in, what’s that noise? Did I just see something or not? Was that thing there a second ago? I’ve tried ghost movies since The Others (even went to see The Woman In Black at the cinemas when it came out), but I generally end up disappointed, and since my misadventure with
Apartment 16 I have been reluctant to pick up a book that seems like a ghost story on the back.
The point of this really is to say that I don’t do horror because I’m not a fan of gore-fest and monsters, and what I’d really want to see in the horror genres are some genuinely chilling ghost stories. I feel like I’m missing the scare-factor that everybody sees in the rest of the genre and it feels kind awkward. So if anyone out there has any suggestion of good ghost stories that are just that, without the addition of monsters or anything else, then I’d be more than happy to give them a go!