I think I’ve beaten to death the fact that I’m not a horror genre person. I’m a creepy, suspense, spooky genre person. That’s all fine and dandy, right? But I can’t be the only one in the world who falls into this category–nay, I daresay I’m one of many. We are gentle souls, but we are also sometimes unexpectedly dark and brooding… at least to ourselves. Everyone else sees us as cute and pure.
The question is, how can we balance our desire to embrace the eeriness within with our desire to sleep at night, unencumbered by nightmares? How indeed.
I have a solution! We can make a list of stories (books, movies, etc.) that are delightfully creepy without being horrific. What do you think? Sound good?
For fairness’s sake, I’m only going to list stories that I’ve actually read or watched. Rest assured, this is by no means meant to be exhaustive. And, of course, it’s also very subjective. You might think some of these are too scary… or not scary enough. Or too weird. Or too bad.
prepare to be (kind of) scared
1. the hound of the baskervilles
Oh yeah, baby, The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a classic Sherlock Holmes mystery and a genuinely creepy novel. It’s been years since I’ve read it, but I enjoyed it from start to finish. In short, it’s about a supernatural hound rumored to have murdered several people on the moors of Devon. It’s got a great build-up of suspense and mystery that culminates in the classic Sherlock Holmes reveal. Also, the whole atmosphere of the novel is foggy and dreary, which just adds to the eery tone.
I already talked about the movie adaptation and its merits in my last post, but let me just sing the praises of Mary Shelley’s gothic horror masterpiece once more. It’s dark, it’s grotesque, but I don’t think it’s going to give you nightmares… probably because we’re so desensitized to horror monsters like Frankenstein. (A.k.a. Frankenstein’s monster, you uncultured swine!) However, back in 1815 or whatever, this story had 19-year-old Mary Shelley taking the cake in the competition between her and her friends. A chilling read and a great piece of writing all around. 10/10 Beccas would recommend.
3. the strange case of dr. jekyll and mr. hyde
I read this in high school and in college, and I enjoyed it both times. Another spooky take on a scientist gone mad, this gothic horror novella by Robert Louis Stevenson is equal parts eery and contemplative. Told from the perspective of Dr. Jekyll’s lawyer, it unravels the dark experiments of a scientist tortured by his own duality (and the intense repression of Victorian moral code)! If you haven’t read it, do. It’s short!
4. anything by edgar allen poe
Okay, this isn’t fair, because I haven’t read everything by Edgar Allen Poe. But I know his work–we had a whole unit dedicated to it in high school. Spooky! Most people are familiar with his poem The Raven (which is sufficiently creepy), but my favorite short stories of his include The Pit and the Pendulum, The Masque of the Red Death, The Cask of Amontillado, and The Fall of the House of Usher. All of his stories are macabre, dark, and (often) claustrophobic, exploring some chillingly realistic fears. Poe is a master of setting the tone, from the imagery to the word choice to the pacing. Quoth the raven, “Read more Poe!” (Wow. What a zinger.)
5. corpse bride
I know that Nightmare Before Christmas is a crowd favorite amongst Tim Burton fans, and trust me, I love it, too. But I feel like it’s so synonymous with the spooky-not-scary genre, it seems superfluous to mention it. What doesn’t seem to get enough credit is Corpse Bride, which has that distinct, gothic, Victorian feel. The colors are drab and muted, the music is basically a bunch of variations on Moonlight Sonata (in the best way possible), and the concept is creepy yet inventive. It’s technically a kid’s movie, so there’s plenty of comic relief, but its storytelling is also subtle.
6. the hunchback of notre dame (disney)
What the? What’s one of my favorite underrated Disney classics doing here? This movie has nothing to do with Halloween. Or does it…? There’s a celebration where people dress up like things they’re not, there’s dark themes, death… well, you know, the Halloween genre is pretty loose to begin with. What makes this a spooky-not-scary story for me, really, is Judge Frolo’s villain song, “Hellfire.” It is singularly one of the creepiest, darkest musical numbers I’ve ever seen, and I love it. Call this one cheating, but to me, it counts.
7. the twilight zone
Before Black Mirror and, uh, Jordan Peele, there was the original The Twilight Zone… a sci-fi anthology of (often) creepy “what-if” scenarios meant to stretch the limits of the human imagination. It’s actually been a long time since I’ve watched this, and I haven’t seen all of them, but damn, do I remember being delightfully creeped out. If I had to recommend some episodes, definitely watch “Eye of the Beholder” and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” They’ll both give you the heebie-jeebies.
8. pirates of the caribbean: curse of the black pearl
This is, and always will be, one of my favorite movies, period. And though it’s not a Halloween movie, it’s got all the right elements: pirates, a haunted ship, eery moonlight, undead skeletons, Johnny Depp… yeah, this one’s a win for me.
9. pan’s labyrinth
This is such an interesting movie, and not only are the supernatural elements creepy (and the practical effects? Amazing), the things happening in real life to the characters are pretty messed up, too. (It’s set in fascist(?) Spain.) It’s always cool when stories intertwine real problems with fantastic ones… it usually means the fantasy is an allegory of some kind, but I haven’t the time nor energy to dive into that one. Suffice it to say, this isn’t just a good, creepy movie: it’s a good movie, period.
10. clue: the movie
Who’s played Clue? Fun, right? Well, in the 80s, they made a movie out of it. And it’s the best, most campy, most delightful murder mystery dinner party movie you’ll ever watch. There really isn’t much that’s creepy about it (though I would advocate for a couple scenes), but it sure as hell is fun to watch. There’s also three alternate endings, which the DVD version can shuffle at random. It’s just like playing the game… but with more Tim Curry!
This list could go on and on, but I have to stop somewhere! I want to know, what are your favorite spooky-not-scary stories that are not on this list? Give me more creepy things to watch or read!