The Bad Seed – 3/5 Stars
The book about a bad kid hurting and killing other people, and the questions around what makes her tick.
I guess I think I have seen the movie of this years ago, but other than “bad kid” I don’t recall much of it. The book dives into the psychology and especially the genetics of the questions of “bad kid” in ways that I imagine are pretty early for the genre.
So this is the book that sort of started us all out with the modern genre of “What makes bad kids bad?”. Specifically we have a family that has moved into town, they have some money from the mother’s side, and the father is away in the military currently. As we move into the plot, we are treated to some alarming questions about little accidents at a potential new school and around the neighborhood. We also get small scenes between the small girl in the family and a local handyman. He suspects that something is terribly wrong with the girl, but he also has a kind of playful teasing attitude about it. The novel also includes a number of conversations genetics, psychology, and other “modern ideas”.
So in a lot of ways, this book is a play on the stories that investigate the nature of evil. In this particular case, we are asked to consider whether or not genetics and psychology (and especially the traits passed down in these circumstances) can result in a fundamentally broken person. It’s not exactly that psychology is new when this book was written, but it had been slowly moving out of the margins into the mainstream, so the concepts of analysis and therapy are no longer part of the outliers and broken parts of society.
Dracula’s Guest – 3/5 Stars
I picked this one back up after it being recommended by Stephen King in Danse Macabre, and while I agree that it’s both better than it has a right to be (Bram Stoker being a mixed bag over all) and not nearly as strong as Dracula it does give us some more good stories in general from the writer. I love Dracula and it was one of the books I knew fairly well from the Francis Ford Coppola movie edition as a kid, but also a book that I didn’t know from not having read it. So when I read it finally, I was blown away by how creepy and inventive and surprising it ultimately was.
This story collection is also inventive and surprising at times, especially given that it was first published in 1915. So the ways in which it talks about sex and other topics is a little on the forefront in general. But it has the problem that a lot of stories from this time period and earlier (in regards specifically to genre in general and horror in particular), which is that it is always constantly circling around things in the stories and very rarely really looking at anything straight on. This isn’t terrible and can be quite effective, but when every story in a collection does this, it gets a little old. So it’s not a great collection for straight-through reading, but having it on rotation could lead to a lot of interesting reading moments.
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary – 3/5 stars
I feel like I could write the exact same review for this book as I did for Bram Stoker’s Dracula’s Guest. So I will in a way:
This story collection is also inventive and surprising at times, especially given that it was first published in 1904. So the ways in which it talks about sex and other topics is a little on the forefront in general. But it has the problem that a lot of stories from this time period and earlier (in regards specifically to genre in general and horror in particular), which is that it is always constantly circling around things in the stories and very rarely really looking at anything straight on. This isn’t terrible and can be quite effective, but when every story in a collection does this, it gets a little old. So it’s not a great collection for straight-through reading, but having it on rotation could lead to a lot of interesting reading moments.
This is a book (and I imagine a writer in general) that seems responsible for a lot of the nuances of ghost stories — manuscripts! reticent narrators! failure to describe! — that show up in a lot of books that feel based on “ghost stories” as they were meant to be told. So like I said, good for one at a time, but slow going straight through.
The Amityville Horror – 2/5 stars
Another example of a book where I have seen the movie already, so the surprises in the book come mostly from the differences and choices made, rather than through the actual content. So this is a ghost/haunting book that is told ala true crime. Obviously, I think it’s basically a novel, but there’s the pretense of this whole thing being real the whole time. Now, by pretense, I mean lying. So this isn’t a book that pretends to be real but is really a novel; I mean that it’s clearly a hoax. It’s also pretty dreadfully boring at times, and the epilogue that defends its portrayal and all that, well…blah.
So a family moves into a murder house and they ain’t care! But it turns out that the house is still haunted by something. Is it ghosts? Some yes! Poltergeists? Yes one of those too. A giant pig, a little boy, and an old lady.
So the spooky stuff — hot and cold extremes, green goo, loud noises, knocking, control the weather, all that good stuff. Whether this is a book that helped to invent the genre or simply cashed in on it is up for someone else to tell me. But it’s not a super effective book ultimately, especially in the age of the internet. Also, I can’t possibly find Long Island to be scary, but that’s just me.
The Dare – 3/5 Stars
This might be my first and only RL Stine book. I can’t confirm, but I legitimately don’t think I’ve every read one before. Maybe I was reading Stephen King too young for RL Stine to be worth it, but who knows.
Anyway, we begin with our narrator walking across her yard with a gun, read to murder her neighbor on a dare. We jump back a few weeks and we find out that that neighbor is the history teacher at the high school, and he’s kind of a dick to her and her new friends — the popular kids who up until now have not shown her any attention. When the hot boy track star goes on vacation and the history teacher won’t let him make up a test, he gets bummed and asks the narrator out. After a few wild (group — nonsexual, it’s for kids!) nights she gets involved in their dare game. She eventually gets dared to kill the neighbor because he’s been so mean to all the kids. And you know what? She’s considering it!
The book doesn’t involve any supernatural stuff and maybe this is part of the “Fear Street” vibe — I dunno — but the effect then is that this book is a more like say a Lois Duncan novel, than what I had thought RL Stine books are like. Maybe I should read more. But my impression is that they were more like “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”