7 Hair-Raising Books & Movies for ‘Halloween’

What scares me probably doesn’t scare you.

At Halloween, a lot of bloggers do horror or ghost-themed posts. I’ve always avoided the genre – not out of snobbishness – but because I always end up sleeping with the light on.

Something has changed lately, and I binge-watched three seasons of American Horror Story without flinching! I’m living my best, devil-may-care life.

This a post about some of the scary books and films I’ve encountered recently. Stuff that creeped me out for…reasons. Mostly I just want to do a round-up post.

ELI (Netflix)

Why is it scary? Well, it goes something like this:

Viewer: Oh goody, a standard ‘sick kid in a haunted house’ tale.

Eli: WE’LL SEE WHAT SATAN HAS TO SAY ABOUT THAT!!

I don’t know what they were smoking when they came up with this. Like Annihilation, it was originally a Paramount piece, dumped on Netflix when the studio didn’t know how to market it.

A SIMPLE FAVOUR by Darcey Bell

Why is it scary? It’s a gleeful little domestic suspense whose main character, Stephanie, is that terrifying breed: a mommy blogger.

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A Simple Favour feels like a younger, less elegant Gone Girl. When fashion PR Emily disappears, leaving her British husband Sean and their young son behind, her deluded ‘best friend’ Stephanie sets out to discover the truth.

Debut novelist Bell mercilessly satirises Stephanie’s ‘Captain Mom’ routine. Of course I’m not so happy about the way she writes about us Brits. I don’t know what we ever did.

We get the perspectives of Sean, Emily, and Stephanie – via her thoughts and her inane blog. Ahem. They’re all liars, for different reasons. Emily is reckless and predatory; Stephanie is an insecure dolt. (A “fuzzy bath mat pretending to be a person”, according to Emily.) Sean is…Sean.

Emily’s grand scheme is dumb, but it’s less a true mystery, more a biting satire.

A SIMPLE FAVOUR (movie)

Why is it scary? Directed by Paul ‘Bridesmaids’ Feig, the adaptation of Bell’s novel veers unevenly between black comedy and thriller.

The performances are fun – Emily’s (Blake Lively) unhinged fashion designer boss (Rupert Friend) makes a hilarious cameo. Lively is perfect for Emily, while Anna Kendrick’s Stephanie isn’t just a bath mat, as she evolves from timid mom in cat socks to confident crime solver.

Avoiding spoilers, but Kendrick’s mucky secret doesn’t work on the screen. It’s just plonked in a flashback, when it is waaaay too lurid to pass unexplored or without greater payoff.

THE FORGETTING TIME by Sharon Guskin

Why is it scary? Noah, 4, is Haley Joel Osment. Booted from preschool for talking about guns and..Harry Potter, he hates water, and wants his ‘other mommy’.

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When Noey’s (ugh) doctors suggest schizophrenia (!) hysterical ‘mommy-mom’ Janie contacts past life investigator Dr Jerry Anderson. (Guskin includes excerpts from work by UVA’s Dr Jim Tucker, who inspired the book.)

Janie is dim for an architect, and rude and ungrateful to dementia-stricken Jerry, who is racing to finish his research. I felt greater investment in him as he considers his life, and tries to solve the mystery of Noah’s memories.

Early interactions with secondary characters involve many ‘encouraging smiles’ and eyes ‘welling with concern’ or ‘shining with sadness’. Once it gets going though, it’s an intelligent and thoughtful story about three families’ grief.

SERENITY

Why is it scary? The marketing department hawked it as neo-noir. I saw the trailer, and I swallowed the bait hook, line and sinker. It’s notorious for its stupid ‘twist’.

Set on a fictional tropical island, washed-up war vet Dill toils as a fisherman/gigolo, obsessed with catching a tuna he’s named Justice. Poor Djimon Hounsou is stranded as first mate and conscience.

Sexy thriller undercurrents arrive with Dill’s femme fatale ex Anne Hathaway, who wants him to have an ‘accident’ at sea with her abusive husband, Jason Clarke.

Then it gets really weird. I want to say this movie should be canned but Clarke blames culture-wide resistance to experimental, ambitious films. Hmm. Maybe like Eli, it could have found fame on Netflix.

LULLABY (THE PERFECT NANNY) by Leila Slimani

(translated by Sam Taylor)

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Why is it scary? It’s the infamous killer-nanny book that won prestigious awards and was one of the most hyped books of 2018.

I was worried it would be tacky or exploitative, but it’s a darkly literary novel, which explores themes of race, class, motherhood and domesticity.

The Moroccan-French Slimani is incredibly clever, and the prose is sublime – but I wasn’t sure the author had full grasp of her villain.

PET SEMATARY

Why is it scary? It’s not. But Jason Clarke plays another bad dad/husband.

I’ve never read any Stephen King (remember I have to sleep with the light on) but apparently King himself hails this as one of the best adaptations of his books.

Somehow, I’ve managed to watch The Shining, and in comparison, Pet Sematary seems like basic horror.

There are some well-publicised changes. The ‘child’ isn’t the toddler son but the older girl – and the young actress, Jeté Laurance, is excellent and would be perfect casting for a Greta Thunberg biopic.

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