‘Let’s talk, you and I. Let’s talk about fear…’
So goes the introduction to Stephen King’s Night Shift, a creepy selection of some of King’s best short stories (IMHO).
My favourite one of the whole wicked bunch has to be the first, Jerusalem’s Lot, part of my Halloween Reading List Bonanza.
Told through a series of letters to a friend known only by the nickname Bones, Charles Boone and his companion/man-servant Calvin McCann take up residence at Chapelwaite, the ancestral home of the Boone family.
Upon arrival at Chapelwaite it is clear that the locals in the nearby village of Preacher’s Corner think the place is cursed and the two men are hard-pressed to find anyone who’ll tell them about the history of the property let alone domestic help.
The house is referred to as a ‘bad house‘ by the local community with an unfortunate history of strange events, disappearances and noises. Charles himself hears scratching in the walls which he attributes to rats.
After finding a map to the deserted village of Jerusalem’s Lot, Charles and Calvin find themselves plunged into a nightmarish series of events from which there appears to be no absolution.
Occultism, disturbing family heritages, a Cthulhu-esque monster and Charles’ inevitable spiral into insanity makes Jerusalem’s Lot a story that is subtle in its assault on the reader’s senses. I don’t want to give too much away. Odds are, you’ve always read it, Constant Reader.
As I have mentioned before on this blog, the scariest horror stories are those that manipulate the senses. We console ourselves as readers of horror, looking for a rational explanation to the phenomena that we see presented to us and yet a question nags at the back of our minds all too often…but what if it’s real? That is the beauty of a good old-fashioned ghost story, my friends. The ones that find us questioning our own fragile psyches.
Those who are familiar with King and H.P Lovecraft will recognise King’s homage to the latter. Modern horror is built on solid foundations; H.P Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, M.R James, Mary Shelley etc etc. When we think of the horror greats, we automatically think of modern authors such as King but, as King himself would undoubtedly say (and has said, in various publications that I can’t remember), the real masters are those who are long gone, but have left an indelible mark on the genre. Something which I believe constantly reinvents itself to match the Zeitgeist of the time but holds on to those tenets established way-back-when. We salute you, old masters of horror.
Therefore, King’s homage to Lovecraft is a reminder to modern audiences that the horror genre existed before Stephen King and signposts readers to literature they might not have even considered before. That’s what happened to me, folks. Know your genre, is what I say.
On a separate note.
Those familiar with the King/Jerusalem’s Lot universe would have invariably heard of Salem’s Lot, the 70’s mini-series directed by Tobe Hooper and starring David Soul as a rather convincing Ben Myers, albeit with dodgy 70’s fashions. Naturally, this was based on a King book of the same name. Read/watch it. You won’t be disappointed (except maybe with the hairstyles in the film). It’s pretty damn scary in either format, so sit back and enjoy the vampire invasion!