I was recently working on my database of RB stories when it struck me that he virtually gave up on the Tale of Terror after Dark Carnival (1947). Which is a pity, because some of RB's early stories are the scariest I've read.
I'd love to hear which stories readers think are RB's scariest. Not weirdest or most bizzare, but SCARIEST. the kind of story that makes you want to sleep with the lights on after reading it.
My shortlist is: "The Small Assasin", "The October Game", "The Jar", and just two from later years: "Gotcha!" and "The Burning Man".
I always considered "A Touch of Petulance," "The Thing At the Top of the Stairs," and "The Playground" to be among his most frightening pieces, because of their theme of fixation on a frightening past we can't escape and are doomed to reinact, again and again.
Also, "The Handler," because, as an adult, I've learned there are truly a lot of messed-up people out there ... and who knows what monstrosities aren't even reported in our daily news!
Well, my scariest story ... (this is Halloween night) ... is NOT a Bradbury story.
It was written by a writer that I understand Ray admired a lot... Rog Phillips.
Story title was: "Rat in the Skull".
It appeared in a 60's (late 50's?) issue of the science-fiction pulp, IF.
I was a total nervous wreck after reading it...and it's only like 4 or 5 pages long.
Stephen King said the genre consists of three forms: terror, the finest emotion, horror, somewhat below terror, and the gross-out. He said he always tried for terror, was pleased to achieve horror, and, if not, "I'm not proud, I go for the gross-out."
"The Handler" would probably win among Ray's stories for grossness. As far as all-time grossness, there's a story called "The Loved Dead," I forget the author, but it appeared in "Weird Tales" in the 1920s and was printed in an August Derleth anthology, where he told how that issue of the magazine was banned in many places, or sold with the story razored out. It was the only story not by Stephen King which tied my stomach in knots of nausea.
As far as latter-day scary RB stories, I'm partial to "The Thing at the Top of the Stairs" myself.
I find "The Playground" to be one of his most frightening stories -- but probably not in a traditional "scary" sense.
It is frightening because there appears to be no redempive element available to the protagonist. This lack of a redempive possibility leads to a sense of hoplessness which can lead to despair.
In a similar way, "Heavy Set" carries a sense of entrapment and despair.
I do believe "The Small Assassin" was one of the most scary stories I have read of Ray's so far. It just hits too close to home. It's one of those stories where I say to myself "could this actually happen?" Having a child is one of the things I am looking forward to with great joy. However "the Small Assassin" gave me an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach that lasted throughout the rest of the day. There are few stories that have left me with a horrible terror stricken feeling, and "The Small Assassin" was one of them.
I saw "Signs" two nights ago and I admit, there were four or five places where I couldn't look!
That's the kind of story that I mean. It has nothing to do with disturbing themes (for which, I have two contenders for the championship belt: "They" by Robert A. Heinlein, and "Descending" by Thomas M. Disch) or with the so-called gross-out.
In fact, a "gross-out" isn't scary at all. It's disgusting, and that's a different thing entirely. (Compare Halloween (scary) with Halloween III (revolting).
The distinction was well known in the days of the Gothic novel. The gross-out was known in those days as Schauer-Romantik. There. Now can you seriously claim I never teach you ten dollar words?
I enjoyed "Signs".
For me, "The Small Assassin" and "The October Game" are the scariest ones -- in the traditional meaning of scary.
Here is a vote for five scariest:
"The October Game" freaked me out so badly in Jr. High I went home for lunch a period early and then walked into the wrong classroom and thought I was in the Twilight Zone.
I saw that list, and it's not very good.
It makes no sense to vote for "At Midnight, in the Month of June", rather than for "The Whole Town's Sleeping", which is surely scarier.
"The Veldt" isn't all that scary. Disturbing and unsettling, yes, but not particularly scary.
"There Will Come Soft Rains" is too beautiful, wistful, and sad to be truly scary.
For the above three stories I would substitute "Gotcha!", "The Burning Man" and the first Lonely One story (mentioned above). But I suspect that a lot of people who produce articles like this haven't actually read all the stories, just the famous ones. (I would concede that "At Midnight ... isn't very well known.)
douglasSP, I agree with your comments about Ms. Snelling's list. I would add to your selections Ray's story, "Boys! Raise Giant Mushrooms in Your Cellar!" (also known as "Come Into My Cellar"), which still creeps me out! However, what scares a person definitely tends to be somewhat personal to the individual. (For instance, I never never understood how some folks can find clowns to be terrifying...unless of course they're reading Stephen King's IT!)
I always considered "A Touch of Petulance
The Ravine was terrifying to me. Especially being a young woman. The fact that this guy stalked her is deeply unsettling.
I think the story you're referring to is "The Whole Town's Sleeping", and you're right—it's terribly scary!
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