The Creepiest Body Parts

The human body is a grotesque, meaty thing. Storytellers can make use of our squeamishness by breaking the body into parts for horror or for comic effect.

In his autobiography Going Solo, Roald Dahl takes a voyage to Africa. Onboard the ship he meets all sorts of weird and wonderful characters, as Dahl was inclined to do.

One woman he met only ever ate her oranges with a knife and fork. When Dahl asked her why, she told him that she couldn’t stand fingers. Fingers disgusted her.

Finger Cookies

Sort of related: In Which We Consider The Macabre Unpleasantness of Roald Dahl, from This Recording.

Of all the phobias it’s possible to have, surely a visceral reaction to one’s own body would be one of the worst. There’s just no getting away from fingers. They’re there all the time, following you around. With fingers it pays to err on the grateful side, in fact.

Since reading We Need To Talk About Kevin I haven’t been altogether fond of eyeballs (nor lychees). This clip from the movie adaptation isn’t going to help none.

Despite being prone to suggestion, I have no such qualms about fingers. (I’m less fond of toes, especially toes with long, yellowing toenails.)

And now there’s a YouTube series which isn’t doing a hell of a lot for my appreciation of the mouth and throat region.

This is the first instalment, in case you happened to miss it.

More recently those Japanese scientists have got the damn thing to sing.

Any disembodied body part is freshly anointed as the creepiest body part. Horror stories make the most of this trope. Take the end of Child’s Play, in which Chucky’s disembodied parts just won’t quit. This makes use of the horror trope in which the villain is basically a robot who cannot be killed.

This trope also used in comedy. The Cloverfield Paradox also features a disembodied body part — an arm — but to great comic effect.

The Tale of Samuel Whiskers by Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Samuel Whiskers by Beatrix Potter was originally called The Roly-Poly Pudding and written as a Christmas present to a child. Potter’s image of the cat rolled up in dough is one of those resonant illustrations which, once seen, can never be unseen. Perhaps this image scarred you, too, as a child.

Perhaps it scars you now.

What makes an image resonant? I’ve explored that question elsewhere. In any case, I’m not surprised Potter originally used the story’s most scarring imagery as the original title, and I’m also not surprised that the title was changed. It wasn’t exactly in keeping with the rest of the Beatrix Potter books. Continue reading “The Tale of Samuel Whiskers by Beatrix Potter”

Features of a Psychological Suspense Story

hands clawing up a cliff

What makes a horror or thriller story ‘psychological’? Aren’t the entire suspense genre psychological, to some degree? I set out to investigate.

A label to say: This Is More Than Just Gore!

With a few notable exceptions, the label “psychological horror” is most often used to describe what something doesn’t have rather than what it does. A lack of exploding eyeballs or sloshing eviscerations must mean that the scare is psychological, right? Saying that a story is “psychological horror” seems like it should mean it gives the reader a true creeping sense of fear, but all too often it just means the [story] doesn’t feature violent organ failure.

Electric Literature

So, story makers will slap that label on if they want to signal hidden depths to their story. With that established, let’s get a bit deeper. How deep can we get? Continue reading “Features of a Psychological Suspense Story”

Singing My Sister Down by Margo Lanagan

a crab walking on black cracked earth

“Singing My Sister Down” is a horror short story by Australian author Margo Lanagan. Find it in Lanagan’s collection Black Juice, published by Allen and Unwin. Black Juice was published in 2004, but “Singing My Sister Down” has proven especially resonant with readers, anthologised numerous times since. “Singing My Sister Down” is now a modern Australian short story classic.

Reading it again today, I stop halfway through and watch a Cookie Monster skit which has blessedly come through my Twitter feed. It’s just too much. I can’t think of many short stories this intense, though “Brokeback Mountain” is another (more so than the film).

OTHER creepy short stories TO COMPARE AND CONTRAST
Continue reading “Singing My Sister Down by Margo Lanagan”