Tag Archives: Psychological Horror

Sensing Something Wrong: A Review of The Wendigo

The Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood book cover. Image on cover is a drawing of a horned, hairy creature standing on it’s back feet. It looks like a large goat. Title: The Wendigo

Author: Algernon Blackwood

Publisher: Eveleigh Nash

Publication Date: 1910 (and republished on April 21, 2022)

Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Historical

Length: 74 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

Algernon Blackwood’s “The Wendigo” tells the story of a camping trip in the Canadian wilderness that goes horribly wrong when the hunters become the hunted. Drawing on the mythical creature known as the Wendigo, this story is regarded by many critics to be one of the best horror tales of all time.

Review:

Content Warning: Racism. I will discuss it in depth in my review.

Forests aren’t friendly to everyone.

Some of my favourite scenes were the ones that explored the various reactions people can have to being in the middle of the woods. What is peaceful and wholesome to one person could be mildly unsettling or even downright terrifying to another based on their previous experiences with nature and how much they know about all of the sounds that occur when one is in the middle of nowhere and can see nothing byt trees stretching out in every direction.

Horror doesn’t have to be gory or gross. There wasn’t single drop of blood in this tale, and yet it made me shudder all the same. I appreciated the slow buildup as the characters walked deeper into the woods and further away from anyone who might help them. That methodical pacing gave me plenty of opportunities to imagine what might happen next and to chew on the clues I’d already discovered. The slower and quieter scenes were exactly what the storyline needed in order to flourish. Some things are much scarier when they’ve been given time to marinate in your thoughts, and this is one of them.

I wanted to make note of the racism mentioned in the content warning. This story was written in 1910, and the author had some truly odd ideas about First Nations people and their mystical connection to nature that many white people of his era believed. In no way am I trying to excuse the offensive nature of those passages or his bizarre beliefs about how one’s race should influence what one does in the woods, only to say that the world has changed for the better since it was written and I think the author was trying to be complimentary with those descriptions based on the historical time in which he lived. While I am generally able to shake my head and ignore ridiculous stuff like this in old books, I did want to let my readers know about them in advance so you can come to your own conclusions about whether this is something you want to read.

With that being said, I loved what Mr. Blackwood did with his characters, especially Punk, a First Nations cook and guide for the group, later on in the storyline. Their character arcs were memorable and made a great deal of sense given what they found in the woods and how everyone reacted to that experience. It made me wonder what would have happened if Dr. Cathcart, the protagonist, had been more interested in cultures outside of his own. This was one of those cases where a little communication would have gone a long way, but certain cultural assumptions made that difficult. I found myself wondering how the storyline might have changed if it were instead told from the perspective of Punk after he realized that the white people he was accompanying through the woods had accidentally discovered something horrific.

The Wendigo was a delightfully chilling tale.

You’d Better Run Faster – A Review of Small Spaces

Book cover for Small Spaces by Katherine Arden. Image on cover shows a silhouette of a scarecrow and a sign that says “Small Spaces” in front of a yellow school bus that’s parked at dusk. Title: Small Spaces

Author: Katherine Arden

Publisher:  Puffin Books

Publication Date: July 9, 2019

Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Paranormal, Mystery, Horror, Contemporary

Length: 256 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

After suffering a tragic loss, eleven-year-old Ollie who only finds solace in books discovers a chilling ghost story about a girl named Beth, the two brothers who loved her, and a peculiar deal made with “the smiling man”—a sinister specter who grants your most tightly held wish, but only for the ultimate price.
     Captivated by the tale, Ollie begins to wonder if the smiling man might be real when she stumbles upon the graves of the very people she’s been reading about on a school trip to a nearby farm. Then, later, when her school bus breaks down on the ride home, the strange bus driver tells Ollie and her classmates: “Best get moving. At nightfall they’ll come for the rest of you.” Nightfall is, indeed, fast descending when Ollie’s previously broken digital wristwatch begins a startling countdown and delivers a terrifying message: RUN.
     Only Ollie and two of her classmates heed these warnings. As the trio head out into the woods—bordered by a field of scarecrows that seem to be watching them—the bus driver has just one final piece of advice for Ollie and her friends: “Avoid large places. Keep to small.”
     And with that, a deliciously creepy and hair-raising adventure begins.

Review:

Content Warning: Bullying, grief, depression, and death of a parent. I will briefly mention mental health and the death of a parent in my review.

It’s never too late to try again.

One of my favourite things about this tale was how it played around with certain stereotypes about gender roles and race. All of the characters were well-rounded people whose interests were not necessarily constrained by what others assumed someone of their sex or race would be into. Even characters who seemed to fit the mould at first glance were filled with wonderful surprises once I got to know them better. What made this even better was how natural it felt for them and their storylines. They simply were who they were without pretence. That’s exactly the sort of stuff I want to read about!

I would have liked to see more attention paid to the ending. The author was working with so many different plot points that she unfortunately didn’t seem to have quite enough time to wrap everything up satisfactorily for this reader. I know this is the beginning of a series, so I’m hoping that the sequels will dive much more deeply into the sudden death of Ollie’s mother and how Ollie’s mental health has fared since that tragedy. Her grief was explored thoroughly. If everything else had been given the same treatment, I would have gone with a five star rating as I deeply enjoyed it in general.

The storyline was filled with twists and turns that made me smile. I especially appreciated how the author included the horror genre without making anything gory or gross. The mere thought of being chased by scarecrows for reasons still unknown to the audience until much later in the plot was enough to make me shudder! This is the sort of psychological horror I’m irresistibly drawn to,  and it’s a fantastic introduction to the genre for anyone who might not have given it a try before.

Small Spaces was a delightfully spooky book to read on a dark, chilly night.

 

 

 

A Review of the Last Photograph of John Buckley

The Last Photograph of John Buckley by T.J. Brown book cover. Image on cover shows a man’s bandaged face as he’s lying down. Only his eyes are visible. Title: The Last Photograph of John Buckley

Author: T.J. Brown

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: August 10, 2016

Genres: Horror, Paranormal, Historical

Length: 34 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

When a photographic retoucher is commissioned to fix the abnormalities on a Great War portrait, he finds his own past and that of the subject beginning to connect. Are his personal nightmares returning, or is it something more? A short ghost story in the M.R. James tradition, The Last Photograph of John Buckley is a dark tale of past crimes and unfinished business.

Review:

Content Warning: Trauma, mental illness (including mentions of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), murder, and vivid descriptions of the horrors of war. I will be briefly mentioning trauma and mental illness in my review.

Is pushing through the pain a smart idea?

Mr. Brown had a poetic writing style that rapidly pulled me into the storyline. Sometimes I felt as though I were standing beside the main character and discovering new clues with him instead of reading about his experiences. The author included so many small details that made his characters and the eras they lived in come alive in my imagination. This was my first experience with his work. It made me yearn to explore the rest of his oeuvre in good time.

The character development was strong and believable. Even though the protagonist’s name wasn’t revealed until much later on in the storyline, I quickly got to know him for who he truly was as well as who he had been before the traumatic events of World War II reshaped his mind and personality for the worse.  It was exciting to learn so much about someone without having access to such an ordinary piece of information about him. I totally understood why the author wrote it this way and thought it fit the protagonist’s exceedingly cautious and frightened nature perfectly.

Speaking of trauma, this tale had a lot to say on that topic. It was also filled with strong opinions about how the limited understanding of mental health concerns during the first and second World Wars affected not only the soldiers who fought in them but also everyone from their closest loved ones to members of their communities who experienced the echoes of those old wounds without necessarily knowing why they existed. While I cannot go into detail about this without sharing spoilers, it was especially poignant for me as someone who comes from an extended family that included people whose mental health was permanently damaged by these wars. As much attention has already been paid to the war is hell trope, this tale managed to find a fresh way to explore it that never once backed down from all of the terrible ways in which traumatic memories of the battlefield can harm a community for multiple generations.

Don’t be scared off by the horror tag if you’re not generally into that genre. There were a couple of short scary scenes in this book, but it was never gory or gross. Instead, the narrator quietly crafted a thoughtful work about grief, trauma, and the after-effects of war that was as poignant as it was honest. Anyone who is closely acquainted with this sort of tale may be able to spot the plot twists coming in advance, but it always came across to me as something that was intended to mindfully explore each moment in the protagonist’s life rather than shock the audience with a twist we weren’t supposed to see coming. It was something that I liked as a veteran reader in this genre but that also seemed like it  could easily appeal to audiences who don’t have a lot of experience with the horror genre in general.

The Last Photograph of John Buckley was one of the best ghost stories I’ve ever read. I can’t recommend it enthusiastically enough!

Rolling the Dice: A Review of A Dark Horse


A Dark Horse by Dale Olausen book cover. Image on cover shows silhouette of horse standing on a hill at dusk on an overcast day. Title
: A Dark Horse – A Gothic Tale

Author: Dale Olausen

Publisher: Dodecahedron Books

Publication Date: October 16, 2016

Genres: Horror, Paranormal, Mystery, Historical

Length: 40 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Just what might a gambler give up, to go on the winning streak of his life? Even he can’t know for sure. Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus legend is given a Damon Runyon spin, in this short story.

Review:

Content warning: Gambling and gambling addiction. I will be discussing them in my review.

Every gambler is bound to run out of luck eventually, right?

By far my favourite type of horror is psychological horror. I was quite pleased with how Mr. Olausen frightened his audience without spilling a single drop of blood or so much as hinting at anything gory. He knew exactly what hints to drop for us that made us deliciously dread the next scene simply by throwing out hints about who or what the dark horse might actually represent. This is the kind of stuff I love getting scared by, especially as Halloween approaches.

It would have been helpful to have more character development in this short story. While I certainly wouldn’t expect to see as much time spent on this as I would for a full-length novel, I did have trouble connecting to the main characters due to how little I knew about them and how much their personalities seemed to remain the same no matter what happened to them. If not for this issue, I would have felt comfortable choosing a much higher rating as the plot itself was well done.

I must admit to not knowing much about gambling at all, so I appreciated the brief explanations the narrator shared about how placing bets works and why some people have so much trouble walking away from a bet. While I will leave it up to experts on these topics to say how accurate everything was, I did enjoy learning more about the main character’s addiction and what he hoped to gain from betting on just one more game or race. It gave me a stronger sense of empathy for folks in his position.

A Dark Horse – A Gothic Tale was a deliciously chilling story for the Halloween season and beyond.

Rural Frights: A Review of Cabin for Rent

Book cover for Seth Tucker's Cabin for Rent. Image on cover is of a cabin surrounded by a dark woods and with a muddy lake in the foreground of the shot.

Title: Cabin for Rent – A Short Horror Story

Author: Seth Tucker

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: February 19, 2018

Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Contemporary

Length: 19 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

Learn about the macabre history of the cabin on the lake, as you take a boat ride to view this unique property. Despite its dark past and mysterious disappearances, this beautiful secluded get away will take your breath away and you’ll never be able to leave.

Review:

If you love local legends, keep reading.

This is one of those short stories that works best if the reader knows as few details about it in advance, so I’m wording this review carefully.

One of the unique things about it that I can share is that it was framed as one half of a conversation. That is, you read Jimmy’s responses but not the things his companion says that urge him to share the dark history of the property they’re viewing on their boat ride.

Anyone reading this review also knows that local legends also play a role in what Jimmy has to say. He was someone who had deep roots in his small, rural community and knew all sorts of things that outsiders wouldn’t have even thought to ask about. This gave the tales he told an extra layer of fright as I put all of the pieces together.

One of my favourite parts of the storyline was how well I got to know the unnamed visitor even thought he never had a single line of dialogue and the audience only had the faintest clues about his physical appearance. Jimmy’s responses to the questions he asked were so detailed that none of this mattered. I knew the visitor exactly as well as I needed to in order to get sucked into their conversation and the hints about what was going on at that property.

While I did figure the ending out in advance, it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for it in any way. There were enough clues along the way that it wasn’t so important for the audience to know what was going on as it was for the visitor to figure it all out.

Yes, this was firmly rooted in the horror genre, but it wasn’t gory for anyone who might be wondering about that. It relied on psychological horror, a slowly growing sense of doom, and some strategically-placed hints to make the audience shudder instead. That’s exactly what I seek out when I wander into this corner of the speculative fiction genre!

Cabin for Rent was an immensely satisfying read that I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys horror or dark science fiction.