Does anyone else remember the book In a Dark, Dark Room? This early reader was a staple in 1990’s elementary school libraries and Scholastic book fairs. With its eerie stories, muted but warm color palette, and archetypal stories, it was definitely the source of more than a few of my childhood nightmares. Though every single story made me quiver with dread (and let’s face it, the exquisite joy of scaring yourself) its titular story affected me most of all. It goes something like this:
In a dark, dark, wood
There was a dark, dark, house.
In the dark, dark house
There was a dark, dark room
In the dark, dark room
There was a dark, dark chest
And in the dark, dark chest
There was… a ghost!
Though far from the most disturbing story in the collection (there’s one where the illustration shows a woman’s head falling off!), the setting of the dark, dark forest was what really grabbed me. I’ve been an avowed horror hound ever since. For me, there is no such thing as too creepy. So, I can’t contain my excitement over the publishing of Peternelle van Arsdale’s The Beast is an Animal. Our protagonist is Alys, a young girl who feels a strong connection to the Soul Eaters, a pair of monstrous twins who have killed everyone in her village by literally eating their souls. As Alys grows up, she explores the secrets hidden by the woods, and witnesses the crimes people will commit when fear overloads their rational minds. Part coming-of age-story, part spooky folklore, and part magical realism; The Beast is an Animal is an excellent choice for anyone who enjoys feminist stories and modern fairy tales—with a healthy dose of the uncanny mixed in. This story is gold, so whether you’ve already read it and are now in the “book withdrawal” stage of having finished it, or if you prefer to build up to a book like this by getting into the creepy mood, here are a list of media that pair perfectly with The Beast is an Animal.
1) The Witch
Hailed as one of the scariest horror films in recent memory, The Witch centers on a family of Massachusetts settlers banished from their village for religious heresy. Now on their own, the family is beset by tragedy after tragedy, and comes to believe that there may indeed be evil lurking in the forest. A great rumination on the nature of paranoia and the scapegoating of young women, it fits excellently alongside The Beast is an Animal.
2) Over the Garden Wall
Combining lush animation and tight storytelling, this amazing miniseries premiered on Cartoon Network in 2014. Brothers Wirt and Greg encounter numerous magical adventures on their way home after going over a low garden wall (roll credits), meeting such creepy characters as The Beast, Auntie Whispers, and Edelwood trees, which may be far more than regular trees. Though presented as a kids show, there are several episodes that will give goosebumps to viewers of any age. I particularly recommend these episodes: The Old Grist Mill, Songs of the Dark Lantern, and The Ringing of the Bell.
3) The Blair Witch Project
The granddaddy of found footage movies, this sinister film was released in 1999 and became one of the most profitably movies of all time. Chronicling the events of three students as they venture into the Maryland forest to film a documentary about the fictional Blair Witch, they quickly find themselves hopelessly lost and hunted by an unseen entity. As disorienting as it is terrifying, this one is a must watch for any horror fan.
4) Through the Woods
Emily Carroll’s fantastic graphic story collection Through the Woods is gorgeously illustrated and incredibly creepy. From His Face All Red, where sibling rivalry leads the narrator to perform a hideous crime, to A Nesting Place, where Ana learns her brother’s pretty new wife may not be all she seems, these stories remind us of the terror of not knowing what is beyond the trees. Need convincing? Just look at perhaps the collections most chilling refrain: It came from the woods (Most strange things do).
5) Slenderman: The Eight Pages
The legend of this impeccably dressed boogeyman has bounced around on the internet for a few years now, and has had at least one real world tragedy associated with it. This game, available free to play online, centers on a simple concept: You’re in the woods, alone, and must search for the titular eight pages. While searching for these pages, the Slenderman hunts you, with a jump scare occurring if you are caught. The player has no way of defending themselves and must constantly run away. This is definitely one to experience with the lights on.
Do you have any other favorite spooky media to get us through the next few months until Halloween? Let us know in the comments below, and don’t miss The Beast is an Animal, by Peternelle van Arsdale, on sale now and available as an extended excerpt until March 6th!