Sarah Lotz on Good Holidays… that go Bad
By Sarah Lotz
Posted on May 21, 2015 in Books with tags Horror, Sarah Lotz
If you’re a horror or thriller movie fan, you’ll know by now that going on holiday is a sure-fire way to end up eaten, imprisoned, chopped up, skewered, drowned, haunted or chased by a tyrannosaur. Jaws and The Poseidon Adventure ruined the ocean for my entire generation, The Blair Witch Project and Willow Creek tainted camping trips forever, and thanks to The Descent and Frozen (not the animated one with brain-searing songs and dresses, the one with ski lifts and carnivores) adventure holidays will never be same. Horror novels are no exception. Here are four cracking holiday-themed holiday reads that will ensure you’ll need a vacation to get over your vacation:
Characters in horror films and literature should know better by now than to go on a road trip. You’re only going to end up taking a wrong turn (Wrong Turn), fall foul of the locals (The Hills Have Eyes, Deliverance and countless others), or unwittingly star in a post-modernist critique on horror tropes (The Cabin in the Woods; Tucker and Dale vs. Evil).
Or, if you are holidaying in a Stephen King novel* things could get even nastier. In Desperation, a clutch of weary road trippers run into terrifying small town cop, Connie Entragian, who is incubating more than just a nasty case of indigestion. Best read with its Richard Bach pulptastic mirror novel, The Regulators (which doesn’t fit the holiday theme brief, but includes a gang of terrifying Power Rangers and some excellent one-liners).
*See also the flawless Joyland and The Shining (when working holidays go bad), and Dreamcatcher and Gerald’s Game (when rural retreats turn nightmarish).
If you’re a character in a horror novel, be careful what you wish for. In this, my all-time favourite Clive Barker novel, which is both disturbing and charming, a bored kid wishes for adventure. He’s whisked away to the Holiday House, a seemingly benign and fun residence where it’s always Christmas and Halloween, and the food is really really good (obviously, as this is a Barker book, it’s also evil). What I love about it most is that it’s essentially about loss and there’s no conventional happy ending: the protagonist can beat the baddy but he doesn’t emerge undamaged.
This got a bit of a drubbing when it came out, mainly (and unfairly, in my opinion) because it was such a radical departure from Smith’s first novel, the excellent A Simple Plan. Having grown up with a love of triffids and other sentient plant horrors (until The Happening ruined that for everyone), I loved it. On holiday in Mexico, a bunch of twenty-somethings impulsively decides to head off to check out an archeological dig site. After stumbling upon the flower and vine-strewn mound of a Mayan ruin, they’re accosted by a group of hysterical gun-toting locals, and are forced to shelter in the ruins themselves. Cue the evil plants, the ruin’s long-term residents, who have a novel (and creepy) way of luring their prey.
Heading off to the outdoors with a bunch of old mates might seem like a fun vacation idea, but if King’s Dreamcatcher and its ‘shit-weasel’ aliens isn’t enough to put you off staging some kind of rural reunion, then Adam Nevill’s The Ritual certainly should. Four old uni mates decide to go hiking in the rain-drenched Scandinavian wilderness (bad idea). Then they take a short cut (horrendous idea). Then they decide to stay the night in an abandoned cabin (enough said). And because this is an Adam Nevill novel, the dread is already cranked up to factor 10 in the first five pages.
DAY FOUR, Sarah’s own take on the holiday from hell, publishes today!