The following is a review I had written for a now-defunct book review blog. While it doesn’t get to live on in cyberland as a published book review, it does serve as an example of what I talked about in my “How To Write A Review Article” post.
The Payoff: Reading vs Watching Horror
Within These Walls by horror guru Ania Ahlborn is terrifying. But what else would you expect from an established indy horror author? All the usual terms apply, spine-chilling, creepy crawly, horrific. With horror, whether movie or book, the only thing that matters is the payoff – those last 20 minutes where everything comes to a head. The resolution, the edge of your seat climax, the total decimation.
When it comes to reading vs watching what’s more satisfying? Does one medium lend itself better to the scare factor? We could look at Stephen King, established mass horror producer, churning out well-written novels like a factory but where would the fun be in that? Instead, Within These Walls is on many top indy picks and stirring up a bit of a buzz.
I spent a lot of time catching up on the good, the bad, the ugly of horror recently. From The Ring to The Poltergeist I was frequenting the horror section of my local rental store more than anything else. And every movie, whether terrible or genius hinged on the last pivotal ten-twenty minutes of the film. The gruesome, twisted, shocking, satisfying, jaw-dropping, what the F** payoff. Sometimes it surprises you, sometimes it’s lackluster and meh, and sometimes it’s a perfect culmination of everything the movie was trying to achieve. Within These Walls is no different.
Within These Walls is a little off the beaten path, and as such is a little harder to digest with the ease that one might get from reading a Stephen King novel or re-watching Amityville Horror with Ryan Reynolds. It’s a story about a cult leader, Jeffrey Halcomb, in prison and accused of murdering a woman and somehow convincing his followers to kill themselves in a very chilling ritualistic mass suicide. At its heart, it’s a story about possession, a haunted house, and a down on his luck writer hoping to write Halcomb’s story. But it’s also a story that borders on science fiction. Ania makes several attempts to describe the house, the house that everyone died in, the haunted house with the locked in souls of Halcomb’s brainwashed followers.
There’s a skirting around life and death, and life after death’s complicated realities. Anna talks about the house not fitting in reality, there’s something very wrong with the house after Jeffrey’s ritual, but there’s no delving into what that is. After dipping its toe into a more science fiction like approach to horror, it goes right back into the well-established plot devices of the genre. I won’t spoil the ending. It kept me reading. The novel is told in flashbacks; paralleling the story of the Halcomb Murders with one writer’s obsession to get the whole truth of the Halcomb story.
I find reading horror fascinating. Watching movies you can look away, scream, and crush the hand of the person stupid enough to rent Insidious with you on a dark and rainy night. You can even call it quits, read a quick synopsis on the internet if you’re too curious and pretend like it never happened.
When reading, sure you can skip some pages, you can find a synopsis, but ultimately you control the pace. Reading can hinder or help your horror experience. Your imagination can conjure up the creepy crawlies that you are reading, or it can skim over it quickly and painlessly. You’re imagination, your pace, and your reading experience will determine how deep you go, how submersed you are, how much you appreciate what techniques the author is using. Thrillers have sneaky little tricks that get us turning pages, they build to a dramatic climax that resolves everything to a degree. Horror similarly focuses on building and building and getting you to the end, but the resolution is usually anything but.
Within These Walls is well written and lends itself to some fantastically creepy bits. The only flaws I found were the interesting interjections of science fiction. Taking the reader out of the moment and then dragging the reader back for more of the payoff.
Is one better than the other when it comes to reading vs watching? Probably not. It’s all in personal preferences. But no matter the book, movie, or TV show, it’s all about that last 20 minutes, and Ania Ahlborn’s last 20 hooks you until you come crashing to the bitter end.