St. Martins Press
Mass Market Paperback, $6.99
Review by Nickolas Cook
So many times it’s tough to read a great horror novel and know it’ll never translate to the screen. Sure, we don’t always get to see our favorites become blockbuster films, and most modern horror movies are homogenous at best. But there are some novels that just scream to become movies. If any new horror novel deserves to garner a larger audience via the big screen treatment, it’s Alexandra Sokoloff’s 2006 novel, The Harrowing.
Sokoloff is a well known Hollywood screenwriter, so it hardly comes as a surprise that her page fiction feels so cinematic. Using archetypical characters – the jock, the brain, the misunderstood slut, the rebel, and the poor little Goth girl – that feel as if they’ve stepped from a John Hughes movie, she gives them new life throughout the narrative, while creating a fast paced and creepy story.
Venerable Baird College is deserted for the holidays, except for five dysfunctional students who manage to find each other in the darkened halls. During a stormy winter night together, they decide to have a few laughs with an Ouija board. Unfortunately they come in contact with an ancient entity that’s been waiting for someone to open the doorway to our world. What begins with simple planchette communication, soon becomes feats of telekinesis and telepathy. What starts with seduction of the unknown, soon turns into a deadly obsession for all of them.
The scares are well placed, jolting the reader with cinematic jump scares during the quiet moments. In lesser hands this would be a cheap trick. But talented and wily Sokoloff knows her readers are probably consummate horror pop culturists, so she makes sure to throw in a few unexpected twists and turns that are sure to leave any reader, connoisseur or novice, breathless.
Sokoloff knows her horror history, both in film and book, so it’s no surprise to find her paying homage to both The Haunting and Legend Of Hell House, two classics of the genre.
When you add all this up, it’s simple to see why she’s definitely my pick for the future of big house horror.
The Harrowing is a horror read that’s guaranteed to keep you up all night to get to the explosive finale. It leaves me eager to see more from this dark new voice in the genre.