6 Cults Shrouded in Mysticism and the Culture They’ve Inspired

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Lifestyle

Throughout the centuries there have been numerous groups–typically labeled as cults–that are surrounded by an unwavering belief in the paranormal or supernatural connections between worlds. These cults have ranged from entirely peaceful to large and lethal movements that claimed lives as they grew in size. Cults like the Manson Family and Johnstown were unquestionably some of the most deadly movements that have popped up throughout modern times. Although it’s fair to say that these particular cults weren’t actually led by true followers of any particular paranormal or supernatural belief system, they had followers willing to die or even kill for one person’s twisted views, religious beliefs, or teachings. We decided to take a look at some of the most famous paranormal and supernatural societies that helped to inspire and ultimately birthed many mystical and paranormal beliefs that still exist today.

Theosophical Society

Blavatsky and Olcott

Madame Helena Blavatsky was a Russian occultist, medium, and philosopher who co-founded the Theosophical Society in 1875. She published her first doctrine, Isis Unveiled in 1877 which outlined the Theosophical world-view which closely associated Hermeticism and Neoplatonism. There are now various branches of theosophical beliefs, though they all hold certain common characteristics. There was a deeper spiritual reality and direct contact with transcending human consciousness; this is known as a mystical experience.

They also emphasize esoteric doctrine, which leads to small factions within the larger name of the society. Theosophists maintain a healthy fascination with the supernatural or extraordinary occurrences to achieve higher psychic and spiritual powers. Finally, theosophy displays a preference of monism, which is the view that reality is constituted of one principle, such as mind or spirit. The Theosophists Society strives to combine all forms of religious, spiritual, and inner teaching of sacred texts; to provide the deepest form of self-connection with the “divine wisdom”.

Order of the Solar Temple

The Solar Temple was founded in Geneva in 1984, tracing its roots back to a break-away group of Knights Templar. This secret society’s leader, Joseph Di Mambro, brainwashed his followers into believing he was a reincarnation of one of the Knights Templar. His daughter was believed to be the “Cosmic Child” that would lead them to a planet near the Sirius star after their deaths. The Solar Temple began doing a mixture of rituals, making altars, as well as conducting occultist acts, and ceremonial sexual acts on its members. Their focus was on the worldwide catastrophe in the form of an apocalyptic event in the mid-1990s. This is what led to famous strings of murder-suicides that spanned a few years; this resulted in the loss of 74 members, the order is best known for this world-wide action.

Heaven’s Gate

Heaven’s Gate focused its beliefs on making it back into the Kingdom of Heaven from their Earth-bound soul deposits. They believe Jesus was the first “prepped vehicle” chosen to lead their followers to the next level and into the Kingdom of Heaven. Now, some 2000 years later their leaders still uphold the task of leading the order in the name of the “father’s’’ original task by combining cosmic beings and Christian ideologies. In 1997 Marshall Applewhite and 38 of his followers believed the Hale-Bopp Comet was the key to leaving Earth and the beginning of their cosmic journey into space and on to their next level of existence. The group committed mass suicide in attempts to free their souls and join their fellow cosmic beings; this led to the cult being front and center of worldwide media for quite a while.

Bohemian Grove

This San Francisco based gentlemen’s club is known for its all-male membership club made up of the most prominent men in the world. Ranging from business leaders, artists, musicians, government officials, and even former presidents; there is no shortage of powerful men within this group. The Grove is particularly famous for holding the Manhattan Project planning meeting in September 1942, as well as being a pop-culture parody–thanks to Richard Nixon. Though on the surface the Grove looks to be another “normal” high society club, many reports have brought out a darker looking side to this group. Allegedly they partake in worshiping a large stone owl called Moloch, burning bodies, Satanic practices, and sacrificing virgins. Throughout the 140 years that the Grove has been operating, their societal values have remained incredibly secretive.

Order of Thelema

Aleister Crowley in 1902

Founded by famous English occultist, ceremonial magician, poet, and novelist Aleister Crowley formed in the twentieth century. It is a complicated set of magical, mystical, and spiritual beliefs that can range from atheistic to polytheistic views. Thelema is based out of the Book of the Law, which led Crowley to label himself as a prophet and encourage followers to ascend to higher states of existence to unite themselves with one’s ultimate purpose in life. Followers of the Order of Thelema practice large ranges of magick and mysticism, as their concepts are rooted in occultism; there is no shortage of rituals, spirits, and paranormal experiences here. Aspects of Thelema and Crowley’s other writings gave birth to the development of Wicca, Modern Paganism, Chaos Magick, some variations of Satanism and Scientology.

Cult of Cthulhu and Necronomicon

This particular cult was brought on by the creations of H.P. Lovecraft; originally only a fictional work that featured various cults that worshipped Cthulhu, the destroyer of humanity, and bringing of an era of chaos. Over the years this fictional work has inspired the creation of real cults that combined Lovecraft’s mythology with other beliefs such as Occultist dark arts and Satanism. Most of these groups use Lovecraft’s Necronomicon as a means by which they derived their beliefs and structured their cults. These beliefs combined with the dark arts caused these groups to take on a violent slant, as well as the ritualistic use of magic from Satanic teachings. This has accumulated into the establishment of a little known, yet mightily feared reputation. Lovecraft’s works have inspired many aspects to horror culture of literature, well as horror movies, and is said to be the father of cosmic horror. The cults that use his writings to influence their belief systems are still around today and doing their best to grow in numbers as they prepare for the end of days.

Though these cults or orders are just a few in the long list of paranormal or mystic beliefs, there are hundreds of groups that can fall into this category. Most of them are still practicing their beliefs to this day in one form or another, but surprisingly not all of them are to be feared as criminal or dangerous. One thing they all share is the belief that there is another world across the veil from our own and it can be connected with. Within that connection, they believe we are able to heighten our inner connection to the higher powers we may follow or believe in.

The need to connect to these higher powers in life not only helped masses of people to find a community to belong in, but it also helped to shape government as we know it today and business communities as well. These groups also influenced hundreds of books, movies, TV shows, and a large amount of horror culture to become what it is today–such as American Horror Story: Cult. There is an endless list of examples that can be used to highlight these groups and their beliefs being used to wow us on the big screen and have elicited jaw-dropping horror within each of us. Without the belief in the paranormal and mystical world, horror would simply be stuck in the slasher and gore realm.

7 Times the Necronomicon Appeared in Cinema

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Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore Scary Movies and Series

What is the Necronomicon, you may ask? It’s an ancient tome that sprung from the nightmarish imagination of H.P. Lovecraft, which he encouraged his peers to use in their literature as well–subsequently, it has become a book that symbolizes evil in horror culture. It continues on now, as an icon of what can come from the supernatural and occult influences of, what could be, an unknown origin of our universe.

So now we get to enjoy a plethora of movies that all have something to do with the Necronomicon–to be clear, this isn’t an exhaustive list of where the Necronomicon appears within pop-culture, but these are some of the most memorable!

The Dunwich Horror (1970)

The Dunwich Horror (1970)

This movie never got rave reviews, but it did add to the pop-culture relevance to the history of the Necronomicon. Despite its blatant 1970s style, it has a sort of creepy charm to it. This particular mystery is taken from Lovecraft’s novel by the same name in which Wilbur Whateley, a seemingly harmless young man, coerces a female virgin from a California University to be the vessel for the spawn of the devil. It’s worth a watch, even if it’s just to learn more about what the Necronomicon can do when it’s in the hands of someone who wants to destroy the world.

The Evil Dead Collection

The Evil Dead Franchise

Yeah, we know, the Evil Dead franchise constitutes four movies, a series, as well as a handful of crossover movies, comic books, and more–but we’re going to count it as one for the sake of this list. As far as the Necronomicon is concerned, it is pretty much contained in the four feature films, as well as the television series. This supernatural horror film franchise was the brainchild of Sam Raimi and revolves around the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, which is referenced as an ancient Sumerian text that systematically targets and possesses its victims. Initially, a group of teenagers who are staying in a cabin overnight, in The Evil Dead (1981); the franchise devolves into a sort of comedic horror hybrid, which suits fans just fine.

The Evil Dead Franchise IMDB Listing

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)

The ninth chapter of the Friday the 13th franchise, where we get yet another dose of our favorite supernatural psycho, Jason Voorhees. We see Jason return from the dead in order to possesses the body of a medical coroner–so we realize that even after his death, we can never escape the fate of Camp Crystal Lake. This movie is one of several interesting crossovers that appears with Raimi’s Evil Dead Franchise–as the Necronomicon and the Kandarian dagger appear within the movie, very briefly. Here’s the thing though and Adam Marcus confirmed it later on–Jason Vorhees is now a deadite, after his mother made a deal with the devil to bring her son back.

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday IMDB Listing

Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993)

Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1994)

This film is a collection of three terrifying Lovecraft stories brought together as an anthology. In the Cold revolves around a scientist who cannot tolerate warm temperatures. The Drowned tells the story of a man who inherits a dilapidated mansion from his uncle. Whispers concerns two police officers who have to deal with a particular resident of a horrifying subterranean community.

Necronomicon: Book of the Dead IMDB Listing

Out of Mind: The Stories of H.P. Lovecraft (1998)

Out of Mind: The Stories of H.P. Lovecraft (1998)

This particular movie never made it to the big screen; in fact, the low budget and actors made this a less refined, yet interesting take on Lovecraft’s original creations. We follow the story of a young man who inherits a book–the Necronomicon–from an estranged uncle, and against his better judgment begins to investigate the content of the book quite intently. After reading from the book, he begins to be haunted by disturbing dreams that are reminiscent of the Lovecraft universe, this leads him to become interested in the writings of the father of cosmic horror himself.

Out of Mind: The Stories of H.P. Lovecraft IMDB Listing

The Theatre Bizarre (2011)

The Theatre Bizarre (2011)

This anthology of horror features a myriad of inexplicable and terrifying stories; part spiraling insanity, part supernatural exploration, Enola Penny is obsessed with what is thought to be a long-abandoned theatre. Acting upon her impulsive curiosity, she sneaks in one night and what she finds in that dilapidated auditorium is a show she could have never expected. This show features six different stories and while it might not be a huge part of the story, there is one entitled “Mother of Toads” which is based loosely on a story by Clark Ashton Smith, a colleague of Lovecraft’s. Smith’s stories regularly featured the Necronomicon and this one was no exception.

The Theatre Bizarre IMDB Listing

Color Out of Space (2019) Movie Poster

Color Out of Space (2019)

Loosely based on the short story by Lovecraft, Color Out of Space is possibly the most successful movie to come out of the body of work of H.P. Lovecraft. This isn’t of course due to a flaw in his stories, so much as an inability to capture the cosmic horror sub-genre for which Lovecraft is responsible. This doesn’t follow the short story that Lovecraft wrote specifically, so it can’t be judged based on those merits, but it does capture the essence of Lovecraft’s cosmic horror. This movie focuses on a secluded farm that is struck by a strange meteorite, the consequences of which are quite disastrous for the family who lives there with the potential of it reaching the rest of the world.

Color Out of Space IMDB Listing

A Gothic, Cosmic, and Psychological Lifetime of Horror: The 16 Greatest Short Stories from Robert Bloch

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Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore

Robert Bloch wrote literature that ranged from the psychologically terrifying to the downright “weird” horror; his inspiration stemmed both from watching his first scary film on his own as a child—and his subsequent nightmares—and his admiration for the stylistic horror of H.P. Lovecraft. His stories, however, are and always will be uniquely Robert Bloch, a genius in psychological horror with a splash of the supernatural. His deep interest in serial killers brought back anti-heroes like Norman Bates and Jack the Ripper.

“The Shambler From The Stars” (1935)

This particular short story first appeared in the September issue of Weird Tales, in 1935—later on, it was included as a part of his first published book, The Opener of the Way (1945). It was one of the many works that bore the influence of H.P. Lovecraft and can be considered part of the genre of cosmic horror. More than just another author following the footsteps of Lovecraft, Bloch still included elements of Lovecraftian influence, such as the inclusion of The Necronomicon, and The Book of Eibon. Deliciously self-indulgent, Bloch’s story is about a writer of weird fiction obsessed with learning all things occult when he looks to find the aforementioned esoteric tomes of forbidden knowledge. As we all know when it comes to Eldritch cosmic horror, this writer inevitably summons something disastrous.

“The Secret in the Tomb” (1935)

Another instance of cosmic horror in the early days of Bloch’s writing career, it has been compared directly to the stylistic literature of the father of cosmic horror himself—to the point that, if the author of this had been unknown, it would have been assumed to have been a product of Lovecraft. This dark, dank tale of eldritch horror and dread is lurking, just beyond sight, and awaiting the arrival of the last descendant of a long line of sorcerers.

“The Mannikin” (1937)

Another Weird Tales original, published in the April edition in 1937, we get a tale of a strange reclusive and a disfigured, hunchbacked man named Simon, whom the locals all despise. As a short story, of course, it doesn’t take long to find that this cosmic horror is based all around the diabolical hump on Simon’s back—just wait until you find out what the hump really is.

“The Sorcerer’s Jewel” (1939)

This is a story that Bloch originally published under the pen name Tarleton Fiske in Strange Stories Magazine, in 1939; in this story we see a similarity to “A Shambler in the Stars” when we follow a photographer who takes incredibly bizarre photos as his life’s passion. While he doesn’t believe in the occult, his assistant happens to be a devotee of a peculiar occult practice and everything changes when the photographer is brought an ancient jewel.

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“Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper” (1943)

Over the years, Robert Bloch’s short story “Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper” has been adapted to various mediums following its publication—the story is about a man from Chicago who is approached by a gentleman from England who tells him that he’s looking for Jack the Ripper. This, of course, is strange on its own as the infamous serial killer should have died years before. The Englishman believes that Jack the Ripper has become immortal through occult means and that his serial murders are actually ritual sacrifices that restore his youth. The man from Chicago is enlisted to help to bring the Ripper to light.

“Satan’s Phonograph” (1946)

A slow burn for a short story, this haunting tale follows the narrator down memory lane as he tells the reader about the ingenious, but wildly mad piano teacher that helped him to reach Carnegie Hall—but when the pupil returns from his tours across Europe with his new wife in tow, he finds that his old teacher had been institutionalized—when his insane old teacher shows up in his house with a seemingly innocent phonograph and his wild theories, the narrator believes his teacher is simply delusional.

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“Sweets To The Sweet” (1947)

Bloch spins the thread of a sinister six-year-old girl, following the narrative of the housekeeper as she speaks to her former boss’s brother, who happens to be a lawyer. The housekeeper encourages the lawyer to look into what she believes to be a brutally abusive situation between father and daughter. She tells the brother about all of the signs of alcoholism and beatings, while the child is accused of witchcraft. When the lawyer finally goes to investigate what is happening in his brother’s home, he finds out that the truth may be more disturbing than he expects.

“Floral Tribute” (1949)

An eerie tale of a young boy being raised by his grandmother brings her fresh flowers home every day—it’s not until the inhabitants of the local cemetery come to speak with the grandmother that she finds out that he has been taking them from the graves of the nearby graveyard, where he plays among the tombstones.

“The Shadow From The Steeple” (1950)

Yet another story based in the Lovecraft universe, Bloch starts the story off with the friend of a character Lovecraft had killed in his short story “The Haunter in the Dark” whom Lovecraft had modeled after Bloch himself. A convoluted and dark fictional tale based on Lovecraft and his circle of writers, we get to see the authors appearing as characters of their own making. As another story within the Cthulhu Mythos, we see how involved Bloch was still within the Lovefcraft style even at this point in his career.

“Head Man” (1950)

An interesting spin on Nazi Germany’s obsession with the occult and paranormal, a SS executioner puts everything on the line to keep possession of the heads of a man and woman who had been charged with witchcraft and executed as a result.

“The Hungry House” (1951)

A tale that will once again make you fear your own reflection in a mirror; “The Hungry House” takes place after a couple moves into their new home. As they try to get comfortable in their new house they begin to see spooky inexplicable reflections around the house and dismiss it as being an overactive imagination. It’s not until the husband finds the locked closet in the attic that they realize something is incredibly wrong with their house—in it are all of the mirrors that the previous owners had removed from the walls of the house.

“Notebook Found in an Abandoned House” (1951)

This story is told from a notebook found in an abandoned house, which was written by a twelve-year-old boy by the name of Willy Osborne who is trapped within the house by the sinister beasts, or “them ones,” that stalk him from within the woods and swamps that surround the house. “Them ones,” that Willy is scared might come and get him are monstrous, Lovecraftian elder creatures who used to be take sacrifices to be appeased.

“The Light-House” (1953)

This particular short story took special influence from a story that Edgar Allan Poe began before his death in 1849, but was never able to finish; in 1953 Bloch took this unfinished short story, finished it, polished it up, and then had it published. As such, it is considered a posthumous collaboration. It follows the pursuits of a nobleman who takes a job as a lighthouse keeper, so he may write in solitude. His loneliness gets the better of him in this weird and satisfyingly dark tale, when he tries to psychically summon a companion.

“House of the Hatchet” (1955)

A couple with a relationship on the rocks decides to take their a second honeymoon on the road—on their trip they end up stopping at a haunted tourist attraction, where the story goes that a husband had killed his wife with a hatchet in one of the rooms. When they decided to take a tour of this haunted house, the husband begins to feel a heavy dark presence in the room where the murder was said to have occurred…

“Terror In Cut Throat Cove” (1958)

Considered a horror adventure tale, “Terror In Cut Throat Cove” follows the tale of an American writer who is approached by a treasure-hunting duo; they end up recruiting him to help them locate this long-lost legendary ship that sunk with a massive fortune aboard because the writer has an undeniable fondness for the girlfriend of the treasure hunter. A crazy adventure ensues until they find the ship and one of the divers returns from the ship’s wreckage without his head.

“The Animal Fair” (1971)

This story of a drifter who ends up in the small town of Medley, Oklahoma while the carnival is in town—where he enters the a tent that houses a gorilla who happens to be the main attraction—not to mention seriously abused by his trainer. This horrifying weird tale ends in a shocking twist and is well worth the read.

Works Cited:

Cowan, Matt. “FIFTEEN HORROR TALES BY ROBERT BLOCH.” Horror Delve, 4 Apr. 2016, horrordelve.com/2016/04/04/robert-bloch/.

HorrorBabble. “The Shambler from the Stars” by Robert Bloch. Youtube/”The Shambler from the Stars” by Robert Bloch, HorrorBabble, 12 Mar. 2018, youtu.be/0Q6xA0f9SNk.

HorrorBabble. “The Secret in the Tomb” by Robert Bloch. Youtube/”The Secret in the Tomb” by Robert Bloch, HorrorBabble, 20 Aug. 2018, youtu.be/vodqchPxgCoyoutu.be/vodqchPxgCo.

Thomas, G. W. “The Early Robert Bloch.” Dark Worlds Quarterly, 6 Aug. 2020, darkworldsquarterly.gwthomas.org/the-early-robert-bloch/.

Investigating the Origins of the Necronomicon

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Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore

You’ve come across an ancient book, not just some dust-covered antique that you found at your local bookstore; no, this was gifted to you with the confidence that you would heed the warning on the attached note and stash the book in a lock-box far away from prying eyes that may fall upon the archaic and mysterious pages of this increasingly enticing tome. Its pages call out to you, begging you to gaze upon them and to unleash the horrors that reside within. What would you do? Well, if you’ve seen any horror movie ever, you’d know that the ancient and creepy compendium of nightmares you’re holding is, in fact, what you can single-handedly bring about the apocalypse with–however, just like every horror movie you’ve ever seen, you’re probably going to open that damn book.

Stop it, Pandora. Don’t you dare open that goddamn book.

Necronomicon Prop
Photography by Staffan Vilcans

You opened the book, didn’t you? This is why we can’t have nice things.

Don’t worry, you’re not the first one. That’s part of what makes movies like Evil Dead (1981) so much fun, the horny group of teenagers fall victim to curiosity and another one–or three, or four–bite the collective dust. The curiosity may be unbearable but when it comes to the Necronomicon, a mythical book of demonic power, you should probably leave well enough alone.

What exactly is the Necronomicon?

Depending on where you know the Necronomicon from there may be different lore attached, but legend tells us that the original Necronomicon was written by the mad Arabian poet Abdul Alhazred. After spending a decade roaming the ruined cities of Babylon and Memphis he completed his tome before he descended further into madness and by A.D. 738 was devoured by an invisible monster according to Lovecraft. The actual name Necronomicon is, according to Lovecraft translated to, “the book of the customs (or laws) of the dead,” but other translations include, “the book of dead names.”

It is said that his manuscript was translated into Greek by scholars in the 10th century then burned in the middle ages, which only a few copies were said to survive; which of course allows us all to enjoy the delightfully awful antics that follow the contents being read aloud. Despite being a product of H.P. Lovecraft’s strange and mystifying imagination, it was inspired by real historic texts such as the Egyptian Book of the Dead. It has been said in certain sources that Lovecraft confessed the original idea for the Necronomicon came to him in a dream and he first showcased his idea in the short story The Hound (1924).

What’s Actually in the Book?

In the first appearance of the Necronomicon, it is referred to in passing as two grave robbers steal a jade amulet, which was, “the thing hinted of in the forbidden Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred.” While Lovecraft may not have been happy with The Hound, it along with The Nameless City (1921) began the universe that would become the center of the Cthulhu mythos.

What else is really in the book though? From what Lovecraft divulges within his stories, Alhazred spoke mostly of the Old Ones and it makes sense that a book like the Necronomicon could only exist in a universe where ancient, god-like beings would bring their wrath by those who sought to wake them. In fact, the book was even said to contain the very passages that would wake the Old Ones and inspire madness just from viewing its pages. In Dunwich Horror, Lovecraft gives us a quite lengthy excerpt from the Necronomicon, speaking specifically about Yog-Sothoth. A much more popular creature, Cthulhu, is also mentioned as a monster who lies at the bottom of the ocean.

In fact, many fans tend to think about the Necronomicon as a sort of bible for Lovecraft’s pantheon of the immensely powerful extraterrestrial beings. The book appears within eighteen of his own stories, more often than any other real or fictional ancient tome that he was known to reference. Later on, with the adaptations of other authors, the book gained more of a reputation as a book of spells and rituals, but Lovecraft’s original intention for the book lay mostly in mythology and origin stories for the creatures that were the foundation of his universe.

Within the context of horror Lovecraft’s portrayal of the history of our world, in the times before man, as a universe controlled by beings so terrifying that just reading about them had to potential to drive a person completely insane. This was the birth of cosmic horror, as many of the stories Lovecraft developed ended with at least one of the characters descending into the depths of madness after flipping through the Necronomicon because these creatures were so beyond human comprehension that even thinking about them could be mentally devastating. It would be interesting to see how Lovecraft might feel to know that eighty-two years later there would actually be people convinced that his Necronomicon was an authentic and evil book of spells.

Is the Necronomicon Real?

The short answer is no, the Necronomicon is a purely fictional book that was brought to life through the creative genius of H.P. Lovecraft. To be fair though, Lovecraft did a pretty great job creating a comprehensive universe with its own history, deities, and forbidden lore, which added the element of cosmic horror to his tales. While in reality, the Necronomicon doesn’t exist, there are more than half a dozen books with the same title that you can find at bookstores–these books are all works inspired by, or containing Lovecraft’s book.

The practice of developing such a rich background in fictional literature would inspire other writers to do the same; renowned author J.R.R. Tolkien would follow suit when he brought Middle Earth to life. Lovecraft’s immersive method caught fire with other writers, such as August Derleth and Clark Ashton Smith, who regularly had exchanges with him and even expanded upon the universe by using the Necronomicon and all of the related Chtulhu mythos in their own work. Lovecraft also included his peer’s creations in his own tales as well, as an example, Smith came up with the idea of The Book of Eibon, which was mentioned within his own body of work. Lovecraft even included Robert Bloch’s De Vermis Mysteriis, a book which was said to have the power to summon demons from alternate dimensions, in his stories The Haunter of the Dark and The Shadow Out of Time.

As an avid letter-writer, Lovecraft quite frequently mentioned the Necronomicon in his correspondences to his colleagues where he suggested that his inspiration was also derived from Gothic writing; Gothic writing often made use of the idea of ancient texts and forbidden literature. There was a tendency among authors of the time to do their best to blur the lines between fiction and reality. An author that Lovecraft quite openly admired, Edgard Allan Poe, would go to extremes in an attempt to convince his audience that his stories were true–he even published his 1844 story The Balloon-Hoax as a legitimate article in the New York’s The Sun. As can be seen, by radio performances likeWar of the Worlds by H.G. Wells in 1938, as well as found-footage movies like The Blair Witch Project (1999), the V/H/S series, and the [REC], it is something that modern horror culture still strives to do.

Jennifer Strange – Demon Hunting and Ghost Curses

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Best Horror Books Best Of Featured Horror Books Reviews

Young Adult (YA) and horror are two genres that I have a lot of affection for, and so it stands to reason that a book combining both of those should be one I would truly enjoy. Of course you have your celebrated series such as Goosebumps and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, but it’s been years since I’ve read those and I’ve been looking for something new. Enter the recent YA horror Jennifer Strange by Cat Scully.

Fifteen-year-old Jennifer Strange is the Sparrow, cursed with the ability to give ghosts and demonic spirits a body-a flesh and blood anchor in the mortal world-with the touch of her hand. When a ghost attacks her high school and awakens her powers, her father dumps her unceremoniously in the care of her estranged older sister Liz, leaving only his journal as an explanation. Drawn to the power of the Sparrow, the supernatural creatures preying on Savannah, Georgia will do anything to receive Jennifer’s powerful gift. The sisters must learn to trust each other again and uncover the truth about their family history by deciphering their father’s journal…because if they can’t, Jennifer’s uncontrolled power will rip apart the veil that separates the living from the dead.

Wow, I had SO much fun with this book! There’s an element of mystery to it right from the beginning, but then it also turns fairly gruesome and horrifying very early on. It reads like a typical YA book, so I was actually caught off guard (in the best way) by the brutality and pulse-pounding scares of our protagonist’s first major paranormal encounter. It’s violent, it’s instantly memorable, it lasts for three glorious chapters, and it instantly hooked me into the book. From that point on reading this was pure bliss.

I’ve seen this book compared to the Supernatural and Evil Dead franchises, and those are the two that really resonate with me (sorry, I never watched/read any Buffy). Much like the Winchester brothers, Jennifer and her older sister Liz were born into a demon-hunting family of sorts and are forced into taking on the family business as they search for their missing father. And much like the demons called forth from the Necronomicon, the spirits here are vicious, relentless, and feature a fair amount of gore and bodily fluids. I also liked that a paranormal attack (be it regular ghost, Wraith, Banshee, or something else) could literally come out of nowhere at any moment. Fortunately Scully balances this well with slower scenes and moments of character building, and the pacing works really well.

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Jennifer Strange horror book cover

Speaking of characters, I really like Jennifer as a main character (and I even grew to like her sister Liz). She’s caught in a new world of surprises and is having to deal with some heavy discoveries while fighting for her life. Not only is she sympathetic and realistically detailed, but her struggle with her newfound power and its damning implications is incredibly compelling. I also liked the character Marcus, and I’m glad he was written with care and complexity. Unfortunately those three are the most fleshed out characters. We learn enough about the others, their personalities and motivations, to get their relation to the plot, but I wish they were given opportunities to be as dynamic as Jennifer, Liz, and Marcus. 

The other thing that I didn’t like as much is the ambiguity that floats in and out of the pages. I don’t want to spoil too much, but the climax hinges around a series of events that, while epic and interesting in their telling, are overall a little confusing at times. And there are certainly pieces to the puzzle missing, though as this is the first in a trilogy I must presume they will begin to fall into place in later books. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! I loved that it is set in Savannah, GA (the perfect place for a ghost story), I loved some of the twists and turns, I loved the variety of ghouls, and I loved the pacing, structure, and characters. Yep, lots to love here! I also thought it was really neat how the book splices in pages from their father’s journal, including his diary entries and illustrations from their mother. Made for a cool dynamic to chunk the story and break things up. Jennifer Strange fits very well into the YA horror genre, and I think it’s a story that both teens and adults will find worth reading!

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