Stephen King may be the widely-proclaimed Master of Horror… but book-for-book and flick-for-flick, Michael Crichton scared me a whole hella more that Stevie ever did.
King, of course, has cornered the market on supernatural scares. But Crichton was a maestro of tangible terror, that breed of horror that makes you cringe as you’re reading and whisper, “This could really happen.” Or better yet: “This has already happened in a lab somewhere, and its containment is about to fail, and… “
The man told tales built on a bedrock of scientific research and ideas. And it was that — his science, not spooks or specters — which made his stories so frightening.
Crichton did a great many things with his books and movies. He
elegantly weaved science lessons into his prose (which is about a
thousand times harder to do successfully than you might think; most
writers resort to “Well, as you know, Bob…” speeches). He made the
dangerous technologies in his books seem absolutely plausible. And then
he scared the crap out of us with the man-made horrors he created.
It doesn’t get much better than Jurassic Park — both the book and the movie
(for which he helped write the screenplay). Most authors would be
content with bringing dinos back from the dead. But that was the launch
pad for Crichton. He resurrected Tyrannosaurus Rex … and made it
scary enough to make any reader whiz himself — then made the critter a
myopic wuss. Velociraptors were the far smarter, faster and deadlier
beasties in the story. Fast as a cheetah. Hunted in packs. Disemboweled
you with a flick of a toe-claw (which they did in the book to my great
glee. I still have memories of the poor Park employee who, after
getting clawed by a ‘raptor, tried to stuff his bloody, slippery guts
back into his freshly-sliced belly. He failed. I cheered.) That
was the brilliance of Crichton. He was hungry to do the unexpected, and
he wasn’t afraid to bust out the gore to get the blood pumping.
The Andromeda Strain.
Another classic. What’s more terrifying than an earth-bound virus? A
virus from space, boss. Impossible to analyze, ever-mutating,
absolutely alien… and it likes to give the middle finger to the human
circulatory system by clotting the blood right in your veins. How’s
that for horror?
Prey, Crichton’s salute to
nanotechnology, combined the spooky premise of insect/swarm
intelligence with nanobots. The punchline: The ‘bots become self-aware
(on a rudimentary level), want to escape their lab and gobble up
people. They did a fine job of that in the lab. Food for thought:
Ego-tripping scientist brains are the tastiest.
His novel Sphere starts as scifi — totally tolerable in my book — but descends into psychological terror, which is far more frightening. Congo,
better than any other novel out there, captured that eerie admiration,
fascination and fear we have for our primate brethren… and how
uncannily they behave like us. Gorillas are frickin’ spooky.
And dude: His big screen directorial debut, Westworld .
Yule Brenner as an android cowboy gone haywire — he was the Terminator
before the Terminator was a glimmer in Jimmy Cameron’s eye. You put a
few caps in ol’ Yule, knock him down, beat him up — it didn’t matter.
He always got back up. Relentless and unstoppable… and for folks like
me when I saw it as a kid, absolutely terrifying.
So keep your
Stephen King ghost and vampire stories, please. When I want the blood
to drain from my face, when I want to feel the pores on my arms pucker
into goosebumps, when I want a good old fashioned, science-gone-amok
monster story, I’ll take Crichton any day. The man made me believe in
the stories he was telling. That’s what made them so frightening.
that stuff in his books? It could actually happen. Or has already
happened in a lab somewhere. And the containment is about to fail,
Thanks for the stories and scares, Michael.
Scott Sigler writes tales of hard-science horror, then gives them away as free audiobooks at www.scottsigler.com. His new novel, Contagious,
hits bookstores on December 30 and is currently available for
pre-order. If you don’t agree with what Scott says in this blog, please
email him firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include all relevant personal
information, such as your address and what times you are not home, so
Scott can come visit and show you his world famous “Chicken Scissors.”