While looking for some books to read and review I stumbled across a series written by Jeremy Bates called World's Scariest Places. The premise behind these horror books is a simple one -- horror stories taking place in some of the world's most infamous locations.
Book #1 takes place in Japan's Aokigahara, aka Suicide Forest. Book #2 in the labyrinth of catacombs under France. Book #3 in an area of Ohio called Helltown, Book #4 on the Island of Dolls in Meheecoe, and lastly, Book #5 in the Siberian area of the Dyatlov Pass Incident.
I planned on reviewing them one at a time, but I started the first one and then binged the damn things, I figured I'll just go the easy route and give a quick synopsis of each one, which ones I liked, and then give the entire lot away to one of our glorious Bold Members.
The good news is that they are all worth reading if you like horror. Each one of them would make great B movies. They are fairly quick reads, come with creepy atmosphere and, thankfully, Mr. Bates doesn't pull too many punches. The books contain murder, rape, mayhem, gore, serial killers, inbreds, evil nuns, Satanism, dead kids, some glorious kills I'd love to see on film, and even a little girl grabbing a horse cock. Like I said, Bates doesn't pull too many punches.
However, I liked some of the books more than others, so let's start with the first one, shall we?
World's Scariest Places Book #1 - Suicide Forest
"Just outside of Tokyo lies Aokigahara, a vast forest and one of the most beautiful wilderness areas in Japan...and also the most infamous spot to commit suicide in the world. Legend has it that the spirits of those many suicides are still roaming, haunting deep in the ancient woods. When bad weather prevents a group of friends from climbing neighboring Mt. Fuji, they decide to spend the night camping in Aokigahara. But they get more than they bargained for when one of them is found hanged in the morning—and they realize there might be some truth to the legends after all." -Amazon
I dug it. I'm a sucker for isolation horror anyway, especially the woods, so this one hit all the right marks. It goes off the rails a bit in the last act, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. But I was digging the dread factor of our hapless idiots being lost in the woods more than I did the violence that showed up. More of a personal preference than anything, and coming from a lover of the slow burn. It was my first book to introduce me to Bates, and good enough to have me wanting to check out the next in the series. 3.5/5
World's Scariest Places Book #2 - The Catacombs
"Paris, France, is known as the City of Lights, a metropolis renowned for romance and beauty. Beneath the bustling streets and cafés, however, exists The Catacombs, a labyrinth of crumbling tunnels filled with six million dead.
When a video camera containing mysterious footage is discovered deep within their depths, a group of friends venture into the tunnels to investigate. But what starts out as a lighthearted adventure takes a turn for the worse when they reach their destination—and stumble upon the evil lurking there." - Amazon
This was my least favorite. It's not that I minded the setting, as I have watched enough about those friggin' catacombs that I have no interest in checking them out... especially after that one story about the chick who got lost in them and pictures of her dead body showed up online after she was found.
My issue with this book was that the story and characters shared a bit too with the ones in Suicide Forest. Group go exploring where they shouldn't, group gets lost, group discovers something horrible, then the violence ramps up. Same story, different characters and location. It's not that it is horrible, I just found myself a bit bored and stretching my suspension of belief a bit too far by the end. 2.5/5
I was worried that the remaining entries in the series would be more of the same -- Bates plucking basically the same characters out of one story and dropping them in another. Boy, was I wrong.
World's Scariest Places Book #3 - Helltown
"Since the 1980s there have been numerous reports of occult activity and other possibly supernatural phenomenon within certain villages and townships of Summit County, Ohio—an area collectively known as Helltown.
When a group of out-out-town friends investigating the legends are driven off the road by a mysterious hearse, their night of cheap thrills turns to chills as they begin to die one by one." - Amazon
I fucking loved this one and it's the one I was least interest in (regarding the location it is set in). It has just about everything and the kitchen sink when it comes to a horror book - psychopaths, murder, rape, Satanism, serial killers... and to top things off it has a mean streak running through it.
None of the characters are particularly likable, so their deaths weren't gut-punches or anything... but man, they weren't so bad they deserved some of the horrific things that happen to them. No one is safe in this one.
Definitely the most violent and disturbing of the lot, Not that I look for violence and disturbing content when it comes to horror, but if you are going to do it, do it like this. 4/5
World's Scariest Places Book #4 - Island of the Dolls
"Deep within an ancient Aztec canal system on the outskirts of Mexico City lies Isla de las Munecas...a reportedly haunted island infested with thousands of decrepit dolls.
While there to film a television documentary, several friends discover a brutal murder. Soon fear and paranoia turn them against one another—even as the unknown killer stalks them throughout the longest night of their lives." - Amazon
Ok, I thought the second book The Catacombs would probably be the worst of the bunch but I was wrong. Very wrong. In a nutshell, Island of the Dolls was an absolute chore to get through.
For starters, Dolls follows a setup similar to the first two books (American man in foreign land joins a group to explore a place they shouldn't go to escape a traumatic death in his past, scary hijinks ensue as the group is thrust into a nightmare situation, main character finds time to hook up with a hot foreign chick in some fashion, then some blood and gore before everything resloves itself like an adult Scooby Doo episode).
I could forgive this if the story was engaging, but the characters were especially unlikable and the plot was as boring as the setting. In fact, there isn't much in this one I could reccomend, but going from the ratings on Amazon, some people seemed to enjoy it. So YMMV. 1/5
Personally, I was a tad disappointed that this was chosen as the closer for the second collection in this series and, honestly, I dreaded starting the last entry, However...
World's Scariest Places Book #5 - Mountain of the Dead
"Fact: During the night of February 1, 1959, in the remote reaches of Siberia, nine Russian hikers slash open their tent from the inside and flee into a blizzard in subpolar temperatures.
Fact: By morning all are dead, several having suffered gruesome, violent deaths. What happened to them has baffled investigators and researchers to this day.
It has become known as the Dyatlov Pass Incident. Now, an American true-crime writer seeking answers to the enduring mystery sets out to retrace the hikers' steps on their fateful expedition—though nothing can prepare him for what he is about to discover." - Amazon
I didn't have high hopes for this one after the low bar set by Island of the Dolls, but Mountain of the Dead turned out to be my second favorite in the series, even if it did follow a very similar theme as the previous entries - American travels to area in foreign land he shouldn't because of a death of someone in his past he feels responsible for, hooks up with a foreign chick, shit goes off the rails.
But at least it was well written, ridiculous, violent and, at times, kinda terrifying if you put yourself into the shoes of the poor saps featured in the book. This is especially true if you, like me, get freaked out thinking about being isolated in an environment you are not suited for while being pursued by something that is and wants to kill you in a horrible fashion.
I have an unnatural fear of being mauled to death by a bear, or eaten alive by sharks or some other dumb thing that keeps me from going where I was never intended. I was made for going down on the ladies while I pin their ankles beside their ears, and playing video games -- not hiking the Appalachian trail or scuba diving. Sure I'll probably plop over dead from heart disease, but at least my death won't involve me screaming with my face in my lap as a bear chows down on my steaming entrails.
Anyway, Mountain of the Dead was an enjoyable, quick read that, like th others, remained in total B-movie territory while still freaking me out a bit. 3.5/5
So that's the entire series of World's Scariest Places so far. From best to worst I would rate them as follows: Helltown - brutal and deviated from the formulaic setup of the other four. Mountain of the Dead - not as bat-shit crazy as Helltown, but definitely one that I thought stayed consistent from beginning to end, even after the kooky reveal. Suicide Forest - the one that sets the groundwork Bates will use in the others while also starting off fairly creepy in an already creepy location. The Catacombs - boring. Island of the Dolls - dreck.
Now let's get to the part you're probably reading this for - the giveaway. So if you are a Bold Member (If not, come on, it's $1 a month!) you're already halfway there. So I don't give this out to a Bold Member who doesn't even read, simply use the poll to vote on which two of these five books you would like to have. In one week (March 29th), a Bold member who voted will be chosen at random and I will send their two picks via email from Amazon. Please note, these are DIGITAL editions and not the paperbacks\hardbacks -- you will need an e-reader of some type.