by Grady Hendrix
2014 • 256 pages • Quirk Books
Not a secret: I am a massive weenie. I spent middle school sleeping with my front to the window in my bedroom, because this would let me see the aliens coming, and I spent high school sleeping with my front to the bedroom door, because this would let me see the zombies coming. Even as a perfectly functional adult, I still screamed at the top of my lungs during my screening of Crimson Peak at a key moment, and that’s a (marketed as) horror movie that is barely horrific.
More of a secret: I spent the bulk of October scaring myself silly with YouTube theories and Let’s Play videos of Five Nights at Freddy’s.
For those unfamiliar, let me catch you up. Five Nights at Freddy’s is a series of survival horror point-and-click games, centered around a pizzeria with animatronics. (Think Chuck E. Cheese.) You play as the security guard, trapped in their office, and have to make sure that the animatronics, which walk around at night and attack any adults they find, don’t get you. The games ultimately become a resource management game, as your generator only has so much power and locking the doors, checking your security feeds, flashing your lights at the animatronics eats up energy.
What I enjoy is that it’s both terrifying and, refreshingly, not gory at all (except, briefly, the third). It’s the tension and the atmosphere: the game became a Let’s Play staple because there’s a very high chance of it surprising the bajeesus out of the player. When I heard that Warner Brothers had picked up the movie rights, I started dreaming about the most terrifying movie ever made getting a PG rating. (And also starring Ellen Page as the security guard. Think about it.)
So while I may not be able to sleep as soundly anymore because animatronics are after my dreams, dear readers, I have, nonetheless, contracted a taste for gimmicky horror. Which brings us to Grady Hendrix’s 2014 horror novel, Horrorstör.
Horrorstör is, as you might guess from the very familiar cover, about a haunted IKEA. Only it’s not an IKEA, it’s Orsk, a pointed IKEA knock-off that functions exactly like IKEA. When inventory gets damaged overnight with no explanation, the manager asks two employees to work an overnight shift to observe. They’re joined by two employees moonlighting as ghost hunters convinced that their Orsk location is haunted. Spoiler alert: they’re totally right.
I had, for whatever reason, assumed that Horrorstör was a spooky IKEA catalog, slowly devolving from normal products into madness. Hendrix does that to a certain degree—every chapter opens with a product description, starting with normal furniture and ending with torture devices. But it’s a proper novel, although the ending is a little wobbly in order to set up “Next time on Horrorstör!” Hendrix is careful to distance Orsk from IKEA—real Scandinavians would never build a location on the grounds of a burned out panopticon!—but he does make a cogent link between the cheerful and tireless work ethic IKEA sells (I mean, it’s considered a chore to even go and people still do it) and the idea of working prisoners to death to cure them of whatever ill humors are making them commit crimes.
And it’s perfectly serviceable book, if my inability to look at the cover for the week or I so I had it out from the library indicates successful spooking. I read this during a week when a book that committed to its premise and did good, solid work was deeply necessary for me. It’s a good idea, it was executed capably, and now it’s out there in the world. I tend to get fixated on the product rather than the process, especially when exposed to moderate doses of professional theater. (That’s a burn on me, not on professional theater.) And it’s especially bad when it’s something outside of what I consider my wheelhouse (writing), because I worry that it won’t be good enough to count. But there’s everything to be said for committing to an idea, giving it the best you can in that moment, and then moving on. Horrorstör is doing well for itself: it’s slated to become a television show for Fox in the near future. I’ll forget about it soon, I imagine, but I found it heartening just when I needed it to.
I may be doing horror incorrectly, but who cares?
I rented this book from the public library.