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Publisher's Summary

2017 Audie Award Finalist

After a bizarre and disturbing incident at the funeral of matriarch Marian Savage, the McCray and Savage families look forward to a restful and relaxing summer at Beldame, on Alabama's Gulf Coast, where three Victorian houses loom over the shimmering beach. Two of the houses are habitable, while the third is slowly and mysteriously being buried beneath an enormous dune of blindingly white sand. But though long uninhabited, the third house is not empty. Inside, something deadly lies in wait. Something that has terrified Dauphin Savage and Luker McCray since they were boys and which still haunts their nightmares. Something horrific that may be responsible for several terrible and unexplained deaths years earlier - and is now ready to kill again.... 

A haunted house story unlike any other, Michael McDowell's The Elementals (1981) was one of the finest novels to come out of the horror publishing explosion of the 1970s and '80s. Though best known for his screenplays for Tim Burton's Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas, McDowell is now being rediscovered as one of the best modern horror writers and a master of Southern Gothic literature. This edition of McDowell's masterpiece of terror features a new introduction by award-winning horror author Michael Rowe. McDowell's first novel, the grisly and darkly comic The Amulet (1979), is also available from Valancourt Books.

©1981 Michael McDowell (P)2016 Valancourt Books, LLC

What listeners say about The Elementals

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Solid Haunted House Book - and that's rare!

It seems such a difficult thing to find a good haunted house book. They must be very difficult to write - there are more POS haunted house books on the market than any other genre I've found.

This is what I think it takes (authors please take note) to write a good haunted house book:
- A decent backstory (probably the least amount of creativity required for this - really, 'an eccentric aunt leaves you a house' works just fine)
- Interesting, well-developed characters (who say and do at least *a few* original things. The Dead Aunt can be one-dimensional, but the new hauntee needs to be well-developed)
- Pacing (steady build-up of tension and supernatural events); and a solid ending (so many fail here).

The Elementals does all of this very well. It's among the best haunted house books I know - not as scary as I'm searching for (still haven't found a legitimately scary one), but it stands head and shoulders above its fellows.

I'll be looking for more books by the same author.

PS, Check out The Good House by Tananarive Due. It meets the above criteria as well.

153 people found this helpful

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Good build up to a whole lotta not much.

I really love the atmosphere created the characters were solid and likable, in the narrator was awesome. I was waiting until the end for something to happen, for that "climax" point in the plot. The story kind of made its way there, attempted it, and then kind of meandered its way away from it, like driving too quickly past some kind of auto accident. If you like suspense, the whole book a suspense, you should like it. If you want answers, explanation or resolution, not the book for you.

65 people found this helpful

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Not worth the time

I do not understand all the high reviews. You find yourself just continuing to listen waiting for the story to start then once it does it finishes unexplained and underwhelming. Add to that a father pointlessly encouraging drug use and alcohol to his 13-year-old daughter. It is very clear the author could not keep his thoughts together to actually write this story. It is just a rambling of ideas pushed together into this book none of which support an intriguing story.

52 people found this helpful

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Absolutely brilliant southern, gothic horror

Now...this is how its done. It's been about 6 months since I finished this book and it has stuck with me. It's one of the most complete suspense/horror books I've ever read. I would put it near Shirley Jackson's "Haunting of Hill House" (which is the top of the mountain for me). I've enjoyed other novels by McDowell, but this...this is a masterpiece. This is a complete, artistic vision and a beautiful love letter to southern, gothic horror. McDowell knows that the southern gothic genre is about big houses, big (sometimes unrealistic) personalities, old secrets, and new lies all percolating in the southern humidity and heat. In a more literary age, this novel would have inspired a renewed interest in gothic and southern gothic themes.

And to top all that off, R.C. Bray's narration is the best I have heard on any audiobook so far.

45 people found this helpful

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Meh--well written, but no originality

I was really hoping for something more here, but despite the promising first few chapters, this book ended up being a standard, run-of-the-mill, color-by-numbers haunted house story. Sure, the idea of a possessed house set into the dunes of an Alabama beach sounded cool, but the author never did anything with it. The characters were not even two-dimensional--more like cardboard cut-outs of people just occupying space in the landscape. And the "final battle" between the good guys and the forces of evil was entirely lame and predictable.

All that being said, the book was well written, which made me kept hoping for something better to happen as each chapter clicked by. I reserve "one star" reviews for books so bad that I can't even finish them, and I did finish this one, so two stars it is.

31 people found this helpful

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awesome narrator

story was eerie and the narrator's depth of the characters made this a 5 star

15 people found this helpful

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Amazing novel by an all but forgotten author.

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?
Just a small warning: there is a prologue in the original novel missing in this supposed unabridged audio version, which - in my opinion - is essential to the story.

<--ADDENDUM-->
The prologue has been added to the narration. Thanks!

Nevertheless, this is without a doubt one of the finest novels of the supernatural I have ever read. I recommend this highly. I read my own somewhat tattered paperback original every year, and will likely continue to do so.

<-- ADDENDUM 3.9.2019 -->

Although a long time in coming, I felt I needed to add a recommendation for R.C. Bray. His performance of the story was - for me - spot on, and for someone who has been reading this novel since publication, at least once a year, I can't commend him highly enough for his vocal interpretation.

116 people found this helpful

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"Savage Mothers Eat Their Children"


I had not experienced the horror writing of Michael McDowell, and readily admit I didn't recognize him by name. But that was yesterday.

"The Elementals" is among the finest horror novels I have ever read. Although written decades ago, this story can compete with today's bestsellers in the same genre.

McDowell captivates by opening with several generations of a southern family sitting in their living room and are told a horrific story regarding their ancestors. I will never, ever, forget it. I felt like McDowell had picked me up and dropped me onto their sofa.

There is a father/daughter relationship that brings witty humor into the story. Both of these characters are fleshed out and consistently captivating.

This book is raw, it's original, and it is frightening to the core. You would shelve this author between Stephen King and Clive Barker in the library of your mind.

107 people found this helpful

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Not as exciting as I’d hoped

The narrator did a phenomenal job and was hands-down my favorite part of this experience.

The story is pretty generic southern gothic flavored horror. I wasn’t grabbed by it. I picked this up on the strength of the author’s other work and just couldn’t get into it.

Also, the single black character in the story is constantly referred to by her race (e.g. “the black woman said;” “she looked at the black woman”) constantly. I was surprised to see it was written in my lifetime and not 1950.

8 people found this helpful

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Another amazing experience

This is the second novel by Michael McDowell which I've had the pleasure to experience. The first, Cold Moon Over Babylon, was just as good if not better. Both novels have exactly what I look for when I'm in the mood to escape reality - dark atmospheres, mystery with a hint of supernatural and characters so real they might as well be sitting beside you. Combine that with fluent and deeply descriptive prose and you have these two 5 star novels. Oddly enough, neither Scott Brick nor R.C. Bray have ever been on my list of likeable narrators. In the past I have found the gruffness of their voices too distracting, however, the ease at which they both were able to perform several characters with different voice inflections definitely gave me a new appreciation of their talent.

I don't want to go into the details of the story, but I don't really even need to. If you give this a chance, I promise within the first chapter you will be so hooked by the overall performance you won't care what its about, you'll listen just for the sheer pleasure of it.

Its a true shame that Mr. McDowell will never be writing another novel and that there aren't more of his other works available in audio format.

59 people found this helpful

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  • Sophie
  • 11-29-16

Fantastic Characters, Chilling Story, Excellent Narrator

If you love suspense, horror and the supernatural but can't stand a slow build up, this book is for you. By making you love the characters, it moves the story along without you noticing and makes you feel like something is about to happen at any moment.
Some genuinely funny moments as well, enhanced by the performers excellent southern drawl. Please listen to this- it's a superb piece of writing.

11 people found this helpful

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  • Kaggy
  • 11-17-16

Superbly creepy listen - highly recommended

I had never heard of this author but when I read that he was highly rated by Stephen King I really had to give this a listen. I was certainly not disappointed. This is like a Roger Corman film, scripted by Tennessee Williams and with elements of The Shining thrown in. From the very beginning, which opens with a very peculiar funeral, you know you are in store for something strange and genuinely disturbing, but what makes this exceptional are the vivid characters in the two families and their beguiling history.
I loved R C Bray reading The Martian and he gives another excellent performance here. Overall this is a real treat for fans of horror, American Gothic and almost anybody who likes a thumping good story.

13 people found this helpful

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  • BIG Walker
  • 03-30-17

Fascinating. Intriguing. Builds to a final WOW.

If you could sum up The Elementals in three words, what would they be?

Fascinating. Intriguing. Curious.

Any additional comments?

I HOPE I'm not the ONLY one who could not get past the father/daughter relationship with India and her father. It was incredibly strange and unsettling how that little part about the father taking pictures of India and letting his friends do the same "in pleasing poses". There is the scene where India wants her father to let her go into the third house. "C'mon, you can take the camera and take pictures of me in the sand, it'll be HOT". Anyone else catch all that?

3 people found this helpful

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  • Mark ODuffy
  • 05-01-17

Very good,

A few little niggles but nothing to put you off it or not to finish it. R.C Bray does his usual.

2 people found this helpful

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  • CS Ashton
  • 02-08-17

brilliant book! chilling and unnerving!

you won't be able to put it down. fantastic descriptions it gave me goosebumps! Read it!

2 people found this helpful

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  • Ron
  • 02-05-17

What all ghost stories should aspire to

Proper creepy story telling without the usual silliness. Highly recommend this book! Its a keep you up till its finished read.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Lexy
  • 01-19-22

Terrifyingly Beautiful

This is my first Michael McDowell book and I am now completely hooked on him.

The horror descriptions will stay with you long after the listening.

The narrator completely did this story justice….. I will be having nightmares for a while yet

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 09-01-21

boring. not even RC Bray could redeem it.....

each to their own but given the hype about this book I didnt just find it not scary, I found it boring.

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  • DalyRae
  • 07-06-21

A little on the crass side sometimes

It reminds me of the 80s, even if I hadn't known it was an 80s novel. I dunno if it's aged brilliantly with Odessa being referred to as "the Black woman" every time she's mentioned (though I appreciate it's meant to be indicative of the way India views her when she's decided on who not to like of the group). India seems like a character who would have a story all of her own regardless of Beldam, though only thirteen she has all the makings of a horror heroine. I don't feel like her story is over. I'm guessing the author doesn't have a great deal of faith in parent child relations... However, this is a real horror story with blood and guts (from start to finish) and creepy houses galore!

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  • S. Taylor
  • 04-10-21

Unusually atmospheric

This is a slow book, and you could argue that not a lot happens. It has a great atmosphere though, and not your typical haunted house atmosphere either. I also love a couple of the central characters and their somewhat unique relationship. I would highly recommend if you enjoy a slow burn. It took me a couple of chapters to get used to the narrator's slightly newsreader-ish style, but it actually works well.

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  • Peita Ball
  • 06-04-20

unexpected and quaint

a great read/listen. if you enjoy a good thriller and meandering southern story, you will enjoy this book

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-30-22

Excellent supernatural horror

Very atmospheric, felt like like I was with the characters on a summer holiday at the beach, the setting was described so well. An interesting story with great narration.

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  • Helz M
  • 03-12-22

Hard pass if you like good fiction

6hrs of droning on and 1hr of actual story. I kept waiting for something to happen.
As for the over-developed characters, India would have to be the most obnoxiously annoying “13yo” I’ve ever encountered.

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  • Naedrax17
  • 11-02-20

I expected more

I got this book as most horror booktubers I follow all recommend as being really creepy / scary.... There is a intriguing moment at the funeral in the beginning, but then becomes boring. When the family travel to their holiday homes to mourn not much happens & when it does its shrugged off. Nothing really happens until the end climax, which was good. The way its being portrayed by everyone I thought there would be more scares or creepy moments. It didn't live up the hype. The narrator did a good job & I did like the interaction between the family members, but I found it lacking.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-05-20

I very liked it

Listened to this after loving blackwater. Oh god, 7 words left. Slow burn, sand everywhere.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 11-02-18

A southern horror

Distinctly southern, McDowell captures hauntingly, the oppressive atmosphere of a summer in the south. In this classic haunted house story, McDowell explores the boundaries of the genre. Exploring what spirits are, where they come from, and what they can do. In this way, it's not necessarily the spirits that are the root of the horror, but the unknown.

While the characters are largely two-dimensional, narrator Bray lends them some complexity with his southern drawl. His cadence and pace in the different dialogues is what gives each character a distinct voice. In particular, the relationship between Luker and India. A pleasantly distracting read!

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  • Mill Carter
  • 12-13-16

A Real Find

If you love The Shining and The Cypher, but don't understand what the fuss is about Ghost Story, replace the latter with The Elementals and your faith in the horror genre will be restored.