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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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Brilliant Ghost Story

Compelling characters, great narration (although the accent work could have been better), and a thoroughly creepy premise. Netflix really oughtta be looking at this as a follow-up to Hill House and Bly Manor. If you're looking for an atmospheric ghost story that moves at a good pace but leaves room for character development, I'd highly recommend The Elementals.

2 people found this helpful

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Look into my eyes....

Most enjoyable and unexpected take on Gothic horror. It is an old book but timeless in its theme and story line. While Michael McDowell cleverly builds his characters he also builds the creepy plot in which they find themselves. R.C. Bray's excellent narration is a pleasure to the ears. All in all, I recommend this book to my fellow listeners... with this warning: Watch out for the eyeballs!

2 people found this helpful

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Masterful work

A great adaptation of a classic.
The narrator was especially good, able to evoke a multitude of characters with some fantastic vocal gymnastics.
Recommended without hesitation.

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Superb

Quite simply the greatest haunted house novel ever written. It would have been nice to have the new forward from this edition included in the reading, but what was included was done beautifully.

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Excellently creepy!

Listened to it again recently. Just as good the 2nd time around. An excellent set up and still leaves you with enough mystery.

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A 'Haunted House' Story Done Well

'The Elementals' is imperfect, but Michael McDowell does a commendable job bringing a formulaic but reasonably enjoyable tale about evil spirits to life.
McDowell slowly unveils a narrative about the spirits that dwell in a mysteriously abandoned house situated beside the vacation homes of a pair of interesting (albeit unlikable) Southern families.. and how they have terrified & tormented the McCrays and Savages over the years. The pacing is a little off, but McDowell introduces chilling imagery and spinetingling hints of something awful - effectively contributing to an atmosphere of dread - until culminating the tale with a gory pulse-pounding final confrontation.
The prose is creditable, the dialogue is sardonic but realistic, eerie events are well-described and genuinely creepy, and the eventual violence is gut-wrenching visceral.
Less fortunately, the immersion and suspension of disbelief required to truly enjoy 'The Elementals' is lacking. The relatability of characters - so important for a good horror story - just isn't present, for example. Everytime McDowell had foul-mouthed Luker (father) "converse" with India (his 13-year-old daughter) with ridiculously Adult themes & language, it took me straight out of the story. In addition, the final confrontation was implausible and burdened with horror-story clichés.
Altogether, though.. this is a diverting interpretation of the malevolent spirit trope. I enjoyed it.

R.C. Bray is easily one of the best narrators in the business. Charges that he reads this book too matter-of-factly are legitimate, however. Bray's timbre/cadence/pacing are typically spot-on and his voice-acting is unparalleled (authentic Alabama accents and a believable "negro housekeeper" are notable), but the text is delivered with a lack of emotiveness - Bray's delivery is fairly monotone on this project for some reason.

I rate this audiobook 7.5 stars out of 10.. above-average overall. Readers looking for an effective tale within the Horror genre should feel justified in spending a Credit on this one.

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no second reads on this one

Billed as "one of the finest horror novels to emerge out of the horror publishing explosion of the 70's and 80's".

Hmm, well I was reading Stephen King at that time (which is where my interest in reading horror began) and this novel is nowhere near the level of horror that he produces, nor does it have that mental and psychological imprint that lingers within you. This book was not scary, and the story was rather questionable. At one point a 'major event' comes full circle for what could have been a great Oh My God moment. Unfortunately Mr. McDowell missed the mark, and I still do not know the purpose of this 'event' and how it even fits within the whole context of the story. I also had real issues with the characters and I found that I did not like any of them. ie. India & Luker's unconvincing relationship for example, which IMO was distracting to the overall story and atmosphere.

If I had been reading the physical book, I probably would have put it on the DNF shelf.

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Great atmosphere

I have never really been into the horror genre and it’s only recently that I’ve become fascinated by gothic fiction. The personification & inconsistent obscure nature of the sand and the houses themselves pose a lot of tension and keep the reading exciting. I really love the narration in this audiobook and it really makes it. Honestly - I couldn’t stop listening.

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  • Deziderata
  • 2018-06-28

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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  • tracey a. kallas
  • 2017-03-27

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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  • Brett
  • 2020-05-16

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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  • Jeremiah
  • 2018-06-06

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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  • Bass guy
  • 2019-04-18

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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  • Nick
  • 2018-07-07

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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  • Dana Minyard
  • 2016-07-10

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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  • Jan
  • 2016-06-26

"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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  • Gwen
  • 2019-04-07

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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  • Breezybealle
  • 2016-08-10

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