As you read this, I’m on my way to Los Angeles for the holiday to attend the West Hollywood Halloween party! Very excited about this! Halloween/Samhain and El Dia de los Muertos are the holidays I enjoy the most. I love the sacred aspects of both: honoring the spirits of those you’ve lost, driving the negative spirits back into the darkness, being grateful for the bounty Mother Nature has blessed us with, etc. And I love the secular aspects: dressing up in costume, CANDY!, going to parties with friends, CANDY!, etc. I don’t know if it’s just my neighborhood or if this is a wider trend, but we don’t get many trick-or-treaters any more. That was always my favorite part of the holiday growing up, outside of visiting Haunted Houses. But there aren’t that many young families around my block. I think my nephews have done a little trick-or-treating, though it’s mostly their parents as they’re both so young and are only starting to speak clearly now. There seems to be such a general paranoia beyond “stranger danger” these days that I think house parties are replacing trick-or-treating. I still remember years where those of us kids here in the Upper Midwest had to wear winter coats over our costumes, which we hated of course. Ah well.
But the best parts are the media that surround the holiday and by that I mean telling or reading scary stories, the music, watching scary movies, and consuming whatever High Octane Nightmare Fuel I can get my hands on. The things on the list primarily are not “Halloween” themed but still scary or macabre in some way that I especially appreciate at this time of the year.
Obviously, anything by H.P. Lovecraft, Philip K. Dick, most of Edgar Allan Poe’s works and most of Stephen King’s early novels like It, The Stand, The Shining, The Dark Half. The television miniseries adaptation for It is one of the best in my opinion (part 1, anyway) and still makes me shiver due to my dislike of both clowns and giant spiders. Max J. Brooks’ World War Z is another favorite of mine, though that movie “adaptation” should be burned and jettisoned into the sun. The audiobook was very well executed and chock full of the voices of actors and actresses famous in the sci-fi and fantasy genres.
Ray Bradbury’s There Will Come Soft Rains by Bradbury (pdf) is equal parts sad and horrifying; then there is Harlan Ellison’s classic I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. The idea that an AI like AM could be created (and probably will) is frightening.
While this is not a book, but an academic paper published in a journal, I’m still going to recommend it here: Are You Living in a Simulation? by Nick Bostrom. It’s a bit scary to think of the implications of being mere pixels and bytes in a simulation created by a technological culture of being so advanced we can’t even begin imagine it. In this case, we don’t die so much as we’re deleted like an obsolete phone app.
There’s so much to put here! I’m a huge fan of The Walking Dead though I haven’t read all of the graphic novels. And those who know me well aren’t surprised to hear me voice (at appropriate times) two of the popular memes among the fanbase of the television series, namely “Stuff….and thangs!” and “CORAL!” But in general, I’m a Zombie Apocalypse fan, so long as the characters and story lines are well-written. The movie 28 Days Later was excellent, but not so much its sequel.
I have already mentioned the movie adaptation of Stephen King’s It and it fits here obviously. Pretty much any movie with evil clowns will get me going. And no, I haven’t watched this new season of American Horror Story and YES, I know about the evil clown on there. Speaking of AHS, the first season was amazing and full of mind fucks. I loved it. Second season “Asylum” was fairly good as well and even more crazy, literally.
Of course, one of my favorite television shows is Doctor Who. I’ve mentioned before how I grew up watching it in the 1980s and continue to watch it to this day. Yeah, the classic Who could be very cheesy at times, but I still loved it. When you’re four years old, the Daleks are absolutely frightening. These days, however, the current showrunner, Stephen Moffat brings the scares, and I think he may actually feast on the tears of fans. Not all of the episodes are frightening, of course, and many of them are more about psychological horror than visual horror, which is my preference.
These episodes of the NuWho are particularly chilling: Midnight, The Waters of Mars, Silence in the Library and The Forest of the Dead, Turn Left, The Impossible Astronaut & The Day of the Moon, Night Terrors, and Flatline, which aired two weeks ago. The apparently defunct Doctor Who spin-off series, Torchwood, had a miniseries in 2009 called The Children of Earth; it was full of horrifying implications.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the episode of Buffy: the Vampire Slayer, “Hush”. By far, one of the best, if not the best, episode of the entire series. The Gentlemen, who were the main villains of the episode, still make my skin crawl. I mean, look at them! But more frightening than The Gentlemen’s physical appearance was their power to take your voice so that you can’t scream when they kill you.
As far as movies, anything Tim Burton or most any horror film from Thailand, Japan, or Korea. I recommend the original Japanese version of The Grudge, Ju-On and the original Thai version of Shutter. The Ghostbusters movies, while not really scary, are paranormal themed. That said, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man haunted my nightmares for years and probably contributed to my general dislike of marshmallows.
I wouldn’t be much of a newly-minted art historian if I didn’t include some artworks here. Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Sons and Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare are my two favorites. The former has become popular on the internet and the latter is usually used to represent the experience of sleep paralysis. The link in the latter also includes a compilation by Tate Britain on the history of horror themes in art. Definitely worth a read.
Some of my favorites can be placed in the previous category as well.
Michael Jackson’s Thriller is the official-unofficial Halloween Theme. The video was considered far too scary for my young eyes in the mid/late eighties but my aunt let me watch it at a Halloween party she took me to; that’s what cool aunts are for! Growing up as a dancer, my fellow dance mates and I loved to teach ourselves the choreography seen in videos by Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, and (some) Madonna videos. By the time I was twelve, I could do the Thriller dance, which I consider an accomplishment. It’s just freaking cool!
Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is popular around this time of the year and I’ve heard the song played both at Halloween and at Christmas. The deep resonance of the organ is dramatic and the vibrations just seem to reach deep into your bones. Of course, there is Camille Saint-Saëns famous Danse Macabre. This piece is actually something known as a tone poem and art song and has a poem to accompany it, the lyrics of which draw on old French folklore. But I love this video animation of the Danse Macabre as well as the excellent use of it in the aforementioned Buffy episode, “Hush”.
Finally, Pandora has several Halloween-themed Radio Stations to choose from, and I like the Spooky Symphony Radio and the Halloween Metal Radio stations.
Weird architecture: The Winchester Mystery House, which is definitely on my Bucket List. The first labyrinth, according to Greek mythology, was created to generally cause fear and confusion in the minotaur forced into it. Of course, modern-day labyrinths, while a feat of architecture (and I’ll include hedge & agricultural mazes in this too) quickly change from “cool” to “OMGWTF, GET ME OUT OF HERE!” if you lose your way.
Debt: My student loans, past and future. Yikes!
Websites: I’m a Redditor, under a different name. The subreddits No Sleep and Glitch in the Matrix can deliver some chills. Not all the entries are good but the ones that are stay with you. Quite often the stories (No Sleep) or claimed personal experiences (Glitch in the Matrix) are just trippy. I also like the SCP Foundation. Think X-Files meets Fringe meets Warehouse 13 and probably a few other sci-fi shows. Again, not all of it will get your horror motor running but the good ones are always worth the time invest. I definitely recommend the SCP Foundation article, “Document Recovered From the Mariana Trench“.
And this isn’t even an exhaustive list! In any case, have a very Happy Halloween!