Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published October 19th 2019
Set your Halloween off right
October 31st is Halloween in the Western countries of the Northern Hemisphere. Originally a lightening or popularisation of the Celtic festival of Samhain, it became in the twentieth-century United States an excuse for children to get free candy from strangers while dressed up, and for older people to have drunken parties while dressed up. Though it has yet to completely infiltrate the zeitgeist, it is creeping into Australian culture as well, despite the seasons being wrong and having no real historical cause to go along with Halloween.
And that is the rant from an old curmudgeon.
Frankly, there is nothing anyone can do to stop the insidious Americanisation of our culture, and Halloween is just a part of that. And so, with that in mind, Halloween is supposed to be about more than just parties and candy. It is supposed to be about ghosts and ghouls and things that go bump in the night.
As such, here is a list of some pop culture things that could help you have a celebratory Halloween. I am not saying these are the best of the best – these are just things that could well set off a nice Halloween evening.
Scary Horror Film An American Werewolf In London directed by John Landis (1981)
Look, this is not the best film ever made. It is probably not even the best horror film ever made. But it has four things going for it: 1) it is genuinely scary in parts, with an incredibly tense atmosphere, offset by laugh out loud humour; 2) its has some great jump scares as well as brooding unease; 3) it has the most incredible werewolf metamorphosis scene ever (no CGI, done purely with make-up, which makes it more real and scarier); and
4) plenty of blood and gore for the lovers of that sort of film. The tale of a couple of young men who go off the road, are attacked by a werewolf, killing one and leaving the other as a lycanthrope is pretty simple, but it is so well-written and just an amazing bit of horror. No better way to set off a Halloween DVD watching binge.
'Welcome To My Nightmare' by Alice Cooper (1975)
With a deep chord structure, dream-like opening music and creepy lyrics, Cooper's classic song can give anyone a chill. In fact, the whole album it comes from (also called Welcome To My Nightmare) is a concept album about "Steven" who lives in a nightmare world of not knowing reality, abusing women and wanting it all to end.
To set a suitably creepy tone for Halloween, though, this song is hard to beat.
Scary Short Story
'The Landlady' by Roald Dahl (1960)
There is nothing better on Halloween than sitting around a camp-fire (be it metaphorical or literal) and trying to scare one another with horror stories. Not everyone can make up their own, so that means you need to read something from a classic of the genre. I've spoken of short stories before and many I mentioned are horror, and there are so many others to choose from besides. My personal choice would be anything by Edgar Allen Poe, but the language (I have discovered) can be impenetrable to modern readers. Same goes for H.P. Lovecraft. Of course, here I could go the safe route and tell you to read anything by Stephen King, but how about something a little different: 'The Landlady' by Roald Dahl. It has won awards, and deservedly so. In fact, Dahl has written a number of great horror shorts… and not for kids, either. The story of a young man in Bath whose landlady is really into taxidermy is creepy and cold and really, really good.
Scary Collection of Real Ghost Stories The World's Greatest Ghosts by Nigel Blundell and Roger Boar (1984)
Let's stay around that metaphorical (literal) campfire. While made-up ghost stories can be scary, the idea that a ghost story is real adds something to the tale. And there have been ghost stories told since ancient Greece (the first recorded ghost story actually involves a ghost in chains and dressed in white!). So, to really make some-one scared, to look over their shoulder, to jump at every unusual sound, tell them a "true" ghost story, and this book is the best collection of these I have come across. Okay, there is another – Lord Halifax's Ghost Book – but my subsequent reading has shown me that many of his "real" tales were just re-tellings of popular fiction of the day. Sure, some of the tales in the Blundell/Boar book have been debunked (notably the Amityville Horror house) but that does not lessen the impact of these creepy "real" tales.
'The Raven' by Edgar Allen Poe (1845)
Okay, my previous comment about language does still hold, but if you can read this in your best deep, slow voice, this is still one scary story about a man who misses his dead wife and is taunted by a Raven with its single word: "Nevermore." Another campfire work, for sure. To be honest, there have been very few scary poems, but this does seem to be changing. Still, they are going to be hard-pressed to top this classic.
Having said it is a campfire tale, maybe watch The Simpsons and the original 'Treehouse of Horror' episode (season 2, episode 3) and hear James Earl Jones and Homer Simpson do it.
But I am not going to give you that one. Instead, here is Christopher Lee reciting it as only Christopher Lee can…
And that should set your Halloween off nicely. I have not mentioned any horror novels or even any horror novellas because they are simply too long for a Halloween party/night. Still, there are some links there you might want to check out if that is more your cup of tea.
And, with all of that in mind, I hope these suggestions at least help make your Halloween celebrations suitably spooky.