Notes from the Bookhouse: This is Halloween

The nights are getting longer, the air is getting chilled, and the spectre of ghouls and goblins linger around every corner (for those of us in the northern hemisphere, at least).

Autumn has always been one of my favourite times of the year. Living in a cold northern climate means that outdoor activity takes on a deadly edge for almost half of the year. It’s something that is intrinsic, part of the fabric of our beings. Come October, we light fires in our hearths and curl up under blankets, waiting for the snow to start falling from the safety of our living rooms.

Even if you live somewhere without the clear and present danger of a terrible winter, the month of October still means something. It scares up instincts from our paleolithic past, reminds us of our mortality. And Halloween — with its ghosts and goblins and links to ancient rituals honouring the dead — is the perfect holiday to celebrate during this time of slowing down, when the harvest had stopped and winter is nigh.

It doesn’t take much to get me in the spirit. I think I like the idea of starting the hibernation process, and winter is my favourite season, so I have a lot to look forward to these days. But I still have a few go-to activities that really put me in the Halloween mood. I asked my coworkers here at 25YL for their suggestions, too. Together we’ve put together quite a list. Hope you enjoy!

Lindsay Stamhuis: Halloween is far from my favourite. I’ve never been a big fan of dressing up and going out to beg strangers for candy. I took my younger brothers trick-or-treating and can remember pretending to be their mom instead of their sister, because I never wore a costume and never carried a bag to collect candy in. What a grump, right? Not so! I just always felt it was more my style to sit inside by the radio, listening to ghost stories by the fire, which is what I do these days (since we live in a large condo building and don’t get trick-or-treaters). I think it’s the fact that you have to use your imagination when you listen to a story, and nothing beats the mind’s ability to craft the most frightening thing in the world in place of something more mundane, especially when it comes to Halloween horror stories…

radio.pngSo, every year, I curl up with my radio and tune into the scariest old time radio shows I can find: 1945’s “The Dunwich Horror” from the program SuspenseInner Sanctum Mysteries’ “The Vengeful Corpse”, “Poltergeist” from Lights Out, or the masterful Agnes Moorhead in “Sorry, Wrong Number”.

Which brings me to the one thing I can’t miss each year. I have to experience the awesome thrill that is Washington Irving’s masterful short story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. I can’t help but feel the October spirit when I think about Ichabod Crane and his encounter with the Headless Horseman. Irving’s tale fits into a tradition of colonial ghost stories that feel related to the European Gothic tradition and yet are set apart by the particular concerns of young American colonists, their yearning for progress in their new home and their reliance and respect for the land and the twilight superstitions that go along with it — a tradition that Twin Peaks fits into some 200 years later!

And of all the adaptations of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” that I’ve encountered, none is quite as bone-chilling as the 1988 Rabbit Ears Entertainment version on audiobook, narrated by Glenn Close and featuring music by Tim Story. Close is absolutely phenomenal as she casts herself in the various roles. Story’s score is also terrifying, for setting up a sense of place and foreboding. I always recommend the animated version, so you can see the wonderfully chilling illustrations by Robert Van Nutt, but listening to it without the aid of visuals is how 6 year-old me first learned the true meaning of fear, so maybe close your eyes and imagine the scenes unfolding one by one as you sit by a roaring fire on All Hallows’ Eve…

Aidan Hailes: I’m not a fan of Halloween and never have been. I don’t enjoy being scared, either in person or by film. As a consequence I’ve never built up the tolerance required to appreciate scary movies in any way. Both Eraserhead and The Shining keep me from sleeping for days at a time, and they’re not even really horror movies.

I also don’t enjoy dressing up. I’m a pretty self-conscious person at the best of times, and when the whole point of an event is to dress up as best you can, I get extreme social anxiety that my costume will suck, and that people consequently will not like me very much. I’ve had this (admittedly odd and specific) fear for as long as I can remember, and it’s kept me from enjoying the parts of Halloween that a lot of people seem to enjoy. The only thing I enjoyed about Halloween as a kid was the candy.

img_9013The only exception to my general detest of Halloween that I have a clear memory of was the Halloween of Grade 2-4 (can’t remember exactly which), when I was not only genuinely excited by the prospect of dressing up, but felt almost superhuman levels of swagger upon donning my costume. The year was 1992 or 3 or 4, and I was obsessed with Transformers. Truly and honorably obsessed. I owned every comic book, watched every cartoon I could get my hands on, and owned enough toys to keep plastic futures afloat for the next decade. And I was going to go as Optimus Prime that Halloween.

I worked with my mother to design the perfect costume. Thankfully Optimus Prime is rather boxy, and my mother had accesses to boxes. The end result was not unlike the “Amazon Prime” costume that made an appearance a few years ago. Except my mother (bless her patience), went the extra mile, painting Optimus Prime’s window chest and grille abs, even providing texture and volume where appropriate. The helmet was the stuff of legends: with pointed ears, angular mouth box just like the cartoon, and red cellophane covering the eyes to give that extra level of authenticity.

It was a cold and snowy Canadian Halloween, so my extra layers of clothing fit snugly under the boxes of transforming awesomeness. My snow pants doubled as truck flatbeds, and the blue rectangles my mother taped onto my boots doubled as snowplows. The only flaw was the red cellophane, which made it almost impossible to see. I fell off more than one porch into well-cushioned snowbanks as I recall. But it didn’t matter, I had the best costume in the world, from the coolest media-conglomerate brand in the world, and for the first, and so far only time, I didn’t care if anyone thought it sucked. It was amazing. As there exist no photos of the aforementioned amazing costume, I have gone to painstaking effort to photoshop a modern-day recreation of me in said costume.

So while I still hate Halloween, if I have to watch a movie that makes me enjoy the season, it’s the 1986 Transformers: The Movie, which brings me back to that cold day in the early 90s when Halloween was suddenly about more than just how much candy I could eat.

The VoidRob E. King: My wife and I have tried to watch at least three horror movies per week starting in September. With about four years of experience, we learned to start earlier to avoid burnout. We used to try one a night in October exclusively. As a Twin Peaks fan, I would suggest The Void, which came out this year and is available on Netflix. It includes Kenneth Welsh, who we all knew better as Windom Earle. There’s lots of Lovecraftian cosmic horror in this one. I like to throw in an Audiobook as well. While not particularly horrific, Mark Frost’s The Secret History of Twin Peaks was a perfectly-timed release last year with its acknowledgment of America’s stygian secrets. If I had a favorite audiobook, it would be The Exorcist: 40th Anniversary Edition by William Peter Blatty. At twelve hours and fifty-one minutes, it is digestible and arguably more chilling than the motion picture classic. Blatty’s narration is eerily familiar and unnervingly convincing in an empty room. My wife and I also each picked up copies of Robert Marasco’s Burnt Offerings to read together and discuss. This is a tradition I’d like to maintain. In years past, I’ve compiled short story lists by the likes of Robert E. Howard, Angela Carter, Lovecraft, Barker, and Poe in hopes of starting a small Halloween reading club, an idea that slumps itself out of the grave every year to remind me of my failure to quite keep it alive. As this Halloween will be ushered in with the addition of Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier, I can’t help but ask myself if my costume should include blue pajamas and a splotch of forehead blood as I cackle manically opening the front cover, asking “How’s Annie? How’s Annie?!”

Eileen G. Mykkels: For anyone who is a fan of television where the answers aren’t Damiengiven to you point blank, where the outcomes are left up to interpretation and nothing is straightforward, A&E’s Damien is for you. The direct sequel to the 1976 film The Omen starring Gregory Peck, (overwriting all of the subpar sequels and the lackluster remake) Damien aired for one season of 13 episodes in the spring of 2016. The show focuses on Damien’s (played by the charismatic Bradley James) life as an adult as he deals with peoples continued belief that he is (or isn’t) the Anti-Christ. The show deals with dreams, life in terms of perception, prominent socio-political issues, and occultism. A strong season of television, even the abrupt cancellation couldn’t harm the ending which rings true to that of the original film. Chilling and thrilling, Damien is THE show the accent the lineup of your pre-Halloween season, whether it include Hocus Pocus or The Evil Dead. Available on Amazon and Hulu, and on DVD/BluRay.

Woman in BlackLaura Stewart: I have never been a big fan of gory horrors as such as I don’t find them scary, but give me a good ghost story any day! My most favourite is The Woman In Black, not the 2012 movie, though that was pretty good, but the 1989 TV Movie made by the BBC that was actually aired on Christmas Eve (if I remember correctly) here in the UK. It’s a true gothic spine chiller. A young solicitor is sent to Crythin, a tiny remote seaside town in Northern England to settle an Estate after the death of the owner.  He has to stay at the house to work through a mountain of documentation. He soon starts experiencing The Woman In Black, a truly terrifying sight, made more so by her Edwardian dress.  Creepy children’s voices, toys moving on their own and the marshes… that keep replaying the sounds of the trauma that happened there, so spooky it has made me fearful of ever walking near the marshes by my home to this very day.  There are jumps galore, and one scene scared me so much that even now I cannot bring myself to watch it again.  Let’s just say I have never been able to hang my robe on my door as the shadow of it reminds me of ‘her’.  No happy endings here either! For years I had nightmares about her, and funnily enough I have learned that a few other British Twin Peaks around my age experienced the same trauma!  Well worth a watch if you want sleepless nights.

Its obviously not great quality as its pretty old now, but you can watch the whole movie here:

Andrew GrevasI’ll go ahead and run the risk of sounding incredibly cliche here but it’sHalloween a longstanding tradition of mine to watch Halloween, the John Carpenter 1978 classic, every year. As a child I could never figure out why this film would take such a hold over me, yet I found the sequels and knock offs to be flat. As an adult I understand that Halloween succeeds with simplicity. Suspense over gore. Characters you could relate to instead of models cast to be part of a body count. The music is simple yet chillingly effective. The story was not over complicated: it’s the tale of the Boogey-Man and that’s something we are all familiar with. Today I love the backstory of the film – a group of friends with virtually no budget that each had numerous jobs to ensure their friend John Carpenter’s project could be completed. It’s romantic in the old Hollywood “Let’s make a movie” sense that you don’t hear about as much today. In conclusion, there are definitely films that are more scary to watch this time of year but this is my tradition and appeals to my sense of Halloween nostalgia.

Brien Allen: If there’s any movie that is a must see for Halloween, it’s the Rocky Horror Picture Show. My history with Rocky Horror goes back to college when I played every weekend in the shadow cast, acting out the movie in front of the screen as it played. I’ve played in 5 different casts in cities across the country since, so I’m a bit of a die hard. I won’t say that Rocky Horror saved my life, nothing so dramatic, but it definitely pulled me out of my shell and brought my introvert/extrovert scale back in balance. There’s nothing like standing in front of a packed theater, dodging squirt guns and flying toast, wearing garter belt and fishnet stockings, to do that for you.

RHPSDon’t let me scare you off though. As a regular audience member, you can just sit back and enjoy the spectacle of it all. There are stock lines that everyone yells in sync with the movie, much like an audience participation version of Mystery Science Theater 3000. The movie by itself is a B movie at best, but it’s the experience of seeing it in a theater that has made it a cult phenomena. There’s no better time to go than the Halloween show. Places that don’t normally play the show often will do so just for Halloween, and a local cast will show up and take over the theater for a night or two. So if it’s playing somewhere around you, you are blessed. Go support those freaks and have a great time.

And if they ask if you’re a virgin before the show, you might want to answer “no”.

J.C. Hotchkiss: My Halloween tradition dates back to my freshman year in High School. We had just finished a production of Charley’s Aunt and were having a cast party the night before Halloween ’93. It was my 1st official cast party that I was allowed to go to. We all got dressed up, drank apple cider (it was possibly spiked, but I plead the 5th) and someone suggested watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show. At the time, I had no idea what this was. After watching, it was my new favorite movie. Tim Curry was tremendous; the last thing I remember him in was Clue (another Halloween favorite), but this was far from Clue. Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Meatloaf; I had no idea that all these people were in this movie. All the music, the costumes, the creepiness, the sheer craziness of the transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania was an unbelievable spectacle to watch. I loved every minute of it. RHPS2

From then on, every Halloween, I watched The Rocky Horror Picture Show. For the 25th Anniversary, VH1 aired it on television and had a contest. I won a t-shirt and a karaoke CD. I went with friends one year to the Palace Theater and watched it on the big screen, with my water gun, toast, and newspaper. I shouted at the screen with everyone else. It was one of my favorite Halloween memories. One year I went to a party dressed as Columbia, and then back home early to watch it once again. This year, I’ll be taking my little one trick-or-treating in town, and then back home to hunker down in bed with my own “Brad”, and dance the Time Warp as we sneak some just trick-or-treated candy.

Night ShiftJacquie Allen: “Let’s talk, you and I. Let’s talk about fear.”

So begins the foreword to Stephen King’s Night Shift, his first collection of short stories. As we are all well aware of now, fear is King’s strongest game. The man knows how to make even the most hardened of horror lovers skin crawl.

By the time this was published in 1978, King had not quite yet solidified his legacy. While he had tackled monsters of both the supernatural and personal persuasion in his first four novels, most people had only seen a glimpse of what King could do. Consisting of 20 short stories, he is at his absolute best in Night Shift. Many different types of terrors are shown; from a man being forced to walk around a high-rise ledge by a ruthless mobster, a seemingly unstoppable killer who comes and goes with the fog, and two siblings’ shenanigans that almost turn into tragedy, almost no scary topic is left out. King has a way of creating content that Rod Serling would be proud of, and his short stories are a perfect example of this. I’ve often said that my favorite horror subgenre is the anthology, so reading and re-reading Night Shift over the years since I first discovered it has always been a joy. Some producers apparently agreed, as a few stories from this book were adapted into the film Cat’s Eye (also highly recommended).

The stories have never grown stale and whenever I re-read them, I remember what a masterful storyteller King can be. The writing on each is pitch-perfect and no one currently alive knows how to craft an ironic and, dare I say, perfect ending that doesn’t feel like a sharp left turn from the contents of the story preceding it.

To this day, Night Shift still stands as not only my favorite King book, but also my favorite book. You’d better believe I’ll be cracking it open to read at least Strawberry Spring, as I sip my damn fine hot apple cider this Halloween.

What are your Halloween traditions? Sound off in the comments or tag us in your Halloween photos on Twitter at @25YLSite!

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Lindsay Stamhuis

Written by Lindsay Stamhuis

Lindsay Stamhuis is a writer and English teacher who also moonlights as 25YL Site's Executive Editor and Style Manager. In addition to editing and writing about TV and Film, she is the co-host of The Bicks Pod, a podcast currently deep-diving into the collected works of William Shakespeare. She lives in Edmonton, Alberta with her partner Aidan, their three cats, and a potted pothos that refuses to grow more than one vine.

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