Category Archives: Halloween

Halloween Favorite: Movies

Here we are on the last Friday in October. The month went flying by, but it’s not quite over yet, which means there’s still time to enjoy more seasonal favorites. Once all the candy has been given out, or consumed, what better way to celebrate Halloween than curling up on the couch with a good scary movie? Or perhaps a cheesy movie? Or something with style, a touch of humor, and a dash of darkness? I have you covered, my friend…

Vincent Price on the set of The RavenOn Halloween, you can’t go wrong with Edgar Allen Poe, Vincent Price, or Roger Corman. If you’re feeling really saucy, why not combine all three with a triple-header Poe-stravaganza of The Pit and the Pendulum, House of Usher, and The Raven. The movies were released more or less back-to-back in 1960, 61, and 63, so why not watch them the way nature intended? I used to make a ritual of watching some combination of these three movies around Halloween every year. They’re full of glorious scenery-chewing, over the top colors, cheap sets, and for some reason, instead of a melancholy and haunting meditation on loss and death, The Raven now features a wizard’s duel and Peter Lorre transformed into the titular bird. Really, what’s not to love? And if you haven’t had enough after those three, rest easy knowing that there are in fact five more films in Roger Corman’s Poe cycle. You’re welcome.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show likely needs no introduction or talking-up from me. It’s a cult classic, and perfect for Halloween. Glitter, leather, fishnets, and murder. Singing, dancing, mad science, and references to other classics such as Frankenstein and King Kong. If you’re up for it, Rocky Horror can even be a participatory experience. Catch a midnight showing at your local theater, recite the lines along with the cast, and come prepared to throw toast at the screen. Don’t forget your corset.

BeetlejuiceBeetlejuice is another another classic that likely needs no introduction. This year, the movie is celebrating its 30th Anniversary, and dagnabit if it doesn’t still hold up. The movie hovers between comedy (the dinner party scene) and true darkness (Beetlejuice trying to force Lydia into being his child-bride, anyone?), and does so with tons of style. It may possibly be the most Tim Burton-y Tim Burton movie ever, and Michael Keaton does a fantastic job as the un-dead exorcist who specializes in ridding houses of the pesky living so ghosts can spend their eternities happily resting in peace. While the movie is more comedy than horror, there are horrific elements, and certain bits of the movie are disturbing the longer you think about it – like the aforementioned attempt at forced marriage – not to mention the fact that it opens with the death of a lovely young couple, and things go downhill for them from there. For the most part though, it’s good Halloween fun, mostly appropriate for the whole family, and you are pretty much guaranteed to have “Jump in the Line” stuck in your head for days afterward, and be happy about it.

HereditaryIn the realm of true horror films, it’s hard to go wrong with The Exorcist. Unless, you know, you enjoy sleeping, or whatever. It’s a classic story – girl meets demon, girl gets possessed by demon, girl ends up spider-walking down the stairs, vomiting pea soup, and levitating while priests try to save her. The best-known scenes aren’t even the scariest ones, though. The most effective parts of the movie come in the quiet moments of carefully built tension – the ragged sound of breathing, the knowledge that something terrible is about to happen, but hasn’t happened yet. That’s not to discount the spider-walk though. That scene is creepy as fuck.

To round things out, I offer up a recent watch, which I’m still thinking about – Hereditary. It’s hard to talk about the movie without giving too much away. Suffice it to say, the trailers for the film set up expectations for a very different kind of movie. The movie that was actually delivered is far more unsettling and haunting in multiple senses of the word. Reality and truth are slippery concepts throughout much of the film, building to a climax that cements the supernatural, but in a way that doesn’t undercut everything that came before. Again, the quiet moments are some of the most effective here, not so much in building tension, but depicting raw grief, loss, and pain more horrifying than anything otherworldly that happens. The otherworldly elements, however, are horrifying too, and images from the film are likely to stick with you for days afterward.

What are your favorite Halloween watches, scary, funny, silly, or otherwise?

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Halloween Favorites: Novels

Another Friday means another round of Halloween recommendations, and this time, I’m talking about novels. Many of these are works I’ve recommended in one form or another before, but they’re worth recommending again. After all, there’s a reason I keep coming back to them over and over again.

The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan is a dark, unsettling, psychological tale. Don’t let the cover fool you; the author herself has complained about it on numerous occasions, and it sadly doesn’t do the work justice. On the surface level, it’s a haunted house story. Underneath, it’s the portrait of a woman slowly unraveling, and it pairs nicely with another of my favorite Kiernan novels, The Drowning Girl. Both are novels that get under the skin, and in my case at least, left me uneasy for days after finishing them.

Experimental Film by Gemma Files is another novel I find myself thinking of frequently, even years after first reading it. Like Files’ “each thing i show you is a piece of my death” mentioned in my short story recommendations, the horror revolves around found fragments of film. But that horror quickly seeps off the screen and into the real world, and the truth the characters uncover is far older and stranger than they could have imagined. A highly effective novel, and again, one that definitely lingers.

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt was originally written and published in Dutch, then not just translated, but rewritten, by the author and released in English with a new setting and – as I understand it – new ending. A small New England town is cursed by a presence referred to as the Black Rock Witch. Her eyes and mouth are sewn shut, she can appear and disappear anywhere around town at will, but as long as the stitches remain, and no one tries to leave the town, she won’t do them harm. It’s a story about becoming complacent in the face of horror, and the horrors people visit on each other growing out of that complacency. And as far as striking imagery goes, it’s hard to beat an ancient witch with her eyes and mouth sewn shut.

My Favorite Thing is MonstersMy Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris is less a work of horror in its own right, though horrifying things do happen, and more an homage to horror. As suits a graphic novel, the pages are full of stunning art, and it pays tribute to classic horror movie monsters, and the covers of old horror magazine, as well as referencing works of fine art. It’s a deeply human story, and the horrific things that happen are all human-made. The monsters in this case are a shield against the dark, not the things in and of themselves that make the dark terrifying.

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay is a possession story. Or is it? Fourteen year-old Marjorie may be mentally ill, or she may be the victim of demonic possession. Running out of options to pay for her care, her family agrees to a reality television show being filmed in their house, documenting Marjorie’s supposed possession. Again, the prime source of horror here is the humans involved, but there’s plenty of eerie imagery to go around, and the sense of haunting does linger,whether it be of a psychological nature or a supernatural one.

Once again, these are just a few examples of my favorites. And as always, I want to know your favorites as well.

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Halloween Favorites: Television

Continuing my series of posts about things that put me in an October mood, and making recommendations for what to watch and read this Halloween season, this time around I’ll be talking about television shows.

Disney's Halloween TreatAs a kid, I loved Disney’s Halloween Treat, a compilation of shorts and excerpts highlighting animated ghosts, monsters, and of course, Disney villains. It seems there were two versions of this annual show, the other being A Disney Halloween, which featured much of the same materials, but was slightly longer. My favorite segments were always “Night on Bald Mountain” and “Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman”. And, of course, the dancing skeletons in the opening credits.

American Gothic only lasted one season, 22 episodes, many of which aired out of order when it was originally shown on CBS, and some of which never even made it to air. But damn it if I didn’t imprint on this show hard when I was in high school, and now I am the happy owner of the full series on DVD. A small Southern town full of secrets, a Sheriff with supernatural powers who may actually be the Devil, his son who wants nothing to do with him, and the ghost of the boy’s murdered sister – you know, a regular happy family. The show does nod to the true Southern Gothic tradition, particularly with its  buried secrets, and employs many of the classic horror trappings – bloody messages of warning spelling themselves out on the walls, a moon that’s perpetually full, and a creepy little kid who can fuck you up with his mind. Plus, American Gothic gave the world the gem that is Sarah Paulson – she’d done some theater before then, but this was her onscreen debut – so it’s worth it for that alone.

American GothicAnd speaking of Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story - my current TV horror jam - feels like a spiritual successor to American Gothic. At very least scratches the same itch for me. Who knows what American Gothic would have become if it had continued past one season. There’s a good chance it would have gone horribly downhill, but American Horror Story manages to prevent that somewhat with its anthology format. Every season is a new series, with different characters (mostly), but many of the same actors. Of course, all the seasons exist in the same universe, so there’s some crossover, and elements from one season can creep in as plot points in another. The show features top-notch actors – the aforementioned Sarah Paulson, Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Evan Peters, James Cromwell, and many others. It’s a joy watching the actors reinvent themselves from season to season, and sometimes even within a single season. Over the course of seven years (thus far) the series has hit many of the classic horror tropes – haunted houses, creepy carnivals, witches, and horror-filled hotels. The series has its ups and downs, but it’s well-acted, frequently visually stunning, and in a horror-y kind of way, just plain fun. I still have some catching up to do, but at this point I’m sold, and on board for whatever the series wants to do.

Stranger Things has only had two seasons thus far, but right from the get-go, it was pretty much an instant classic. The show taps into 80s nostalgia hard, calling to mind the works of Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, and H.P. Lovecraft, while scattering pop-culture references like Ghostbusters, Dungeons and Dragons, and various arcade games throughout. The show is more than just references though. There’s genuine growth for the characters, and family and friendships are at the heart of the show. The actors are fantastic, and everyone feels perfectly cast. It’s clearly a show made with love, and I can’t wait to see where the Duffer brothers take the story next.

PreacherCan I make the case for Preacher? It make not be strictly horror, but it certainly has horror elements – vampires and other supernatural creatures, an undying killer bent on revenge, the actual devil, and it isn’t shy about liberal sprays of blood. I adored the graphic novel series when I first read it, and I’m really enjoying seeing the changes the show has made, where they’ve re-imagined things, and where they nod to the source material even as they shift things around. The whole cast is fantastic in my opinion, the locations are wonderful, and the way the episodes are filmed – the framing, the choice of lighting – it all feels perfect. I admit I was hesitant when the project was first announced. Could they do they graphic novels justice? The first season felt a little uneven to me, but the show really hit its stride in season two, and it has completely won me over.

Even though I don’t  watch The Simpsons regularly anymore, I do try to tune in for each year’s Treehouse of Horror episode. Now going on their 30th installation of the anthology show, there are of course hits and misses, but its easier to forgive the misses when there are classics like the Simpsons’ take on “The Raven” and “The Shinning”. And even if some of the vignettes fall flat, even a bad Treehouse of Horror is worth watching.

Once again, this is just a small snapshot of worthwhile Halloween fare. What are your favorite horror and Halloween watches?

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Halloween Favorites: Short Fiction

Halloween is my favorite season, and yes, it is a full season and not just a single day. The cooler weather, the leaves rattling in the trees, all things pumpkin, and of course candy and costumes – what’s not to love? It’s also the perfect time of year to immerse oneself in seasonal fiction. In that spirit, every Friday in October, I’ll be posting some of my favorite reads and watches that never fail to put me in mind of Halloween, starting with short fiction.

Scary Stories to Tell in the DarkFirst beloved, best beloved, and always in my heart is the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series, three volumes of folklore gathered by Alvin Schwartz, from urban legends, to campfire ghost tales, to eerie poems and rhymes, and everything in-between. Of course, the definitive version of these collections are the ones illustrated by Stephen Gammell whose horrifying illustrations make the stories that much more unnerving. My first encounter with the books was being read one of the stories in a classroom by a teacher. I immediately sought out the full collection in the school library, and eventually purchased copies of my own, reading and re-reading until the covers were cracked and tattered. They make regular appearances on the most frequently banned books list, and probably with good cause, but that’s all the more reason to read them, no matter what your age.

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman – a classic tale of gas-lighting whose true horror lies in the treatment of the protagonist by her physician husband, but which doesn’t skimp on the haunting and unsettling imagery.

The Color Out of Space by H.P. Lovecraft – elder gods and unimaginable horrors from the deep are all well and good, but for my money, the creepiest of Lovecraft’s stories is this one about an unnatural color that slowly and steadily drains the life from the land and people around it.

October CountryIt’s impossible to pick just one Ray Bradbury story to recommend, so I’ll recommend a whole collection, The October Country, which perfectly encapsulates the notion that Halloween isn’t just one day, or even a season, it’s a whole damn country. It’s a state of mind, a turning of the leaves, and a creeping dark. So many of my favorites are gathered here: Skeleton, The Jar, The Small Assassin, Homecoming, but really, the whole collection is brilliant from beginning to end.

each thing i show you is a piece of my death by Gemma Files and Stephen Barringer – I’m a sucker for found footage and horror stories about film, and this is one of the best, the kind of story that sticks with you long after you put it down.

eyes i dare not meet in dreams by Sunny Moraine – dead girls climbing out of refrigerators, dead girls on train tracks, dead girls wanting everything and nothing and refusing to stay in their graves. This isn’t a traditional ghost story, but it is certainly haunting.

The Husband Stitch by Carmen Maria Machado – another story where the true horror lies in a husband’s treatment of his wife, but playing off the kind of urban legends gathered by Alvin Schwartz, and drawing on the very act of storytelling, complete with instructions to the reader on how to interact with their audience.

Really any collection edited by Ellen Datlow that tends toward the dark and the horrific is a sure bet for Halloween reading, and there are plenty to choose from: The Doll Collection, Nightmare Carnival, Hauntings, or any one of her Year’s Best Horror anthologies.

The stories above are just a small sampling of horrific tales, but they’re certainly a good place to start. What are your favorite short stories to read and re-read around Halloween?

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Mutt Strut: Thank You!

The 7th Annual Philadelphia Mutt Strut was a resounding success! Thank you to everyone who donated to my fundraising page. Our team made our goal, and judging by the number of people there, the event was a big success for PAWS.

Pippin had a delightful time meeting other dogs, participating in the talent contest, and learning to chase a lure. He made friends with my former co-worker’s beagle, and we even convinced him to wear a Halloween costume. You can’t tell from these pictures since the hood wouldn’t stay on his head, but he’s supposed to be a black cat. Putting the costume on him initially was something like what I imagine parents of small children go through with snowsuits in the winter time. First he wriggled, then he tried to bite me, then he gave up a went limp. Once the costume was actually on him though, he seemed kind of proud of himself, and now that’s he home, he doesn’t want to take it off. After all the excitement, costume included, I suspect he will sleep very well tonight.

MuttStrut1 MuttStrut2

Thank you again to everyone who helped my team raise funds for Philly’s largest no-kill animal shelter, and for giving me a good excuse to put a corgi in a kitty costume.

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All Hallows Read (Again)

I’ve been toying with the idea of organizing an All Hallow’s Read book exchange again this year. For those unfamiliar with the concept, I’ll let Neil Gaiman explain it. If you can’t be bothered to watch the video, I’ll boil it down for you: books!

I organized an All Hallow’s Read book swap a couple of years ago and it was a lot of fun. Basically the way it works (at least the way I do it) involves a circular system where person A sends a book to person B, B sends a book to C and so on through as many people are involved, until the circle is closed. Everyone gets a book and everyone sends a book. It’s lovely!

It doesn’t have to be a new book. It can be a much-loved book you want to pass along to someone else. It can be an ebook for those who are into those sorts of things. Heck, if you’re an author, it can be your own book. Despite the original “rules” of All Hallow’s Read, since not everyone is into horror, it doesn’t have to be a scary book; it can be any kind of book you want. As I said, basically, the idea is books!

So, who’s in? If you’re interested, drop me a note in the comments, or send me an email. It’ll be fun, I promise. Did I mention books?

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A Season for Witches

‘Tis the season. Not the one people usually associate with that phrase, though I’m sure stores will be shoving that down our throats soon enough. The season I speak of is the one for witches. The one for pumpkins, black cats, and Bradbury weather. The air is cooler; the clouds look different. Even the moon is brighter. It’s the Halloween season, and even though we’re more than a month away, and decorations are already up in the grocery and pharmacy aisles, I don’t mind. Maybe it’s because I love all things pumpkin – from pastries to beer – more than I like gingerbread. Or maybe it’s just because Halloween is my thing. My favorite banned book is a collection of ghost stories. I crave pumpkin seeds at odd times of the year. I think about Halloween costumes far more often than I think about Christmas presents. It’s what I do.

Halloween For all those reasons, I’m beyond thrilled to have a story in Halloween: Magic, Mystery, and the Macabre, which is appropriately enough available now, just in time for Halloween.

My story, For the Removal of Unwanted Guests is and is not based on a house in my neighborhood. The house, one street up from mine, has garnered the nickname of ‘The Witch House’ because it is a lovely, rambling thing with a pentagram shaped window. So I wrote a story about a house that should have a witch in it, which is and isn’t about that house, and I hope the occupants of said house, who may or may not be witches, will forgive me. Some stories, like some houses, should have a witch in them.

My story aside, the anthology is full of fantastic authors spinning seasonal tales of ghosts and witches and pumpkins and all things Halloween. Why wouldn’t you want a copy? If your book budget for the month is running low, you can enter to win a copy here.

The season is just beginning, but I’m already in the holiday mood. So tell me… What are your favorite ghost stories? What are you dressing up as this year? What are your favorite pumpkin-based recipes? What’s your favorite seasonal beer? How do you plan to celebrate Halloween?

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Happy Halloween

Two posts during the month of October still counts as sporadic posting related to Halloween, right? Let’s just reset and pretend I never promised to post about Halloween, or banned book week either. Instead of those things I said I would do, please enjoy this Poe Pumpkin. I’m pretty pleased with the way it turned out. In case you can’t tell from the picture, it’s a raven, and I scribbled lines from The Raven on it as well. It’s Halloween for literature geeks. Happy holidays!

PoePumpkin

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Welcome to the October Country

Christmas gets twelve days and an advent calendar, but where’s the love for Halloween? Why should St. Nick get all the pre-event buzz when Old Nick’s got a perfectly good holiday worthy of a countdown of its own? (And no, stores putting out their candy and plastic skeletons in July doesn’t count. Same goes for the Christmas trees that come out the second Halloween is over.)

In order to right this grievous wrong, throughout October I will sporadically make various Halloween-related posts in anticipation of the big day. After all, if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing in a half-assed way!

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