**This post is a follow-up to my history of the séance post.**
Part of my enjoyment of horror the genre is how effective scary movies and stories are at suspending my disbelief. Without exposing me to actual threats, a good movie can horrify and terrify me. With just ink and paper, a good ghost story can momentarily convince me that poltergeists exist. It’s the best kind of make-believe. When the credits roll, when I close my book, I can go about my day changed. I’ve been made to confront something illogical and frightening and uncomfortable. And I’m better for it.
That is the kind of experience I expected when I attended a séance a few weeks back. I didn’t expect to really contact a ghost or commune with supernatural entities. But I did expect a good deal of drama and excitement and freaky shit. I was really looking forward to it. I thought I would be treated to a solid ninety minutes of impressively executed tricks and seamless transitions from ghost story to ghostly encounter. I thought I’d be scared, faced with some eerie phenomena I could not rationally explain.
But that is not what happened.
I’ve always thought the werewolf was a fascinating horror archetype. I’ve talked about vampires, zombies, witches, and serial killers, and how all of those horror archetypes address certain human fears. Usually, vampires address fears about becoming lost to our desires and lusts; zombies are about becoming lost to a brainless, teeming hoard; witches are about the fear of too-powerful feminine influence; and serial killers are about the inherent ability and capacity of man to commit violent, unjustifiable murder.
And while all of these monsters address fears relating to control and human identity, no other monster encapsulates our anxieties quite like a werewolf. It’s no secret that civilization is a precarious balancing act between repressing and acknowledging our base, animalistic impulses. Werewolves personify the tension between our rational, controlled selves and our savage inclinations. Regardless of whether or not a werewolf can control his transformation, the opportunity to become a dangerous, uncivilized brute is a siren song few characters can resist.
October is slowly coming to a close, and Halloween is almost here. Since I’ve been doing my Halloween Blogging Blitz, I’ve reflected a great deal on scary stories. Why do we tell them? Why do we listen to them?
I hope that, if you’ve been following any of my posts, that you’ve learned that so many horror films and books are art. And as art, they help us reflect upon reality: our prejudices, our fears, our secret desires. The right ghost story has much to teach us.
Nothing says Halloween quite like a slasher film. A good, old-fashioned slasher will terrify you in the theater and keep you on edge for days later. If you’re anything like me, a good slasher will make you jump and screech and check the locks on your windows for days afterwards. You’ll tell yourself, this is stupid, that movie was stupid, and–HOLY CRAP WHAT WAS THAT SOUND?!?!
Because while slashers may be campy, cheesy, and perhaps a little dumb, they’re effective. We are simultaneously repulsed and drawn to this movies that are usually light on plot and heavy on violence.
Halloween isn’t solely about horror movies–Halloween is also great for disturbing short story or two. Or ten.
Personally, I don’t always have time to read the latest horror novel or unearth a classic gothic ghost story. So I settle for a shorter but no less unnerving story. For me, a good creepy short story is like a deliciously morbid morsel. For others, a short horror story is an easy way to step out of one’s comfort zone.
There are countless horror short stories, and I sure haven’t read them all. However, I did compile a list of ten of my absolute favorites, along with links for you to read them right now!
The witch is one of the oldest villains in human civilization. Every culture has the concept of a human being, usually a woman, who has violated the laws of nature and society to gain immense power.
Her transgressions vary from culture to culture and religion to religion. In the western world, the witch has usually received her powers by signing over her soul to the Devil himself. Other times she has used some ancient, forbidden ritual to thwart God and order. Either way, the witch in a horror film is a dangerous woman. If you cross her, you will incur her horrific wrath. If you have something she wants, she will take it. Wither her cunning and mastery of black magic, the witch will gain dominion over your body and thoughts. They will force you to do unimaginable things.
That’s the legend, at least.
I always have a hard time watching many serial killer movies if for no other reason than serial killers exist, and the crimes depicted onscreen could and sometimes do happen to real people. In serial killer movies in particular, much of the violence is directed towards women, which makes my viewing experience more difficult.
But I find such films can be worthwhile despite their grotesque, depressing subject matter. In our culture, we have a fascination with serial killers. They do not kill for reasons society considers “justifiable.” They seem to do the unthinkable, killing for pure personal gain, for profit, or to fulfill some twisted sense of morality. It seems to go against all human decency to kill so needlessly and frequently.
Our fascination expresses itself with many questions—how does the killer select his victims? Why those victims? How does he kill them? How long has he been doing this? How has he never been caught? Yet those questions come secondary to the ten-million-dollar question:
Why does he kill?
One of my favorite parts of the Halloween season are the TV specials.
As I’ve written about before, Halloween allows us to pretend to be someone you’re not for a little while. And Halloween allows our culture to engage in some some macabre activity that we don’t usually acknowledge. Death and violence are part of life, but Halloween helps us confront those unpleasant topics in a safe and fun way.
The Halloween TV special is part of that. Every show from The Simpsons to Mad Men has had Halloween episodes. For a short time, we get to watch our favorite characters explore secret sides of themselves, become monsters, run from zombies, and attend some of the craziest parties you’ve seen. It’s fun, it’s a little scary, and it’s an integral part of Halloween.
I’ve listed my favorite Halloween TV specials here. They range from silly to heartwarming to straight gross (looking at you, Community), but they’re all tons of fun, infusing Halloween scares into your favorite weekly shows.
Ah, the vampire. My favorite supernatural creature.
Vampires are cunning, sensual, and merciless. Vampires are effortlessly cool, fashionable, and glamorous. If I had to be any evil creature, I’d be a vampire, hands down, and I’d want my wardrobe to be stocked exclusively by Saint Laurent, à la Catherine Deneuve in The Hunger.
I’ve always been transfixed by how slick vampires are. They can go unnoticed inhuman society, benefiting from social mores when it serves and then stepping outside the bounds of human decency whenever they want. He (or she) embodies seduction and the willing surrender of control. They are more powerful than human beings, both in strength and intelligence, which is an essential characteristic. A werewolf or zombie is seen as a devolution of humanity, a descent into animal savagery or blank mindlessness. But a vampire is, for the most part, smarter than human beings. Like demons, they are dangerous not because of the threat of physical pain but because they can convince you to be the worst, coolest version of yourself.
Everybody loves a good monster movie. It’s thrilling to watch an abominable creature stalk and hunt unsuspecting people. It’s exciting to watch the unsuspecting people run and hide and eventually figure out a way to defeat the monster. And sometimes it’s even more fun when the monster isn’t defeated (at least you know you’ll get a sequel).
I’ve talked a little bit about how, in addition to entertaining us, horror mirrors our fears through various horror tropes and stock characters. It’s my hypothesis that certain horror villains and boogeymen represent specific human fears. While vampires, werewolves, and zombies could also be considered monsters, the important distinction those creatures used to be human and often retain a bit of their humanity. Monsters like the xenomorph in Alien or the shark from Jaws are beasts; they are scary because of their inhuman nature. We humans may think we’re the masters of our domain and that the natural world is ours for the taking, but it’s all an illusion. We know that deep down. Monsters represent a world that has broken free of human control.