**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.
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.
I’ve only hinted at it before, but you should know that I’m a Texas Girl, through and through. While I may not agree with everything my state has done, I love living here.
I’ve lived in Texas my whole life, having been born and raised in San Antonio before moving on to attend college in Austin and eventually settling in Houston. To me, “barbecue” means brisket and a “cookout” means the event where you eat barbecue. I say “y’all” and I don’t care if you think it’s cute or not. I’ll take Whataburger over any other fast food joint any day of the week. I think winter is two or three weeks in January where the temperature may dip below 40 degrees. There’s nothing I love more than a Texas thunderstorm. I love to go camping under the Texas night sky with plenty of food, beer, and ghost stories.
But of course you already know how much I love ghost stories. Especially Texas ghost stories.
It’s Christmas Eve, a few hours before midnight. Presents are wrapped. Stockings are hung. If you went to a Christmas Eve party, you’re probably home by now. Any children in the house are tucked snuggly into bed. Before you go off to bed yourself, you and your family might enjoy the fire as it slowly goes out. You might reminisce about past Christmases or tell stories about the meaning of each ornament on the tree. Or you could tell each other ghost stories. Christmas ghost stories.
It’s not as weird as you might think and, in fact, Christmas ghost stories are a time-honored tradition that has been somewhat forgotten as of late. The tradition started in Britain and quickly spread to the U.S. Every Christmas Eve, whole families gathered around the fire and scared each other silly with ghost stories.
Halloween is only a few days away! In case you aren’t yet in the spirit, or if you are and you want to add a bit more scary fun to these last few days, consider picking up one of these classic horror books!
There are a lot of scary stories out there, too many to read. However, if I have to recommend some good scary books, I’ll recommend the following eight classics of the genre. These books are essential reading for anyone even remotely interested in horror fiction because they are 1) thoughtfully written and well-crafted; 2) unsettling, creepy, and horrifying; and 3) insanely influential. Stephen King wouldn’t be famous at all if it weren’t for Mary Shelley, Shirley Jackson, and Robert W. Chambers.
Also, its worth noting that while you may “know” about these classics, if you haven’t read them, you’re missing out. So run to your nearest bookstore, library, or Amazon account and get yourself any one of these for a spooky read. If you’re pressed for time, you might like some of the short story collections, which are quick, morbid reads. Enjoy!
*Beware of some spoilers!*
Alcatraz. The Rock. The most infamous prison in America.
Ask anyone about it, and almost everyone will know exactly what you’re talking about. Even though Alcatraz only operated for twenty-nine years, its impact on the popular consciousness is legendary. It’s inspired many films, most notably the 1979 classic Escape from Alcatraz, starring Clint Eastwood, and the 1995 classic The Rock, starring Nicholas Cage.
It even had a TV show, Alcatraz, a few years ago (my personal favorite, due in no small part to the amazing Sam Neil).
Gone too soon.
The story of the prison looms large in our collective history, an archetypal prison made real. We’ve heard about the freezing, shark-infested waters surrounding the island. We’ve heard that the United States Prison System ran the prison with an iron fist. We’ve heard about the men who stayed there—Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and James Joseph “Whitey” Bulger, Jr., to name a few. We’ve heard that it was a “super prison,” an inescapable, impenetrable fortress. We’ve heard about the failed escape attempts, including the six men who broke out and were never seen again. Did they drown in the frigid, black waters? Or did they make it the Mexico after all?
And we’ve also heard that the prison is haunted.
Why do kids love being scared? Not just sneaking slasher films or scary movies, I’m talking about ghosts stories, urban legends, monster stories told in tight circles, bathed either in the glow of the TV or the campfire.
Tales of the boogeyman. Playing “Light as a Feather.” Communicating with the other side using a Ouija board. Gathering the courage to summon Bloody Mary in a dark, cramped bathroom.
I think kids feel the same attraction adults feel. Scary things make you excited, in the purest physiological meaning of the term.
You know what it feels like to watch a really, truly terrifying movie. Your heart rate increases, as does your blood pressure and your respiration rate. Your amygdala goes to work, flashing signals to your pituitary glands and adrenaline glands, which, depending on how intense the situation is, release adrenaline and cortisol.
It’s a rush, and people generally love the sensation.