31 October 2013

Happy Halloween!

by Brian Thornton

Or should that read, "Happy All Hallows Eve"?

Most everyone is familiar with the history of this holiday, an anachronistic throw-back to times when the dark of night was barely cut by the brightest of candles or bonfires. To a time when human beings were much more likely to run from a report of a goblin sighting than running to take pictures of it.

Let's face it, there's something visceral in us (and don't ask me to explain the biochemistry of it all here, because if you're waiting for that, you're in for a looooong wait!) that reacts strongly and positively to a good scare. Whether it's tied in with the notion of Thanatos, the so-called "death impulse," I can't say.

I just know that there is something enticing, enthralling, and horrifying about the supernatural. Modern science notwithstanding, we are only a few generations out of the cave, a blink of the eye in the life-span of a species.

As a result, logic provides no succor in the split second that something terrifying (like a zombie, ghoul, or even, for some folks, clowns) jumps out at us. What we're experiencing in that split second is something that ties us inexorably to those ancestors who made the first paintings on cave walls.

I'm opening up the comments section to ask the following three questions, in honor or All Hallows Eve:

1. What scares you? REALLY scares you?

2. Is there a favorite Halloween-themed book or movie you revisit every year?

3. What is the scariest "new" thing you've read or seen this year?

Here are my answers:

1. The Borg, from Star Trek. The notion of losing my individuality on that level is truly unsettling for me.

2. Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (movie) and The Night Stalker (book) by Jeff Rice (no relation to Anne Rice). This is the book upon which they based the Darren McGavin TV movies/series about Karl Kolchak.

3. "At the Mountains of Madness," by H.P. Lovecraft. Read it this week. My first time reading it. Lovecraft does a masterful job of taking what starts out as a rather mundane academic recounting of an expedition to Antarctica by scholar/explorers from the fictional Miskatonic University, and slowly ratcheting up the tension as layer after layer of the everyday is stripped away, until the climax, with the narrator and a colleague running pell-mell down an ancient, alien-built subterranean corridor with a shapeless, faceless prehistoric horror called a "Shoggoth" hot on their heels. Well worth a read, if you're not familiar with his work. (Especially today of all days!;) )

So how about it, dear readers. What are your three answers to my three questions?

Happy Halloween!


  1. 1. What really scares me is not death, but disappearance--the thought of losing a beloved child and never learning where he or she is or what happened.

    2. The scary books and movies of the past are almost funny when I watch them these days. Loved the original THE SHINING book & movie, but when I watch the movie these days, my grandson and I laugh at some scenes--especially "Here's Johnny," the furry scene, and even the elevator. This may be a case of familiarity breeding contempt.

    The book I revisit is HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE by Shirley Jackson.

    3. I read Stephen King's follow-up to THE SHINING this year. It's good, but to me, it doesn't equal the first book.

    My favorite new horror read this year---THE THIRTEENTH CHILD by David Dean. If you haven't read it, today's the day. There's even a Halloween scene.

  2. Two things scare me, one manmade and one natural. Beheading used to be safely long ago in history and tsunamis safely far away on a big planet, but both have reappeared in today's world. BTW, I gave the same answer once on a panel and totally freaked out my fellow panelists, including a couple of horror writers. And I hate being scared, so I have no answers for 2 and 3.

  3. 1. Burning - burned alive, by humans or volcanoes. It's always scared the crap out of me.
    2. My favorite scary story? "We Have Always Lived in the Castle" by Shirley Jackson. She's a master, isn't she? Oh, and "The Headless Horseman" by Washington Irving.
    (3) Ah, Lovecraft. Even Stephen King says he's the master. (I don't have anything new, because I don't read scary stories any more - as I age, I need to sleep nights.) But Lovecraft I know well. I had (almost) the complete works at one time and I gave some, including "At the Mountains of Madness," and "The Shadow out of Time" to a friend of mine who was HUGELY into scary books. He returned them two days later, pale, shaky, eyes wide open from not having slept in 48 hours, and said he never, ever, ever wanted them in his house again. I can understand. Read "The Whisperer in Darkness" and try to get some sleep...

  4. Happy Samhain! (pronounced sow-wen)

    I don’t need to read a horror book to get scared these days. All I have to do is watch the news.

    As for Lovecraft, I think I read most of his books years ago. After a while the stories all seemed the same to me, but they can give you the willies that’s for sure. Arthur Machen’s horror stories are worth noting here too. I have two old and worn copies of, “Horror and the Supernatural,” Volumes one and two by Arthur Machen. I haven’t checked on Amazon to see if they can still be purchased, but you might want to check them out if they do.

  5. 1. Oh, I’m easy to scare. I don’t even like a dark room at night. But, what really scares me, though, is that some dim-bulb might, one day, play a prank that I think is the real thing, and that I might wind up hurting somebody who isn’t a bad guy at all. That scares me pretty badly; I’ve got enough on my conscience.
    2. I love to watch John Carpenter’s The Thing. I think it’s the best horror movie in ages. But, I also like to pair it with a slightly campy film called Reanimator, a title you may recognize since you’re a Lovecraft fan.
    3. The latest, or “newest”, scary thing I’ve encountered, was the funny film Cabin in the Woods. That such horrific ends await two guys who are only trying to clear land near their new “vacation home” is pretty scary!

  6. I have an Oscar Levant-sized list of phobias! As for scary movies, i'll list "Tremors," which I hadn't thought of in years! I'm a huge Lovecraft fan and a recent favorite story invokes the pulp era as well as one of H.P.L.'s stories: "Capturing Jove Lunge," by Steve Berman. Another favorite is "The Everlasting Club," by Arthur Gray which you can read online.


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