Folks, sorry about the unusual lineup this week. Faith’s had an unavoidable complication, so we traded our days around. Hopefully we’ll all be back to normal soon.
It’s Halloween! When I was a kid, Halloween was on a par with Christmas in my estimation. One night a year, I was able to dress up as anything I wanted to be, leave the house after dark and demand candy from complete strangers…who HAD to cough it up! I remember my mother would help me create my costume (this was long before store-bought costumes – yes, I’m that old.) Sometimes I was a princess, sometimes a gypsy, and once I think I was a cat. It was always chilly, so Mama would insist I wear a sweater over my costume, despite my impassioned protests that princesses did not wear sweaters. My daddy would drive me and my best friend to a neighborhood corner, let us out of the car and tell us he’d be right there waiting. We’d go around the block, knocking and ringing bells and collecting candy, and gripping each other’s hands tightly as we moved through the shadows from house to house. Who knew what scary critters were hiding behind the hedges? Eventually we’d make it around the block and rejoin Daddy. He’d let us dump our plastic pumpkins full of candy into a paper grocery bag (one for each of us, and I’m sure he snuck the occasional piece of candy from my bag), then drive us to the next block to do it all again. I feel sad for kids these days who don’t get to experience Halloween the way we did. There’s something thrilling about being frightened when you know your daddy is waiting for you, and you’re safe. I’m much too old for trick-or-treating any more, so I have to search for those shivers in well-made scary movies and skillfully written horror novels. So today I thought I’d share some of my favorites, in case you need a hand getting into the spirit of the day.
In The Mouth of Madness is a terrifying descent into a Lovecraftian nightmare. John Trent, an insurance investigator, is asked to look into the disappearance of horror novelist Sutter Cane. At the beginning, Trent is sure it’s all a stunt to ramp up sales of Cane’s upcoming book, but when he finally locates Cane, he begins to realize that what Cane sold as fiction has become horribly real, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it from swallowing the entire world.
Poltergeist scared the bedoodles out of me when I first saw it, and even though that was more than 20 years ago, it still gives me the willies. The Freelings, an ordinary California family, discover that they’ve attracted a poltergeist when their youngest child, Carol Anne, disappears during a thunderstorm, her voice crying from the television broadcast for help. Especially scary moments are the haunted tree that attempts to swallow the middle child, followed by a murderous clown toy. Bad enough that it’s a toy that can move around on its own, but making it a clown, too?? That’s just extra mean.
Prince of Darkness is another John Carpenter scare-fest. A group of researchers go into an abandoned inner-city church to investigate a strange cylinder that seems to be filled with a green, glowing liquid. They study a text found with the cylinder, and decide the liquid is the embodiment of the AntiChrist, but when they try to leave the church, the team is trapped by possessed street people who have surrounded the building. The cylinder begins leaking small amounts of the green fluid, which possesses the team members and makes them attack the others. Add to that a recurring dream that may be the only help they’ll get…if it’s even help at all.
The Keep by F Paul Wilson is the first book in his exceptional Adversary Cycle. In 1941, in a strange castle in the remote Carpathian mountains, German soldiers are being brutally murdered. The only man who can do anything about it is an undying warrior whose destiny is directly tied to the creature trapped inside that castle, and if he kills it, his own life will be the price. This book is rich and atmospheric, and is just the beginning of a marvelously scary six book series.
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury definitely makes this list. I’ve always been a little wary of circuses (that’s where the evil clowns live, after all) but a circus that arrives in the night and a carousel that makes people younger or older depending on which way it turns are enough to give me the shivers. Besides, it’s Bradbury.
Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac…okay, don’t roll your eyes. Yes, this is a children’s book, and yes, it’s only about 100 pages, but they’re 100 of the scariest pages you’ll read. It’s based on the Mohawk folk tale of the old lazy uncle who burned his finger in the fire then sucked on it to cool the burn, and discovering that human meat was tasty, ended up eating himself up. When Molly comes home from school and finds her parents missing, she doesn’t know what to think. But when the social worker turns her over to a mysterious uncle she’s never met before, a tall skinny man with a hungry look in his eyes, Molly has to use her cleverness to save her parents and herself from the Skeleton Man.
If you’d like to share your favorite scary pleasures, drop them in the comments. I’ll be over here, with all the lights on and my back against the sofa.