October is coming! October is coming!

Every October 1st I turn into a big weirdo. Well… more so. 

Summer has its charms and there’s a certain magic in those long days and slow-arriving nights, afternoons by the water, concerts on the green, the flicker of heat lightning, the sparkle of fireflies… but screw summer, it’s over, stick a fork in it because tomorrow is October! (Dances spastically.) I love the fall, always have, always will. I grew up in Connecticut and though I’ve weathered seven years in Los Angeles I’ll always be a Swamp Yankee at heart. I love the sensations of Autumn, the arrival of coolth and crispidy after months oppressive heat and intrusive sunshine… the downward spiral of maple leaves from the tree tops, the wind in the willows, the shadow over Innsmouth, the silence of the lambs, the howling in the woods, I love every damned thing about this glorious but all-too-short season! I won’t bore you with the origins of my favorite holiday, Halloween, but it is of course tied at its core to the change of seasons, to the harvest, and to primal fears of the shortening of the days, of darkness, of perceived demons and the monstrous personification of our doubts about the future. As with any old timey holiday, Halloween is a corruption, a compromise, an amalgam of ye olde dread and Hollywood horror, with trick-or-treating the happy relic of Thanksgiving begging and penny-for-the-Guying. But I love the corruption, the compromise. I love all the shades of Halloween, from the ticky-tack gee-gaws on the shelves at CVS and Rite Aid to the widespread enjoyment of classical music (Camille Saint-Saëns ‘ Danse Macabre, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Toccata and Fugue), literature (Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, Bram Stoker’s Dracula), creaky old spookshows (THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, VAMPYR, THE OLD DARK HOUSE, MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE, THE BLACK CAT, MAD LOVE) and freaky old black-and-white cartoons…

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=zoX_2DK1pTk]

I was born in 1961, post-PSYCHO (1960) but pre-NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), game-changers both. My earliest education was in the Gothic horrors of DARK SHADOWS and the canons of Universal and Hammer Studios. As a boy, I walked alone along country roads to see DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968), FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969) and TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1969) first-run and to catch re-releases of DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1965) and FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN (1967). My parents didn’t ask for a MonsterKid but when they realized they had one, they chipped in, providing me with an allowance so I could afford monthly issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland, leaving editions of Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley under the Christmas tree, scaring me up an adult chaperone for an evening screening of LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (1971) and dropping me off at the local tech school for an afternoon exhibition of HOUSE OF USHER (1960). Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I put in my time with the taboo-shattering likes of THE EXORCIST (1973) and THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974) and paid my dues as a horror lifer with the hell of ill-advised but profitable fright franchise sequels: PSYCHO II (1983), PSYCHO III (1986), TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986), LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE III (1990) and assorted FRIDAY THE 13THs and NIGHTMAREs ON ELM STREET. I still try to keep current and see all the new PARANORMAL ACTIVITYs and DESCENTs but I bailed after SAW III (2006). I believe horror should be transgressive and upsetting, yes, but I get tired of the old rusty-medical-instruments-on-the-nonsterile-tray-while-the-naked-chick-screams gambit. More and more I’m drawn, as I draw closer to my own autumn years, to the old stuff. To glorious antiquity. To fuzzy monaural soundtracks. To theatrical-style acting. To black and white.

Or sepia. Sepia works for me, too, and all that tinting business from the silent cinema. I love the monochrome and the dominance of shadows. I will be forever resentful that nighttime isn’t really blue. There is such mystery and magic encoded in these frames and the more I read about Hollywood or even Germany between the first and second world wars the more modern, the more contemporary silent horror films seem to me. I guess that’s because I understand what was going on and why supernatural and grotesque themes became the vogue after World War I. It’s exciting to go back to Roland West’s THE MONSTER (1925), Rupert Julian’s THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925), Rex Ingram’s THE MAGICIAN (1926) and Paul Leni’s THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1927) to see the first seedy tendrils of the American horror film breaking through the cultural topsoil. Part of my dilemma is that I’ve gotten too close to contemporary horror filmmaking. I’ve been a critic of it for over ten years now, I’ve written it, and I’ve come to know a legion of other horror screenwriters and filmmakers, too many of whom are trying to show off, to cudgel with the gross weight of their cheap cynicism, to shoehorn their way into the genre rather than giving back to it, enriching it. Horror has become thuggish and anal expulsive rather than reflective and evocative. And I’m not demonizing gore, mind you… gore has its uses. There’s nothing like a smart horror film that uses the laying open of mankind’s tender corporeality as a metaphor for secrets and hidden desires being forced out into the open but as with any gag or device it just gets old. And not good old, either. I guess the thing I’m missing is the charm. Where’s the charm, the moments of strange beauty, the ambiguity, the mystery?

Well, anyway. To each his, her, or its own. Halloween can accommodate a wealth of differing tastes and aesthetics. If you thrill to slice and dice, cut loose! If it’s goo and spew that you’re into, rock on! But if you are, like me, enamored of old school spookery, then bring on the freaky flickers. I know from experience that this October, the most blessed month on the Roman calendar, is going to go fast. Some of my fellow Morlocks are going to focus exclusively on horror films through the next four weeks and the Morlocks as a body (mummified, natch) will offer a horror blog-a-thon starting on October 25th and lasting through to the big day itself. For my part, I’m going to get the HorrorDads back together for a roundtable of recommended Samhain viewing and I will also point you to some other blogs of note whose shock-in-trade will enhance your Halloween experience. You dig?

18 Responses October is coming! October is coming!
Posted By Tom S : September 30, 2011 7:24 am

Oh, man, that lead picture is from the craziest, most awesome part of the generally pretty crazy (and awesome) Mad Love. I seriously cannot recommend that movie high enough, I’m not even huge on that era of horror and it’s an absolute favorite.

Posted By Tom S : September 30, 2011 7:24 am

Oh, man, that lead picture is from the craziest, most awesome part of the generally pretty crazy (and awesome) Mad Love. I seriously cannot recommend that movie high enough, I’m not even huge on that era of horror and it’s an absolute favorite.

Posted By tdraicer : September 30, 2011 11:29 am

October is my favorite month as well, for all the reasons you state. And I’m a big fan of classic horror, especially the Universal monsters, but also the sci-fi horror of the 50s (Them, The Thing, even Attack of the Crab Monsters which I view as a minor gem), Cormen’s Poe/Lovecraft films, and most of Hammer. There is also a great deal of “old school” horror from tv (shows like Thriller or the Outer Limits of course, but also more recent offerings such as the BBC’s Jekyll with James Nesbitt or the episode Hush from Buffy).

Which is all to say, I look forward to the October posts!

Posted By tdraicer : September 30, 2011 11:29 am

October is my favorite month as well, for all the reasons you state. And I’m a big fan of classic horror, especially the Universal monsters, but also the sci-fi horror of the 50s (Them, The Thing, even Attack of the Crab Monsters which I view as a minor gem), Cormen’s Poe/Lovecraft films, and most of Hammer. There is also a great deal of “old school” horror from tv (shows like Thriller or the Outer Limits of course, but also more recent offerings such as the BBC’s Jekyll with James Nesbitt or the episode Hush from Buffy).

Which is all to say, I look forward to the October posts!

Posted By Mike C : September 30, 2011 1:26 pm

Yes! I love October, I love the approach to Halloween (maybe even more than the night itself) and I love the older horror films. My wife and I have an annual ritual of attempting to watch a horror film every day in October. I don’t think we’ve ever missed more than a single day. But, while she is a great fan of horror, I don’t think she has quite the same appreciation or fondness as I do for horror films prior to the 1980s. We’re a bit younger so a lot of her love comes from youthful nostalgia.

We also live in Connecticut, deep in the woods. Having moved here six years ago from the southeast, I can certainly attest to how fantastic it is – the cool, crisp breezes, the eeriness of the fallen leaves blowing across winding country roads, strange sounds coming from who-knows-where, the shadowy evenings and the pitch black nights. I swear it’s almost as if there is a slight electric current in the air during October. It’s perfect for curling up in front of an old horror flick with someone to cling to.

Posted By Mike C : September 30, 2011 1:26 pm

Yes! I love October, I love the approach to Halloween (maybe even more than the night itself) and I love the older horror films. My wife and I have an annual ritual of attempting to watch a horror film every day in October. I don’t think we’ve ever missed more than a single day. But, while she is a great fan of horror, I don’t think she has quite the same appreciation or fondness as I do for horror films prior to the 1980s. We’re a bit younger so a lot of her love comes from youthful nostalgia.

We also live in Connecticut, deep in the woods. Having moved here six years ago from the southeast, I can certainly attest to how fantastic it is – the cool, crisp breezes, the eeriness of the fallen leaves blowing across winding country roads, strange sounds coming from who-knows-where, the shadowy evenings and the pitch black nights. I swear it’s almost as if there is a slight electric current in the air during October. It’s perfect for curling up in front of an old horror flick with someone to cling to.

Posted By dukeroberts : September 30, 2011 1:39 pm

“First of all, it was October. A rare month for boys.” And don’t we know it. I love October as well. The weather reaches its closest stage to perfection. And the older I get I tend to like the older, darker, horror movies as well. Nothing is as creepy as Nosferatu. There is something about that movie in black and white that seems more real to me than most other horror movies.

While I am not crazy about horror movies as a genre, per se, I do appreciate the occasional gem. Most horror movies these days are pointless orgasms of blood, body parts and noise. And they’re oh so grimy to boot. There is the occasional horror movie that has an interesting story and is not overloaded with pointless gore and is not “Been there, done that” repetitious.

Posted By dukeroberts : September 30, 2011 1:39 pm

“First of all, it was October. A rare month for boys.” And don’t we know it. I love October as well. The weather reaches its closest stage to perfection. And the older I get I tend to like the older, darker, horror movies as well. Nothing is as creepy as Nosferatu. There is something about that movie in black and white that seems more real to me than most other horror movies.

While I am not crazy about horror movies as a genre, per se, I do appreciate the occasional gem. Most horror movies these days are pointless orgasms of blood, body parts and noise. And they’re oh so grimy to boot. There is the occasional horror movie that has an interesting story and is not overloaded with pointless gore and is not “Been there, done that” repetitious.

Posted By John Maddox Roberts : September 30, 2011 3:26 pm

Maybe the creepiest thing about the MAD LOVE pic is knowing that, when it was made, there were a lot of people walking around in Europe looking much like that – WWI vets hideously disfigured by wounds. Reconstructive surgery and prostheses were in their infancy in those days.

Posted By John Maddox Roberts : September 30, 2011 3:26 pm

Maybe the creepiest thing about the MAD LOVE pic is knowing that, when it was made, there were a lot of people walking around in Europe looking much like that – WWI vets hideously disfigured by wounds. Reconstructive surgery and prostheses were in their infancy in those days.

Posted By muriel : September 30, 2011 7:28 pm

I too love old B/W horror movies, especially from the 30′s and 40′s. Anything after 1960, not so much. Except for the original “Night of the Living Dead” and “The Innocents”. (Which isn’t really a horror film, but a scary psychological story… or is it really a ghost story….?) Anyway ,it has plenty of goose bumps.

Posted By muriel : September 30, 2011 7:28 pm

I too love old B/W horror movies, especially from the 30′s and 40′s. Anything after 1960, not so much. Except for the original “Night of the Living Dead” and “The Innocents”. (Which isn’t really a horror film, but a scary psychological story… or is it really a ghost story….?) Anyway ,it has plenty of goose bumps.

Posted By Jenni : September 30, 2011 9:45 pm

I recently viewed THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI on TCM, it was one of the silent films shown in early September. It was an eerie flick, but a lot of that was due to the set design, German Expressionism, I think it’s called? I wasn’t expecting the twist ending. Is that the first time a “twist” ending was used in a movie? Wondering… I also think Nosferatu is creepy, but my kids don’t so much, due to his image being used in a SpongeBob cartoon. It sort of mellowed old Nosferatu. I did enjoy SHADOW OF A VAMPIRE, with Willem Dafoe as the actor Max Schrek, who portrayed Nosferatu and John Malkovich as the movie director F.W. Murnau. I would put that up as a horror movie made in our modern times that isn’t a slasher flick, which I usually avoid. I don’t want to see the gore, and the plots are usually pretty lame.

Posted By Jenni : September 30, 2011 9:45 pm

I recently viewed THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI on TCM, it was one of the silent films shown in early September. It was an eerie flick, but a lot of that was due to the set design, German Expressionism, I think it’s called? I wasn’t expecting the twist ending. Is that the first time a “twist” ending was used in a movie? Wondering… I also think Nosferatu is creepy, but my kids don’t so much, due to his image being used in a SpongeBob cartoon. It sort of mellowed old Nosferatu. I did enjoy SHADOW OF A VAMPIRE, with Willem Dafoe as the actor Max Schrek, who portrayed Nosferatu and John Malkovich as the movie director F.W. Murnau. I would put that up as a horror movie made in our modern times that isn’t a slasher flick, which I usually avoid. I don’t want to see the gore, and the plots are usually pretty lame.

Posted By David Del Valle : September 30, 2011 9:55 pm

I always think of Ray Bradbury during this time of year as well as all of the above… Richard….Ray put a face on the month as well as atmosphere on Halloween…it is October country and we are all his children….I plan to watch as many of my favorites as possible….I was gifted a set of the complete TWIN PEAKS as well so I may add that to the mix as well….Happy Halloween!

Posted By David Del Valle : September 30, 2011 9:55 pm

I always think of Ray Bradbury during this time of year as well as all of the above… Richard….Ray put a face on the month as well as atmosphere on Halloween…it is October country and we are all his children….I plan to watch as many of my favorites as possible….I was gifted a set of the complete TWIN PEAKS as well so I may add that to the mix as well….Happy Halloween!

Posted By cdthomas : October 7, 2011 3:57 pm

Yes, yes, yes — horror is as much about the triumphs of civilization as it is about decay. Of ancient opulence, wistfulness, standards, worship.

Just making it into a giant field hospital staffed by the callous only makes it post-modern — after war, famine, scarcity have had their say and impacts.

Posted By cdthomas : October 7, 2011 3:57 pm

Yes, yes, yes — horror is as much about the triumphs of civilization as it is about decay. Of ancient opulence, wistfulness, standards, worship.

Just making it into a giant field hospital staffed by the callous only makes it post-modern — after war, famine, scarcity have had their say and impacts.

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