Halloween is just Christmas for the socially maladjusted, so naturally it’s my favourite holiday. Every year, for the entire month of October, I put a moratorium on any non-horror media. If it doesn’t include at least one ghost, ghoul or goblin, I don’t want to hear about it.
Superhero films? Only if that superhero’s power is murder. Strictly Come Dancing? Only if they replaced all the judges with spiders this year. For 31 days of the year, I confine myself to a strict diet of corpses, Cthulhu and candy (my GP and I are not on speaking terms at the moment). I look forward to it more than most birthdays and religious festivals.
This year’s been a little different, though. The whole month has felt a little off. Despite my best efforts, binging old Are You Afraid of the Dark? episodes and watching every Nightmare On Elm Street movie with director’s commentary turned on, I’ve found it pretty difficult to get into the Halloween spirit.
I’m not sure what it is. Maybe I’m just at that age where real-world responsibilities begin to eclipse the frivolities of childhood. Maybe I’m just desensitised to horror after a lifetime of scary movies. Maybe it’s the constant, looming threat of nuclear war coupled with the steady rise of fascism in the Western world. It’s probably that last one.
I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but I really do mean it: the news has become so much scarier than any movie. Do you know how hard it is to take Annabelle seriously when the guy who owns one of the world’s most ubiquitous communication platforms is tweeting out far-right conspiracy theories? Annabelle is a doll. One hard kick and she’s done for. You can’t kick “the hastened demise of reasoned, informed debate”; you can’t even hide from it in a closet.
It is nigh on impossible to indulge in the tension of Jason Voorhees stalking a group of 28-year-old teens through a summer camp, when you’re also dealing with the very real tension that comes with knowing that you could be vaporised at any second. Did you know that a few days ago, Vladimir Putin smiled when he was asked if he would be “sending everyone to heaven”?
Did you know that if nuclear war broke out, you’d probably be a shadow on the concrete before you even knew what was happening? And if you were one of the unlucky few to survive, you’d exist in constant agony until you starved to death or were consumed by about six different types of cancer in a world where all art, culture and even human history had functionally ceased to exist. Look out though guys: Jason has a big knife.
I used to joke that it made no sense for the people in ghosts movies like The Conjuring to be scared, since by encountering malevolent spirits they would also encountering proof of an afterlife, meaning that death no longer carried the same level of threat that it once did. If anything, you should want a vengeful revenant to chase you up the stairs in the dark; if you survived, you’d probably win a Nobel Prize for proving God exists.
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That isn’t the world we live in though, is it? No, the only hostile, invisible threat we have to face is Covid, which is effectively being able to run roughshod through the population despite clear evidence that it often has lasting effects that can massively impact your quality of life. Pennywise might have made me scared of clowns as a kid, but he isn’t the reason I suddenly have to use an inhaler for the first time in my 30s.
Here’s the thing about horror: it’s only fun when you can disengage at some point, and return to a world that is markedly better than the one you’re seeing on screen. At this point it’s the other way around for me; horror movies have turned into a quaint form of escapism. Hereditary was the scariest movie of 2018, sure, but did you see how big that house was? I’d deal with a million nude cultists if it meant I got on the housing ladder some time before I retired.
Those Midsommar guys might have skinned and immolated a few people, sure, but there was a real sense of community there that you just don’t see nowadays.
I’m going to power through as well as I can, and try to enjoy the last few hours of the spooky season as much as possible. I’ll paint my face, and butcher a pumpkin, and try to put aside my anxieties for long enough to have a little fun this evening. But the looming horrors of Halloween just aren’t going to feel the same until we’ve dealt with the looming horrors of real life.