I hate the holidays that are destroyed by the commercial industry, that suck the essence of what a holiday is supposed to be about. Halloween is somewhat immune to that, because of the creativity that goes into making people scared. People transform into whatever they can imagine: sexy vampire, superhero, or scary looking monster. To find the scariest Halloween story, I went to talk to Michal Hughes, English lecturer at IUPUI, who teaches courses in comics, fantasy, and science fiction.Hughes: If you want to go into the really scary, weird stuff, go into H. P. Lovecraft. His famous quote is, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” Any time you take the reader’s prime, mortal fear, you cause people to shudder and freak out. [Lovecraft] creates atmosphere, where we are in a place that we don’t belong. In his book At the Mountains of Madness, people are exploring Antarctica, and find ancient fossilized creatures which would inspire the creation of 1981 movie Alien. This scenario could be played out in your home state. There is something terrifying, being in a spot with something not human, and you are the last survivor.
Joe: What about the monsters that there are, like Dracula, zombies, witches, and etc.?
Hughes: In the 1990’s, Professor J.J. Cohen wrote essays on how monsters represent our fears in disguise. The Body Snatchers by Jack Finley, in which aliens represent fear of Soviet Union agents. [In the] movie, Shaun of the Dead, you have zombies walking to the beat of some music.
Joe: How about we focus on probably the first popular cinematic monster, Dracula?
Hughes: When Dracula was published in 1887, he represented the fear of Eastern Europeans come over to England. Dracula has a long track record in popular imagination forever, because of abilities like morphing himself into a bat and hypnotize you with his eyes. In 1931 movie, Dracula was able to make Renfield eat bugs, and sexually seduces Mina.
Joe: Let us turn to a classic monster who is least sexual: Frankenstein.
Hughes: In Mary Shelly’s novel, Victor Frankenstein isn’t a doctor; he is a med student, and is trying to reanimate a corpse. He thinks “My god what have I done,” and he rejects the Creature. [The] Creature helps out farmers, gets rejected; that is what the entire story is about. The Creature goes to Victor, saying “I need a companion,” and Victor wouldn’t do it. So the Creature goes off on a rampage because he’s alone in the world.
Joe: Any other classic monster you want to talk about?
Hughes: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert L. Stevenson. If you read the story, it is similar to Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. (Spoiler Alert!) [In Fight Club], the narrator teams up with crazy man Tyler Durden, to form a fight club, and Durden becomes more dangerous as story goes on. Big twist is the sweet narrator has a split personality of being Durden.
Joe: Do you have any recommendations for [the] Halloween season?
Hughes: For books, read:
- Dracula – Bram Stoker
- The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova
- Song of Kali – Dan Simmons (That book will send [readers] into fear.)
- The Stand – Stephen King (And many of his other books.)
- Clive Barker will scare the crap right out of you.
- The Lottery and The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson (She really shaped the way we look at haunted houses.)
- The Veldt – Ray Bradbury
- Blood Child – Octavia Butler
- The Yellow Wallpaper – Charlotte Perkin Gilman
- American Horror Story on FX (Each season plays with a horror trope.)
- Stranger Things – Netflix (Has a bit of a Twilight Zone vibe.)
- Black Mirror – Netflix (See #2, above.)
- True Detective – HBO (Fans of weird lit will probably enjoy season one of this.)
- Alien – Ridley Scott
- Thirteen Ghosts – Steve Beck
- Fido – Andrew Currie
For a classic, try Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. I like the novel more, but both are beautifully frightful.
Featured image courtesy of Francesco Francavilla.