Halloween fast approaches, and that means that everyone’s tastes get, if only briefly, a bit more macabre. While I by no means restrict my enjoyment of the dark and the gloomy to this single month, I always welcome October with open arms, because for that all-too-brief period, the world as a whole joins me in my ghoulish revelry.
I love horror, even if I’m not particularly gifted at writing it. I’m something of a snob where it’s concerned, and draw a very clear line between the good and bad within the genre. Personally, I like horror that unsettles me, stories that cause me, afterwards, to move past a shadowy doorway just a bit faster, or take that glance behind me even when I know I’m alone.
Much of the horror that I like operates on a principle that Stephen King describes in his nonfiction book, Danse Macabre. King claims that the most terrifying image is the closed door, because the human imagination creates a thousand unspeakable horrors lurking just on the other side, most of which are more terrible than whatever is actually there. The best fear lies in not knowing, in the potential for, quite literally, any monstrosity imaginable, and good horror preys upon this, forcing its audience to wait in dread anticipation of what will happen next.
This idea of dread anticipation fits nicely into the origins of the holiday. The Druidic festival of Samhain (read: SAH-win) marked the start of the “dark” half of the calendar; that is, the period from late fall to early spring when greenery (and therefore food) was scarce. The festival was marked with eating, drinking, and dancing in the light of massive bonfires, a way of celebrating the end of another successful harvest season while simultaneously getting in a last hurrah, just in case winter proved fatal. It was also considered the time where the boundaries between the human and mystical realms were at their thinnest, hence why we associate October with ghosts and goblins. Thus the approaching dark marked by Samhain is both natural and supernatural, at once the oncoming cold of winter and the potential menace of the otherworldly, both the threat of the unquiet dead and the knowledge that nature might cause you to join their ranks.
If you want to observe the season, I have recommendations in droves. I’ve thrown together a Goodreads shelf of suggested readings, and dug out and updated the “horror movie curriculum” I made for a friend back in college. Browse them both, and feel free to suggest any additions to either.