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Pumpkin-Free Zone: Hallowe'en Horrors

Christopher Fowler
Hallowe'en was possibly observed around the world, possibly for centuries, possibly not. Unlike other ceremonial events it has no confirmed pedigree, so all bets are off. In the same way that America successfully monetised Christmas in the 20th century it did the same with Hallowe'en, colour-coding it and providing a specific number of purchasable requirements. In the 80s I took a picture of a Hallowe'en shop in New Orleans that bore a sign reading; 'Yes! We have warts!' Now we also have fireworks, as Guy Fawkes' Night becomes blurred with Hallowe'en, which I suppose may eventually encompass parts of Diwali too. Guy Fawkes is the loser here (Catholic martyrs burning to death don't sell well in Tesco), but one thing we've taken on board is the illustrator David Lloyd's mask from 'V for Vendetta', which he remembers from his childhood - as do I. Pressed from cheap cardboard, this one design was ubiquitous. The wonderfully quirky TV channel Talking Pictures includes in its current schedule; Peril for the Guy (1956) stars Frazer Hines, Christopher Warbey & Amanda Coxall. In the run up to November the 5th, kids collecting coins for their living Guy foil a dastardly plot. Living Guy? Yikes! What also doesn't change is the critics' Hallowe'en movie choice, which is usually a piece of lazy, predictable clickbait rolling from 'Frankenstein' to 'Scream 4'. They haven't noticed that there's a huge difference between gore and horror. The creepiest films lodge under the skin and can't be scratched away, but there's also a difference between Hallowe'en horror (lightweight, populist) and genuinely transgressive horror. We all know what's on the former list. Here are a few you might find rarer and more challenging: The Skeleton Key How did the old families in the Deep South keep their servants? The answer goes deep into the antebellum way of life in this smart creeper, which explores racism, power and imprisonment in a supernatural way that had not occurred to me. Frightening and thought-provoking, it gets there years before Get Out made the same point. The Sadness A shocker from Taiwan recently made a friend mine physically ill. I'm a sucker for a good SEA zombie flick so I dared myself to give it a go. Unusually for a gut-muncher a certain amount of cerebral thought has gone into this. Covid has continued to mutate and survives by making sure the darker human traits win out as the virus exploits our cruellest instincts. Away goes the more socialist element of disease ie. attacking all equally, and it becomes distinctly MAGA-mad. The first assault involving a deep fat fryer so shocked me that I had to leave the room. Many effects are in-camera and far too real. Balancing this are calm lacunae where commuters appear normal - but wait, is that train pest just being annoying or is he ill? As all hell breaks loose you really can't decide who to have faith in, which is probably the film's cruellest blow. Well, that and the umbrella through the eyeball. Zalava (Devil In A Jar) Zalava is a region but I'd retitle the film Devil In A Jar because it needs a helping hand.  Superstitious villagers in Kurdistan drive a woman to her death and insist they have captured a terrifying demon. They've trapped it inside a big pickling jar, but it's just an empty jar - isn't it? The sceptical local sheriff believes so and so do we, the audience. Bah, superstition! You can't admit to seeing things which aren't there, can you? By the end of this eerie but violence-free film I was yelling 'For God's sake don't unscrew the lid!' at the screen. Any film that can grant you belief in the unbelievable without any proof wins points from this reviewer. Men Less obscure, Alex Garland's take on toxic chauvinism is a bit of a finger-wagging lecture in places, but sustains its power despite the loopy premise and bad wigs. The superb Jessie Buckley takes a healing trip to the countryside (richly green and wringing wet), to recover from her husband’s blame-filled suicide. Instead she becomes lost in a folk-horror scenario in which all the men in the village (and even a child) are superbly played by Rory Kinnear with the same face. From the Hail-Fellow-Well-Met landlord to the handsy local priest who blames her for her spouse’s death, they appear to represent the seven ages of man’s attitudes to women. The third act goes overboard, but even so the conclusion is clearly not heartening; an unbroken chain of c ruelty and violence will never cease but will be reborn to each new generation of males. Good jump-scares involving light and dark, too. This is why I fear the countryside. Now I'm waiting for The Kingdom III, The Menu and anything by Ben Wheatley. These days my tastes are mellowing, and I'm turning into a grandpa who complains that television is too violent - but it often is because it provides a lazy catharsis, rather like books and films that summon images of concentration camps without having earned the right to do so.

Comments

Jamie Smith (not verified) Mon, 31/10/2022 - 23:28

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

St Maud. Simples.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Tue, 01/11/2022 - 00:00

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Zalava sounds good. I like terror without gore.
On the basis of everyone having a right to their own culture, don't lose Guy Fox.
Our German teacher gave us Rilke on Autumn, Faust, and the Mexican Day(s) of the Dead because she lived there for 50 years. It was an interesting lesson.

Ian Mason (not verified) Tue, 01/11/2022 - 00:35

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Over here in the eastern reaches of the capital Diwali has completely overtaken Guy Fawkes in sheer quantities of ordnance fired. Last week was like living on an MoD artillery range, next weekend will be very quiet by comparison.

@Jo W (from a few days back) - Me and 'er indoors are both keeping well, fit and as mad as a collection of Ms Armitage's missives.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Tue, 01/11/2022 - 04:44

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

We had 6 kiddies at the door so I have a huge store of candy to dispose of. Vancouver has banned all fireworks and the fire dep't are out policing(?) the neighbourhoods while I think the explosives enthusiasts have all come to Burnaby because, as Ian Mason says, it's like being on an MoD artillery range. I assume all the fireworks we heard last week were Diwali based.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Tue, 01/11/2022 - 04:47

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

And, yes, I did discover my error in Guy Fawkes' name. I've had trouble ever since the phoenix in Harry Potter. I get to read The Hallowe'en Tree tomorrow. It's sitting in my 'holds' spot.

Jo W (not verified) Tue, 01/11/2022 - 10:54

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

@ Ian Mason,
“ mad as a collection of Ms Armitage’s missives” Now that would be a treasury and a half! Something to dip into when the darkness gathers, a little like it’s doing this morning. Goodness only knows how the dundee cake will turn out. I don’t like having to work in artificial light during daytime.

Hallowe’en wasn’t too bad around here last evening, high winds and lashing rain kept them at bay. Still, we had locked up, put up the blackouts and hunkered down by a low light. The weekend was a bit mad though. We wonder, if everyone is as hard up as is reported, where the heck the money for all the back garden displays is coming from?

Sorry Chris, we’re chatting among ourselves here. Not ignoring you, just giving you a little more time to rest. Love to you both X

Bob Low (not verified) Tue, 01/11/2022 - 11:41

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

For anybody interested in unusual but effective horror films from around the world, I'd definitely recommend a 2016 Korean film called "The Wailing". At over two and a half hours, it's unusually long for a horror film, and tonally uneven at times but it's fascinating - it features a lengthy Shamanist exorcism - and has a such an atmosphere of mounting dread that I found it was making me almost physically uncomfortable towards the end. It's largely gore free, as well.

Brooke (not verified) Tue, 01/11/2022 - 13:12

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

This year my city is extremely pumpkin free. First, our baseball team made it to the "World" Series; so loyal citizens and children doing what we do best--watch TV, eat and drink. Second, it rained, postponing the game and spreading atmosphere of suspension. Finally, activity preceding next week's election offers enough horrors to satisfy even the most ghoulish. "Men" would be an appropriate title as there are no female candidates and the hot issue is reproductive rights.

snowy (not verified) Tue, 01/11/2022 - 13:35

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

On the reanimation of the long dead.

Somebody has definitely been committing unnatural acts in the churchyard of St. Mary Mead, or else running around the woods in the nip doing beastly things to goats, because... By the prickling of my bum, something 'tweedy' this way comes...

In the form of a dozen new Marple stories, <del>knocked out by whoever could be dragged up by Harper Collins</del>, "penned by twelve bestselling and acclaimed authors", [hmmmm... ].

Out just in time to fill the "What on earth are we going to get Auntie Gladys this year" niche.

Cornelia Appleyard (not verified) Tue, 01/11/2022 - 15:08

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Probably the literary equivalent of someone who isn’t Joan Hickson playing Miss Marple, Snowy.

Christopher Fowler Tue, 01/11/2022 - 15:55

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I wondered about that, Snowy. Frankly, it's a piece of piss knocking off a Miss Marple because there's a formula.
1 part Angela Lansbury + 2 parts Joan Hickson in any old British film + one part Minnie Castavet.

snowy (not verified) Wed, 02/11/2022 - 00:09

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

It might be alright for you professionals, 2 days in and I've already used up a third of this month's crayon allocation, Matron says I'm not getting any more until I've apologised for the incident... with the hamster.

It was Halloween and everybody thought he looked very good done up as Ziggy Stardust.

I'm sure the fur will grow back... eventually.

[She's a very hard woman!]

Wayne Mook (not verified) Wed, 02/11/2022 - 02:56

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Well on Halloween I saw The Thing, The John Carpenter one which was panned for remaking a gruesome and transgressive version of the Howard Hawkes produced film, I remember the critics hating it for defiling the Hawkes film and now he's almost a forgot name in film.

In book news, it looks like the merger between Penguin and Simon &amp; Shuster has been blocked by the US courts. Which I think is for the good.

Also on books, WH Smith seem to be getting better at books, the Manchester and Stretford branches now have a better selection of books, in the Stretford on I did find copies of Hot Water and put them in a more prominent place, hope you don't mind.

Well happy day of the dead, today adults, yesterday kids, which is nice. In Portugal my mother in law said it was dead as All Saint's day is a public holiday, and in France too.

Very quickly I was at The Festival of Fantastic Films at weekend, and saw the odd Disney film with my 10 year old. I saw it when it came out in '79 and I wasn't sure who it was aimed at then and I still don't know now. It plays like a prequel to Event Horizon. Also saw an odd 60' Spanish film, The Exquisite Cadaver, the first film of Judy Matheson who was a lovely guest there. The film starts with a publisher receiving mysterious packages but to what end, very much with the feel of Blow Up and films like that of the era. A splendid festival indeed.

Wayne.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Wed, 02/11/2022 - 06:35

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Which odd Disney film did you see, Wayne? Those are more likely to be films I've seen since I led such a sheltered life and still seem to.

Paul C (not verified) Wed, 02/11/2022 - 09:39

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

.....and in other book news, Prince H's book (which is actually ghostwritten) is part of a £35 million book deal that will pay him £17.5 million before the book is even released.

Still, I suppose it will help bookshops survive and will make perfect kindling for the bonfires on Guy Fawkes Night. Who on earth would want to read such piffle and guff? That's a truly frightening thought - thousands of actual brain dead zombies walking among us.....

Wayne Mook (not verified) Wed, 02/11/2022 - 11:07

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Sorry Helen, The Black Hole, it has fun robots for kids but really nasty parts as well, and the end goes quite surreal.

Wayne.

Jan (not verified) Wed, 02/11/2022 - 11:08

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Here Chris I know we've discussed this sort of thing before but isn't "Guy Fawkes Night" really a new label tagged onto a much older festival i.e. that of Samhain which is also the root idea behind Halloween ?
This "sacrifice" the celebration of the punishment of Guy Fawkes is only new clothes for a marking of the very last knockings of Harvest time and bringing in livestock from the summer grazing spots when bonfires would be lit and a variety of ritual took place "cleansing" homes and livestock to prepare for the next half of the year of darkness and the cold to come. November is Anglo Saxon "blood month" remember when the weaker livestock would be slaughtered + blood sacrifices made.

Together with Xmas /winter solstice there's also this idea that this is a liminal time that the borders between this world and the the world of faerie and spirit (which evolve into "ghosts" over centuries) is thin that communication between the worlds is possible.

The Christian church accommodates this old idea by tagging on "All souls Day" originally "All Saints Day" here and as I've said before to you St Martin of Tours, a particularly important warrior saint, with a feast day of 11.11 comes to play an important role in Blood month when the awful sacrifice remembered becomes that of the soldiers who had been killed initially during the First World War and now in all the conflicts since. The blood red poppies we wear and the petals which are released from the the ceiling of the Royal Albert Hall In that terribly said moment In the Festival of Remembrance are part of something as old as human time. I believe what you say is right everything evolves but the times we mark out well these times are very old.

In a very

Jan (not verified) Wed, 02/11/2022 - 11:10

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Here Chris I know we've discussed this sort of thing before but isn't "Guy Fawkes Night" really a new label tagged onto a much older festival i.e. that of Samhain which is also the root idea behind Halloween ?
This "sacrifice" the celebration of the punishment of Guy Fawkes is only new clothes for a marking of the very last knockings of Harvest time and bringing in livestock from the summer grazing spots when bonfires would be lit and a variety of ritual took place "cleansing" homes and livestock to prepare for the next half of the year of darkness and the cold to come. November is Anglo Saxon "blood month" remember when the weaker livestock would be slaughtered + blood sacrifices made.

Together with Xmas /winter solstice there's also this idea that this is a liminal time that the borders between this world and the the world of faerie and spirit (which evolve into "ghosts" over centuries) is thin that communication between the worlds is possible.

The Christian church accommodates this old idea by tagging on "All souls Day" originally "All Saints Day" here and as I've said before to you St Martin of Tours, a particularly important warrior saint, with a feast day of 11.11 comes to play an important role in Blood month when the awful sacrifice remembered becomes that of the soldiers who had been killed initially during the First World War and now in all the conflicts since. The blood red poppies we wear and the petals which are released from the the ceiling of the Royal Albert Hall In that terribly said moment In the Festival of Remembrance are part of something as old as human time. I believe what you say is right everything evolves but the times we mark out well these times are very old.

John Griffin (not verified) Wed, 02/11/2022 - 11:14

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Brain dead Zombies? London Underground, stuck under the river on the way home, 1974. Still remember hallucinating that the rest of the static/asleep/silent compartment was dead......
If you want contemporary horror, try reading Richard Murphy's economics analysis (Tax Research website blog) of what this government is really doing......

Hazel Jackson (not verified) Wed, 02/11/2022 - 17:53

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I love fireworks particularly rockets. Diwali was pretty noisy here in West London but most people seem to prefer public displays to home gardens for Guy Fawkes Night. We always have our own back garden show on November 5th. Next weekend we are babysitting and while we can't run to a guy and bonfire in a small urban back garden, we plan on turning up with assorted sparkly garden fireworks, a box of the biggest display rockets we can find, hot dog rolls, dogs, onion rings and spicy ketchup and mustard. The grand children have been forewarned and are reported to be duly and rightfully apprehensive. Bring it on.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Wed, 02/11/2022 - 18:22

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Jan, that's a pretty great summation of the whole thing. We can shift the emphasis a bit as time goes on but life is life and death is death and nothing changes that. I always wondered how accidental it was that Armistice day ended up on the feast of St. Martin, a warrior saint as you say. I can imagine a cloud of petals in the Albert Hall and think it would be pretty impressive.

Wayne, I actually don't know that one so I'll track it down.

snowy (not verified) Thu, 03/11/2022 - 01:31

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Jan, I'm going to quibble just a little bit, [don't go sticking pins into wax dollies]. A lot of things have become intertwined in public recollection.

Guy Fawkes Night is a secular invention of the 17thC, a statute: "1605: 3 James 1 c.1: An act for a publick thanksgiving to Almighty God every year on the fifth day of November.". [Essentially everybody had to attend an extra church service and be 'thankful'].

The Celtic festival of Samhain, may have been widespread in Britain before the Church gained power, but it would have been stamped on hard by the Church. [And this was closely followed by a period where anything that could be construed as remotely Witch-y was to risk suddenly finding a Vicar up your frock looking for 'Devil's Marks', with worse to come].

Where the Church's stranglehold was weak the Samhain traditions could/would carry on, which might explain why it persisted in the remoter parts of Scotland and Ireland. [So exported to the US, and re-imported back into the UK]. In England it had become a more Orthodox tradition, [the nearest parallel would be 'The Day of the Dead' in parts of Latin America].

[A personal supposition is that the resurgence <b>may</b> have something to do with the rise of Spiritualism after WWI, Lots of people hoped for survival of the 'Spirit' after death and this started a renewed observance of All Hallows Eve, and then all the old traditions come back into fashion.]

Harvest festivals are very tied up with whatever was the main crop, and wouldn't have been celebrated on fixed dates. Different parts of the country, would harvest at different times, [but the Church would always weigh in, because it was a good moment to put the screw on for their 10%].

Harvest needed lots of extra labour and if the landowner was a bit tight with the food and drink for the post harvest booze-up, they might find themselves short of bodies in following years. These things were massive, as the line-up at the next local Assizes/Magistrates would attest.

[I'm not sure if/when the Church fixed the date for Mothers to look out the dustiest tin in the cupboard for their children to take to school].

[I suspect this 'not really an argument' might work better in reverse order? but too late!]

Des Burkinshaw (not verified) Thu, 03/11/2022 - 02:40

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Oh my goodness. I managed 20 minutes of The Sadness. Through my fingers, mostly. Gory doesn't really cover it.

Peter T (not verified) Thu, 03/11/2022 - 12:36

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Nelson Mandela's bio: A Long Walk to Freedom.

Prince H's (and most other celeb's): a short walk to the waste paper basket.

Though I'm a great believer in re- cycling, it's much better for the environment not to produce useless items in the first place.

Brooke (not verified) Thu, 03/11/2022 - 13:06

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

What John Griffin said... I read Tax Research, Mainly Macro, etc. Scary ...because it's real.

E Bush (not verified) Fri, 04/11/2022 - 02:36

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I can't think of anything more horrific than the coming elections on November 8. Even if they lose the MAGAs have already declared they won't concede. I am sick at the thought of what is to come.

J (not verified) Sun, 06/11/2022 - 21:09

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thank you for the recommendations. Much like Helen, we do enjoy clever suspense and terror but without the gore; we've just added Zalava and The Skeleton Key to our watch list.

You mention The Sadness includes a scene with a deep fat fryer. A few years ago a friend encouraged me to watch the show MI-5. A few episodes in was a scene with a deep fat fryer. It was so off-putting that I dropped the show and still avoid the fryer when cooking.