“Be silent in that solitude,
Which is not loneliness—for then
The spirits of the dead, who stood
In life before thee, are again
In death around thee, and their will
Shall overshadow thee; be still.”
”Spirits of the Dead” – Edgar Allan Poe
I am going to see the new Halloween film this weekend, and I know I’m going to be hiding behind my fingers for much of the duration of the film. The Halloween series, most notably the first one, are my idea of a good horror movie. There is something truly terrifying about ‘Michael Myers’, the masked, knife wielding serial killer who just WON’T DIE! He has been decapitated, stabbed, burned and shot …and still he keeps on coming.
The original film was made in 1978 on a relatively cheap budget and, looking for a inexpensive mask for the killers character, the props staff purchased a William Shatner (Captain Kirk of Star Trek), mask for two dollars, painted it white and behold, MM was born. There is even a tale of Shatner going trick or treating with his children in later years wearing the mask!
I watched the original ‘Halloween’ in 1982 when I was 16 and didn’t sleep properly for weeks, but I loved it. I’m embarrassed to also have to confess that the famous chilling theme tune is my phone ring tone.
Why do I do it? Why do I love to be terrified? I love horror films, not the really nasty ones with lots of violence, but the clever creepy ones and I’m all agog if someone has a ghost story to share.
I have never actually seen a ghost as far as I’m aware, but have had a few creepy experiences, most recently during a stay in Lumley Castle in Chester-le-Street in County Durham. My room was freezing and there was an uncomfortable portrait of an austere, angry looking woman on the wall. In the early hours, the picture fell off the wall with a crash and having jumped out of bed in fright, I saw that the door was wide open! (I know that I had locked it the night before). The message was clear: “Get out!” I left pretty quickly!
A few years ago, Andy and I were at Arundel Castle in West Sussex. Arundel Castle has a history of hauntings, but I didn’t actually feel anything or see anything while I was there. Outside the Castle Chapel, we posed for a photograph, helpfully taken by another visitor. The photograph (below) is creepy! Expand it and look at the hand that appears to be over my mouth. Yikes! I think there is also possibly a face at the window….?
Without doubt, the most atmospheric castle I have ever visited is Berry Pomeroy near Totnes in Devon. The castle has a tragic history and is said to be haunted by 3 or 4 different ghosts, one of which is a ‘White Lady’ who walks along a parapet, as she did in life while she was still able. Her sister had locked her in that part of the castle and slowly starved her to death. The current gatekeeper has trouble getting his dogs to go down the lane to lock the castle up in the evenings during October and November, and I know at least two people who have seen ghostly faces at windows high in the castle ..where there are no floors.
Isn’t it funny how these stories give us a real thrill of delicious delight? Why do we like being scared? Do we want ghosts, witches and ghouls to be real? Surely there are enough real live ghouls in the world today without us having to conjure up imaginary dead ones?
Yes, we get a natural high when we become frightened – the age old ‘flight or fight’ syndrome, but I wonder if I enjoy that high more watching a horror film, because rationally I know that I am safe. For the duration of the film, I can forget everything else going on in my life, which is quite refreshing and feels like a time out. I am rather proud of myself when I make it through a particularly scary film as it feels like a victory, but also know that at any time, I can turn the TV off or walk out of the cinema and I am therefore in control. Frightening situations where I am NOT in control, for example being on a plane experiencing turbulence, are not my idea of fun at all. And you could not pay me to get on a rollercoaster!
The Halloween traditions that we celebrate today trace their origins back to Celtic paganism and the feast of Samhain, which heralded in the new year. It was the time when ghosts and spirits came out to haunt, and the Celts would try and appease them by giving them gifts.
The word ‘Halloween’ is actually two words meaning ‘hallowed’ (or holy) and ‘evening’. The Celts believed that for this night only, the passage between this world and the next was open for spirits ghosts and witches to pass through allowing them to walk the earth alongside us.
I’m not keen on demonic possession films and I’ve never seen The Exorcist. I suspect it’s because I half believe. Consider the real life serial murderers we have all read about, and descriptions of ‘blank faces’ and ‘dead eyes’.
Pehaps its all wound up with our fascination and fear of death, and the question about what waits for us on the other side. Is it going to be angels and demons, heaven and hell …or just everlasting sleep? If we knew for sure, perhaps some of the scare stories would lose their potency.
Whatever you are doing, whether celebrating it with gusto, or ignoring it as just another evening, I wish you a very happy Halloween season. Just make sure your doors and windows are locked on 31st. Just in case. 🎃