Posted by Richard Harland Smith on November 4, 2011
Is it just me or is November 1st about the worst day on the calendar? No more Halloween for a year! With the passing of every All Saints Day I start doing the math. It’s the hardest 364 days of my life.
I used to feel this way about December 26th, too, but as an adult I now welcome the return of normalcy and plainness after the Yuletide hubub. Not so with Halloween, though, which is the purer, calmer, less anxiety-ridden holiday to me. I don’t go all out in any way – we put up decorations for the kids, we carve a Jack-o-Lantern of course and we wear festive socks, but All Hallows Eve is more a state of mind than a mindless ritual of decking the halls. It’s a precious headspace, where music and cool autumn air and books and movies come together to complete a setting, an ambiance, a mood. I don’t think differently in October, I don’t become somebody else… I just focus in, I subspecialize, I become more me. It’s fun that other people get into the act, even those who would be loath to watch CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962) or WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935) or THE GHOST BREAKERS (1940) at any other time of the year. In October, major news outlets condescend to Halloween-themed reporting, Google changes its logo to reflect the bizarre and Gothic, Martha Stewart reveals the inner witch, and Turner Classic Movies programs all-night classic spook shows. With this type of roll out, October 31st itself is almost an anticlimax. And then… it’s over. November signals the approach of The Holidays. Scarecrows yield to Gingerbread Men, Old Nick grants passage to Saint Nick, and tales of the grotesque and arabesque are drowned out by the cacophony of Christmas carols.
The first week of November is always a bitch. Switch on TCM and instead of THE BODY SNATCHER (1945), THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1919) or THE HAUNTING (1963) you’ve got WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? (1957) and MCLINTOCK! (1963) and GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935 (1935). I’m not knocking those movies, I like them okay, they’re just not… you know. By Halloween afternoon, most pharmacies have pulled all the ghost and goblins off their shelves and have put up the Christmas decorations. Come November One and TCM, AMC, IFC and other channels have run through their respective month-long fear fests and have reverted to regular programming. At home, we start the mundane process of boxing up the Halloween trinkets, taking down the GelGems, and tossing our gerny, liquifying Jack-o-Lantern down the trash chute. It’s grim. It feels wrong and I can’t get old Prospero out of my head: “Our revels now are ended…”
I don’t know why I get so blue come November, given that it’s pretty much Halloween all year long at my house. I mean, I never stop listening to the Horror Pops and October Project and the collected Hans Salter and the nervier Ennio Morricone and I drive around sunny Los Angeles chilling to the scores to BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW (1970) and SILENT NIGHT BLOODY NIGHT (1970) whether it’s 31st day of October or 4th day of July, and at any given moment I’ve got VAMPYR (1932), EL VAMPIRO (1957), KILL, BABY… KILL (1965), ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968), WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979), ZOMBIE (1979), WHITE ZOMBIE (1932), ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST (1980), ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU (1957), VIJ (1967), and LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (1971) at my elbow ready to watch when the mood strikes me, plus almost the entire Universal and Hammer canons, plus the Criterion ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1932) still in its shrinkwrap beckoning me to fire her up – and I will. I’ve still got my Bela Lugosi, Rondo Hatton, Nosferatu, Crimson Ghost, Eerie Comics and LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE (1974) black tee shirts in regular rotation and THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933) is on TCM tonight! So, really… what’s the problem? [Pause for effect.] Maybe there is no problem. Maybe November couldn’t come any sooner. Yeah, it’s fun when everybody plays along but come November the air sure does get a lot cleaner and there’s more room to throw some shade. Once Halloween dips below the horizon, serious critics like Glenn Kenny and Jim Emerson, who deigned during October to engage with my genre-of-choice, return to writing about, Oh I Don’t Know, LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD (1961) or GOODFELLAS (1990) or AU HASARD BALTHAZAR (1966) or that Bela Tarr movie that takes twelve years to watch, and I can actually hear myself think. Horror fans should welcome November 1st. We don’t need them! And now we’ve got the haunted house all to ourselves again!
Maybe we (and I think we all know who I mean by we) should take a more proactive approach to the passing of Halloween. I think November is a perfectly gloomy month in its own right, and I don’t see why the Halloween festivities can’t bleed over into the weeks prior to Thanksgiving. Maybe November should be Ghost Month, a few weeks of spiritual and spectral reflection before the T-Day-Yuletide megalopolis. November is a great time to watch horror movies with characters who wear sweater vests or Anorak coats, who feel chilled and thrilled as their boots tamp down the wet autumn earth. Allow me to point you to ISLAND OF TERROR (1965) with Peter Cushing and Edward Judd, set on an island off the coast of Scotland where everybody wears fishermen sweaters and Wellington boots inside and out. Or DON’T LOOK NOW (1973), which has a real feel for the dimming of the day, both literally and figuratively. I can see THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) as a November movie – ditto DIE MONSTER DIE (1965), FULL CIRCLE (1976), DEAD OF NIGHT (1945), HALLOWEEN II (1981), THE EVIL DEAD (1981) and any 40s era spooker in which the men wear thick tweed suits and there’s no snow on the ground. Add your own titles – you know you have them! I’m excited about this – Renfield excited! Let’s stop feeling sorry for ourselves and stay scared. Can you dig it? I knew that you could. And if you can’t, well… there’s only 361 days until Halloween.
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