Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Halloween (the movie. the book. the weekend. the horror. )

This post is officially completely tardy.

Back in 6th grade, my somewhat extraordinary teacher Mr. Harrison took our whole class to see a double feature of horror movies one Saturday in October, 1980. The first feature was The Legacy (I think), as all I remember was a big fancy house, and the scene where someone got trapped and killed in an indoor swimming pool, as I found that really chilling. The second film was John Carpenter's Halloween. Let's leave aside discussion of the appropriateness of taking a bunch of little kids to a slasher movie with added bonus toplessness. What matters is the movie terrified me. After seeing it, I would lay awake in bed, thinking if I made the slightest move, something would see, and then kill me.

I've always been a big fan of exposition spewing Brits in Horror movies, from Lionel Atwill in Doctor X to Rupert Giles in Buffy, they never fail to delight me, and I think Donald Pleasance does a bang up job as the expositing shrink who runs around trying to lock up blank faced, scary, unstoppable Michael Myers. But he's not the point, the scary killer is. And there's something about the real world setting and the seeming plausibility of it (not to mention the proximity to where I grew up of the wonderfully named Creedmore Hospital - home to the local criminally insane), made this film particularly horrifying. But, I loved it.

I've already blogged about the excellent spook walk in Sleepy Hollow, and that was pretty much as scary as it got this Halloween (unless you include the truly frightening amount of gin the bartender at The Player's Club poured into our cocktails). My Major Domo and I hit as many events as we reasonably could this weekend, and you can read about our adventures here. We watched a Phantasmagorical magic lantern show, and then because seemingly me and my Major Domo control the world, three days later we saw Terry Borton, the magic lanternist we had just seen perform, on TCM's excellent documentary Moguls & Movie Stars! We are total outliers! On actual Halloween we inadvertently walked right into the Williamsburg Halloween parade as we were on our way to DM Theatrics production of Plan 9 From Outer Space. All delightful, but not exactly scary.

Mr. Harrison was an awfully unusual teacher. He was a former police officer who won the lottery and became a grade school teacher, just because he wanted to. He loved horror and magic and history and dressing up. I think, unlike my brother, I was often pretty lucky in the teachers I wound up with. He used to dress up as a wizard and perform magic tricks. He let our class hang out in our classroom during lunch and play poker. He let me write a paper on Queen Elizabeth I from the POV of a fly on her wall (literally). Sadly, he died of a heart attack two thirds of the way through the school year. To be honest, I have no memory of who replaced him (this was when all my teachers were dying of heart attacks - something like three in one year).

I also decided to celebrate this Halloween season by reading the wonderful Octavia E. Butler's last novel, Fledgling. It was an interesting take on the vampire mythos, as unconventional as possible. The terror in it came from the deep malignancy of racism and hatred, not from blood sucking fiends. She also brings up a bunch of disquieting questions about relationships and free will that are never resolved - as they shouldn't be, as with any real question, there are no satisfying answers. The vampires in her book live in voluntary symbiotic relationships with humans, from whom they must feed, in order to live. The vampires have some kind of venom which, over time, binds the human to the vampire. So, if the human is separated from his (or her) vampire they will die. If something happens to the vampire's human, they experience terrible, crippling grief. Each vampire needs several humans in order to survive, so they form little de facto families. Reading this book in conjunction with Butler's earlier book, Kindred, is fascinating, as it's the best novel about slavery in America I've ever read. He writing about this strange, unequal symbiotic relationship is riveting.

Now, as the season of horror ends, I'm moving on and reading Helter Skelter. It never ends.

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