Stephen King on how to get in the Halloween mood
Gosh. Zowie. It’s almost Halloween again. Somebody peel me off the ceiling.
If you sense a certain lack of enthusiasm, you get an A for perceptiveness and win this week’s first prize, a free ticket to see Venom (second prize: two tickets to see Venom). Halloween has been my least favorite holiday ever since the mid-’80s, when trick-or-treaters started showing up at my house in battalions, many dressed as Pennywise the Clown. That was when I realized I’d been elected America’s Guru of Grue without even running for the position. Ever since, my family and I have taken to spending the last day of October elsewhere. Far, far elsewhere. Birmingham, Ala., is good; Birmingham, England — where Halloween is little more than the name of a John Carpenter movie — is even better. Still, I have no objection to you having the scariest Halloween possible. To that end, I offer the following suggestions to put you in a morbid mood and a frightened frame of mind:
Putrid Pop There’s no shortage of grim pop music, but let us push aside such chestnuts as ”(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” and ”Thriller” in favor of the real sicko stuff. There’s ”Hey Man, Nice Shot” by Filter (inspired by a politician’s tasteful decision to commit suicide on live television), ”Days of Graduation” by Drive-By Truckers (a car-wreck tune that makes ”Last Kiss” seem like Mother Goose), the Pine Valley Cosmonauts’ version of ”Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” (a transplant operation goes horribly wrong), and my favorite (and a brief top 20 hit in the ’70s), ”Timothy,” the Buoys’ rock ode to cannibalism.
Terror Television There’s all sorts of stuff on TV this year that’s supposed to scare the yell out of us; you practically have to kick it out of your way. I’ve watched most of the new ones and found them all disappointing, save for Invasion, executive-produced by former teenybop fave Shaun (”Hey Deanie”) Cassidy. Threshold was the biggest disappointment; I’ll give it another two or three weeks to shape up, but all that techno-speak in the first couple of episodes just wore me out. Invasion at least had some of that creepy, paranoid 1950s feel (think Invasion of the Body Snatchers — the Kevin McCarthy version), but I really saw nothing in any of these shows that could match up to the divinely satisfying opening shots of Lost‘s second season: the strangeness of that out-of-date computer gear and the extreme close-up of the record needle coming down on an old Mama Cass album. Lost and Invasion back-to-back on ABC should be all the TV ramp-up to Halloween you need.
Dreadful DVDs Something old and something new, okay? The oldie is The Changeling, starring the late George C. Scott as a composer and pianist who loses his wife and child in a horrific accident, moves to another city…then buys a haunted house. Not a good move for George, and the results for anyone watching are terrifying. This is one of those timeless movies (like Robert Wise’s The Haunting) that don’t seem to age; the bogeyman is still alive and well inside, just waiting to grab you.
The new one is the Japanese import Infection, set in a mostly deserted hospital where a team of overworked doctors and nurses try to cover up a botched emergency procedure and set a terrible chain of events in motion. Like many recent Japanese horror movies, Infection isn’t exactly coherent, but that’s actually a plus. By the time the movie approaches its gruesome, body-melting climax, it feels more like a nightmare than something being staged from a script. An American version of Infection will probably be just as disappointing as those of The Ring and The Grudge (American film producers are anxious to make sure you understand it all makes sense), so I’d rent or buy this one now.
Malevolent Movies Oh, this is depressing. Not as bad as getting a razor in your candy apple, maybe, but too much like getting pebbles instead of chocolates in the little foil Hershey’s Kisses bag. No Freddy this year; no Jason; no Michael Myers. The horror heavyweights are taking Halloween 2005 off, and what do we have to look forward to? A remake of The Fog (which didn’t need to be remade) and the first of what will probably be many additions to the Saw saga. I’ll go see Saw II and probably you will see Saw II too (say it fast, I dare you), but I predict we’ll hate ourselves on the morning of All Saints’ Day. If you want to see something authentically scary this Halloween, I’d suggest either Flightplan or A History of Violence.
One other suggestion while I’m at it. Mother Nature played two of the biggest tricks of all this year, and she didn’t wait until Halloween. One was called Katrina, the other Rita. People have been incredibly generous with cash donations in the wake of these storms, but one thing the Red Cross never gets enough of is — heh-heh-heh — blood. If you’d like to give a treat instead of playing a trick this Halloween, why not find your nearest Red Cross blood bank and roll up your sleeve? Maybe I’ll see you there, because I always try to give a pint on that day as a way of remembering that blood has been pretty good to me. I just don’t look when they stick the needle in, because I’m a little squeamish about the sight of that red stuff. Especially my own.