Halloween is too big for Halloween.
It’s not surprising that Halloween has metastasized to take over all of October, and even parts of September in the form of pumpkin spice whatevers. Halloween brings up issues that can’t be contained in a single day, or even a month. Yet I come not to bury, but to
raise the dead praise the undead. In fact, I vote for THREE MONTHS OF HALLOWEEN. Let me tell you why.
Formally, kids and adults are only allowed one time a year to pretend to be someone else. Society used to have masquerade balls. Deconstructing and reconstructing our identity needs more time than one day in October. Shakespeare had a point: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” We need more than one day a year when it’s societally acceptable for people to greet friends with “Who are you?” One night a year isn’t enough for everyone to discover another’s, or their own, inner sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania (ha ha).
Today’s society underrates the pleasure of simply looking at each other, or what is sometimes called scopophilia. Looking is considered impolite, which is why we migrate to social media, to stare at photos without being stigmatized. But there’s nothing like the real thing: the electric charge of looking at someone and being looked at. Outside of weddings and Halloween, when do you get to stare at your friends and co-workers?
We should have at least one other day for this, prior to Halloween. Call it Costume Day. Put it at the end of August. All during August, let’s see people putting “costumes” on their houses. These should be the less “horror”y ones, like superheroes, TMNTurtles, princesses, pirates, power rangers, ninjas, Dr. Seuss characters, Jedis, ghostbusters…you get me. Not suggesting more trick-or-treating, just ritual costume parties on Costume Day.
Then what happens in September? Glad you asked!
Three years from now, we’ll mark the centennial of Sigmund Freud’s essay “Das Unheimliche,” or “The Uncanny.” The uncanny is not as simple as “the other”: it’s something that’s familiar yet incongruous, which can be more disturbing than something purely unfamiliar. Animation fans know that this is the source of the phrase “uncanny valley,” sort of like the engineer in the movie The Polar Express: he’s Tom Hanks, but he’s not Tom Hanks. Creepy! No wonder we need David S. Pumpkins to take the edge off. The point is that we need more than a day to think about and celebrate das unheimliche.
I mean if you’re a bunch of Filipino prisoners readying to do a dance, what are you going to do, the Lindy Hop? No, you’re going to do “Thriller,” damn it.
As a film professor, I’ve certainly taught Robin Wood’s famous formulation that horror movies are defined as normality-versus-the-other, conservative impulses versus the Monster. But I’m often struck by how wide that terrain really is. “Horror movies” feels like a reductive phrase, as it feels reductive to pigeonhole Stephen King into the fright-night part of the bookstore. Half of stories have some kind of serious fright elements. And when you look at the directors who have specialized in, or come up through, horror, it’s almost a who’s-who (wait what was that? an owl or something else?) of filmmakers: Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, the Coen brothers, Luis Buñuel, Fritz Lang, Jonathan Demme, Ridley Scott, James Cameron, James Whale, Brian DePalma, William Friedkin, Roman Polanski, Wes Craven, Dario Argento, F.W. Murnau, Sam Raimi, John Carpenter, George A. Romero, David Cronenberg, Alejandro Amenabar, John Landis, and Tim Burton (I mean, sort of). You could pretty much teach any intro-to-cinema class with just those directors, and throw in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and some part of the Roger Corman corpus (which enabled an entire generation of filmmakers) besides. Horror is more than a genre; it’s part of a template for life.
We need another holiday to celebrate the uncanny and the horror-movie. No superheroes or jedis allowed. Instead, decorate those houses and such with ghosts, Frankensteins, witches, skeletons, zombies, devils, vampires, bats, spiders, wizards, ghouls, goblins, gargoyles, aliens, black cats, werewolves, certain beasts…you know, the hoary hosts of Hoggoth. Call it Uncanny Day and put that one at the end of September. I don’t suggest dragging the kids out of the house here, either. You’ll be too busy watching scary movies on TV anyway.
October is when we should combine them both. Pretty much like we do now. That’s a perfect time for carved pumpkins, which can be either sinister or goofy or somewhere in between. Halloween as it stands has the virtue of being a harvest festival, and a sorta-holiday that’s pleasantly on the same day every year. Kids can’t remain ensconced with relatives, like on other harvest festivals; they usually have to be with each other in school, and later explore their (and/or another) neighborhood. In other words, Halloween is the one “holiday” that forces you beyond your family and into wider circles of your peers and neighbors, giving the event a certain avoirdupois that Thanksgiving and Christmas can’t touch.
No wonder we need candy! And we get lots of it. And orange leaves swirling around the streets don’t hurt.
Who’s with me? THREE MONTHS OF HALLOWEEN.