Fri Oct 27, 2023
I’m not really into Halloween, largely because it was never part of my childhood. In South Africa, we celebrated Guy Fawkes Day, where we burned an effigy and set off fireworks. Celebrating the failed attempt of a group of Catholics to blow up the Protestant King of England is a far cry from celebrating the pagan ritual of wearing costumes to ward off ghosts.
To be honest, it’s hard to identify with either of these celebrations.
Of course, I would have loved to go trick-or-treating as a child. But in South Africa, it would be unthinkable to go door to door around your neighbourhood. Even if you could somehow circumvent the barbed-wire fences and guard dogs, you would likely be shot before reaching the front door.
When I came to Canada as a young adult, I attended a few Halloween parties over the years. But, every single one of them was absolutely awful. Some of these parties even started off as disappointing and ended up as traumatizing. I won’t get into it.
Fortunately, as a parent, I’ve greatly enjoyed seeing the wild delight on my kids’ faces as they dress up and stuff their pumpkin-shaped buckets with candy. Experiencing Halloween vicariously through them has saved this North American tradition for me.
However, the fact that I’m writing a Halloween Special is evidence that I’ve completely run out of other ideas for this month’s post. So, I’ll just go with it -
To mark the occasion where ghosts and ghouls rule the night, here are some scary things…
Scariest video game
I don’t have to even think about this one. The scariest video game I’ve ever tried to play is Alien Isolation. This survival horror game is no fun at all and I didn’t even make it that far before quitting. I’m no coward - I finished Last of Us Part II, even though it felt like a living nightmare at times.
Most games have predictable mechanics and enemy AI. Once you’ve cleared an area, you can breath a sigh of relief knowing that you’ve won a small battle, even though you’ve yet to win the war. That small moment of respite - where you know there won’t be any more enemy attacks until you open the next door - is like a soothing balm on your frazzled nerves.
But what makes Alien Isolation so scary is that there is no respite. The exceptional AI of the Alien allows it to become an unpredictable and ruthless hunter that never gives up. The Alien does not stay on any linear track or narrative path. And, worst of all - you cannot kill it. You can only hide, gasping for breath as it inevitably finds you and tears you apart. This game is the worst.
Without a doubt, the scariest movie I’ve ever seen is The Exorcist (the 1973 original, not any of the half-assed sequels or remakes). I’ve written about this movie before - how it’s based on a true story, and how it tanked sales of Ouija boards, a bestselling ‘game’ (or more accurately, ‘telephone line’ to the closest demon looking to grab a foothold in this world) until the movie came out.
Look, maybe it’s my Catholic upbringing, but there’s something about this movie that is deeply unsettling. The production of this movie was literally cursed from the beginning with a fire that destroyed all the movie sets except for the room where the demonic possession takes place. This disaster was followed by an unusually high number of deaths and injuries among the cast and crew.
When audience members first saw the movie, many of them screamed, fainted, or simply fled the cinema. I will never watch this movie again.
I usually stick with fantasy and science fiction novels. I’m sure there are thousands of terrifying novels out there that would ensure I never sleep again, but I’m not interested in reading them.
I do, however, believe Bram Stoker’s Dracula deserves the title of scariest book I’ve ever read. If you’re not interested in reading a book that was published in 1897, think again. This classic novel is still a chilling, atmospheric read and is obviously foundational in the horror and goth genres.
It is also infinitely better written than the insipid Twilight, a 21st-century teenage take on vampires which has forever tainted the genre. Need I say more?
We have a tradition in our family that we watch Michael Jackson’s Thriller music video every Halloween. There are some genuinely frightening moments in this video, broken up by some campy fun when an army of zombies bust out the classic 80s dance moves.
There’s also some inception-like story-within-a-story fourth-wall magic happening. Is it a just a movie? Or is it a dream? Or is it… There are so many layers of fiction here smothering the truth - much like Michael Jackson’s life.
I’m giving the award for scariest podcast to the MrBallen Podcast. Mr. Ballen (Jonathan B. Allen) has a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and is a former United States Navy SEAL.
Now, instead of engaging in combat, he delivers the Strange, Dark, and Mysterious in story format.
I love stories; humans thrive on stories - and Mr. Ballen is a great storyteller. It’s just a shame that he moved his podcast to an Amazon Exclusive, instead of making it available everywhere.
Scariest event that is not actually scary
I may not be a huge Halloween fan, but I do love technology and new gadgets. Apple is hosting an event called Scary Fast this Monday night.
I don’t think Apple has ever announced anything in the evening before - it’s nice that such a traditional company is breaking from tradition.
I expect to see some iMac or MacBook Pro updates, perhaps an upgrade to the M3 chip. But it would be great if there was some other surprise in store. Either way, Scary Fast has actually made Halloween something this old man can look forward to this year.