With Halloween fast approaching, we take a look at some recent memorable scares in pop (and not-so-pop) culture
The end of October means Halloween. And Halloween means an obscene pop culture celebration whose folksy roots may be all-but-forgotten by most, but which lives on, inflected through archetypes spreading far and wide through books, films and music. Now, we cherry-pick some recent examples to spice up this pumpkin-and-ghoul festival with some creepy brain-food. Enjoy!
As far as quick-and-cheap Halloween thrills go, one could do a whole lot worse than Andy Muschietti’s update of the 1986 Stephen King novel IT – originally popularised by the 1990 TV mini-series of the same name which must have put a sizable batch of real-life clowns out of business owing to Tim Curry’s searing performance as the titular nightmare entity out to drain the lifeblood of a small town’s kids by baiting their fears.
Yes, ‘It’ is yet another reboot and yes, updating it to the 1980s means there’s some blatant bandwagon-jumping going on (said bandwagon being Netflix’s Stranger Things, see below). But Andy Muschietti, taking on the project after True Detective: Season 1 helmer Cary Fukunaga jumped ship over ye olde creative differences, crafts a slick-and-effective coming-of-age story that emphasises camaraderie over scares. And despite operating largely on jump scares, it creates a dark funhouse vibe that is bound to be taken to greater extremes come the – already-announced – ‘Chapter Two’.
While horror literature will always have its day, 2016 was a particularly great year for prose that channels the dark fantastic; from Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s Hex putting a fresh and frightening (and also, quite funny) take on the ‘witch that haunts small town’ sub-genre, to John Langan’s rich and layered The Fisherman and rising-star Paul Tremblay following up the superlative A Head Full Of Ghosts (2015) with the equally potent-and-poignant dysfunctional family chiller Disappearance at Devil’s Rock.
The die is yet to be cast on what the future-classics of 2017 would be, but when it comes to the subtler flavours of what Halloween is all about, the sophomore entry by Young Adult author Kali Wallace – who made waves with her debut Shallow Graves (also 2016) – will make for an absorbing read as the still-balmy but also quietly chilly weather of October creeps under your skin. The Memory Trees, freshly released just this month, is not a straightforward horror novel by any stretch. But its spine is made of witchcraft and unpleasant family legacy, being the tale of Sorrow Lovegood, a teenage girl who returns to her estranged mother’s home in Vermont in an attempt to reckon with the tragic death of her sister, Patience, eight years prior.
But this only prods an ancient family feud between the ‘witchy’ Lovegoods and the uppity Abrams family, and if Sorrow thought things were already bad, a fresh batch of secrets threatens to make things even worse. Neither one to give into excessive sensationalism that’s easy for the genre to slip into, nor does she signal too hard towards any ‘Young Adult’ audience that her work may suggest, Wallace crafts a likeable protagonist in Sorrow, and builds the suspense and dread around her with a deft and sensitive hand. Flashbacks to Sorrow’s ancestors centuries past also help to add an intriguing layer of history that amplifies the bigotry and injustice on display. A flowing and rich read, this is so-called ‘young adult’ literature of the highest order.
Sure, come Halloween you could just stock up on the cheesy rock-and-metal classics to lend some life to your themed house party. But should you find it in your heart to make good on the spirit of the season and actually venture out of your comfort zone and into the creepy abyss beyond, you’ll find that there’s plenty of grisly delights out there that will give a keen splatter of colour to your aural experience of All Hallow’s Eve. Chief of these, in my book, is the recent online-only digital EPs of Oscurozone — one of the many side-projects of Scottish writer-cum-musician Alistair Rennie, whose debut novel Bleakwarrior is a gory melange of swords-and-sorcery and horror that is bound to tickle both your guts and your spine as you navigate through its provocative maze. However, with the ‘Oscurozone’ project Rennie is mining a more delicate — though not less pulsating — pop culture vein, tapping into a sonically rich wash of 80s-inflected electronica that would not have been out of place in a slasher movie from the era.
A slasher movie, the likes of which would have been directed by John Carpenter. Whose recent musical work, as it happens, is certainly worth checking out (and season-appropriate), with Carpenter’s Lost Themes I and II being available for streaming on Spotify.
Meanwhile, you can check out the entire Oscurozone oeuvre by logging on to: http://oscurozone.alistairrennie.com/.
© 2017 – VIDA Magazine – Teodor Reljic