At Wales Arts Review, there’s few festive seasons we enjoy as much as Halloween, a time to celebrate the dark side of creativity. So here’s a little compendium of what we think makes up the perfect Halloween starter kit for anybody out there looking to create the perfect atmosphere for this year’s festivities.
What gets under your skin can be a very personal thing, and whereas a Stephen King might work for some, it could be an Angela Carter for someone else. The book market is full of very good compendiums of unsettling short stories, and of course it’s easy to pick up some Poe or Lovecraft and sink into a comfy chair for the evening. But our shout out goes to the really excellent Everyman Pocket Classics Ghost Stories, which offers up old classic with slightly newer ones, and goes from Maupassant to Bradbury by ways of Nabokov and Elizabeth Bowen.
Also, check out Gemma Pearson’s pick of Halloween stories written by women for Wales Arts Review for more recommendations.
Audiobooks come into their own at this time of year. Literature heightened by the eerie delivery of some of the finest actors around. Most of the classic horror stories are now available, but our recommendation is a bit of an old classic of the audiobook world, Anthony Valentine’s reading of Dracula from the late 1980s. (And it’s available on Spotify).
As with literature, what terrifies you might not be quite what sends the next person cowering behind the sofa. There are so many horror movies out there, how can we possibly recommend one. Well, of course, John Carpenter’s Halloween is a movie as essential to the festivities as A Christmas Carol is to Christmas. So we have to give that a shout out. But if you’re looking for something a bit different, a megalith of the silent movie era which you need to have in your life is Benjamin Christensen’s Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages, a nightmarish sepia fake documentary from 1922 full of startling demons and witches, and Christensen himself as the Devil. They don’t make them like that anymore, sadly.
You might be wanting something demanding a little more investment over the longterm than a 90 minute movie. A good Halloween binge watch. There are so many great portmanteau series that we could recommend for a chilling night in, but they are compendiums of the short story version of the feature film’s novel. The Twilight Zone, Masters of Horror, Creepshow, Tales from the Crypt, Dead of Night. But how about the long haul? We’ve gone for a new twist on some classic stories, with great performances, clever scripts, plenty of chills and gore, and a whole lot of heart, you can’t go wrong with a bit of Penny Dreadful.
For the soundtrack to your Halloween, we’re recommending an album that at time feels like a cold dead fist gripped around your heart. Scott Walker’s The Drift from 2006 has inspired some great essays and is the centre point of the blinding documentary, 30th Century Man, but just put the record on in a dimly lit room and it plays out like a 70-minute panic attack. Perfect.
There’s still nothing to touch the terrifying live experience of The Woman in Black, based on Sarah Hill’s novel (and subject of a half-decent film adaptation starring Daniel Radcliffe as the tormented lawyer in the haunted mansion house). fast becoming the theatrical scare experience to surpass all others. And there’s nothing wrong with going for the tried and tested if you want to get the collywobbles on October 31st.
If you fancy getting out of the house, taking in an exhibition, and being unsettled and terrified in the process, or if you just want to hang a few painting round the house to give the place a bit more of a hellish feel, you can’t go wrong with a bit of Goya or Francis Bacon or Bosch or Fuseli or Leonor Fini. But we have to go with “Ivan the Terrible Kills His Son” by Ilya Repin for the sheer fact that on its exhibition in 1885 it drove anyone who gazed upon it into fits of despair, and several people went mad, including fellow artist Abram Balachov, who attacked the painting with a knife in 1914. There is a long tradition of “the cursed painting”, and whether you believe in that kind of stuff or not, nobody can deny the inherent power of Repin’s work.
There are three reasons we’re going with pumpkin bread. Firstly, have you ever seen so many pumpkins as are on sale in 2019? So, let’s put them to good use. Secondly, pumpkin bread was traditionally served as an offering to ancestors at a special place laid at the table during the festival of Samhain, the pagan holiday from which Halloween has evolved. And thirdly, it’s delicious. You can find plenty of simple recipes online.
Of course, what else is there, other than a good Cask of Amontillado. Edgar Allen Poe would approve, and that’s good enough for us.