Sleepless Nights: Pumpkins and Mistletoe

By Sgathaich

Several years ago I thought Halloween was done for me. I didn’t exactly live in a town and I was too old then to go out in dress up. Outside of different shows coming on TV, namely Halloween specials and more horror films, I felt that’s all Halloween was going to mean to me from now on, just a change in what’s on TV. Then one day my friend and I had an idea. He had a bunch of the classic universal monster movies, why not watch them all over the night. We didn’t finish them all, deciding to stop around midnight but what happened there started our tradition for Halloween. A holiday I then realized was whatever you make it be.

Since that day, Halloween I think has become my favorite holiday. Building off my love of the horror genre, Halloween is a holiday that proudly wears the horror genre all around as if a modern purpose of the holiday is to take what scares you, and turn it into a source of fun. Children dressed up as monsters to receive sweets or jack asses just throwing eggs and flour around uncreatively because they think they can get away with it…. ok not all of it is good . And yet as I look at films the genre doesn’t have as many high profile Halloween based films. It’s probably because there is an actual series of films called Halloween.

Of course while Films themselves were lacking in diversity, on television it was  different. As a child I remember my parents buying us a Video tape of the Simpsons, it was 2 to a video tape back then, the first one being a bit more bland, oh maybe I’d reappraise it now but back then, nope not interested. The second however was my first experience with a Halloween special. Simpsons Halloween specials were often some of my favourite, fun little stories often exploring ‘what if’ horror aspects, the later ones got a bit more generic and duller, but those first few years of it were always ones I came back to – well except for the sequence in the third one with the zombies, I’ll come to them another night.

Halloween TV would eventually be my main way of experiencing the holiday, either I was too far away to go to houses, weather was bad, or I just got too old. I ended up not experiencing that part of the holiday. Halloween TV however was something I could enjoy.  A horror movie on a bit earlier than it should be, or maybe shows with more a horror aesthetic, if maybe not a scary horror episode of a show. I recall years where it was nothing but the Adams family cartoons, maybe a bunch of Scooby Doo, often The 13 Ghosts as it was the most scary of the franchise till Zombie Island and the finale of Mystery Incorporated.

Christmas on the other hand, has not been too far away from horror and I don’t mean its continued encroachment earlier each year, even before the much earlier holiday Halloween has its nick knacks out. Indeed I found many film makers or people after money seem oddly fascinated by the idea of a Christmas horror, the idea of a day  meant to be so happy can be so bad. These are usually crappy slasher killer dressed as Santa films but there are at least two films I found very noteworthy and enjoy. The first is Gremlins which is an excellent horror comedy from that wonderful time for practical special effects, the 80s. I first experienced this film in full when the local cinema decided to show a bunch of 80s movies and Gremlins was one of those selected. Sure I’d seen the ending on TV, but they often didn’t show the first film on TV nearly as much as the second. Thinking back to the first one I wonder if female lead Kate Beringer’s  statement about some people finding the holiday depressing (later capped off by the very dark tale of how she found out there was no Santa) was intentionally added to justify this horror film being set at Christmas.

The other one is the classic Tim Burton Nightmare Before Christmas, a film that seems to go the opposite direction. A major message of that film is that Christmas shouldn’t be scary – wish the people at Hollywood got that. The film’s early parts revel more in classic Halloween imagery than any other film, being set in Halloween town before the lead Jack Skeleton finds himself listless over having done the same thing over and over before being amazed at how different Christmas is. Indeed there is an argument to this day whether it is a Christmas or a Halloween film; I usually stand in the former given the film builds up to Christmas and shows what happens if that goes wrong. Still outside of those two examples Christmas horror was, as mentioned, just some nutter dressed as Santa. Unlike Halloween that had the whole horror genre to draw on, countless mythologies there was not really any true scary creature in folklore related to Christmas.

And then someone discovered Krampus.

Ah Krampus, I first heard about this Being, I believe it was from a comedy sketch on the internet, soon followed by the way a lot of people outside of the native regions heard about him – that episode of American Dad. I can only imagine the reaction of those obsessed with scary Christmas stories practically wetting themselves when they found, hey there is this German legend about a demon thing that does much nastier things to naughty children than give them coal. I actually really like the idea of Krampus and look forward to when small children of my own can be told about him.

Back on Halloween though, I did always get annoyed by the lack of Halloween themed horror movies, maybe they were often those ones I found too far to watch (remember it me took over a decade to watch The Thing) or maybe it’s because they avoided the subject due to Michael Myers. I later on found out while people often complained about the third film in that franchise as it didn’t have Michael, it’s probably my favourite one. The original idea was the Halloween films would be more of an anthology about things that happened on Halloween night rather than about a slasher killer, but sadly it was the age of those films (a sub genre I don’t really like) and there was a backlash so the idea of different tales was dropped in favour of increasingly worse films. Rather sad really that the very thing you wanted was dropped because of the thing you hated was popular.

In contrast I often loved the more optimistic Christmas movies of the past. Films like Miracle on 34th Street makes me smile at how people start doing good deeds for their own gain and everyone benefiting off it. Seeing competing shops trying to be the nicest – a surprising comedy. By contrast some of my least favorite episodes of all time were the ones tied to Christmas, at least when the Simpsons come to mind. Shows like Father Ted or Yes Minster have some amazing Christmas specials. It’s rather odd the situation is almost a reverse.

As I look on as the Halloween holiday fast approaches now, I am filled with excitement for what new horrors await, long ago picking out which films to experience in the night, wondering what little ghouls may show up at the door and need to be bribed away with sweets. This year are finally going to watch the first Halloween film – might not enjoy it but hey, got a Harryhausen to watch as well.

Sgathaich Hallowe'en


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