Here we are in late October, and there’s (finally) a brisk snap in the morning air. It’s the Halloween season, which has been my favorite time of the year since childhood. Not because I ever enjoyed dressing up in costumes. Far from it; that’s too close to clown territory for me. But I’ve always loved the trappings of Halloween: reading ghost stories in the autumnal gloom, carving jack-o’-lanterns, decorating with . . . skulls . . .
Many people enjoy celebrating Halloween by viewing scary movies all month. I always thought I did too. In fact, from the age of 5, I watched parent-approved (what were they thinking?) old black and white horror movies on TV, at least one of which was so frightening it gave me nightmares and I’ve never forgotten it. Did anybody else see this one?
The Beast with Five Fingers, starring Peter Lorre in one of his sinister, murderous freak roles, was about a hand that’s severed from the corpse of a concert pianist. The disembodied hand then creeps and scrabbles through the rooms of the dead man’s mansion to wreak vengeance, catching his enemies by surprise and strangling them. Through the decades I would think of this movie and chuckle over having been such an impressionable child. Then a few years ago during the Halloween season, I came across it on Turner Classic Movies and watched it again. I was sure the vintage 1946 special effects crawling hand would be laughably crude now, but no. It was surprisingly well done.
The movie wasn’t in color and the hand didn’t creep about with exposed tendons and blood vessels dribbling realistic gore from its severed edge. So it’s true that by today’s standards it was pretty tame. Thank heavens for that, though, because in the intervening years since I first watched The Beast with Five Fingers, I’ve discovered I’m actually a sissy. I like my frights lite.
Where blood and body parts are concerned, Jaws pretty much set the special effects bar for me, and then John Hurt’s gut-wrenching scene (ha!) in Alien vaulted right over it. (The Exorcist was a very close call, but was mostly just gross.) Thus, while others might get a special kick out of watching every iteration (evisceration?) of Halloween or Friday the 13th in October, I’ll avoid the slasher pics, thanks, because psychological horror is quite frightening enough. (Just saw The Babadook the other night. I recommend it!) But my very favorite choice for Halloween viewing isn’t a horror movie at all. It’s this film from the deliciously off-kilter mind of Tim Burton:
Katie and I first saw it together in 1993. She was 5 years old, the age at which I was having nightmares of a vengeful severed hand. I’d planned just to take her out for a movie and entertain her for a couple of hours. Instead, that afternoon set in motion for both of us a lifelong love affair with The Nightmare Before Christmas and its wonderful characters: the Pumpkin King Jack Skellington, his faithful dog Zero, Jack’s love interest Sally, the villainous Oogie Boogie and a host of others. We bought the soundtrack and the video, and drove all over town singing along at the top of our lungs to Danny Elfman’s inspired music. Until Katie moved out to live on her own, we watched the video at least twice each year between Halloween and Christmas. These rituals kept us happy and provided Glen with fond, head-shaking amusement. We’re rarely afforded the chance to watch it together any more, of course, but we’re not done. There will be more viewings in the future. And if you haven’t seen the movie yet, I hope you do soon. It’s the perfect time of year for it. Sally, the heroine, has an unsettling habit of detaching her arm and sewing it back on again, but I promise it’s not the stuff of crawling hand nightmares. You might even find yourself bursting into creepylicious song at odd moments.
“I am the shadow on the moon at night,
Filling your dreams to the brim with fright!”*
I’d meant for today’s post to also feature this year’s jack-o’-lantern. Unfortunately, I’ve been fighting off a cold and fever, and have been too puny to do any pumpkin shopping, much less carving. Luckily today’s only the 26th, so there’s still time to find a suitable gourd and cut a face in it.
<( °-Ʊ-°)> um . . . Boo?
But at least I’ve got the design done, and I want to share it with you.
Happy Halloween, Everybody!
Your faithful correspondent,
The Beast with the Streaming Nose
*from “This is Halloween,” music and lyrics by Danny Elfman