WARNING: There are chills and thrills ahead, and if you've
not yet read this little column you are STRONGLY advised to stop
reading this introduction, and move on to the actual column itself
- start right where it says "News Update", and read
all the way down. Do it now - don't worry, I'll wait for
Ah, you're back. Either you've just read this little piece
or you remember it from October '99. This may be my favorite
Halloween column to date, though I shall do my best to top it
That past Summer had seen the release of "The Haunting",
"The Blair Witch Project" and "The Sixth Sense".
The first had been long anticipated, and was a disappointment.
The other two, however, were complete surprises, and were both
very, very good.
That Summer was also notable for another reason. Mom had returned
to the South Bay to manage Book Again, giving brother Mike the
opportunity to pursue a long time dream of his - to go live in
Oregon for a while.
Mike's departure, coupled with the appearance of so many notable
horror flicks, led directly to 1999's Halloween column. A Holiday
"trick" for our readers, and one that I had a lot of
fun with. I decided that, much as movie goers had experienced
the aforementioned trio of films, Mike would pay a visit to a
similar trio of "houses".
Now, I'd long wanted to do a real Halloween potpourri, and
decided to pretty much pull out all the stops for this one. Therefore,
in addition to my little tale, I came up with Top Ten lists for
Halloween novels, short stories, films, and even TV moments.
The result is one of the longest columns ever, so I'll stop yakking
and let you get to it, if you've not already done so.
As to my "little tale", I was hoping to provide
a brief, momentary chill, at best - a bit of harmless Halloween
Instead, this column turned into Book Again's "War of
Within days, the calls began pouring in, asking if we'd heard
anything yet from poor Mike.
hee hee hee . . .
This was to have been our usual
Halloween column. As many of you know, it's my favorite season,
and one particularly suited for folkloric musings of the most
deliciously sinister variety.
Sadly, we at Book Again have
been rather distracted lately, and as so many of you have inquired
as to the sudden departure of my brother Mike, we feel it's time
to fill you in on what we've been able to discover. As you know,
he was headed for Oregon, and then -
Well, the facts as we know
them are brief, and are as follows:
Some time in August, 1999,
Mike Nolte disappeared without a trace.
One month later, this email
was found . . .
Hi! Hope all is well with you
and the store. I've finally found a place here in Oregon. It's
great! I'll have to have you up sometime soon. I've already started
decorating - I found this quaint little odds & ends shop,
and found a lot of things that I think will really make my place
"homey". I've already bought one piece. I'm not sure
what it's for, but it's clearly meant to hang on a wall, and
it caught my eye just because it looked so - well, so real,
for lack of a better word. It's hard to describe it, but it's
a great example of what I think some people would consider early
American "Kitsch". I asked the store's owner about
it, and he told me it was hand made - a one of a kind rarity.
So it was that I immediately
bought . . .
Rare Kitsch Object
At any rate, it's hanging in
my kitchen right now and - now what was that? Excuse me, Mom,
I'll be right back. I just heard some sort of noise coming from
Ok, I'm back! Funny thing,
it was that object I was just telling you about. It had fallen.
Fortunately, it seems to be ok.
Now where was I?
Oh, you were asking about my
house hunting. Man, I'm glad that ordeal's over! The first place
I looked at seemed great at first. I'd seen a lot of ads for
it, and someone had clearly put a lot of money into it, and I
couldn't wait to have a look.
The outside was great, a lot
of stonework and greenery, etc. I fell in love immediately!
As a matter of fact, it looked
a lot like a house I'd remembered seeing many years ago, only
this one seemed more colorful.
Unfortunately, the inside of the place just didn't measure up
to my expectations, and oddly enough I found myself laughing
at the most inappropriate moments. I was disappointed, but moved
The next place I actually
found over the internet. I don't think they placed any print
ads at all. I met the owner at the place, and it turned out he
was planning to sell it, and didn't know if the new owner would
want to keep it as a rental or not. He was very proud, though
- I guess he'd built the house for a ridiculously low amount
of money (35 thousand, I think), but by placing clever ads in
cyberspace he had received offers already for more than ten times
that amount! It was a cute place, small, but with character.
(The owner also warned me that there were a lot of dizzying twists
and turns inside, and people with vertigo or motion sickness
would probably not want to rent it.)
Anyway, I didn't know if that
place was going to stay on the market or not, so I moved on.
The next house I found quite by accident. They'd just put it
on the market without any advance notice. It looked pretty neat,
and I met the landlady in front of the place. She'd brought along
her nutty kid who kept mumbling things about "seeing dead
people", and his mom told me she could only show me the
house if I promised not to reveal what the inside looked like
"Let them see for themselves,"
she smiled, a Disney-like gleam in her eye. "They'll be
back, again . . . and again . . ."
Well, the whole thing was a
little too creepy, so I hightailed it out of there as fast as
Anyway - now what was that?
Sorry, another noise. I'll be right back.
I'm back now. It's weird, but
I could swear I hung my Kitsch Object on the same wall as before,
but when I just checked the kitchen it was hanging on the opposite
wall. Very strange.
Anyway, Mom, I should wrap
this up. It's gotten awfully cold in here the last few minutes,
so I've got to check the -
Now what was that?
Hang on a second, I'll be right ba
Lists of Terror
A small sampling
of Halloween delights by Joe Nolte
Welcome back, heh heh heh .
. . I trust you enjoyed our little Halloween "trick"!
So you're hungry for more,
eh? Well, the Spirits seem to have returned to their otherworldly
digs for the moment - perhaps they will return, perhaps not.
At any rate, we can certainly steer you in suitable directions
for your eerie edification.
There is, after all, nothing
so spookily sweet as to curl up on a late October evening with
a terrifying little tale, a monstrous little movie, etc. We all
have our favorite Halloween stories - here are a few of mine
. . .
Ten Great Halloween Novels
After all, what could be better
than curling up on a cold Halloween night with a fiendishly frightening
book, slowly immersing oneself in a world of shivers until every
little noise seems preternaturally loud, and the little hairs
on the back of your neck stand upright, and you seriously begin
to question whether or not you really want to turn that
next page . . .
That being said, I should point
out that the natural form of the horror story is the short story,
not the novel. Of course, in our own time many writers, Stephen
King and Anne Rice most notably, have made the modern horror
novel something of an institution, but this is a relatively recent
For this list I decided to
ignore the obvious, assuming you're all pretty much familiar
with the existence of books such as Shelly's Frankenstein, Stoker's
Dracula, Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll, etc. Additionally, I decided
to allow only one appearance by any author - otherwise, you'd
undoubtedly see about four books each by the aforementioned King
Here are ten novels perfect
for your own solitary Witching Hour . . .
1. The Turn of the Screw - Henry James, 1898
So, naturally, I'm fudging
a little with the first selection - this one is short enough
to be perhaps properly considered a novella at best. Nevertheless,
a chilling tale of possession with ominous undercurrents of depravity,
subtle enough to evade the censors of the day and quietly terrible
in a manner not duplicated until 1959's "The Haunting of
Hill House". (Ironically, film versions of both tales appeared
within a year and a half of each other in the early sixties,
as "The Innocents" and "The Haunting", respectively.)
Just pray that no loud noise
goes off as you're finishing the final page . . .
2. The Hound of the Baskervilles - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1902
Not actually a real ghost
story, per se, yet this comeback vehicle for Sherlock Holmes
possesses all the necessary ingredients of a classic supernatural
tale: the foggy moor, an ancient legend, spectral howling in
the dead of night - what more could one ask for? Indeed, as the
next two selections will show, some of my favorite terror tales
ultimately conclude with no actual ghost in evidence, the perpetrations
having been laid at decidedly mortal feet.
Conan Doyle had killed Sherlock
off in the 1890's, and was determined not to bring him back.
The clamor for more was so great, however, that he decided to
have it both ways, and produced this novel, set some time before
the master detective's untimely end. "Hound" was such
a hit, however, that Doyle bowed to the inevitable, inventing
a plausible way to resurrect Sherlock Holmes from his seeming
watery grave, and began a new series of Holmes stories that continued
for twenty more years!
3. The Red Lamp - Mary Roberts Rhinehart, 1925
Rhinehart is also author of
a lovely little tale called "The Bat", which was written
around the same time as this one. "The Bat" was filmed
at least three times, is one of the classic "old dark house"
thrillers, and was in part the inspiration for a certain Caped
Crusader that made his debut in the comic pages in 1939.
This one, as with most of her
work, is a mystery, set in a house in which the surviving inhabitants
(naturally, the tale starts with a murder) are troubled by repeated
sightings of a mysterious Woman in White. As I recall, all the
spectral nuances turn out to be of decidedly human origin, but
before we get to the final pages there are thrills and chills
4. Too Many Ghosts - Paul Gallico, 1959
Another ghostly mystery. Gallico
is best remembered as a writer for film, and as the author of
"The Poseidon Adventure". It is perhaps less known
that he also authored a little tale called "Thomasina",
the basis for the successful Disney film "The Three Lives
of Thomasina", as well as this sadly unknown masterpiece.
The hero of "Too Many
Ghosts" is a Paranormal Detective, specializing in Ghost
Busting. In this haunting and delightful little book there are
spooks galore, from a nun without a face to a harp that plays
on its own, and of course the whole thing is set in an Old English
Manor with an eccentric cast of guests.
This was obviously intended
to be one of a series, but Gallico's detective regrettably made
at most one or two more appearances. Pity.
5. The Haunting of Hill
House - Shirley Jackson,
We now come to the masterpiece
of all ghostly novels. (The more astute of you have undoubtedly
already noticed that these lists are chronological in nature.)
Whether or not the Great American
Novel will ever be written, or has been, it is safe to say that
"The Haunting of Hill House" is the Great Haunted House
Novel. An extraordinary work - if you for some reason have neglected
to read it, you should log off right now and go find the thing!
Then, turn off all the lights except what you absolutely need
to read, make sure you're quite alone, and begin.
On second thought, that's not
such a good idea.
Actually, you'd better invite
a lot of people, play some music, and have every light on the
house on! I shudder to consider your fate if you dared to venture
into this eerie story alone . . . in the cold . . . in the dark
. . . when no one can hear you . . .
6. Something Wicked This
Way Comes - Ray Bradbury,
Unlike his later "Halloween
Tree", which was intended for a younger audience and is
more instructful than frightening, this is the great Ray Bradbury's
paean to Halloween. He returns to the semi-autobiographical Small
Town from "Dandelion Wine", to tell us what happened
the year Halloween came a bit early.
Forget about the movie - the
book's the thing here. A classic tale of a Dark Carnival, reeking
with grim atmosphere and horrific revelation. A masterful work
by the Master at the height of his powers.
7. Blackbeard's Ghost - Ben Stahl, 1965
Another novel remade as a Disney
movie. Disney bought the rights to this tale (by a guy who actually
ended up better known as an artist) almost instantaneously, then
unfortunately proceeded to throw out the plot and turn the eventual
film into a sort of Flubber meets Blackbeard shtick. That film
was the last one Walt was personally involved with, and indeed
as he looked out of his window from St. Joseph's Hospital in
Burbank to his studio, as he breathed his last, "Blackbeard's
Ghost" was in production.
Pity the book hadn't been written
ten years earlier. The novel itself is a joy, a sort of modern
(by mid-sixties standards) Hardy Boys mystery with a real ghost.
This is the one book intended for younger folks I've chosen to
include, and there's a reason. The actual book, though little
known and less read, is worth seeking out. I myself read it shortly
after publication, and was initially delighted to learn that
Disney planned a cinematic adaptation.
The movie isn't exactly terrible,
per se, it's just that it carries about a 20th of the impact
the original tale does. I have to believe that, had Walt lived,
the eventual product might well have stayed a tad closer to its
If you're a Young Person, go
find it and read it. If you're Otherwise, pretend you're a kid
again and check it out.
8. Hell House - Richard Matheson, 1971
Having just dealt with the
younger set, I hasten at the outset to assert in no uncertain
terms that the great and legendary Richard Matheson's "Hell
House" is most decidedly NOT for kids!
If you realize at the outset
that we're dealing with a Haunted House not so loosely based
on that Italian mansion once home to Aleister Crowley's demonic
orgies, you'll realize why I say this.
Now, I'm as much of a fan of
gratuitous sex and violence as the next unholy wretch, but this
book would be a chiller were it edited down to 1950's prime time
Matheson is Legend (and a few
of you will get that little pun), having written classic short
stories and novels in the Horror vein, as well as being a principal
contributor to the Twilight Zone series. (Which is what Ray Bradbury
was supposed to have been - I may or may not divulge the reason
that didn't happen later.)
To return to the book, this
is one of the archetypal Haunted House tales of all time, and
the film, which I believe did not make my Ten Best list, is nonetheless
very much worth viewing.
Just so you know, Bad Things
happen . . .
9. The Shining - Stephen King, 1977
King had the audacity to quote
lines from the greatest of all House Archetypes, Shirley Jackson's
"The Haunting of Hill House", in this novel. Audacious
but allowed, as Stephen King has singlehandedly come to define
Horror in our age (challenged only by a certain New Orleans native
we're about to meet!). You cannot read "Salem's Lot"
without getting up at some point to close the drapes over any
nearby window, in fact, it is difficult to read any of this Modern
Master's works without pausing to make sure the locks are secure.
I truly believe King is a modern
Poe, and though cast in less than utmost regard by contemporary
critics (in part due to his unparalleled success) is nonetheless
destined to be glorified and consigned to English classes everywhere
some hundred years hence, as a Master of American Prose in the
Whether or not that little
prediction holds up, I of course will not be around. It is immaterial
- as I said, I would probably have included at least three or
four of his novels on this list were I not bound by my own restrictions.
Since I am bound to choose only one, I choose this: "The
Shining". A glorious Haunted House (hotel, actually) novel
that reeks of History and Dark Doings, an extraordinary chiller
that bears only a passing semblance to the film Kubrick subsequently
Now, I love the Stanley Kubrick
film, though King, for obvious reasons, not the least of which
is the fact that Kubrick completely bastardized the plot at relatively
crucial moments, does not. The film is an entirely different
entity. You cannot read the book and expect the film to even
remotely correspond, and therefore you cannot see the film and
read the book expecting a novelization.
The two are most assuredly
not peas in a pod.
King has given me many a nightmare
for over twenty years. This book alone sends shivers down my
spine at its very mention.
No TV & no beer make Homer
10. The Witching Hour - Anne Rice, 1990
So just when we settled comfortably
into the notion that Stephen King was the official Horrormeister
without peer of the Century, along comes Anne Rice to mess it
"Interview With the Vampire"
was a cult novel for many years before it began spawning innumerable
(and uniformly great) sequels, as well as a lovely film (and
where is the "Lestat" film, I might ask?). Rice
has created a genre breadbasket akin in the Scare market only
to King's, and her fame rests mostly on the Vampire Chronicles.
Which are good. Read them all.
I, however, have a particular
fondness for those wondrous Mayfair Witches. Reading any of those
books is to understand what L'Engle's "A Wrinkle in Time"
would have been had it been written as a Gothic Horror. This
may never make sense to many of you, but I bet a dollar to donuts
ol' Anne will immediately catch my drift . . .
Essentially, the Witch series
(still going strong) introduces us to a myriad cast of characters
that are mostly decadent, frequently Dead, and in general otherworldly.
We meet witches and ghosts aplenty, and learn more about the
dark underside of New Orleans' Old French Quarter than we expected
We typically soon begin wishing we were part of the family.
The stuff is almost akin to
Tolkien, in that it arouses a hitherto unknown yearning to be
a part of a hitherto unknown world.
It is also Classic Horror.
The first, being our introduction,
may as well serve as the Best.
"Witching Hour" was
unexpected when it came out, and has spawned a series as delightful
(at least) as the Vampire series. You know Halloween not who
live your lives without this book.
Well, that's it for the novels.
It's time to traipse deeper into our lurid literary dungeon,
and hearken to the Horrible Heart of the matter: the Short Story
Ten Great Halloween Short Stories
1. Guests From Gibbett Island - Washington Irving, 1855
Now, we all know Irving as
the spinner of a couple of decidedly more well known tales: that
paean to Old Dutch Ghosts known as "Rip Van Winkle",
and that monumentally archetypal American Ghost Classic, "The
Legend of Sleepy Hollow".
But you've already read those
two, haven't you? And Shame on you if not!
Assuming you're already well acquainted with the exploits of
the spectral crew of Henry Hudson, and a certain headless German
horseman, I offer this as a delight perhaps as yet untasted.
Essentially, the last thing
one wishes to encounter in one's own home would be a trio of
old comrades one had recently seen dangling from The Rope.
Arguably one of Irving's most chilling concoctions.
2. The Monkey's Paw - W. W. Jacobs, 1902
This is a must - I first heard
this tale in the dark of night, as a fire burned, from my Dad,
who told it to me and my equally entranced siblings (he would
also introduce me to Ray Bradbury the same way), as we sat transfixed
in the dark, fascinated and increasingly unwilling to go to bed
. . .
One of the great archetypal
Ghost Stories - be careful what you wish . . .
3. The Hound - H. P. Lovecraft, 1924
Lovecraft is of course considered
one of the great Horror fiction legends. That being said, many
if not most of his tales venture perhaps a bit too much into
the realm of the Fantastic to offer anything akin to genuine
Chills to a modern audience.
"The Hound" is a
bit different. No Ancient Gods from the Dawn of Time here - only
a grim, eerie excursion into a graveyard-ridden netherworld,
and an ending that I assure you will afford you many a sleepless
night - heh heh heh . . .
4. Footsteps Invisible - Robert Arthur, 1940
Robert Arthur is, in my humble
opinion, one of the greatest purveyors of Weird Fiction the 20th
Century produced. Amazingly, he is relatively unknown.
Among other things, he did
a lot of ghost writing for Alfred Hitchcock in the sixties, including
editorial duties for a great series of Horror Collections for
young readers. He also produced several brilliant short fantasy
stories, occasionally delving into the grimmer, more spectral
side of things, as in this one.
"Footsteps" may actually
have been made into a radio drama, and if not, it should have
been. You'll understand once you've read it.
5. Homecoming - Ray Bradbury, 1946
As with our other categories,
an author is allowed one and only one entry. Which is something
of a challenge when one comes to the Master, Ray Bradbury. The
obvious choice (and a great tale) would have probably been "The
October Game", which is about a nice little Halloween party
- and is gruesome enough to compel me to state that it is decidedly
not for the wee ones.
part of a trilogy of short stories Ray wrote early in his career.
I for one wish he'd done more, but we can be grateful at least
for what we have.
This trilogy concerns a rather
odd family, where uncles are most likely to sport bat-like wings,
and cousins have a definite preference for the taste of blood
. . .
Remember, this is nearly 20
years before the advent of the Munsters and the Addams Family!
At any rate, this particular
tale, which revolves around the "black sheep" of the
family, i.e. a young boy who actually sleeps at night and can't
even fly, is not only rich in dark Halloween-type atmosphere,
but is quite moving, as well. It will stay with you a long time.
6. Ghost Hunt - H. R. Wakefield, 1948
Here's a story that is actually
told in the guise of a radio broadcast transcript. Which makes
it my pick for possibly the all time best story to read aloud
on Halloween night. It's a classic Haunted House story, and be
careful under what circumstances you allow yourself to read this
one, as you may find yourself bolting upright from an unremembered
slumber in the dead of night screaming "To the river! To
7. Jimmy Takes Vanishing
Lessons - Walter R.
I would be remiss in my duties
if I did not allow at least one tale designed for Young Readers
to sneak its way in here. This one is one of my favorites, not
really scary, but heart warming and lots of fun, nonetheless.
Additionally, it's got the ghost, the haunted house, and the
opening pages wherein Jimmy first makes his way to the front
of his grandfather's long forgotten mansion are beautifully descriptive,
and gave me quite a chill as a young Joe.
8. The Lovely House - Shirley Jackson, 1950
Jackson is of course the celebrated
author of both "The Haunting of Hill House", which
has yet to be equaled as the definitive haunted house novel,
and the possibly more famous short story "The Lottery".
She was an absolute master of incredible subtlety, of quiet horror
and chills that would sneak up on the unwary reader so quietly
that one would often wonder why exactly the room temperature
had just dropped so . . .
This is probably her best story
ever. It's a little long, but well worth it. It is arguably the
most subtle of her pieces, and indeed after finishing it you
may well feel compelled to backtrack a bit, to attempt to ascertain
exactly how she suddenly tipped the world on its axis, and how
this quiet little tale suddenly went so horribly Wrong . . .
9. The House of Balfother
- William Croft Dickinson,
I give the publication date
as 1963, mainly because I can find no other. Nevertheless, this
story seems older by far, and as 1963 is the year Dickinson died,
I surmise this was written earlier, though perhaps undeservedly
unpublished till his death.
There is an old castle in the
north of Great Britain. It's called Glamis Castle, and is rumored
to be the place where Macbeth slew Duncan. It was also the birthplace
of the Queen Mother. At any rate, it's one of the most haunted
spots in England, and has many a legend connected to it.
Chief among these legends is
the tale of the Great Secret, which remains unknown to the rest
of the world, but has always been passed on father to son, to
each new Earl of Glamis upon his entrance into adulthood.
It is said that more than one
future Earl's hair turned immediately white upon receipt of the
There have, of course, been
various tales alluding to the roots of this Secret. Some say
there is a secret room in the castle, which is occupied either
by the rotting skeletons of unlucky neighbors of Glamis who were
walled in many centuries ago, or by the eternal shade of a Glamis
ancestor, doomed to play cards with the devil for eternity.
The most common theory holds
that, hundreds of years ago, there was an Earl who was born hideously
deformed, yet lived for centuries. This version was the basis
of an early 50's 3D movie called "The Maze", which
I quite enjoy and recommend. It's also the very loose basis for
this tale . . . Robbie Norrie canna die, Robbie Norrie willnae
die . . .
Heh heh heh . . .
(I should mention that no less
than Rod Serling also explored the Glamis legends, producing
a tale that deals more with the skeleton angle. Unfortunately,
he wrote it just too late to make a Twillight Zone out of it,
which is a great pity.)
10. Pumpkin Head - Al Sarrantonio, 1982
A relatively modern author,
a relatively recent story. It's a nice little story, all about
a class of children preparing for Halloween.
What could happen?
In retrospect, one should be
a bit cautious before inviting the shy little kid to your Halloween
party . . .
Ten Great Halloween Movies
You knew I'd get to movies
eventually! How could I not - what better way (other than perhaps
reading an ancient supernatural tome) to spend this most chilling
of seasons than with an appropriately horrifying film? There
are many such films, of course, and if you gather ten people
in a room chances are you'll end up with ten completely different
Top Ten lists.
Here's mine . . .
1. The Canterville Ghost (May 1944)
The original Oscar Wilde story,
on which this film was relatively loosely based, was a candidate
for inclusion in the fiction lists. However, as great as it is,
and it is indeed great, it was a bit heavy on the mirth, and
somewhat light on terror.
Of course, this film is essentially
a comedy, with the irreplaceable Charles Laughton as the Ghost.
However, the opening montage is quite eerie, and indeed my initial
viewing of same as a child is my first memory of hiding my eyes
in the theater!
A delightful, mostly fun but
occasionally spooky film - plus you get to see Robert (Father
Knows Best) Young play boogie woogie on the piano. (Given the
year it was produced, it's almost a given that the time frame
was updated to World War II England.)
2. The House on Haunted
Hill (January 1959)
William Castle had to
be represented, of course - and no film is a more worthy epitaph
than this. It's arguably the first of the Vincent Price tongue-mostly-in-cheek
sixties Camp Horror classics, and those lucky enough to see it
in its initial theatrical release got to experience "Emergo"
- basically a skeleton on wires flying out into the audience
at the appropriate moment.
Great 50's noir character actors,
a decidedly modern Frank Lloyd Wright style house, acid baths
and bodies galore - it's incredibly Camp, as all Castle productions
were, but a scream or three is positively assured. Watch it with
the lights out.
3. Black Sunday (February 1961)
I had to include at least one
truly horrible grim dark gruesome film in this list - what could
I choose but this? The great Italian horrormeister Mario Bava
produced this epic in '61, and it was not allowed into the U.S.
for at least five years!
Oh, you know, the usual - rotting
corpses, eyeless sockets, decay, hideous torture, etc.
Quite a fun little flick, and
awfully awful considering it's in black and white. Forget about
"Psycho" - this one'll kill you. (Put the young ones
to bed first, though!)
4. The Haunting (September 1963)
Yes - the classic supernatural
film of all time. I've written about this one in previous columns,
and this is the only work that made both Top Ten Novel as well
as Top Ten Film.
You must have seen this by
now - if not, just do it. It's great, it's got Russ ("Tom
Thumb", Twin Peaks) Tamblyn, it's got effects Disney would
promptly steal for the Haunted Mansion, and at the end, even
as you're avoiding every shadow, you're not sure why you're so
ill at ease.
I mean, you didn't actually
see anything, did you?
5. Comedy of Terrors (December 1963)
For me, there is nothing so
quintessentially Halloween as a good mid-sixties Horror Comedy.
This is the first of two I've chosen, and I feel a bit bad that,
this being the only AIP film to make the list, I didn't opt for
a Roger Corman work instead.
So, let me expiate my guilt
thus: Corman rocks, you should immediately go and see "The
Raven", the 1960 "Little Shop of Horrors", "Bucket
of Blood", and all the rest.
"Comedy of Terrors"
was one of the few AIP's not directed by Corman, but I
absolutely have to choose this one, for the following reasons:
A. Vincent Price
B. Boris Karloff
C. Peter Lorre
D. Basil Rathbone
Yes, dear friends, these four
archetypal timeless masters did indeed share silver screen time
with each other in this one film, and only this one film.
Price and Lorre are delightful foils for each other as undertakers,
Karloff plays a wickedly senile grandfather, and Basil (Sherlock
Holmes) Rathbone simply won't stay dead . . .
What better way to delight
one's senses on Halloween night?
6. The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (May 1966)
Well, I suppose a Don Knotts
comedy from 1966 with the great Vic (Addams Family) Mizzy supplying
not only the very Addams-esque score but actually playing the
haunted organ comes pretty darn close!
Nothing earth-shaking here,
folks, just a silly little flick with Don, the least brave man
in the Free World, running into a Haunted House. It's played
for laughs, it's generally a lot less heavy than some of the
other entries on this list, but it's good fun, with lots of delightful
Oh, as you may have suspected,
all the ghosts are pretty much unmasked by the end of the film.
That is, almost all
. . .
7. The Changeling (Spring 1980)
With the sad passing of the
great George C. Scott recently, I would have had to include this
lesser known gem under any circumstances.
The fact is, I'd have done
so anyway. By turns grim and gentle, this Scott film gets positively
bone chilling at times! You'll never look at a wheelchair the
same way again, and as for getting into a bath - forget it!
I have to believe that the
plot was at least somewhat inspired by the legend of The Chimes
(remember that column?). Very creepy.
8. Poltergeist (June 1982)
Yeah, I know, it's Spielberg,
and a bit obvious, but you've gotta admit this film is a lot
of fun. This is the closest thing to a definitive post-"Haunting"
house flick we've yet to see, the effects are great, and there
are genuinely scary moments throughout.
You left the bodies, didn't
9. Nightmare Before Christmas
Yeah, I know, it's Disney,
and a bit obvious, but as Tim Burton has yet to make a mediocre
film, and has paid homage repeatedly to the Horror genre, his
inclusion was a given.
Especially a given was the
inclusion of this delightful trip to a little place called Halloween
Town. One would be hard pressed to come up with a more definitive
Halloween flick suitable for the entire family! (Great songs,
10. The Sixth Sense (August 1999)
Yep, I'm one of those suckers
who have already made this film, out a scant couple of months,
into one of the twenty biggest cinematic blockbusters of all
Don't want to say too much
about it, because if you haven't seen it yet you are better off
knowing as little as possible.
And once you've seen it, you'll
have to see it again. I guarantee it.
"I see dead people."
You'll have noticed that I've
left out all the obvious choices, assuming you must be
familiar with them. In any case, "Frankenstein", "Dracula",
"The Mummy", "The Invisible Man", "The
Phantom of the Opera" (the Chaney original), "The Hunchback
of Notre Dame" (ditto), "The Werewolf of London"
and "The Wolf Man" are all perfect Halloween fare,
as are most of the sequels.
And there are even one or two non-Universal pictures that
fill the bill . . .
Now it's time to turn from
the large screen to the small, to give you a very eclectic and
personal journey into what I consider to be . . .
Ten Great Halloween Television
1. Alfred Hithcock Presents:
(May 3, 1959)
May as well begin with Hitch.
Again, only one entry allowed per show, which wasn't too difficult
in this case as the Hitchcock series rarely dabbled in the actual
When they did, though, man
oh man - chills-ville!
This one is actually not technically
about a real ghost, at all - or is it?
2. Twilight Zone: "Long
(March 3, 1961)
There are several candidates
for the spookiest Twilight Zone episode, among them "The
Grave", which features Lee Marvin in a new rendition of
an old Urban Legend, and "Mr. Garrity and the Graves",
which features a cast of - no, I'd better not say. Don't want
to ruin it.
"Long Distance Call",
however, is special to me. I remember when it aired. All too
bloody well, as a matter of fact.
It's a nice little story about
a boy, his grandmother, and a toy telephone.
I distinctly remember running
out of the room screaming in mortal terror.
3. Boris Karloff's Thriller:
(October 30, 1961)
As the original air date suggests,
this was deliberately produced as a Halloween Episode, and it's
worth the price of admission just to see a pre-"Bewitched"
Elizabeth Montgomery trading barbs with Tom Poston and John Carradine!
A young couple gets stranded
in a storm (sounds original, doesn't it?), and find themselves
in front of a creepy looking place that looks very much like
the Psycho House (and, actually, probably was).
Nothing too ominous, yet -
except for all those rumors about Vampire sightings . . .
Great show, quite funny for
a "Thriller", and a cool little ending.
4. (Unknown local show) (October 1963)
Here's one you'll never see
- I remember it well to this day, however, and include it, well,
because it remains one of my own most memorable Halloween
The cool thing about television
in the early sixties (this was a month before the JFK assassination,
when the world was still Innocent), is that the independent channels
were truly independent. You never knew what kind of strange
thing was going to pop up.
On Saturday mornings in October
of 1963, this strange little show aired that was on the surface
nothing more than a showing of old cartoons, sandwiched by what
could best be described as an ongoing commercial for one of the
top Costume makers of the era. Essentially, a group of kids led
by presumably a representative for the sponsor find themselves
lost in a cave, with nowhere to go but down and deeper . . .
Eerie, low budget things kept
happening to them, and they descended further into the abyss
week after week.
For some stupid reason I missed
the last show, and to this day I wonder . . . what did
they find there?
And after all, what captures
the essence of Halloween better than the Unknown, the Great forever
I am going to find that thing
one day. I'll let you know how it turned out!
5. The Ghostbreakers (pilot)
Here's another one you'll never
see, which is a real shame. In the Summer of '67 one of the local
L.A. network stations (I believe it was ABC, but it could have
been CBS) began airing a little Monday night thing devoted to
Pilots. Pilots, as you know, are initial offerings of a proposed
TV series. The cast is assembled, they get presumably the best
script they can, they dash the thing off and hope for the best.
The result is what is shown to the Network Bosses, and what determines
whether or not the series is picked up.
Most pilots, of course, never
make it. The station in question thought it would be a real kick
to show some of these "lost pilots" that summer. One
of them was this - "The Ghostbreakers". It had a theme
by none other that John Williams, who was still going by the
name of "Johnny" and was best known at the time for
his "Lost in Space" theme.
Oh, what a show! The premise
was that a team of detectives existed who specialized in the
Supernatural (shades of "Too Many Ghosts"), and this
pilot dealt with a recently dead millionaire named Ramson, who
owned a large (also dead) dog.
Naturally, the appearances
of the supposed ghosts of Ramson and pet seemed suspicious, and
our daring detectives proceeded to unravel what turned out to
be a mystery of decidedly human origin. Mostly.
One of the most chilling moments
for me was when they came across the skeleton of the late puppy,
seconds after hearing it howl!
The most chilling moment, though,
was the ending. I hesitate to reveal it, because I am fairly
certain the thing exists out here in Hollywood somewhere, and
can be Had. If so, I'll get it, and let you know how you can,
If, however, there is sufficient
interest in an immediate spoiler, let me know and I'll divulge
what I can remember in a future column.
Come to think of it, I believe
there's a certain Book Store Web Master who was involved in the
TV industry back then (still is, actually, and he's free to edit
this part out if I'm revealing State Secrets here!) - Hmmmm .
At any rate, for the next two
months all I or my brother John (brother Mike may have been in
the loop as well) had to do to keep the other one up all night
was to wait until it all got very quiet, and then, in the cold
and dark of night, to whisper, softly, just once . . .
note from 2003: I have finally uncovered a bit more information
on this. The exact broadcast date of "The Ghostbreakers"
was September 8, 1967, and it was actually on NBC. I even found
a cast listing - it's here:
I'll keep you all updated as I learn more . . .
6. Seymour's Fright Night (early 1970's)
Yeah, I know Vampira was the
first, and I know all about the great legends from other parts
of the country such as Zacherly, etc.
The Horror Host phenomenon
owes its true popularity to Universal, who in the late fifties
offered to television, for the first time, a package of their
classic monster movies ("Frankenstein" and all the
other ones I mentioned earlier) under the title "Chiller
Local stations across the nation
jumped at the thing, quickly putting together their own shows
to present these classics in an appropriately Chilling (and often
humorous) manner. Ghost Hosts became legends, wacky mad doctors
and fake vampires vamping and hamming it up and in general winning
the hearts of young horror fans.
You see, kids growing up in
the post-Atomic age had never seen the original monsters. To
suddenly see them all, week after week, ignited a Pop Revolution
second perhaps only to Beatlemania (though presumably a word
could be said for Batman, I suppose). By 1961 Aurora Models had
produced plastic make-it-yourself model kits of Frankenstein
and Dracula, and when stores couldn't keep them in stock the
rest of the ghoulish gang soon followed, and indeed by the fall
of 1964 one prominent journalist noted that " . . .this
year's toy catalog looks like a mausoleum!"
Monster Mania was everywhere,
thanks to Chiller Theater.
(As an aside, those horror
afficianados out there who are planning to be in the L.A. area
are strongly encouraged to visit the mansion of Forrest J. Ackerman.
The founder of "Famous Monsters of Filmland", he also
coined the term "Sci Fi" and has the most amazing collection
of Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror you'll ever see. And you
can - approximately twice a month he welcomes visitors. Anyone
interested is free to inquire for more info.)
At any rate, we in L.A. had
a rather simple version called "Chiller", which was
basically just a dripping logo with an eerie echoing voice saying
various appropriately eerie things. There were other shows, but
my memory has been overtaxed doing this crazy list thing and
has Gone South for the Winter.
Enter the early seventies, and Larry Vincent. He ends up on a
similar show for one of the local stations, and to his chagrin
realizes that their collection of horror films is mostly really,
So Vincent adopts the name
"Seymour", borrows a lot of the comedic shticks from
the legendary horror humorists of past years, and takes it one
step further. Not content to rail about how stupid the film is
during breaks, he proceeds to jump in while the film is in progress.
Yes, that is where Elvira's
Anyway, Seymour was a hit,
very very funny, and it was a sad day when he died (cancer,
I think) in the mid seventies.
My last Seymour memory: I brought
flowers to St. Joseph's Hospital (sound familiar?) in Burbank,
and was fortunate enough to be allowed to bring them to his bedside.
He lay there, asleep, as still as death, and it was tragic to
see someone so animated, who had brought so much good natured
ghoulish joy to his demented fans, in such a state.
I looked out the hospital window,
realizing this was approximately the same view the dying Walt
Disney would have had, nearly a decade earlier, while "Blackbeard's
Ghost" was going into production . . .
So long, Seymour - we still
7. Tales from the Dark Side:
"Trick or Treat"
(October 22, 1983)
"Tales from the Dark Side"
was a short lived syndicated series, and if you run across it
(as it tends to turn up on the odd station from time to time)
it's frequently well worth catching.
Before the series, though,
there was the inevitable Pilot.
This pilot was deemed cool
enough to air nearly a year before the series really got off
the ground, and I myself have deemed it good enough to include
Essentially a happy little haunted half hour concerning a Scrooge-like
miser who, shall we say, gets his Just Desserts one especially
eerie Halloween Night . . .
Happily, said miser's one joy
in life was scaring people, so we're treated to lots of Amusement
Park style horror effects. Quite fun.
8. The New Twilight Zone:
(Feb 14, 1986)
The "New Twilight Zone"
was quite extraordinary for its first few months, before producer
Harlan Ellison bolted following an argument over the Christmas
episode late in '85.
That being said, one of my
favorite episodes has to be this, aired months after Harlan's
departure. The story is by Stephen King, and knowing that you
need only to also be informed that the plot concerns a little
boy who is left alone on a dark and stormy night to look after
Who promptly dies.
9. Amazing Stories: "Go
to the Head of the Class" (November
Someone once summed up "Amazing
Stories" as . . ."They Weren't." ("Amazing",
In spite of that possibly unfair
assertion, the show had its moments, most notably this special
hour long episode, featuring a weird professor who arguably become
even more eccentric after death . . .
Also, any show that opens and
closes with scenes from "House on Haunted Hill" has
just gotta be cool.
10. The Simpsons: "Treehouse
of Horror #10" (COMING
Really, any one of the existing
nine Simpsons Halloween specials could easily have found its
way onto this list. These delightful spectral satires have in
the past parodied everything from the Twilight Zone to Rocky
& Bullwinkle to the Devil & Daniel Webster to Copolla's
Dracula to Poe and the Monkey's Paw and . . . well, you get the
You know Groening was
watching Chiller Theater back in Those Days!
Anyway, I choose the upcoming
episode (don't know the airdate, but it's coming up as you read
this), because it's the only one I've yet to see!
And it's just gotta be cool
. . .
There you have it, and how
else to end this look at favorite Halloween moments than with
a moment yet to be experienced. Just remember, my friends, as
you turn on the tube . . .
I'll be right there with you
- in Spirit . . . heh heh heh . . .
In conclusion, I'd like to
Now what was that sound?
Sounded like it came from the kitchen -
But no one's in there.
Hmmmm - hang on a second, I'll
be right ba-
TO FOLKLORE ARCHIVE INDEX