For horror writers, Halloween is the most anticipated holiday of the year. It’s not hard to imagine why: many dress up like their favorite monsters or villains, and it’s easier to find black lipstick in a department store. The holiday is observed in the middle of autumn, when there is less daylight, the night is chillier, and the landscape has shriveled up in preparation for winter. There is a vague sense of impending excitement, as the year draws to a close. Perfect setting for a gothic novel—or a celebration of who we really are. What places does Halloween have in the 21st century? One would think that ghosts and ghoulies would be passé in a world steeped in the Information Age. It, like all other major holidays here in the Unites States, has been commercialized to the point of mass- saturation. Anathema to the horror genre and its writers, Halloween is mainstream. Children trick or treat, ‘haunted’ houses can be found in every city or small town, and every cheesy slasher flick makes the rounds on television. Despite all this, Halloween still holds a special place in our culture, and particularly the horror sub-culture. It, like the stock monsters associated with it, will not die.
Halloween still belongs to us. And by us, I mean everyone—not just horror writers and fans. Unlike other major holidays, Halloween has not been stolen by religion, like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter. It’s not beholden to shallow patriotic ideals, such as the Fourth of July or Veteran’s Day. I say shallow, because you’ll never see a politician praising anything about Halloween, or using it to strengthen their public image, at the expense of the holiday’s original intent. It’s not based on propaganda, like Columbus Day, which whitewashes the death and ruin of so many natives in the Pre-Columbian Americas. No, Halloween, has survived all that. Why?
We’re allowed to have fun on Halloween. In a society that smiles on conformity, this is the one day where no one at the shopping mall will stare at you for wearing fangs and red contact lenses. Fear is sought after for it adrenaline rush, the thrill of being scared. Spooky décor, animated lawn greeters, chilling music—many of us bring all that out in October. For the children knocking at the door, and the child still inside of us. Don a mask and become someone else. Oh, we may laugh afterward, but a glimpse of who we are shines through in these guises. The choice of costume, especially for adults, isn’t arbitrary. We feed our fantasies while the trick-or-treaters feed their sweet tooth. It’s okay to seek demons in the shadows, talk to ghosts in the attic, and stroll through the forest at midnight wearing a plastic mask. Halloween is a momentary rejection of the modern world, when we can believe in vampires, spirits, and other superstitions entertained by medieval peasants. Those peasants, like children, were ignorant of what lies in the darkness. For one night, we can return to this primal state, dancing with the dead even as our hearts throb with the revelry of life.
For us horror writers, Halloween is a reflection of what we already know. The greatest abominations aren’t found under the bed, in a disturbed graveyard, or those spelled out on a Ouija board. They are human beings. The monsters on Halloween are all fake, and thus engenders a comfort zone in us. Dracula becomes a romantic, Frankenstein’s creation becomes a bumbling teddy bear, and zombies are too slow and dumb to really catch us. At the end of the holiday, their masks can be removed. Their make-up can be washed off. The real monster lies underneath the costume, and walks in the light of day. It stares back at you in the mirror on the morning afterward.
The best horror stories tell us something about ourselves: what we fear, how we deal with it, and what fear does to those who surrender to it. Literary critics write off the horror genre as pulp garbage, religious leaders label it as satanic, and conformists consider it abnormal. Just like Halloween. But society needs us. People seek truth in art, and one of the most frightening truths is that human beings are capable of the greatest imaginable evils. Beneath our façade of rationality is the beast, and it is never satisfied—nor far from awakening. Horror fiction illustrates this. It shows us who we can be, if we face those fears. It also reveals who we might become, should we indulge them.
Just like Halloween.
Halloween and horror fiction both celebrates and refutes the beast within us. Above religion and state, both are all-inclusive to anyone unafraid to look in the mirror. They are a subconscious confession that we know what we are—and that we know how to control ourselves. For one fleeting night, we can wear masks depicting monsters. Monsters of our own imagination. Their limits are our limits. We make jest of the demons of old, impersonating them so that the demons inside of us will sleep one more year.