I thought I’d mark Hallowe’en this year not by unveiling a list but by quoting one of my favourite passages from Stephen King’s Danse Macabre.
Danse Macabre is a fascinating book from the early 1980s in which King throws in a good deal of anecdotage as he unveils his own Apollonian/Dionysian theory of how horror works, and dissects classic horror across media from novels, short stories and comics to television, radio and film to show how that binary dynamic operates. Horror cinema is always slightly disreputable, except at this time of year. But there’s a good argument for it being closer to the Hitchcockian ideal of pure cinema than any other genre. So, if someone tells you tonight that they’re not scared by horror films – just think of this paragraph.
“I tell people who say that horror movies don’t scare them to make this simple experiment. Go see a film like Night of the Living Dead all alone (have you ever noticed how many people go to horror movies, not just in pairs or groups, but in actual packs?). Afterwards, get in your car, drive to an old, deserted, crumbling house – every town has at least one (except maybe Stepford, Connecticut, but they have their own problems there). Let yourself in. Mount to the attic. Sit down up there. Listen to the house groan and creak around you. Notice how much those creaks sound like someone – or something – mounting the stairs. Smell the must. The rot. The decay. Think about the film you have just seen. Consider it as you sit there in the dark, unable to see what might be creeping up…what might be just about to place its dirty, twisted claw on your shoulder…or around your neck… This sort of thing can prove, by its very darkness, to be an enlightening experience. Fear of the dark is the most childlike fear. Tales of terror are customarily told ‘around the campfire’ or at least after sundown, because what is laughable in the sunshine is often harder to smile at by starlight.” (212)