Halloweek 2010: 6 Classic Spooky Stories

Evening Post Halloween magazine cover by Norman RockwellThis is the promised blog post! Wooo! In six days it shall be Halloween!

Other than Christmas, Halloween is probably my favorite holiday, because of the costumes and the candy, but also because there’s so much to DO and have fun with! I love a good story, and Halloween is FULL of them! Just look at the old ghost stories and creepy tales you find tacked on houses or buildings in old historic towns: they all talk about people who used to be alive, and there’s something dramatic about the idea of spirits hanging on. How many stories have focused on ghosts over the years?

But I digress. As you know, I love stories of all kinds, and I’d like to talk about my favorite creepy, even Halloweeny stories to get you in the mood (if you aren’t already) for Halloween. They were all books first, but most of them I have seen as movies, which make me curious to read the originals. Coincidentally, they’re all from the 1800s. Honestly, they knew how to tell real, creepy stories back then without the need for the crazy gore. As I haven’t read all the books, I can’t really discuss the authors’ original visions, but I’ve definitely seen the movies.

So pull up a chair, turn off the big light and sit by the light of your laptop (or whatever you’re viewing this on), and munch on some candy or popcorn. I’ve got some well-loved Halloween stories for you.

FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelley

I love the story of Frankenstein. The scientist with a bit of a God complex, trying to create life. His monster, famously played in the 1930s black and white movie by Boris Karloff, is a strangely conflicted character who wants love and respect like any human being, but his screwed up brain sends him into murderous, angry rages when he feels threatened. Yet he can be as gentle as a little child, and just as innocent and unaware of himself. I still need to read the actual book, but I am a huge fan of the original films, “Frankenstein” and “Bride of Frankenstein,” where the second movie has a prologue with Mary Shelley herself talking about her story.

It’s Victorian science fiction at some of its best and creepiest, and has some great human elements in it. It’s probably my favorite of the classic horror epics.

DRACULA by Bram Stoker

Ah, the story that launched a thousand spin-offs, especially in the 1980s-90s, and definitely now with Twilight, but this is the real deal.

The tale tells of a very old charismatic vampire who moves to England to take prey in new territory, where he begins terrorizing two young women, and the only man who can stop him is Doctor Abraham Van Helsing.

Bram Stoker was a newsman, which explains why he wrote the original book like a collection of letters and newspaper clippings, and he spent years researching folklore and vampire stories before he started writing it.

There are many very well made film tellings of this story, like the silent film “Nosferatu,” and versions with Christopher Lee and Gary Oldman playing the title vampire, but the 1930’s black and white film is my over all favorite. It has so many amazing actors, including Bela Lugosi as Dracula, Dwight Frye as the crazy Renfield, and Edward Van Sloan as the educated, clever Van Helsing. It was back when vampires were monsters: unabashedly evil and extremely powerful, and yet still had weaknesses. Gothic classic.

THE MAN WHO LAUGHS by Victor Hugo

Gwynplaine, the man with the eternal smile, must deal with his horrid disfigurement while discovering the past that got him into his unfortunate predicament. Everyone laughs at his clownish features, but he’s encouraged by his mentor Ursus and secretly pines for the beautiful, sweet blind girl Dea.

In the silent film, the lead is played by German actor Conrad Veidt, who is tragically creepy, so you sympathize with poor Gwynplaine instead of fearing him. I really love stories where you can connect with the “horrific” main character by their humanity.

I’m a silent film nerd too, so I really enjoyed watching this one, which I actually found on Youtube. One really interesting thing about this story is that Gwynplaine inspired the character design of the Batman villain the Joker.

THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER or any story by Edgar Allen Poe

Decrepit old houses sinking into bogs, ill, sylph-like maidens, creeping madness, eerie, clinging silence…it’s just another story by Edgar Allen Poe!

I actually have read this one for a high school lit class. A young man visits his friend Roderick Usher in his rambling old family castle and meets his sickly twin sister Madeline. She actually dies during his visit, and they bury her in the family crypt underground.

But mysterious sounds begin to float up from the bowels of the house, and young Roderick admits to his friend that he believes the house to be alive. Chilling to the very end, it’s pure Poe at his finest!

PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY by Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde is a master of the written word, and you can feel the emotions and the physical terror as you watch the fresh young Dorian Gray slowly becoming a corrupt soul. However, his body never grows old, his inner darkness only reflected in a lifesize painting of himself, which grows older and more grizzly the crueler Dorian becomes.

The painting becomes Dorian’s dark secret, and he spends most of his life living in fear of his own true reflection.

I’ve started this book but I’m excited to finish it! It’s a fantastic, creepy, amazingly crafted story, and its full of commentary on man’s inner darkness.

THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW by Washington Irving

I’ve loved this story ever since I saw the Disney movie version in elementary school.

The incredibly skinny, nerdy and superstitious Ichabod Crane comes to Sleepy Hollow to be the new schoolmaster, and has to keep fighting off his fears when he hears about the Headless Horseman, the ghost of a Revolutionary War soldier who is still searching the woods for his lost head.

Where most of the stories mentioned here are English, Irish or French in origin, this one is pure and unabashedly American! I love me some American folklore.

———————

There are so many other classics, like H.P. Lovecraft stories (NOT for the young or impressionable), Phantom of the Opera and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but I need to stop the list somewhere, ja?

Hope you know what you’re going to dress up as this Sunday! Adios for now!

EINSTEIN PUMPKIN!!!

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