Creepy horror of commercial Halloween
Every now and then, some misguided moralist will argue that dressing children up as werewolves or allowing them to read books about beautifully miserable bloodsuckers constitutes some level of abuse. A trip to a horror convention should set such killjoys’ minds to rest. Visit, say, the Horrorthon festival at the Irish Film Institute this weekend and you will encounter nothing but good will, high spirits and friendly welcomes. Only heavy metal events involve greater levels of camaraderie.
The real problem with the current attitude to horror is that the genre has become so sentimentalised that – in its mainstream form, anyway – it no longer retains any real potency. Meyer’s vampires are a little too like ordinary teenagers. The witches’ costumes sold in Dunnes Stores are just a little too cute for discomfort.
As the commercialisation of Halloween has increased, the desire to protect children from recreational scares has remained an unshakable manifestation of parental paranoia. In the 1950s, the US government got itself in a state of advanced panic about the popularity of horror comics. In the 1970s, fulminating puritans such as Mary Whitehouse decided that Dr Who had become too scary for children. A decade later, the video nasty controversy threatened to turn the United Kingdom into a nation of pitchfork-brandishing hysterics.
Won’t somebody please think of the children? Sadly for opponents of horror, virtually every attempt to link contemporary atrocity with the viewing of macabre material has failed. We all recall how, with no good evidence, certain tabloids decided that the largely comical Child’s Play films inspired the murderers of Jamie Bulger. They didn’t.
For centuries, children have enjoyed being frightened half to death. Philip Pullman’s recent retelling of the Grimm Brothers’ fairy stories – tellingly classed “for young and old” – reminds us of the relentless violence that ran through folk tales.
The truth is that children are often less unnerved by horror than are their parents. They treat the recreational shocks as a form of play: a way of preparing themselves for the genuine horrors of adulthood. When parents argue that some film or television show is too scary for kids they often mean for adults (specifically themselves).
Forget all the cosy horror and gelded malevolence. Cuddle up to a genuinely nasty entertainment this Halloween. It’s fun for all the family.