As the harvest season ends and winter looms ever near, the Celts believed that this transition between seasons opened a bridge between the living and the dead. It is thought that the winter cold and higher death rates contributed to this blurring of life and death. The Celtic festival Samhain moved people to wear costumes to ward off ghosts that roamed the earth, brought trouble, and even served as harbingers of death.
As Romans later conquered much of the Celtic land, their festival (Feralia) which commemorated the dead, came to blend with the Celtic Samhain. Much later, with the spread of Catholicism, the Church drafted their own day of remembrance to honor martyrs, saints, and the dead on All Souls Day, All Saints Day, and All Hallows Eve.
Despite the watered down, consumer version in America today, Halloween is still fundamentally about blurred boundaries and remembering the dead. No matter how you celebrate—whether you dress up to ward off ghosts or partake in a vegetarian feast by the light of a bonfire—we should honor the origins of our favorite horror holiday.
Join me in commemorating Halloween in true horror film fashion by remembering some of our dearly departed.
Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823): It is impossible to talk about horror without paying homage to the gothic literature of the 18th Century. While Horace Walpole is often credited with the first Gothic novel (The Castle of Otranto), women have undoubtedly been a force in Gothic literature from the beginning. Most notable was Ms. Radcliffe, who contributed (especially in The Mysteries of Udolpho, in 1794) to many of the tense and tender structures that are still used in horror in the early 21st century (such as Crimson Peak).
Mary Shelley (1797-1851): What better way to continue things than with one of the women who breathed life into the gothic horror that still lives today. Ms. Shelley brought us the timeless story of Frankenstein and his monstrous creation, of which we will see yet another mutation in 2015’s Victor Frankenstein. She reminds us that power is a state of mind, “Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.”
Tod Browning (1880-1962): From carnival barker to revered director, Mr. Browning spanned the silent era into the talkies and brought us such pivotal works as Dracula (1931) and Freaks (1932) and worked with other fallen greats such as Bela Lugosi.
Lon Chaney (1983-1930): “The Man of a Thousand Faces,” and also considered one of the most versatile actors of early cinema, Mr. Chaney and his son offer us a legacy of groundbreaking creativity and an ability to utilize make up and their bodies to twist and contort into the most believable and grotesque creatures of the times. Most often remembered for Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and Phantom of the Opera (1925).
James Whale (1889-1957): Creator of classic horror films such as Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and The Invisible Man (1933), he worked alongside of Boris Karloff and Elsa Lanchester.
Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980): “The Master of Suspense” and genius creator of such wit and witticisms as “Seeing a murder on television… can help work off one’s antagonisms. And if you haven’t any antagonisms, the commercials will give you some,” as well as, “I have a perfect cure for a sore throat: cut it.” Mr. Hitchcock brought us the greats Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), Psycho (1960), and The Birds (1963).
Gloria Holden (1903-1991) was the baddest leading lady in horror. She took the reins in Dracula’s Daughter (1936) and never let go. Combining repulsiveness with allure, her representation of Countess Zaleska brought to the screen American anxieties over female sexuality and the “New Woman.”
Vincent Price (1911-1993): Most noted by the younger generations for his haunting laugh, Mr. Price’s legacy runs much deeper than the Michael Jackson Thriller video. Vincent was noted for his roles in House of Wax (1953) and House on Haunted Hill (1959).
Zelda Rubinstein (1933-2010) played one of the most memorable characters in recent horror history as she adeptly portrayed Tangina Barrons in the Poltergeist films. Close to my heart as a Pennsylvania native and animal rights activist, Ms. Rubinstein survived beyond her younger co-star Heather O’Rouke (1975-1988).
Wes Craven (1939-2015): Horror royalty and creative genius who brought us the Nightmare on Elm Street films, People under the Stairs (1991), and The Last House on the Left (1972), Mr. Craven left us too soon. While he left a living legacy of film, he also left a hole in our hearts.
I hope you enjoyed this list, and I hope that you take the time to remember those whom you have equally loved and lost. While candy and costumes are AMAZING, I hope we can light a candle this Halloween and show a little reverence for the dead.
Rest easy my friend, I love you JK (1975-2015)