If you know me, you know that I hate the fall.
I have hated the fall ever since I was a little kid starting school. The minute mid-August hit, I would feel the inevitable change begin: the morning light that once woke me before my alarm went off in the morning would cease to exist, replaced with gloomy darkness. Dinnertime seemed more and more like bedtime, as the sun set first at 8:00, then 7:00, then 6:00. Before I knew it, my hours of daylight were cut in half, and for the rest of my time I was faced with darkness.
This pattern continued for me through college, graduate school, and even happens now that I am a working adult. I don’t get back-to-work anxiety per say, but that’s only because I don’t have the summers off. Instead, I always feel like a curtain shade is being pulled down very very slowly around me. In the summer, everything is bright and alive. When the fall comes, I am plagued by this underlying feeling of not having enough time. Time for what, though? It’s not like I’m a farmer and need to have my crops in place for fear of starving through the winter months. No. I’m a librarian. My life continues fairly steadily despite the weather. Still, the feeling of fear and anxiety comes back to me like a persistant and unattractive guy during the fall months.
Luckily, I’ve found the perfect outlet for my chronic apprehension: Halloween.
I had a love/hate relationship with Halloween as a kid. My mother was always a big proponent of the holiday – I always had a great homemade costume, we always trick-or-treated in my home town of Sleepy Hollow – which is a Halloween mecca in and of itself – and our friends always had a great party in the Bronx. On the flip side, I was always sick on Halloween as a kid. For some reason, that was just (and still is) my time of year that everything catches up with me. This only adds to my general despise of the fall months.
Now, I’ve started a tradition with myself. Every year, as soon as fall begins, I start watching horror movies.
I. Love. Horror. Movies. I love being scared. As a kid, my father would tell me extremely lively, detailed ghost stories before bedtime – stories about kids going into the basement in Jamaica and finding bones and coffins hidden in the nooks and crannies. When I got older, I read the entire Goosebumps series before graduating into the teen R.L. Stine books. We rented old movies like House on Haunted Hill and Ten Little Indians, and the original Dark Shadows television series. Since I grew up next to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetary, all these movies seemed heightened somehow. I could picture ghosts and vampires walking across the Headless Horseman bridge and through my window, and it scared me. But I loved it, and still do.
So, each Halloween I find that I come back to the same set of movies. They aren’t the scariest movies I’ve seen, or even the best movies. But I like them for their suspense. The tone of these movies, to me, perfectly matches the tone of Autumn.
My regular Halloween repertoire is as follows:
The Blair Witch Project
All parodies aside, this movie did kick-start the whole “amateur footage” style of horror movie. I really enjoy these types of films, when done right, because of their voyeuristic quality. I saw this in the theater and loved it, and something about it just draws me in every year. Having grown up hiking and being outdoors, the thought of being completely lost in the woods with some creepy, ethereal force chasing you is absolutely terrifying. The filmmakers’ actual footage of autumn in the deep woods in Maryland sets the tone of fall for me, and immediately puts me in the Halloween mood.
This movie is all suspense, and is the ultimate home-wrecker movie. Greg Kinnear and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos are an attractive, happy, hip couple with an adorable little boy. Everything in their life seems to be going well until their little boy gets killed in a horrific car accident and they are left heartbroken and vulnerable. Robert DeNiro steps in, offering to make them a genetic clone of their child – the only conditions are that they need to abandon their current identities and move out of town. They take him up on their offer, only to find that their new son is not the son they knew, but a relic of another boy who passed away. He is also a bit evil. I love this movie, and I watch it every single year.
The ultimate fall classic – the autumn holiday’s namesake. This movie seems so simple – a guy in a mask who terrorizes kids on Halloween. A baby Jamie Lee Curtis is the perfect vulnerable teenager. And the music alone is enough to make the hair on my arms stand up.
Following the “found footage” tradition of The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity gives us a peeping tom view of a young couple attempting to capture footage of paranormal phenomenon in their home. Something about hearing footsteps and seeing doors open and close while this couple sleeps soundly is profoundly disturbing. You wonder what you would capture if you felt the need to setup a video camera in your bedroom.
The Sixth Sense
This is one of my favorite movies of all time. I know it’s been parodied to death, but it’s so creepy and atmospheric, and suspenseful. The film opens with Dr. Crowe and his wife enjoying an evening at home after Malcolm was awarded a prize for his work in child psychology. The couple’s night is interrupted as they discover one of Malcolm’s old patients, now a schizophrenic adult, has broken into their home and is waiting for them in their upstairs bathroom. The patient shoots Malcolm, but we do not see what becomes of him. Then, we meet Cole. Cole is a young boy being raised by a single mom who has the ability to see dead people. Child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe takes Cole under his wing, attempting to diagnose him and help cease his constant fear. M. Night Shyamalan conveys the terror of a scared child throughout every scene. Everything looks big and intimidating in this movie – the buildings, the gloomy Philadelphia sky, the school children. The scene when the ghost of the little girl chases Cole into his bedroom fort always makes me cover my eyes. This film is a masterpiece, and the perfect Halloween choice.
Stir of Echoes
I’m not really sure why I love this movie so much, but I do. It also centers around a child, Jake, one who sees the ghost of a young girl murdered in his house. After being hypnotized by his sister-in-law one night, Jake’s father, Tom, starts to see the dead girl as well. This movie is so suspenseful, and since it’s based on a young, sexy couple, you so want resolution for them. It doesn’t come, however, which is why this film is so terrifying. I love it!