31 Nights of Horror: An Epilogue

I’ve been doing 31 Nights of Horror for years. It’s a tradition stretching back nearly a decade now. Initially my brother and friends were who got my picks for the month. Later, the picks spread to Facebook. Now they’ve come to the web populace at large via this website.

Many people don’t like horror films. There are some people who don’t like the images they present or the stories they tell. They don’t like movies trying to scare them. These feelings and thoughts are entirely valid.

That said, many people have never seen really good horror pictures because the market has always been diluted with lowest common denominator dreck aimed at teenagers. The formula was distilled in the 70s and codified in the 80s. While these films might be shocking to the uninitiated, they aren’t really horror movies.

Real horror movies can appear in any genre. They are movies that make you feel the cold air in the darkened theater. They raise the hair on the back of your neck. They push you into uneasy emotional territory. The important thing is that they make you feel. The feelings they tap into are just as powerful as those touched by romances or dramas.

The emotion of being afraid is something we feel immediately upon entering this world. It comes from the loud sounds and bright lights that had previously been muted inside our mother’s wombs. It continues as we learn what is known and unknown. We know what’s in the light because we can see and touch it. What lingers in the dark? Wild animals who hunt nocturnally. That primal fear is mixed in our heads with everything else to form new horrors…horrors you are forced to watch in the theater of the mind. Watching, reading and listening to scary things is a way to inoculate ourselves. They allow us to temper our fears the same way your taste is tempered by spicy foods.

Remember this Halloween that scary things are out there. The only real protection is to face your fears one at a time. The easiest way is to return to the primal idea of the collective and shared risk. Go see a scary movie with friends or as part of the crowd at a movie theater. Your fear is reduced because you aren’t alone. This is the idea behind 31 Nights of Horror: Shared risk and enjoyment. In the age of so called “social media” what could be more appropriate?

31 Nights of Horror: An Index

Oct 1: House of Wax
Oct 2: Fascination

Oct. 3: NOS4A2

Oct. 4: Carnival of Souls

Oct. 5: Frailty

Oct 6: Wallace and Gromit in Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Oct 7: Friday the 13th

Oct 8: Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

Oct 9: I Married a Witch

Oct 10: Tower of Evil

Oct 11: Gremlins 2

Oct 12: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oct 13: The Fog

Oct 14: Sinister

Oct 15: The Haunting

Oct 16: Pacific Rim

Oct 17: Warm Bodies

Oct 18: Arsenic and Old Lace

Oct 19: An American Werewolf in London

Oct 20: Something Wicked This Way Comes

Oct 21: Click-Clack the Rattlebag

Oct 22: The Howling

Oct 23: The Conjuring

Oct 24: Pit and the Pendulum

Oct 25: Rosemary’s Baby

Oct 26: Viy

Oct 27: Juan of the Dead

Oct 28: The Halloween Tree

Oct 29: Doctor Sleep

Oct 30: Orson Welles’ Production of ‘War of the Worlds’

Oct 31: Dracula: Prince of Darkness

Outroduction

31 Nights of Horror: Dracula: Prince of Darkness

Halloween has arrived as has the final installment of 2013’s 31 Nights of Horror. Choosing a title for today was actually a little difficult. Fortunately Turner Classic Movies saw fit to provide a solution. While I have previously seen Hammer’s Horror of Dracula, I had not seen its 1966 sequel.

Horror of Dracula ended with Christopher Lee’s Dracula being reduced to ash via sunlight. I suspected that was the end of Dracula, and this sequel would simply ignore the prior film. Not so! Apparently in the 10 or so years between visitors to the ominous castle, Dracula’s henchmen swept up the ashes and kept them in a little box. He then proceeds to lure a few British tourists to the castle. One of them ventures off to investigate a noise and is killed and strung up over an open sarcophagus. The henchmen then drains the guy’s blood into it, mixing liberally with Dracula’s ashes. One misty revelation later, Dracula is returned. The man’s wife goes looking for her husband and becomes bride number one.

The other couple gets away, but in their escape, there is a carriage accident and the wife suffers a concussion. They are taken to the local monastery where they recover where Andrew Keir’s Father Sandor gives the lowdown on what’s going on. Dracula is still intent on gaining his second bride, though and mounts an assault on the monastery. He loses one bride, captures his desired number two and flees into the night back to his castle. Father Sandor and the husband pursue them and reach them just as they arrive outside the castle. The wife is rescued and Dracula meets his fate in one of the more original and rarely repeated ways in the book of vampire lore.

The film is a lot of fun. There is the gloomy castle. There is the bride of Dracula in a flowing evening gown. There’s the knowing priest who is also a man of action. Everything comes together nicely. You can’t top Christopher Lee as Dracula. But interestingly, he has no dialogue in this film. Lee said what was written was rubbish and he refused to say any of the lines. The film’s writer says he didn’t write any. It’s left for us to decide who’s telling the truth.

Given that vampires have been at a new peak in popularity the last few years, I was thinking about the ideas rooted in Dracula. Did Bram Stoker write Dracula as that Euro-trash guy who comes into the bar and leaves with the woman Stoker was trying to chat up? Is his ability to mesmerize women the writer’s crutch for why he couldn’t hold the interest of women when a man with a thick Eastern European accent came into the room? Probably there’s a paper in there somewhere if someone else hasn’t written it.

31 Nights of Horror: Orson Welles’ Production of War of the Worlds

In 1938, Orson Welles scared the pants off a large segment of the USA with his production of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. Welles was at the beginning of his career rising in popularity after his portrayal of the Shadow, the pulp superhero.

His adaptation is worth a listen even today. The program opens with a news report of explosions being seen on the surface of Mars. An interview with a scientist follows. There’s an interlude of music. Shortly the announcer is back with a live report from Grover’s Mill, NJ, where a space ship has landed. Once the ship opens, the visitors make their hostile intentions known. We never hear Earth’s triumph over the invaders, only characters talking about what happened.

I doubt the production still has the ability to scare. How we consume radio and receive our news has changed. Still, the program was inventive in how it mixed news reports and the evening’s normal radio programming to weave a tale that shocked people all over the country. There were few breaks during the program were listeners reminded it was a dramatization when commercials were played. If you missed the announcement, but heard the commercials, the effect of cutting back to an invasion was even more effective. The country was already tense because of the events happening in Europe at the time. Thousands of people were fooled by the broadcast, particularly on the East Coast. Congressional hearings were held, but no punitive action was taken because in the end no laws were broken.

It’s almost a little sad that no media outlet has the reach or reputation to scare us the same way today. Anyone fooled probably felt taken advantage of, but it says something about the strength and reach of the Columbia Broadcast System’s program that people believed that this was happening. I doubt the mix of anxiety about war and quality of production will ever again mix in the same way. That’s probably for the better. Still, history does have a tendency to repeat itself. If you’re interested in reading about the fallout of the broadcast, there are a couple of news items here you can read.

Thanks to Rashmi Sharma for requesting this as 31 Nights of Horror.