Sunday, September 16, 2012

Horror Movies

Since Halloween is my favorite holiday, my boyfriend and I have been kicking off the October season early by watching horror movies. For instance, this weekend we watched this one:

which was absolutely and completely terrifying, in spite of the eventual triumph of this lovely leading lady:

played by Jessica Harper. We also watched Interview With the Vampire tonight, and I've never wanted Antonio Banderas to make out with Brad Pitt so badly:

or at least for their fabulous hair to become romantically involved in some way. 

Anyway, what I've been thinking about tonight is the fact that we have an entire holiday that forces us to think about death. I guess in American culture it isn't really about death anymore--it's about kids dressing up in cute costumes and parading around suburban streets to collect candy. Alternatively, it's about me watching scary movies and throwing a Halloween party featuring pumpkin carving, baked pumpkin seeds, caramel popcorn, and dinner inside a pumpkin. Spooky Halloween decorations placed strategically around my apartment are fun too.

But--and correct me if I'm wrong--it seems like Halloween at its heart is a reflection on death and dying, even if our culture tries to ignore that, like it does every other facet of aging and dying. It makes the familiar unfamiliar by dressing us up in masks and sending us to scavenge the dark neighborhood under streetlights. We hang up cutesy little ghosts that bobble from trees and windows, completely divorcing them from the idea that they represent dead souls.

I guess I was thinking about this in part because I've been watching so many vampire movies. Vampire mythology inverts the Christian mythos by substituting unholy vampire blood for the blood of Christ, which then acts to resurrect vampires to immortality. Interview With the Vampire wants us to believe that the tradeoff isn't worth it--instead, we're supposed to die at a given time to make way for other souls, so that we're not constantly feeding off each other. But death is a terrifying prospect for most of us, which makes it hard to fault vampiric characters who choose an unholy immortality over death.

What's interesting about Halloween, though, is that in some ways it becomes a celebration of death. Autumn represents the temporary death of some parts of nature, but it's a beautiful season (and, if you couldn't tell, it's obviously my favorite season). I know that it's been hard for some friends of mine who have lost their faith in a monotheistic god to deal with the fact of death without the cushion of faith in an afterlife with an eternal family. Speaking for myself, I don't find the idea of an afterlife comforting; it indicates that life goes on in some eternal toil, when what I want out of death is rest and release. But still, death is big, and terrifying, and painful, and frightening, regardless of whether or not you have a religious cushion.

But the point of the matter is, no one knows what happens after death. Different religions take different perspectives, and I like the Islamic idea that the afterlife is like an oasis in a desert. But what we do know is that everyone dies. Which is part of why we need a Halloween--a carnivalesque turning of life on its head to remind us that death is a natural part of life, including within the natural world itself, that the eerie can be lovely, and that as humans, we share a collective fascination with and terror of death, which in itself makes death less awful and all-consuming and disastrous.

I hope this post isn't offensive or harmful to anyone; speaking as a suicidal person, death can be a tricky thing for me to talk about. But Halloween is one of those rare times that makes me feel gleeful about being alive. And so does this poem by Robert Hass, a former poet laureate, which, in my opinion, is about the joys of life, of human sexuality, of beauty in the natural world and our connection to it, and about our inability to comprehend the enormity and beauty of the entire wonderful universe.

Have a good week, everyone!


Her body by the fire
Mimicked the light-conferring midnights
Of philosophy.
Suppose they are dead now.
Isn't "dead now" an odd expression?
The sound of the owls outside
And the wind soughing in the trees
Catches in their ears, is sent out
In scouting parties of sensation down their spines.
If you say it became language or it was nothing,
Who touched whom?
In what hurtle of starlight?
Poor language, poor theory
Of language. The shards of skull
In the Egyptian museum looked like maps of the wind-eroded
Canyon labyrinths from which,
Standing on the verge
In the yellow of a dwindling fall, you hear
Echo and re-echo the cries of terns
Fishing the worked silver of a rapids.
And what to say of her wetness? The Anglo-Saxons
Had a name for it. They called it silm.
They were navigators. It was also
Their word for the look of moonlight on the sea.


  1. I liked this post and your approach to an often difficult subject.

    I've been thinking a lot about the ebb and flow of life and where I stand in the seasons of my journey. I believe, just like the seasons change each year, that we too can have multiple changes in seasons in our lives.

    I don't think that I will merely approach the "winter of my life" when I'm older. I feel as though I have already experienced many winters and many rebirths.

    We are all on different timetables but we all need those moments of death and closure to, like you said, "make way for [other parts of our] souls in this life."

    Great job.

  2. I really like that idea of multiple winters and rebirths. It's kind of like how churches talk about one baptism, but if you extend that imagery, I think you can say that we have multiple "baptisms by fire" into various stages of life--continual dying and rebirth into something new. Anyway, your thoughts are really cool.

    Thanks so much for your comment, MJ!

  3. Watching all that lovely hair in Interview with the Vampire was definitely a rebirth. And Suspiria is a baptism by fire that I always look forward to.

  4. Oh, you. What a lovely boy. I've been having Suspira-inspired nightmares with copious amounts of gore. Yuck. But psychologically interesting. Frankly, that hair is a baptism by fire in and of itself.

  5. Look into the Spanish holiday Day of the Dead. It's Nov. 2, my birthday :-), and you should also look into the origins of "halloween", All Hollows Eve in Pagan culture. This is what I celebrate at this time of year. With a very kind-written sign "No candy here" attached to my door, I don't put candy out for children to over-dose on. I perform my own little rituals and baking pies and bread is also a common part of Samhain. If you want info, I can totally set you up. Love ya!

  6. Kylie, why are you so great?

  7. @Andie YOU ARE GREAT

    @Jen Wow! What a perfect day for a birthday!! I will DEFINITELY take your advice and research both of your things. I'd LOVE to know more about that!! Thanks so much for reading and for being great :D