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Excerpt from And the Skin Was Gone: Essays on Works of Horror Art

Wednesday 11/9/22

The reason, though, that Season of the Witch lives on is because it taps directly into the vein of what Halloween the holiday is most about: The costume you will wear, the anticipation, the short days, classic monsters on the television, the telling of ghost stories, and, as we get older, our memories of nights out of tricks and treats.

Never underestimate what it means to get your costume just right. A silly thing, yes, but it counts for a lot with us. We feel better knowing we got the blood on our plastic fangs perfect. Who else will notice? Probably no one, unless we tell them, which is okay.

There’s a strange amount of joy and hope and personal satisfaction involved in Halloween. A licking of proverbial chops for the big day, and a sadness when it passes. Luckily, November has its own spooky vibe, but much of that has to do with how the Halloween season spirits us into the penultimate month of the year, with carved pumpkins still in evidence, and the last of the leaves finally giving themselves over to death. There will be ghosts again at Christmas, but would there be if Halloween hadn’t already gotten matters started?

Death usually terrifies us, but there’s this one time of the year where we make a form of peace with it. The living and the dead comingle, call a truce, in essence, though the dead, of course, are far less troubled by us, I suspect, than we are by them. Halloween is a lot like Christmas, in that when you’re a kid, you count down the days to the big day. In Season of the Witch, that countdown is epitomized by a banshee roundelay of a commercial that’s part of the grand plan to make all of those not-so-cool-after-all masks cement themselves to people’s faces and unleash the unholy horrors of hell! Or Stonehenge. Or the cosmos. The cosmos is involved as well. Let’s call it a cosmic jumble. We’ll be killed by our collective love for Halloween, is the bottom line, though. Now if that wasn’t one of the better brainstorms of a mad scientist, then what is?

So we’re talking sci-fi horror, with camp, and what may or may not be a sociological parable, because a lot of the plot construction—there’s robot people instead of pod people—mirrors 1956’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and the end is a straight-up rip-off of the conclusion of the earlier film.

But you know what? You won’t care, any more than you do why it is, exactly, that your kid’s cheap Halloween candy you keep pilfering tastes as delicious as it does. We’re not talking a box of Godiva, but CVS-bought Halloween candy—a Twix, a Kit Kat, a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup—on Halloween night or in the days following, positively crushes it.

Just as, alas, Season of the Witch was crushed by other horror films that year, such as Poltergeist, which did more than five times better than our weird upstart at the box office. Poltergeist was classy, and Season of the Witch isn’t. Think of it as the Halloween version of recess, the letting down of hair, racing around the playground with your little buddies and bragging about how you’re going to have the best costume, which you’re making yourself because that’s way better than any boring fancy costume, and wait until they see! Or, alternately, an army of cheap, cracking, easily-splitting Ben Cooper costumes come to life, turning the glee of anticipation into a species-wrecking weapon.

The monster in Season of the Witch is that love of Halloween itself, with that love being turned into a force of malediction, and no one being the wiser until it’s too late. All the same: that’s a monster I welcome if I’m to be taken out by a monster, which is what we’re supposed to imagine or envision as we watch a horror film.

I enjoy reading the old reviews for the movie, in which critics didn’t know what to say, so they suggested that the plotting of Season of the Witch is “dubious,” a generous descriptor, if we’re being honest.

But I ask you this: what is the plot of Halloween the holiday itself? Christmas centers on giving—in theory—but Halloween is more of a mangy free for all. Again, it’s that idea of the dead and the living joining forces, but that may take all forms. You watch Bride of Frankenstein with your brood. You read scary stories like “The Monkey’s Paw.” You listen to “Danse Macabre.” You want in on a vibe, a prevailing atmosphere, and, yes, a spirit. We can get there all manner of ways—as many ways as there are different costumes. Costumes we’ve donned, and thousands more we never will.

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