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Halloween itinerary

Tuesday 10/31/23

It's a chilly Halloween morning. I have much to get to, so I can't stop and tarry long here, but I thought I'd assemble a sort of entertainment itinerary for the day, for anyone who might be looking to make the most of their Halloween. A range of works that one can comfortably fit in throughout the day and night, right up until bedtime.

Start with a poem: John Keats' "La Belle Dam Sans Merci," a work which I've long had committed to memory, in case some bonny lass approaches me on the street and asks me to recite it, which should then win her over. Alas, this hasn't happened to date, but there's an old saying, "You never know, even when you do." Actually, there isn't, but I think it's a good saying all the same.

There's a seduction in the poem, which is about a kind of vampire. Sweet moan is made indeed! The image of the sedge withered from the pond with no birds singing is as quintessentially autumnal as poetry gets.

We'll need a film, too, or three. Mark of the Vampire from 1935 with Bela Lugosi as a vampire is both compact and sure to hit the spot, and you can either pretend the ending doesn't happen or think of it--with the dress up aspect--as being faithfully in the Halloween spirit.

I wish there was a faithful adaptation of M.R. James's story, "Casting the Runes," but to date there is not. It strays far from its source material, but the 1957 adaptation, Night of the Demon, is one of the best 1950s horror films and the last great work by its director, Jacques Tourneur. He didn't want to show the monster--and in the short story, there isn't really one--but I think the monster works. When you're a kid and you see what that monster looks like in a book or a magazine before you've seen the film, you think, "Whoa!" Which is what you want with a monster.

1942's Cat People takes place in a city, but there's a lot of spooky nature in it. The scene with the "Lewton walk"--a technique favored by producer Val Lewton--along the roadside and beneath the overpass might as well be in Transylvania. And then there's the pool scene. Ah, the fascinating, shifting geography of terror and the imagination. And as a possible bonus: The Curse of the Cat People, which is arguably the greatest American film sequel of all. It's that or Bride of Frankenstein, but either way, I'd say we have a horror film as the winner.

We'll need some music, and why not have some range as well? Try Jamie T's "Zombie," which has just about the catchiest sequence you'll ever hear between 1:21 and 1:27.

Then there's Charles Ives' Hallowe'en from Three Outdoor Scenes. Ives was a master of the rustic and the modern rustic.

How about some jazz? If you're feeling especially grim, there's Andrew Hill's "Dedication," which was originally titled "Cadaver." In lighter mood, try Philly Jo Jones' "Blues for Dracula," complete with Bela Lugosi impersonation. The bebop vampire!

I used to sit for hours as a boy in the basement of a library where the kids' section was reading the Crestwood House series of film monster books. Thanks to the Internet Archive, the entirety of the one on Dracula can be perused all over again, if you're me, or perhaps for the first time, if you're you.

We will need a ghost story, and I was trying to think what M.R. James story works best for Halloween. Or at least is a lively Halloween choice. How about we go with "The Mezzotint"? It's very accessible, and you have these fellows looking in on a scene of terror. A lot of Halloween is observing. Observing as a kind of participant, yes, but we watch terror--we don't actually want it to run roughshod over us, of course. There isn't any real jeopardy for us at Halloween--though be sure to have your kids wear bright clothes and bring those glow sticks!--and neither is there any for the characters in this story. Something ghostly and ghastly unfolds, and they watch it.

Now we come to the end of the day. One thing I love about 1951's Scrooge, and was mentioned in my book about the film, and It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, is that they conclude the day after. Scrooge wraps up on December 26, and Great Pumpkin finishes on November 1. I just like how things keep going. Something about these great days--Halloween and Christmas--keep going.

This year, focus on how every last frame of Great Pumpkin is filled to the brim with the essence of Halloween and autumn. The backgrounds, the foregrounds, the dialogue, the sound cues. You have the spirit of mystery and darkness. Neighborhood mystery and darkness. The places in which we grow up are these shadow kingdoms at certain times of the year. The wood pile is creepy and who knows what is on the other side of that fence?

And then right before bed, top your Halloween self off with the Quiet, Please radio episode, "Take Me Out to the Graveyard," which aired November 3, 1947 It's funny, it's frightening, and it's spirited in the best Halloween way possible.


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