Going Around: Getting Spooky

Here at BloodLetterPress, we’re simply not satisfied with a single day of Halloween.  Every day of October thus far has been yet another mischief-filled day of Halloween Month.  We’re celebrating Second Halloween a few months from now when our contributor Nagi returns from overseas.  We’ve been stocking up on candy for Reverse Trick-Or-Treating and watching a new horror film every other night or so.  This week, we thought we’d share some of our favorite pieces of seasonally spine-chilling media.

Miki: Since I was young, nothing has spooked me quite so much as short, spine-tingling works of horror. There is something about the curt nature with which these tales are woven that leaves them nestled within, somewhere packed away, ready to take hold of my imagination the moment the cellar door slams, or the lights flicker out. The origin of this giddy fear is owed in large part to Alvin Schwartz’s 1981 book, “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark“. Featuring some of the most gruesome and hideous illustrations I’ve ever seen– it’s hard to believe that this was ever considered a children’s book, and not just pure nightmare fuel. Look at these pages, and you will see what I imagined hiding, waiting for me in the dark corners of my childhood homes.
Fast forward to 2016, to the first time I read Emily Carroll’s bone-chilling anthology, “Through the Woods”. Almost 18 years has passed since the initial terror of Schwartz’s work set my imagination on fire, and yet, here it is: that same, quiet burning of unease with every turn of the page. “It came from the woods. Most strange things do.”, Carroll cautions us, and suddenly, I am a child again, in my father’s house, sharing scary stories with my sisters. We are in the safety and comfort of our favorite blankets, both haunted by, and infatuated with the tales unfolding before us. None of us dare to venture into the dark hallways of the house that night.
Carroll’s eerie illustrations and masterful storytelling serve to remind us of our first brush with fear of the paranormal, and how that fear stays, dormant, in our imaginations, long after the time we are children.

Scrivener: So, there’s getting SpOoOoOkY, and then there’s getting spooky.  The single greatest goof-spook experience I’ve ever had was listening to the soundtrack for the board game A Touch Of Evil while playing the game with friends in college. A jowly shout of “Murder… …MURRRDERRRR!” kicks off an hour-long MIDI-driven opus of pure malevolent silliness that I desperately wish I could find on the internet. In the meantime, if I want to set the mood for cackles, I’ll put on Bathory’s first album, or Fantômas’s album The Director’s Cut. The Director’s Cut probably has some appeal outside of a Halloween context (it’s a bunch of weird nerds covering songs from movies, it’s awesome), but Bathory’s first album is so gleefully evil, and was made so poorly but with such heart, that it feels like it was made for the Halloween season. Outside of music, in terms of campy creepiness, I’m a huge fan of REPO! The Genetic Opera and its soundtrack. There are a few genuinely good performances, but let’s be honest, I’m here for the gore and the costumes and the shock-rock bangers and Paris Hilton delivering an excellent parody of her own public persona.

Of course, some would say the purpose of Halloween month is not to spook, but to get spooked. My taste in horror tends towards slow, building dread, rather than jump-scares, but regardless, if you want the stuff that gets you scared, I would point you to Amnesia: The Dark Descent before you were done asking; it’s one of my all-time favorite games. I’ve seen dedicated martial artists utterly lose their composure while playing Amnesia. For scary music, Inhale is still my gold standard; all of their music is free, and most of it will leave you shivering and twitching (Breathe Hard Breathe Deep contains the single creepiest Beatles cover I’ve ever heard). Make no mistake, though: assuming you appreciate dark ambient, early industrial, or other experimental music, you’ll find gentle beauty and crushing loneliness interwoven through the viscera of each album. Years after downloading them, I often listen to Eternal Loop Dream or Step Into The Skin And Disappear just to receive them as pieces of art, to listen to what they have to say.

Snacko: For years and years I stayed away from anything that could be considered “horror”, including books, movies and video games, an aversion that resurfaced briefly after playing Hideo Kojima and Guilermo Del Toro’s PT, an eerie 3 hour cycle through variations on a single haunted hallway, which gave me recurring nightmares for nearly a year.  After seeing Jordan Peele’s Get Out, a very different kind of haunted house story, in theaters, I’m back on the horror bandwagon. I’m finally ready to return to some old favorites this Halloween, and to make some new ones. I’m finally reading Stephen King’s The Shining, which is a lot of fun so far, and plan to finally play Frictional Games’ Amnesia: The Dark DescentWhile all of these are exciting, nothing captures what I love about Halloween as much as Capcom’s Resident Evil 2 on the Playstation. The old Resident Evil are as good an argument as any that video games are the perfect format for horror. By limiting player resources, Capcom adds an extra layer of tension, in which the only way to get more health or ammunition is to progress through the game, into the unknown, towards ever more dangerous threats. It’s a positive feedback loop of terror and triumph. Just as importantly, it makes both failure and success real possibilities. In a movie, character’s fates are predetermined, no matter how uncertain they may feel in the moment. In Resident Evil, the character’s survival depends on the player’s ingenuity and skill, with the limited save system meaning that death has real consequences.  2 is the best, and for me most captures the Halloween spirit, because it manages to cram dozens of cool surprises and horror setpieces into a brisk 5 hour playtime, and then through a clever four two character system, where the events of each character’s scenario change depending on which the player plays first, those surprises keep hitting throughout a second, third and fourth playthrough. It’s also campy, stupid and grand in a way that the first game never lets itself be. You’re blowing up zombie crocodiles and fighting on top of trains, but that campiness is undercut by the real possibility of death and lost progress. That genuine risk keeps the game from feeling trivial, no matter how silly it gets. I can’t wait to get a group together this month and give it another playthrough or four.