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Wes Craven And Fright-Meisters On Why We Love Horror

For Halloween, we look at the horror genre today — in the movies and in print — with some of the best fright-meisters in the business.

This Halloween, take a moment to look back at some classic horror stories. (Tom Ashbrook / WBUR)

This Halloween, take a moment to look back at some classic horror stories. (Ben Ashbrook / WBUR)

It’s Halloween, and look around.  At all the creepy, scary, fanged and ghoulish décor in your town.  Not cute little ghosts, but gory horror, straight-up.  The fact is, an awful lot of people love horror.  Love to get the shivers on Halloween.  Love our horror films, horror novels.  We’re going there today, with some greats.  Director Wes Craven, horror icon and creator of “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”  Elizabeth Massie and Michelle Hodkin, horror novel writers who will chill your blood.  Up next On Point:  for Halloween, the heart of horror, and why we go there.

– Tom Ashbrook


Wes Craven, horror film director, writer, producer and actor. (@WesCraven)

Elizabeth Massie, two-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author of horror novels and short fiction, including “Hell Gate,” “Desper Hollow,” “Playback” and “Sineater.”

Michelle Hodkin, young-adult novelist, author of “The Mara Dyer Trilogy.” (@MichelleHodkin)

From Tom’s Reading List

The Guardian: Halloween Reading — “I’m convinced that people who write and read horror are saner and better-adjusted than those who casually dismiss the genre. By engaging with horror, we take a journey into every possible fear. We open the closet door, rip the mask from the psycho’s face, embrace ghosts and demons, cast ourselves into the hellish chasm of the imagination. We return, not polluted but cleansed and set free.”

New York: The 25 Best Horror Movies Since the Shining – “One third of a century ago, Stanley Kubrick released ‘The Shining’ and changed the face of modern horror. Except that he didn’t, at least not initially. The Shining was a critical dud and, at first, a financial disappointment. (Kubrick even got nominated for a Razzie for Worst Director.) But over the years, the movie has, to understate mightily, gained in stature. And its release seemed to us like a good cutoff point for our journey through the ensuing 33 years of horror cinema.”

The Morning News: Our Hallows Eve — “This will be my son’s first Halloween, and I’m taking him to Indiana to give him a taste of Halloween as I remember it. My mom and I have been making plans to take him to a pumpkin patch and maybe a costume party at the zoo. We chat on the phone while I follow Fabian around the playground, discussing the tiny Purple Rain Prince costume she is making for him. She tells me to measure his arms, as she wants to make sure she gets the ruffles at the ends of the sleeves just right.”

Read An Excerpt of “Hell Gate ” by Elizabeth Massie

Read An Excerpt Of “The Evolution of Mara Dyer” by Michelle Hodkin

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  • Ed75

    Sometimes I think it’s because we sense something within ourselves which we’re trying to integrate and understand. One thing to keep in mind is that evil by itself is stronger than we are. I remember the restriction told to Catholics: if someone is possessed or there is evil present, don’t ever approach it yourself, get a priest. (This happened to someone in the New Testament also, who invoked the name of Paul. The demons said ‘We know of Paul, who are you?’)

    • TELew

      Alternatively, with the rate of demon possession exploding, there may not be exorcists available. It may be best if the person see a barber physician instead. After all, it might be an imbalance of the humors rather than a demon that is causing the problem. A good bleeding or purging might be in order. Of course, one has to make sure that the planets are aligned correctly, so one probably needs a consulting astrologist as well.

      Heaven forbid that the person see a reputable psychologist!

      • Ed75

        This week is a new release of the Exorcist. It was based on a real case of possession in 1949, Mr. Blatty wanted to publicize it as a support for people’s faith. (But the child was a boy, not a girl, some details were changed. He originally wanted to write non-fiction but didn’t have enough detail.)

        • TELew

          I don’t doubt that there are “real” cases of “demon-possession.” I do doubt that demon-possession is a real phenomenon.

          As for the Exorcist, I am sure that the movie took at least a few liberties (beyond changing the sex of the child) in its presentation.

          The truth is I don’t have a problem with people having faith or religious beliefs. I come from a very religious family and as a teenager was very devout. However, I found too many logical inconsistencies (I won’t go into this), and my personal experience strongly contradicted what orthodox Christians said was the “truth.”
          I have no problems with God or Jesus, and I am happy that people are able to find something in their faith that gives them strength. However, I do have problems when that faith, being set forth as public policy or cultural norms, proves detrimental to either the welfare of individuals or society.

          As for this forum–it is here for debate and discussion. Anything posted here becomes a subject for both.

          • Ed75

            Sure, of course. There might be some interest in the Exorcist – Peter Blatty, a devout Catholic, was a freshman at Georgetown when he heard of this case, the priest might have been a Jesuit. The family was Lutheran and had brought the child to a Lutheran pastor, and he realized what it was and they went to a Catholic priest. Exorcisms usually aren’t immediate, they can take place over a few years, this one could have been immediate though.

    • J__o__h__n

      There is no such thing as an external source of evil. People can be judged as evil as a result of things they have actually done. There are no demons or spirits or gods or elves or unicorns or ghosts or djinns or goblins or angels or fairies or Smurfs.

      • Ed75

        I missed another reason people like horror films: we sense the existence of these malicious beings, but they are spiritual, we can’t see them. So these films allow us to picture them, and even to fight them, in clearer situations.
        There are Smurfs, I saw them at the store. So I would indeed mention the objective reality of God, angels, and demons, spiritual realities, ‘Powers and principalities’, as St. Paul says.

    • gemli

      The “something within ourselves” is the inborn imperative to find hidden intentions behind things that affects us, for good or ill. The ability to read others’ intentions is extremely important, but we apply it a little too liberally. Our species cowered in caves in fear of thunderstorms and eclipses, certain that they represented some form of divine retribution. We’ve propitiated the gods to guarantee a bountiful harvest, or to spare a sick child, even though crops and disease aren’t being controlled by gods, but by the vagaries of weather and pathogens. We used to do this far more often than we do it today. Religion once offered an explanation for almost everything that we didn’t understand. But over the centuries religious explanations have given way to scientific ones. How often has the reverse been true?
      When we’re children, we’re afraid of monsters in the closet. To a child, it feels very real. When we grow up, we realize that there are no monsters in the closet. As an adult, I’d hesitate to call a priest. Some of them truly are in the closet, and they’ve done some pretty monstrous things that we should all be afraid of. The power we give them derives from our credulous abdication of reason. The only thing we truly have to fear is our own ignorance.

      • TELew

        Actually, there sometimes are real monsters in the closet. Their numbers include the many serial murderers and rapists, as well as men such as Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc. But in the end, they are only humans, not demons.

        Of course, the accepted explanation for most demon possession today is mental illness. As someone who has had friends and family members with diseases such as bipolar disorder, chronic depression, schizophrenia, and schizoid disorder, I can testify that they all appear and act like what people once believed to be demon possession.

        Unfortunately, there remains sincerely religious persons who believe in demons rather than modern science, and hence their proscribed treatment for mental illness and things such as homosexuality (the “homosexual demon” the right wingers talk about) is some sort of spiritual exorcism. These do not work, and the lives of the untreated mentally ill continue towards uncontrollable and inevitable self-destruction. Also destroyed are the lives of homosexual persons living in such religious environments.

      • Ed75

        That is the general Marxist/atheist view of the development and role of religion. But it’s not really historical. People don’t believe in God because they need to explain something and science hasn’t understood it yet. They believe in God because they have encountered God. (And they don’t respond out of fear, but out of love.)

  • malkneil

    Excited when I saw Wes was going to be on. Been simultaneously horrified and fascinated with “Elm Street” ever since I was a child. Many are surprised to find out that the movie was loosely based on real events wherein a number of southeast Asian refugees were dying in their sleep from post-traumatic terror. Happy Halloween!

  • ian berry

    Jacobs Ladder really scares me.

    • jenlight

      Yes! I forgot about Jacob’s Ladder. Definitely was one of the most unsettling movies I ever saw.

  • JellyJelly66

    For me, the most terrifying scenarios are when situations that should be safe and familiar are suddenly perverted.

    A day at the beach is ruined by Jaws.
    A first pregnancy is ruined by Rosemary’s Baby.
    A perfectly nice twelve year old girl is ruined in The Exorcist.
    A night at the prom is ruined in Carrie.

    • TELew

      The corpse of the fisherman (I used to know his name) coming through the hole in his boat in Jaws has to be one of the most unsettling moments I have experienced in a movie. It is so unexpected and disturbingly slow.

  • malkneil

    I think it’s relevant to mention since so many of your snippets have featured it, music. Obviously this only really applies to the movie world, but the score for a movie can really determine how chilling a film might be.

    • TELew

      I think the music created by John Carpenter for his various movies is some of the most interesting and creepy music out there. I also think that the music in the recent movie Sinister, was some of the most unsettling stuff I have ever heard, and as made a major contribution in the success of the film.

  • hennorama

    Scary moments:

    The alien bursting out of Kane’s body in ‘Alien.’
    The Ceti eel crawling toward/into Chekov’s ear in ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.’
    The eye being sliced in ‘Un Chien Andalou.’

  • Tim Rohe

    They keep talking about the villain that will not die and, I think it was Elizabeth Massie, just conflated it with terrorism. That is absolutely ludicrous! One of the main reasons villains don’t die is much more simple: franchising! If they refuse to acknowledge that, they’re kidding themselves.

  • Karen Kinser

    I think that Horror Stories feed into the superstitious parts of our lizard brains. Some of us use the ‘pretend’ fear and misery as immunizing us from REAL horror in life. My mother died when I was five . . . and frankly, nothing seemed as scary, after that. For a long time I felt as though I’d paid my ‘price’ and was immune from devastation. So, horror films and ghost stories, connected me with that primal pain . . . but not in a way that was as serious as what I’d already been through.

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