THR Blog   /   October 30, 2015

The Hedgehog Recommends

Spooky Stories for Halloween

“The Old Hall, Fairies by Moonlight; Spectres & Shades, Brownies and Banshees,” by John Anster Fitzgerald (c. 1875). Via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s that time of year again: a weekend for spooky (or not-so-spooky) stories to be enjoyed with friends or, for the very brave, alone. We asked some Hedgehog Review editors, contributors, and friends to send in their recommendations for the book or movie to curl up with this weekend. Enjoy!

Let the Right One In

Forget all the overheated vampire movie stereotypes of sexy men in frilled shirts and virginal damsels in enticing décolletage. Rather, Tomas Alfredson’s 2008 film (based on the best-selling novel Låt den rätte komma in by John Ajvide Lindqvist) is more about the relationship between two loners in a suburban Swedish apartment building. Oskar is an alienated and bullied twelve-year-old boy. His friend Eli, the vampire, dresses oddly, smells funny, and is poignantly trapped by her predicament. Their assignation point is a jungle gym where they share a Rubik’s cube and discover their ability to communicate in Morse code. As their mutual trust grows, Oskar and Eli discover several, not always pleasant, truths about themselves. One of the most touching moments comes as Eli stands outside the door of Oskar’s apartment, unwilling to enter without his express consent—hence, the film’s title—an invitation that permits intimacy and respect and establishes that Eli will never victimize Oskar as his peers have. Intelligent, austere, mesmerizing, and, yes, horrific, this movie confirmed, for once, the critical hype it received and proved that it was indeed unlike any vampire movie ever made.—Leann Davis Alspaugh is managing editor of the Hedgehog Review.

Lolly Willowes: Or, the Loving Huntsman, Sylvia Townsend Warner

Lolly Willowes seems like it’s going to be the story of Laura, a nice girl who grows up and slips into an obscure and helpful spinsterhood, living with her brother’s family and helping to run his home. And it is that story, though if Laura is a spinster, it’s at least half because she has a habit of saying things like this to her beaus:

“If you are a were-wolf, and very likely you may be, for lots of people are without knowing, February, of all months, is the month when you are most likely to go out on a dark windy night and worry sheep.”

But Laura gets tired of being such a helpful member of her brother’s household, so she moves to the country. When her family follows her there, Laura … strikes a deal with the Devil to keep them away, sells her immortal soul, and becomes a witch. The book is worth it if only for the depiction of a Witches’ Sabbath, which newly witched Laura attends in the hopes of finding, at last, her sort of milieu; but finds instead she feels as out-of-place and awkward as ever. Witchery only solves so many problems.

B.D. McClay is associate editor of the Hedgehog Review.

“Howl,” Allen Ginsberg

The famous first line (“I saw the best minds of my generation, destroyed by madness”) sets an ominous tone, but the greatest horror in Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” comes in Part II, where he depicts American industrial capitalism (“Moloch”) as the behemoth that, in its encounters with the bearers of those troubled minds, “bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination.”  But while any third-rate zombie can eat brains, the sinister force of Moloch—“Moloch the incomprehensible prison!” “Moloch whose mind is pure machinery!” “Moloch whose blood is running money!”—is rooted in the fact that it “entered my soul early” and “frightened me out of my natural ecstasy.” If, as Ginsberg suggests, the only alternative to the suffocating embrace of Moloch is the madness-tinged retreatism he depicts in Part I—which, for all of its best efforts at escape, is still left “listening to the Terror through the wall”—the fate of thoughtful soul could scarcely be more dismal.

Matthew Braswell is an associate fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture and a THR contributor.

“Young Goodman Brown,” Nathaniel Hawthorne

In Hawthorne’s story “Young Goodman Brown,” the title character departs at sunset from his wife, Faith, on a journey into the depths of the woods. On the way Brown joins up with a mysterious guide who walks with a staff bearing the likeness of a great black snake. The guide delivers Brown to a black-mass-like initiation. All the people of the village, from pious elders to dissolute men and “spotted” women, are there. The master of ceremonies proclaims that on this night every person’s “secret deeds” will be made known, and that all “shall exult to behold the whole earth [as] one stain of guilt, one mighty blood spot.” Worst of all, Goodman Brown sees, to his horror, that his beloved wife Faith is also there, among the fellow initiates. At that moment, the whole universe stands exposed to him as a cruel sham.

The next morning, Brown wanders the village, encountering those he saw the previous night. They behave as if nothing had happened. Was it all a dream? We never know. But Brown never recovers from his glimpse into the heart of darkness. He spends his remaining years in restless gloom, his imagination tortured by images he can never dispel.

Wilfred M. McClay is the G. T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty at the University of Oklahoma and a frequent Hedgehog contributor.

“The Great God Pan,” Arthur Machen

Arthur Machen (1863–1947) was a fascinating specimen of that extinct genus the “man of letters”: A Welsh classicist who never earned a degree; a popular journalist who wrote in a pastiche of seventeenth-century English, “half-unconsciously,” as he put it, “dress[ing] up my every day thoughts and common experiences in the habit of the Cavalier or of the Caroline Divine”; a conservative Anglo-Catholic who befriended pornographers and produced an enjoyable translation of Casanova’s Memoirs. He was also, I think, the man who invented the modern horror story.

In “The Great God Pan,” recent advances—by fin de siècle standards—in science and the oldest, most unspeakable horrors whispered about by our ancestors converge. A gruesome medical experiment is performed upon a young woman, leaving her mentally incapacitated. A seven-year-old boy sees an orphan girl playing in the woods with “a strange naked man.” A Roman-era statue of a man with the head of a goat is unearthed on the grounds of an ancient country house. A gentleman reduced to penury claims that his wife, a mysterious, evidently foreign, heiress, has “corrupted him body and soul.” An artist dies of fright after producing a series of pornographic drawings of fauns, satyrs, and aegipans. Suicides and orgies proliferate in London. A dying woman metamorphoses into—well, you’ll see—and a secret about paternity is revealed at the very last moment.

Let me put it this way: you’ll never read that famous passage in The Wind in the Willows the same way.

Matthew Walther is assistant editor of the Washington Free Beacon and author of our fall issue's “Signifiers” column.

Cure

“All the things that used to be inside me, now they’re all outside. So I can see all of the things inside you, Doctor.”

So says Mamiya, the unclassifiable villain in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s overlooked 1997 film Cure. When he says this, you realize you’re not dealing with yet another instance of the Hannibal Lecter trope. Mamiya feels like something new. But what’s new about him is how old—how primal—his understanding of human nature is. That’s the wellspring of the terror he instills. He hasn’t bought into the Enlightenment myth that humanity is perfectible. Neither has he bought into the much older myth that all evil is irrational—merely due to ignorance about what is good. He knows where the evil is. He can see it.

Better known for his more recent film Pulse, in Cure Kurosawa presents the story of the harried detective Takabe and his hunt for the instigator of a series of apparently motiveless murders. It’s no spoiler to note that Takabe finds the instigator, for that is only the beginning of what he finds.

Paul Nedelisky is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture and a THR contributor.