Happy (early) Halloween! Now that the spooky season is upon us, let’s take a look at what Information Today and NewsBreaks writers recommend to get you into the supernatural spirit. I hope you find something new to enjoy or to take back to your library to share with your patrons.
A BUNCH OF SCAREDY-CATS?
I don’t particularly enjoy being scared. I tend to like my Halloween decorations cartoonish rather than macabre, and I can’t handle watching horror movies. (Some M. Night Shyamalan movies and the A Quiet Place series are about as dark as I’m willing to go.) Turns out, I’m not the only one.
Patti Gibbons says of horror movies, “I like them better when they are over. Ugg, during a horror movie, I’m on the edge of my seat.” Michelle Fitzhugh-Craig shares a similar sentiment: “Despite my fascination with some mythical and mystical creatures/beings, I don’t watch a lot of movies in this genre. Gory films bother me and scare me a little too much.”
David Haden concurs. “I prefer mystery, intrigue, ancient atmosphere, fantasies of intellectual ‘what if’ history, all of which is very rarely found in modern horror movies,” he says. “There is a clear distinction made by fiction writers between ‘weird’ and ‘horror’ tales, and it is generally in ‘the weird’ that one will find sustained attention given to [my interests of] rare books, ancient libraries, obsessed bibliophiles, secret archives, and the like.”
David King has a tactical reason for steering clear: “As a rule, I don’t watch horror movies. I have enough to scare me every day—I commute 60 miles a day on an extremely busy stretch of interstate.” John Charlton has a comparable rule. “Frankly, I think life—the real warts and all version—is rather more scary than slumping in a seat watching Saw or the like. Just think of lying on a hospital trolley awaiting an operation,” he says. But he acknowledges that he finds some movies “disturbing,” including The Exorcist: “The ‘Tubular Bells’ music by Mike Oldfield—which featured in the work—still sends the odd shiver down my spine.” He had the scariest movie-watching experience seeing 1973’s Don’t Look Now:
At the start [of the film], the very young daughter of husband and wife John and Laura Baxter, wearing a very distinctive red coat, falls into a pond and drowns. The couple go to Venice, to try and get over their loss, where they meet two aging supposed clairvoyants. They tell the Baxters that they feel their dead daughter’s presence is very strong in Venice, and they become convinced she is haunting the city. They take to the streets and canals of Venice and, on a few well-crafted occasions, catch a glimpse of a small, childlike figure wearing a coat identical to the one their daughter wore when she drowned. In the film’s denouement, they finally get close to this figure and pursue it. In the final scene, John Baxter pats the figure on the back. It then turns round—it’s not the daughter, but a hideous female dwarf wielding a long blade who slashes Baxter’s throat, killing him. The audience shrieked in horror at this, and my girlfriend at the time fainted, which took my mind off the horror. I think she blamed me for the choice of movie for a fun night out, and I got the boot. I don’t recall if she was wearing a red coat.
Sometimes something scary watched too soon can scar you for life. At about age 10, I broke my glasses in half diving behind the couch in fear while watching Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. To this day, I fast-forward all of the temple scenes when I rewatch the series. Justin Hoenke’s fear-inducer is the “Thriller” music video. “That thing used to, and kind of still does, haunt me,” he says. “Zombie Michael Jackson is terrifying. I don’t know what it is about the makeup, but wow, it used to terrify me so much that I’d cry as a child. I still have to look away at the end of the video where Michael turns around with those yellow eyes.” He also says he “was way too young” to watch A Nightmare on Elm Street 4, but his friend had it on LaserDisc, which offered special features. “Freddy [Krueger] was so creepy. I was about 10 years old when I saw this film, and I remember thinking that Freddy was actually real,” Justin adds.
“I still have occasional nightmares that I’m watching (the original) Dark Shadows when it was a daytime soap opera back in the mid-1960s,” shares Lauree Padgett. “I was about 6 or so and was not allowed by my mother to watch such a scary show.” Unbeknownst to her mother, Lauree would watch the show in a friend’s basement after school. “I’m not sure if it is a combination of being haunted by misbehaving or the actual contents of the show—probably a bit of both—but years, even decades later—I have a recurring dream that Dark Shadows is on my TV and I cannot get rid of it. I can’t mute it, I can’t change the channel, I can’t turn off the TV. And for the record, I consider The Wizard of Oz a horror movie. I still haven’t recovered from those flying monkeys.”
Marci Wicker doesn’t like horror movies, but she’ll watch the psychological thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock—Psycho, The Birds, and Shadow of a Doubt—saying that “the suspense is just so delectable.” She adds, “The Shining is not a movie that I could ever deny a watch as long as I wasn’t in the mood for a sunshine and strawberry cake movie experience.”
Jessica Hilburn says she hates jump scares. “I prefer to feel unsettled as I watch through my fingers, and I usually watch anything potentially scary alone so I can turn it off without judgment if need be!”
So, what are some of the things to like about horror movies? “I like the lore that they construct around the stories and the characters. That really pulls me in,” says Justin Hoenke. Anthony Aycock agrees: “The Blair Witch Project is the only movie that genuinely scared me. What I like about others, however, is how they create mythos. Michael Myers, Freddie Kruger, Jason Voorhees—these are the 20th century’s Grimm’s fairy tales.”
Woody Evans is also a fan of Halloween fiends. “I do not like horror, because I do not like to be horrified. But there’s something about (non-human) monsters that I like. They represent an intelligence in nature and something undiscovered—some aspect of the wild that crashes into the human world and that we can’t control. There’s something humbling about a werewolf, about a kraken.”
Keep our tastes in mind as you read on for our Halloween media recommendations!
RECOMMENDED WATCHING AND READING
Michelle Fitzhugh-Craig shares, “The last decade or so, I’ve become super intrigued with what some would call ‘mythical creatures,’ primarily falling in love with vampires, werewolves/shape shifters, and the like (no zombies!). Media I love include: the Twilight series (watch it every time on TV!); True Blood; documentaries talking about these creatures; and I am currently reading Fledgling by Octavia Butler.”
If you’re looking for creature features, here is my list:
- Frankenstein’s monster—Young Frankenstein is Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder at their best, and the cast is stacked. Marty Feldman and his migrating hump never fail to make me laugh. And I smile every time I think about Peter-Boyle-as-the-monster performing “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”
- Ghosts—An unconventional choice, but I’m partial to the rom-com Just Like Heaven, in which Reese Witherspoon haunts Mark Ruffalo, who has moved into her apartment. Donal Logue steals every scene he’s in.
- Vampires—the Twilight Saga. I’m a Millennial woman, so this was an almost inevitable addition to my list. But Michelle is right; it’s so good, you guys! Romance, action, superpowers, humor, family dynamics … the Twilight movies are for everyone.
- Werewolves—I loved Peacock’s show Wolf Like Me, starring Isla Fisher and Josh Gad, which has been renewed for a second season. It’s a romance, a family drama, and a supernatural thriller rolled into one. And season one is six episodes long, so it’ll only take you 3 hours to binge.
- Witches—I grew up on ABC’s TGIF, when Sabrina the Teenage Witch was a Friday-night staple. I recommend seasons 1–3. After that, the plotlines weren’t my cup of tea. But Salem the cat is forever a sitcom icon.
Gwen Gregory gravitates toward comedy too; her favorites are Hocus Pocus and What We Do in the Shadows. David King joins me in recommending Young Frankenstein “because it skewered all the cliches of the Frankenstein genre,” and he’s also a What We Do in the Shadows fan: He got “hooked on the vampires-in-New Jersey series during the second season,” he says, and he loves “the way the show has created an entire vampire underground in the greater New York area. It has developed some interesting character dynamics, while still finding the (sometimes dark) humor in the vampire genre.”
Let’s pivot to some actually frightening stuff. Marydee Ojala shares, “I’m not much of a fan of horror films, but I am partial to George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, released in 1968, mainly because it was filmed in Pittsburgh and starred Judith O’Dea, a friend of mine. Romero died in 2017, and his papers form the George Romero Archives, held at the University of Pittsburgh (romero.library.pitt.edu).”
Marydee was “terrified by the original version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” but wasn’t a fan of the remake. She adds, “The last film I saw in an actual theater was Top Gun: Maverick. The scary part of that was Tom Cruise looking exactly like he did in the original although he’s 36 years older.”
Dave Shumaker remembers the “original 13 Ghosts, the 1960 movie, ‘happily created’ by producer William Castle ‘to scare the living daylights out of you’ (quoting the movie trailer). It featured ‘Illusion-O’ technology—which meant cardboard glasses with red and blue lenses, handed out when you entered the theater. To see the ghosts, you put on the red glasses—and if they got too scary, you put on the blue ones (or just closed your eyes).” He says, “The movie was a Saturday matinee staple at our local movie theater, especially around Halloween, and was guaranteed to produce an afternoon’s enthralling entertainment filled with the shrieks of the 8- to 15-year-old audience.”
An all-time favorite of Anthony Aycock’s is the 1978 John Carpenter film Halloween. “In addition to being Jamie Lee Curtis’ first film, the movie is not a horror movie per se but a taught thriller that is a master class in building suspense,” he says. “It is also a meditation on the nature of evil, personified by a killer who can’t be killed but whose villainy also had no beginning. This is why I dislike Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake of Halloween. He gave Michael an origin story as an abused kid who took out his rage on others. Bor-ing! Evil is so much scarier when it has no origin—when it simply is.”
Jessica Hilburn also loves Carpenter’s Halloween. “The new Halloween trilogy concludes this year with Halloween Ends, but it remains to be seen whether evil really dies tonight,” she says. She also cites Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street as must-watch classics. “Because I’m a ’90s baby, I have to give a shout out to my personal classics—Hocus Pocus, Practical Magic, and Halloweentown. I like to take the opportunity the season brings to read a few scary books too. On my list this year is Just Like Home by Sarah Gailey and 2021’s My Heart Is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones.” As for new movies, she says, “If you like tension, are OK with blood, and are game for satire, I highly suggest Bodies, Bodies, Bodies, which just came out at the end of August.”
Speaking of summer, Amy Affelt says:
One of my favorite holiday movies is Jaws, even though it is more of a 4th of July movie rather than Halloween. It is spooky, scary, and, most importantly, super suspenseful! While the first appearance of ‘Bruce’ (the shark) is shocking, the lead-up, set to one of the best movie themes of all time, by John Williams, is just so fun. You have to love those tubas! I once saw the movie on the big screen while the Chicago Symphony Orchestra played along, and it was one of the best film showings/concerts that I’ve ever attended. Rewatching the movie in recent years invited a comparison—the subplot of Mayor Vaughn wanting to keep the beaches open for the 4th of July weekend, putting commerce ahead of public safety, was not unlike the debates over the coronavirus lockdowns. This is my husband, Michael Leslie, and me, at intermission:
Patti Gibbons is a proponent of thrillers to get you into the Halloween mood: Misery, Dead Calm, The Sixth Sense, and Buried. “All of them raise the hairs on the back of my neck,” she says.
David Haden has some family-friendly recommendations. “For children in middle-childhood (7–11), I would have to recommend the superb Gravity Falls animated TV series for Halloween viewing,” he says. “As for the mildest non-shock entertainment that one might share with family, neighbors, and friends—many will not be in the mood for shock-horror scares at the end of 2022—I would suggest the two fine National Treasure movies starring Nic Cage. Museums, libraries, and archives abound. There is mystery galore and only a restrained amount of menace.”
Marci Wicker likes The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. She says:
As the first orange bags of Brach’s candy corn fill the shelves and the first dry leaves fall from their limbs, I start to get that familiar itch in my bones to watch this movie. The first time I stumbled onto it, I knew immediately that this was a top romance movie contender for me, which is odd because spooky and scary don’t normally equate to an epic tale of romance. The graphic black and white hypnotized me, the amazing musical score entranced me, and the artistry of the acting froze my remote hand in place from the first moments of watching this movie. Now when the ‘bers’ (September, October) sneak in, I gather my cushiest throw, don my softest lounge pants, and stand on the tallest chair to get the bowl of Halloween candy that wasn’t intended to last until Halloween, and I nestle in with this movie, my treasured fall friend. It just doesn’t get better than this: It’s Romeo and Juliet, Ghost, and Gone With the Wind swept together in a haunting sea-salt shanty drawn into a perfect Cupid’s bow. It was produced in the ’40s, so the drama is dramatic and the suspenseful music is suspenseful, which I appreciate. You are not left to guess about the meaning of much, which makes it an easy movie to watch. The purpose of movies made and released in that time period was to provide morale and an escape; this one fits the bill now as it did then. This movie has it all: a widow, a real estate investment, a cottage by the sea, a ghost, costumes designed by Oleg Cassini, unnatural business ventures, burgeoning love, a young Natalie Wood, tragic sacrifice, seaman puns, adulterous deceit, and heartbreak; all of which end in a quiet ethereal mist. What more could you ask for?
Dave Shumaker has poetry recommendations: “Due to my Indiana roots, my childhood Halloween wouldn’t have been complete without two poems by James Whitcomb Riley, the once-famous and now largely forgotten 19th-century Hoosier poet. Riley wrote in dialect about an idealized agrarian society. His poem ‘When the Frost Is on the Punkin’ evokes autumn in the rural Midwest. From its opening line, ‘When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,’ the reader can almost feel the snap of a chilly October morning as the farmer goes out to feed the livestock.” He says Riley’s 1885 poem “Little Orphant Annie” is “equally evocative,” noting that “its refrain, ‘An’ the Gobble-uns’ll git you / Ef you / Don’t / Watch / Out!’ has provided the opportunity for countless parents and grandparents to send delicious chills up the spines of innumerable children for nearly a century and a half, at Halloween and throughout the year as well. I was one of them.”
HALLOWEEN AT THE LIBRARY
“I’m sure you’ve heard about the vampire in the library who was just about to sink his teeth into the neck of his latest victim when the librarian informed him he couldn’t do that,” Marydee Ojala says. “The library had a ‘no eating in the library’ policy.”
All jokes aside, Justin Hoenke says Halloween is one of his favorite days at the library every year, because “[e]veryone is happy to be out and everyone is happy to be in the library. When I worked as the library director at the Benson Memorial Library in Titusville, Pa., our youth services librarian would always do an amazing job decorating the place so it looked spooky. It was an old building, so it wasn’t too hard!”
Patti Gibbons is in a perfect-for-Halloween setting too. “The basement of our oldest library on [the University of Chicago’s] campus is now an abandoned, derelict space. Light bulbs flicker, many are burned out. You need a flashlight to get around. The floors creak. The space is littered with abandoned institutional-style furniture and random forgotten boxes,” she says. “The place is super scary, and staff always talk about holding a Halloween party in that basement, but no one has the courage to stay in that basement long enough for a party.” Maybe one day!
Candy is a common theme: Sophia Guevara “used to work in a library where one of the reference librarians would put an orange plastic pumpkin out that had candy in it, and it was a favorite of the visitors.” Anthony Aycock works in a state legislative library, and pre-COVID, employees’ families could go there to trick-or-treat. “The library always had plenty of candy to distribute,” he notes.
Jessica Hilburn’s library also participates in trick-or-treating. “We always come to work in costume,” she says. “For trick-or-treat, we give out free books to kids, along with a healthy handful of candy of course. The library ‘reeks of children’ at Halloween, as the great Mary Sanderson would say.”
Michelle Fitzhugh-Craig isn’t a librarian, but she likes seeing displays for Halloween media by age group (adults too!). She would also put up “a display that features the history of Dia de los Muertos and cookbooks on food associated with autumn.” To think outside the box, “I also think it would be fun to create [an] event that allows for the making of altars and other cultural items featured this time of year,” she says.
Gwen Gregory says her favorite part is the staff costumes, and she has this fun fact to share: “[T]he Candyman films featured two different libraries that I worked in (University of Illinois–Chicago Daley Library for the original film and Northern Illinois University Founders Library for the new version).”
Justin Hoenke created a Spotify playlist of his favorite spooky songs just for this article: open.spotify.com/playlist/0KiVGIfVsAeSGRaON59uVx?si=17f0b69731cb47fc. The following is the list of songs, with his commentary. Enjoy!
- “Ghost of Stephen Foster” by Squirrel Nut Zippers: A creepy and danceable tune by an amazing band. This is the way to start your spooky day.
- “Spooky, Scary Skeletons” by Andrew Gold: What a jam. Why isn’t this song blasting everywhere on Halloween?
- “Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett: A true classic. I want to be in the band The Crypt-Kicker Five.
- “Nature Trail to Hell” by “Weird Al” Yankovic: We all need more Weird Al in our lives, especially at Halloween.
- “My Old Flame” by Spike Jones & His City Slickers: Spike Jones is a genius, and this song is a perfect mashup of his style and his comedy.
- “A Nightmare on My Street” by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince: Every ’80s and early-’90s kid will remember this one. Cameo by Freddy Krueger!
- “Burn the Witch” by Queens of the Stone Age: This band is perfect at setting that creepy Halloween vibe. I feel like I’m a witch burning with this tune.
- “Dead Man’s Party” by Oingo Boingo: This song sounds like every party scene in every ’80s horror film that I’ve ever watched. I love it. I want to go back in time to those parties just to get brutally murdered by some horror villain.
- “Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon: Because every playlist needs a song where the singer howls at the moon, and this is the song for that.
- “Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)” by David Bowie: I’m not entirely sure that Bowie isn’t a monster himself, but he’s one of the good ones.
- “Head Like a Haunted House” by Queens of the Stone Age: This band sets the creepy Halloween vibe so well that they’re here twice! I couldn’t think of a better way to end the playlist. What a jam.
Amy Affelt is director of database research worldwide at Compass Lexecon, a global economic consultancy.
Anthony Aycock is the director of the North Carolina Legislative Library.
John Charlton reports on fields such as technology, law, business, and publishing.
Woody Evans (@quarrywork) is a librarian from Mississippi who now lives in Texas.
Michelle Fitzhugh-Craig is the owner of MFC3 Media and founder/publisher of shades Magazine.
Patti Gibbons is a Chicago-based librarian and freelance writer.
Gwen Gregory is associate dean for collections management at Northern Illinois University’s Founders Memorial Library.
Sophia Guevara has both M.L.I.S. and master of public administration degrees.
David Haden is the editor of Digital Art Live magazine and the curator of the JURN search tool.
Jessica Hilburn is the executive director of Benson Memorial Library in Titusville, Pa.
Justin Hoenke is the library director of Gardiner Public Library in Gardiner, Maine.
David King is a Texas-based former sportswriter.
Marydee Ojala is the editor-in-chief of Online Searcher magazine.
Lauree Padgett is Information Today, Inc.’s editorial services manager.
Dave Shumaker is a retired clinical associate professor and a former corporate information manager.
Marci Wicker is a public services law librarian at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss.
Hocus Pocus glasses and Twilight DVD photos by Brandi Scardilli; Jaws movie concert photo courtesy of Amy Affelt