In the Before Times—prior to a certain virus letting loose a certain pandemic that arrested a certain hell-for-leather national economy—Halloween was a big deal. In 2019, some 172 million Americans celebrated Halloween. This included 29 million people who dressed their pets in costumes. The same year, consumers spent about $8.8 billion on Halloween. Not bad for a “holiday” that has no religious connection and doesn’t offer anybody a paid day off. (Check out National Geographic’s article “Is Halloween Really a Holiday?” by Debra Adams Simmons.)
In 2020, of course, COVID-19 stopped the festivities faster than Michael Myers with a butcher knife. Parties were canceled, trick-or-treating was spotty, and haunted houses were occupied by only the ghosts. Thanks to vaccines, the virus may soon be like Dracula after a meeting with Van Helsing, although the delta variant has scripted a pretty mean sequel.
Given all of these factors, what will Oct. 31 be like in 2021? No one knows. But you can prepare for whatever’s out there by boning up on Halloween history and culture with these scary-good information sources.
We’ll start with a few sites of sites, ’cause that’s what librarians do.
Best Halloween Sites
If you want peer-reviewed, academic content that probes the impact of horror on human societies, don’t look at Best Halloween Sites. If you want video games, ghost hunting, spooky graphics and sounds, vampire contact lenses, and to see what your face would look like as a zombie (ZombieMe.com—try it!), this is the place.
Curlie offers another directory of Halloween-related sites. Like Best Halloween Sites, its Halloween section has some time-wasters, but it’s also good for beginning researchers. For instance, it links to an extensive HowStuffWorks article on Halloween. Plus, the video games are better.
Are you the kind of person who spends your downtime on YouTube watching not cat videos, but documentaries? If so, these sites are for you.
The History Channel
The History Channel’s Halloween section has the usual suspects—information about Samhain, the Day of the Dead, how trick-or-treating started, etc. But this site also covers angles you might not have considered, in articles such as “The Great Depression Origins of Halloween Haunted Houses,” “When New Englanders Blamed Vampires for Tuberculosis Deaths,” and “Monsters in the White House” (it’s not what you think—it’s about presidential Halloween costumes).
‘A Timeline of Halloween History’
For those who like a graphical approach, try “A Timeline of Halloween History.” The images are haunting—that ghost on a country road!—but the site is also content-rich, including more ancient history than others, like explaining why Halloween lovers should remember Pope Boniface IV (other than his funny name).
‘12 Halloween-Like Traditions From Around the World’
Most folks know about the Celtic Samhain and the Mexican Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. But did you know that Dracula has his own day in Romania? Or that the Kawasaki Halloween Parade in Tokyo puts anime conventions to shame? Find out more from “12 Halloween-Like Traditions From Around the World.”
There are millions of sites devoted to individual horror films. I’m not here to tout any particular film (because everyone knows Halloween is the best). Instead, these sources are about the phenomenon of horror.
‘Thaddeus’ Guide to Horror (for Beginners)’
“Thaddeus’ Guide to Horror (for Beginners)” is an excellent introduction to the horror genre for nonspecialists (i.e., people who aren’t freaky). It breaks down films into levels—Level 1: spooky films, Level 2: thrillers, Level 3: horror comedies. You get the idea. It culminates with Level 6: Classics, which is where you get your Jack Torrance. Your Michael Myers. And your Freddy Krueger.
‘(Why) Do You Like Scary Movies?’
“(Why) Do You Like Scary Movies?,” which cites more than 100 references, is subtitled “A Review of the Empirical Research on Psychological Responses to Horror Films.” However, it’s not as tedious as it sounds. One of the suggestions for future research? “It is possible that the presence of a pleasant scent might alleviate some of the fright generated by [a] horror film. …” Guess I’ll stock up on the Renuzit this year.
‘This Is Your Brain on Horror Movies’ and ‘Why Horror MoviesMay Be Good for Your Health’
Two of the many articles available online that I wish had existed when I was growing up—and my mother wouldn’t let me watch even something as benign as Ghostbusters because it was “vulgar”—are “This Is Your Brain on Horror Movies” and “Why Horror Movies May Be Good for Your Health.”
How many of you, when you hear the term “gov docs,” slip into a state that resembles sleep but may actually be a coma? Well, don’t fret. These government sites are guaranteed to make you do the Monster Mash.
From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Zombie Preparedness is a site that tries to get people thinking about emergency preparedness before disaster strikes. You have to read the graphic novel, which makes the CDC into heroes. After 2020, they need all the positive press they can get.
Halloween & Día de Muertos Resources
What would an article like this be without a Library of Congress research guide? Check out Halloween & Día de Muertos Resources’ Moving Image Materials section, which has a remastered video of the first-ever Frankenstein movie (from 1910, produced by none other than Thomas Edison). The Edward Gorey Collection, under the Prints and Photographs section, is also a must-see.
10 Reasons to Repeal the Death Tax This Halloween, as Told by Halloween Classics
Normally, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Ways and Means is a source of angst, not wit. But it’s genius to illustrate the dangers of federal overreach using spooky films. Best line in 10 Reasons to Repeal the Death Tax This Halloween, as Told by Halloween Classics: “By forcing the IRS to go after grieving families, this tax makes the IRS seem more like a ghostbuster than an agency meant to serve American taxpayers.”
I bet if Vincent Price were alive today, he’d be a heckuva horror podcaster. Sadly, that isn’t possible. These audio adventures are pretty good runners-up though.
Vulture, in “The 10 True-Crime Podcasts That Changed Everything,” claims, “This list (and, some may argue, an entire era of podcasting) might not exist without Serial, which set the gold standard not just for true crime, but for the whole genre of first-person, long-form podcast journalism.” Indeed.
Welcome to Night Vale
Welcome to Night Vale: more than 190 episodes, three novels, live shows, and a TV version in development. Not bad for this offbeat tale of a preternatural Western town whose most iconic character is a glow cloud. Seriously.
“Creepypasta” is a catchall term for urban legends and horror stories posted online in various places. Lots of YouTubers narrate these stories (and a Feedspot blog post aggregated 100 of them). With more 2 million subscribers, CreepsMcPasta is one of the best horror YouTubers.
‘19 Podcasts That Will Get You in the Mood …’
Mental Floss has a list of “19 Podcasts That Will Get You in the Mood”—for Halloween, that is.
Remember Jerry Seinfeld’s stand-up bit about Halloween, which he turned into a book? That was quite a trick. Here are some sites devoted to the sui generis Halloween tradition of trick-or-treating.
‘How Trick-or-Treating Became a Halloween Tradition’
“How Trick-or-Treating Became a Halloween Tradition,” from the aforementioned History Channel Halloween section, focuses on trick-or-treating, from ancient origins up to the modern day.
‘The 30 Best Halloween Candies of All Time’
There seems to be a ranking of Halloween candy every year. Thrillist’s “The 30 Best Halloween Candies of All Time” puts all the others to bed. What gets the number one spot? Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, of course.
Get costume ideas from Cosplay.com. I wrote about cosplay, a portmanteau of “costume play,” in my June 2017 Information Today article “A Fanboy’s Notes for Librarians.” Fans can spend thousands of dollars perfecting an outfit, and when they wear it to a convention such as San Diego Comic-Con, they take on the persona of their character. Call it method acting lite.
Halloween Tips for Autism Families
Everyone should be able to join in the Halloween fun, including those with neurodiversity. Halloween Tips for Autism Families covers sensory needs, having your child practice wearing their costume, trick-or-treat cards that nonspeaking children can hand out in exchange for candy, and more.