Halloween and I have a complicated past. As a kid growing up in a Christian home, my family was one that believed it was best not to celebrate Halloween in the traditional sense. So still, to this day, I have not once been out to trick-or-treat. Many of my memories of Halloween were just sitting at home, not answering the door when kids came knocking. Of course, I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the Fall Festivals or “Hallelujah Nights” as they were sometimes called (*rolls eyes*). I don’t know the history of church-sponsored Halloween alternatives, but I’m guessing it spawned from people not wanting their kids to mope around the house, not answering the doors, while their best friends knocked on their doors expecting candy. Now, I still don’t celebrate Halloween in the traditional sense, and I still have certain Separatist beliefs when it comes to the holiday. I wonder at the disparity and contrast between celebration of the dead and evil spirits and promotion of fear in media, to an innocent children’s holiday where everyone dresses up and gets free candy. I also still find the whole Church alternative a bit off. It seems to me that Halloween, as celebrated by non-celebrating churches, is a bit like Vegans flavoring their food to taste like meat. What’s the point? Yet still, I do like some of the qualities about Halloween. Though I typically stay away from media that promote fear, I do enjoy media with certain Halloween qualities, such as gothic architecture, suspense, the supernatural, a fall setting. So here are a few things in media that I have really enjoyed around the time of Halloween.
Ernest Scared Stupid
To me, there has always been something nostalgic about the Ernest movies. They’re all horrible and childish and filled with bad acting and horrid writing, but they still make me laugh at all the dumb things they did. I guess you could say that Ernest Scared Stupid is more of a guilty pleasure. It’s full-on Halloween. And I love it! Basically, the movie is about a troll that is trying to absorb the souls of children, and Ernest is trying to stop him. The troll looks and sounds so gross, and there were times that it genuinely scared me as a kid. In Ernest’s attempt to thwart the troll, he comes across an ancient document that reveals the one weakness the troll has. The only problem is that there’s a letter missing. So it said: M-I- -K, with a hint that said “a mother’s care.” It’s obviously milk, but in the funniest part of the film, Ernest honestly believes it to be Bulgarian “miak.” Then later in the film, he actually finds some! I laugh every time at that part. For another excellent review on this movie, see Cinemassacre’s take on it. I’ve always thought that it would be funny if someone wrote a biography of Jim Varney as Ernest and titled the book, The Importance of Being Ernest. Knowwutimean, Vern?
The Sandman, by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman has always been an author that is hit-or-miss, in my opinion, and suffers from fans that idolize his writing far too much. But I think his best work has been in his graphic novel series The Sandman. From what I understand, it started out as an idea to rewrite an obscure character in DC’s history by the same name. But, what it turned out to be is something more mythical and gothic, going more towards the avenue of the gods than of superheroes. The story is about Dream, or Morpheus, and his dealings with humans and in life. Most of the series is episodic, with only some of the series carrying on continuity from comic to comic. The art and story-telling is spectacular—though sometimes weird. At one episode, Dream goes to hell and plays a competitive game with one of Beelzebub’s cronies; in another you find out that Dream’s sister is Death, and that she likes to take the form of a teenage goth chick; in another you find a man that Dream befriends who finds that the secret of immortality is just to not want to die; in another, Dream meets with William Shakespeare; and in another, Dream is personified in a Japanese folktale. And that’s just scratching the surface of all the brilliant things in this series.
Of all videogames, I think the franchise that best holds to the feel of Halloween is easily the Castlevania series. I’m not precisely sure how many games are in the series, but there are a ton, and they are showing no signs of stopping anytime soon. The whole Castlevania series is an ode to classic monster movies. You usually play a vampire hunter who is on a mission to kill Dracula. Most of the time, you are in a castle, killing every bad guy, mummy, demon, skeleton, and whatnot with your whip. Awesome concept. Probably the game that I remember the most is Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest. I used to play this with my neighbor at his house, and I think we even played this on Halloween a couple of times. The music and atmosphere for this game is amazing. This is one of those games that people love and hate at the same time. For one, the game is a classic for the NES, and is one that many people my age remember with fondness. But, if we really get down to brass tacks, this game is a mess! The controls are bad, the difficulty is too dang hard, and there are numerous other frustrating parts in this game that make you want to rage quit after the first hour of playing—if that! If you don’t mind swearing and some crass language, The Angry Video Game Nerd made his very first video on Castlevania 2. The game is so broken at times that hackers, when making the ROM for the NES emulator, even went so far as making an “updated” version of the game, calling it “Simon’s Quest: Redacted”. In this version, updates were made to all the frustrating parts, making it a little more enjoyable to play. Egoraptor on YouTube made a video contrasting the first Castlevania game to Simon’s Quest (again, this video has a lot of language). Though he thought Simon’s quest was probably not as bad as the Angry Video Game Nerd claims, he clearly thought that it was inferior to the first game, and went on to say that many of the newer games are fun in their own right. I do enjoy some of the newer Castlevania games, though they don’t have that same charm that the first couple of games on the NES had. Whichever Castlevania game you think is the best, I think we can all agree: it’s a horrible night for a curse.
Cinemassacre’s Monster Madness
I thought I might add one more thing I really enjoy for the Halloween season. James Rolfe, the star and creator of the Angry Video Game Nerd that I have mentioned, is a film buff and loves old monster movies. Every year for October on his website, Cinemassacre.com, he hosts Cinemassacre’s Monster Madness, in which he posts a video every day about something relating to old monster movies or horror films. Now, I don’t watch horror films, but I can appreciate many of the classic monster movies for what they are. If you are into those types of movies—or even if you are “Halloween curious” like I am—definitely check out the site. His reviews are well-done, thoughtful, and funny.
Dave, thanks for a great article! Glad to see you sticking to your personal convictions. That is awesome. I remember the old Castlevania games for regular nintendo…so good. and Ernest “eeeeewwww.” I have also been curious to the Neil Geiman hype as well, and have always been interested in Sandman. So, I guess I’ll have to check it out now.
Ernest Scared Stupid just opened up some memories! And Sandman sounds really interesting. I’m sort of going through the audio book of American Gods right now. Maybe I will do that one next if I make it through.
Great article as always.
how do you like American Gods? i thought it was pretty tedious, yet still interesting. i doubt there is an audiobook of The Sandman…unless the narrator is like, “The artwork has a crow flying through a swirly thing, with a bug with eight arms with a devil’s face, and he’s looking at some dude with a white face with clear eyes with stars in the background…” 😉
Yeah, that was pretty dumb of me. It slipped my mind it was a graphic novel… derr.
Thanks for some great recommendations, Dave. I’m trying to get into “Sandman” now, actually. The first trade paperback has some rough going (“24 Hours” — um, I dunno… does it get better? It sounds from your review like maybe it does!).
I also liked your comment about “Halloween, as celebrated by non-celebrating churches, is a bit like Vegans flavoring their food to taste like meat.” 🙂
it does get better. i thought that the first book was probably the weakest. from the second book on, it is way better, if memory serves.
i was hoping someone would like that analogy. 😀
thanks, everyone! 🙂 The Sandman is Gaiman’s best work, in my opinion. and as a graphic novel, it’s one of the very best of all time. Gaiman’s love for folklore really adds a lot of depth to his story-telling here.
I’d completely forgotten about the Sandman series. How could I though, I’d just looked at them! Maybe I should buy a set to read! 😉
Oh, BTW – I think Castlevania has something like 41 games. This knowledge does not come from wikipedia …