Tag Archives: Halloween

My Picks for the Scariest Halloween Movies in the World

25 Oct

Real life is full of real  scary things, like layoffs, newly discovered lumps, registered letters, or grown-up children threatening to come back home.   While we hope to avoid these things, Halloween is a time when people consciously seek out scary experiences as a form of entertainment.                

             If you’re the sort of person who wants to be scared this year, below are my recommendations for the scariest Halloween movies ever.

  1. Psycho: Somehow I saw this Hitchcock movie, accidently when I was about 10 years old.  It’s a good thing we didn’t  have a shower at the time  or I would have been stinky until high school.
  2. The Exorcist: I read the book first and it gave me nightmares. When the little girl’s head spun completely  around in the movie,  I almost displayed what they call in the Haunted  House trade a loss of “yellow control”.
  3. IT: Pennywise, the demonic clown played by Tim Curry, is the scariest character ever.  I still don’t look down storm drains, because he  just might be there, looking up.   
  4. The Amityville Horror: After watching the begining of this movie, Diane and I actually walked out of the  theater , so we could rush home and check on our children.  
  5. The Pet Sematary: I started this book,  but  never finished it. When I got to the point in the book where the little boy gets run over by a speeding transport truck, I threw the book against the wall and never read another word. A friend at work, who had read the whole thing, asked me, “Haven’t these people ever heard of a fence?”
  6. The Shining:  Who can forget Jack Nicholson bursting through the door, screaming  “Heeere’s Johnny”.
  7. Alien: I could never get past the scene where the alien creature bursts from John Hurt’s  chest.
  8. Jaws: My popcorn went all over the theater,  when  they found the corpse in the  sunken boat. I still  swear that they flashed a picture of a shark in that scene,  right before they showed the body.  
  9. Frankenstein: When I was a kid my older brother Norman insisted on watching all of these old Universal horror movies on a local Friday night television show called Spook Spectacular. I was terrified.        
  10. The Turn of the Screw: I never really understood the book,  nor the film version, called The Innocents, until it was    explained to me. Now I think the ghosts were real and it’s very creepy.

     Finally if you prefer something a little more current you might try the  Paranormal Activity 3, The Grunge, or The Ring.  Happy Halloween!

It is interesting that all the villians have the “square mouth” expression that psychologist Paul Ekman indentified  as signalling  unbridled rage as in the illustration below.  



Ghosts with the Most

21 Sep

My wife Diane and I just returned from spending the weekend in a log cabin. We  stayed at this cabin twice before, but this time we were unpleasantly surprised by the host of strange noises  we heard. As soon as we entered the cabin, we immediately heard creaking in the upstairs loft that sounded like  there was someone walking around. I didn’t want to scare Diane, who I’m  sure was thinking  exactly the  same thing, so I casually walked over to the corner of the room, where I could peak upstairs. Of course, there was nothing to be seen.

If anything the sounds became louder as we unpacked. Our next image was   someone  climbing on the roof. I told Diane that it must be a squirrel, and by the magnitude of the creaking,  a freakishly  large one.  Diane took a broom and standing in the loft, she vigorously whapped the ceiling several times. The sounds didn’t stop, but thank goodness it didn’t tap back.

The noise continued so Diane went outside to see if there was anything actually on the roof.  Again there was nothing there.  The tin roof was quite steep and  there was only a inch of space between the tin sheeting and the indoor ceiling—  hardly enough room for an animal capable of making the creaking sounds we heard.

            Since we had never been at this cabin during a heat wave, I convinced myself that the noise was due to the expansion of the ceiling’s tongue and groove joints.  While I was comforted by this thought, I didn’t really believe it. There were long periods of complete silence and the heat didn’t seem to be related at all to the various noises we heard. Diane said that if it  was a poltergeist trying to convince us to leave, it was a pretty lame one.  All it did was make creaking noises and even seemed to get tired of doing that after a while. It reminded us of the ineffectual ghosts in the movie Beetlejuice.

             Poltergeist occurrences  are supposedly paranormal phenomenon  that involve the  movement of inanimate objects,  unaccounted for  noises,  and on  rare  occasions, physical attacks on people. Folklore attributes the phenomena to  ghosts or mischievous spirits, like Peeves the Poltergeist in the Harry Potter stories.   Poltergeist manifestations have been reported since the first century,  in virtually every part of the world. The word “poltergeist” comes from the German meaning   “noisy ghost”.

Some parapsychologists theorize that poltergeist manifestations are unconscious expressions of spontaneous mind over matter (psychokinesis) and are  unwittingly created   by people under stress,  especially children and teenagers. Skeptics, however,   believe that credulous people  and outright  fraud are the more likely explanations and there has been no conclusive scientific explanation of the phenomena, if it truly exists.

I was certain that there must have been some logical explanation for the cabin noises we heard,   but in any case they still got on our nerves.  I would   have been relieved to see   even one humongous raccoon climbing on the roof.

Oddly enough we have stayed at two other log cabins,  that also had reputations for strange occurrences.  A few years ago we spent a weekend at a bed and breakfast that had been constructed from two old log cabins. After we had settled in, the owners told us how a strange thing happened, while they were restoring the cabins. Once, after they’d painted a section of the floor, the next day human footprints appeared on the painted area.    These ghostly footprints could not be covered.  Every time they painted   over them,   the next day they were visible again. Sort of like those grease spots on my green sweatshirt.

At first I wondered if the people were pulling my leg or making up stories in order to publicize their business, but they were reluctant to talk too much about it and seemed more concerned that people might be   afraid to patronize their bed and breakfast. Fortunately there were no strange occurrences to report from that visit.

All this takes us back to the first log cabin where we ever stayed,  in  the mountains  of North Carolina, several years ago. While taking our dog to the vet, Diane saw a binder   in the waiting room with photos of a picturesque log cabin, alongside a mountain creek. She discovered that the veterinarian’s mother, who owned the cabin, rented it out and the next thing you know there we were,  in the wilds of Franklin,  North Carolina.

I was first struck by the numerous kerosene lanterns  to be found in the cabin, despite the electric lights. Every room had several of them, as if someone was deathly afraid of the dark. We had been warned that a dog from one of the neighboring cabins might visit us and sure enough  we soon found an ancient  beagle on the front stoop. He was sweet and we let him into the cabin, but were unnerved one evening when, all of a sudden, he started acting in a frantic manner. 

While the cabin was very nice, there was just something about it that wasn’t very inviting.  Perhaps the oddest thing that happened, occurred one night when  Diane was saying bedtime prayers with the kids. She had her hand on a small bedside table that started to vibrate  during the prayer. While this frightened her and she pulled her hand away, Diane didn’t  say anything,  afraid she’d   upset the children.  She went back in later to check and found that he table was as sturdy as it could be.

As time wore on, we both became more and more uncomfortable in the cabin. Our sleep was disturbed by the frequent sound of footsteps on the stairs, that even our five year old heard.  But we were obstinately determined to finish out the week regardless.  I guess we were like the foolish people that comedian Eddie  Murphy joked about. Even if the toilets had backed up with blood, we probably would have said, “A little Ajax will fix that right up.” 

It was probably becasue we  like to think of ourselves as  rational beings  and can easily imagine  that there was some reasonable explanation for  all that took place.   In any case we felt relieved when the day to leave finally arrived.

 We packed quickly and decided to take a final walk-through to check for anything forgotten. We were barely past the doorway when we both heard  the stairs creak, as if someone was walking down them. Diane and I were out the door in a flash, locked the door, and jumped into the car.   

That night we camped out in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We were all huddled together  in   a tiny leaky tent, in a heavy rain. Rangers   had warned us about an influx of  rabid skunks and bears. Despite all this, we slept like babies–  the first decent night’s sleep we had in a while.                        

When we returned home, Diane mentioned the odd occurrences to the veterinarian and he admitted that his wife never felt comfortable at the cabin either and she even refused to go back. He could have told us that beforehand.

What Does Your Halloween Costume Say about You?

27 Oct


Check out Dr. Stawar’s  Column on Decoding the halloween costume.


Halloween Howlings

13 Sep

  Halloween is just around the corner.  This is the  holiday  when Americans  typically buy the most candy.  Like a lot of kids, a major part of much of my  childhood was essentially  a quest to acquire  as much candy as I possibly could get my hands on and Halloween  was the Holy Grail.

I loved dressing up and trick-or-treating. My mother devised a spectacular witch’s costume  that never fail to win a prize.   Both my brother and I won   first place  at the annual junior high school contest with it.

  With more than a little irony,  my mother  had used a black dress and shoes, belonging to my grandmother (her mother-in-law)  as the foundation  of  the outfit.  She added a cape with a jack-o- lantern emblazoned on  the back, a tall witch’s  hat,  the wartiest witch’s mask she could find, and a wig fashioned from an old  mop. My father never cared for the costume,  possibly because  the  final product was basically  a mildly exaggerated  caricature of  my actual grandmother (his mother). Given the relationship between my mother and grandmother,  this was undoubtedly  how  my mother envisioned her.

The witch’s costume was too elaborate for trick-or-treating, so  I wore those   commercial costumes that came in a box. I never liked how they  had a picture of the character you were portraying  displayed across the  front. Even I knew that Zorro never wore a shirt that had a picture of himself on it.   They also  had  those uncomfortable hard plastic masks, that were impossible to see through and  made breathing difficult. They were  held in place  by   flimsy black elastic bands with metal clips on the ends,  that never seemed to  make it  past the front steps.

Every year there were always rumors that  some big kids would knock you down and take your candy— kids like my archenemy, Marlin Hutchingson. Marlin and his gang of thugs always dressed  like hobos. These were popular costumes  among children whose  parents grew up during the depression. I never saw a real hobo, but I knew what they looked like,  thanks to Red Skelton’s portrayal of Freddie the Freeloader. The classic hobo costume was made up  of raggedy  oversized clothes, a rope belt, a battered fedora, and a stick with a red bandana bundle. To   appear as if  you hadn’t shaved,  you’d smear    cork soot on your face. Marlin, who   looked like he needed a shave,  since  the third grade,  could forgo this step. While most of us carried cute little plastic trick-or-treat  bags with black cats them, Marlin and his ilk  preferred ratty king-sized pillowcases, which could double as  giant blackjacks, when needed.      

Back  in elementary school,  Marlin’s  lunch always came  from the candy machine. I shouldn’t talk since   in high school a  root beer and Butterfinger was my standard bill of fare.  But even as a young child,  Marlin was constantly eating candy,  so I wasn’t surprised when a recent  study in the British Journal of Psychiatry showed that children who ate sweets and chocolate every day were much  more likely to be violent as adults.  Ten year-olds who ate candy daily were significantly more likely to have been convicted for violence crimes at age 24. The relationship  between sweets  and violence remained even after controlling for other factors. According to  lead researcher Simon Moore,  “Giving children sweets and chocolate regularly may stop them learning how to wait to obtain something they want. Not being able to defer gratification may push them towards more impulsive behavior, which is strongly associated with delinquency.” 

In the 1960s, Walter Mischel at Stanford University gave four-year-olds a marshmallow and promised another, only if they could wait 20 minutes before eating the first one. Only about a third of the children could wait.  As adolescents,  the children who could wait,  were  rated as better adjusted and scored an average of 210 points higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test.  This is an enormous difference.  Chidlren who were future oriented,  benefited tremendously more  from their education that those who focused on immediate pleasure.  A similar experiment, using presents,   found that children who could not delay gratifications were routinely described   more   “irritable”, aggressive, and whiny”,   while those showing restraint,  were rated as more  “intelligent”, “resourceful”, and “competent”.

In Walden II,  psychologist B.F. Skinner’s book about an ideal society  based on the principles of behaviorism,  young children  were given   lollipops, dipped in powdered sugar,  to wear around their necks,  to develop self-control. They were told that they could  eat the lollipops later, but only if it hadn’t  been touched.  These children   were expected to learn  to ignore the temptation of the candy.  Skinner’s protagonist  says  “Some of us learn control, more or less by accident. The rest of us go all our lives …  blaming our failure on being born the wrong way.”  Of course  such training  would never work with  kids like Marlin, who would just  jerk your  lollipop from around your neck, saving his own for later.

Forbidden lollipops may not be the answer,  but we indulgent parents and grandparents, who  enjoy immediately giving our children everything they desire, have to think twice  about  whether we are actually doing this for our own benefit and are inadvertently putting the next generation at risk. 

Besides candy bullies, I remember  being afraid of  crazed neighbors,  who might hide foreign objects in apples or contaminate candy with deadly poisons. We all heard the urban legend  about the kid who, in the dark,  grabbed some  candy right out of his trick-or-treat bag and ended up biting into a Gillette double edge razor blade.

Sociologist Joel Best, from University of Delaware, researched  major newspapers back to 1958 and found fewer than 90 cases of alleged candy  tampering.  There were only a dozen reported cases over the past 20 years. Most turned out to be false alarms or  hoaxes,  like the recent story of boy in the  runaway helium  balloon.

Best did identify   five suspicious  deaths, initially believed to be related to tampering. In  three cases,  investigators found no evidence of foul play. In one case, however,  a  father was convicted and eventually executed for  lacing his son’s  candy with cyanide. In the last instance,  a  family covered up a child’s accidental ingestion of an uncle’s drug stash, blaming it on tainted Halloween candy. So despite all the psychopathic killers lurking about, the greatest danger, it seems, unsurprisingly comes from our own families.

All this doesn’t mean that such things can’t happen,  and a little prudence never hurts. The Red Cross  recommends  having adults inspect all candy  and advises discarding any open or  unwrapped items.

  Of course, the greatest Halloween dangers are the average parent rushing home to spend the holiday with their children  and  distracted  drivers texting on the road. This year make sure your kids are alert to these potential Halloween monsters and have a safe holiday.

Originally published in the Tribune & Evening News (http://newsandtribune.com/)