The fashion today is for retro stuff. YouTube shows us how to achieve vintage hairstyles; knitting and cupcakes are back with a bang, and Mad Men gives us the glamour of 60s clothes and cars, but when it comes to scaring ourselves stupid this Hallowe’en, what do we have? Well, stupid things. At the cinema you can cringe at bald zombies stumbling around Chernobyl, or watch another tired take on Paranormal Activity, or perhaps sigh at teenage vampires in love? When it comes to reading, who knows what new books are out there, as every site and newspaper has been slopped full of JK Rowling’s latest. If only the passion for going retro applied to reading, we’d be in for one hell of a scary Hallowe’en. How? By looking to the King Of October, Ray Bradbury.
You can’t do better than Bradbury. A genuine storyteller, a poetic writer, possessor of an astonishing imagination, plus he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Need more credentials? There’s a crater named after him on the Moon; that’s how far his influence reaches.
He handles a horror story perfectly. His characters don’t need to wear Scream masks and splatter guts on the wallpaper. They don’t have chainsaws and fast cars. Neither must they portrayed by smooth actors. There are no posters or plastic merchandise. The stories do the work themselves. You read them, that’s how they work.
And, oh, how well they work! Especially when he’s writing about October which was his month of literary choice: the sinister season when the light of summer is dying around us, and mist creeps in to take its place. The season when the supernatural is wildly celebrated on All Hallows’ Eve, and behind the festive cheer of rosy apples, bright costumes and sticky sweets lies horror.
Some of his classic tales are:
The October Game – a husband stands in the bedroom on Hallowe’en plotting a horrific revenge against his wife. As the local children bundle into the house in their masks and make-up, his awful scheme slowly becomes clear.
The Small Assassin – the malice of a child who resents being thrust out into the cold world. As the adults coo and chirp at the baby, a plan to hit back races on behind its innocent eyes.
Night Call, Collect – in a future where Mars has been colonised, then abandoned, a man is accidentally left behind when the last rocket departs for Earth. He roams the empty planet for 50 years, praying for rescue and gradually losing his mind.
The Emmissary – an invalid boy lies weak and pale in his bed, but his dog comes bounding in each day, bringing him the fresh smell of the outdoors, of autumn leaves and soil. Till one day, the dog goes digging and snuffling in the graveyard and brings home something else entirely…
So, this Hallowe’en – our first without Ray Bradbury – honour him, and frighten yourself, by dismissing the modern scream culture and retreating to the dark with a few of his classic stories.