The History Behind Halloween and Scary Movies
October 2021 Issue
Reel Corner by Donne Paine
The History Behind
Halloween and Scary Movies
On Halloween people shed reality and mark the holiday with costumes, decorations and parties. Creepy legends and characters have evolved based on real terrifying events.
Fear of Vampires: In the early 19th Century, before physicians were able to explain how infectious diseases were spread, hopeless villagers believed that those who perished preyed on the living family members. This fear took such root, it spurred a grim practice of digging up the dead and burning their internal organs to be sure the dead would not return.
Witches and Brooms: The evil, green-skinned witch flying on her magic broomstick may be a Halloween icon, but the actual history behind how witches came to be associated with this holiday dates back to 1451. The association between witches and brooms may have roots in a pagan fertility ritual, in which rural farmers would leap and dance astride poles, pitchforks, or brooms in the light of the full moon to encourage the growth of crops.
Haunted Houses: In the period leading up to the Great Depression, Halloween had become a time when young men could blow off steam and cause mischief. Rather than banning the holiday as some demanded, communities began organizing Halloween activities and tours of haunted houses to keep restless would-be pranksters occupied.
Jack-O-Lanterns and Stingy Jack: Pumpkins with ghoulish faces illuminated by candles are a sure sign of Halloween season. The practice of decorating Jack-o-lanterns originated in Ireland, where large turnips and potatoes served as early canvasses. The name Jack-o-Lantern comes from Irish folklore about a man named “Stingy Jack,” who according to legend, tricks the devil into paying for his drink. The devil takes revenge and sentences Jack to neither heaven nor hell, causing Jack to roam the earth for eternity with only a little piece of coal, which he places inside a turnip to guide him.
Halloween Costumes: By the 9th century, the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands. In 1000 AD, the church created All Souls Day and claimed November 2 as the day to honor the dead. All Souls Day and the festival associated with it, known as Samhain, was celebrated with burning big bonfires, holding parades and dressing up in costumes as saints, both angels and devils. It was believed that on that day the souls of the dead returned to their homes, so bonfires and costumes were to ward off spirits. The All Souls Day celebration was also called All-hallows, and the night before it was All-hallows Eve, which eventually became known as Halloween.
Scary Movies Based on True Stories: There are nights when all we want to do is curl up and watch a horror movie. What makes a scary movie scarier is knowing that it is based on a true story. Here are a few films you may have missed that might be just the right fright for one of those nights.
• The Exorcist (1973) Based on a novel about the real life of a boy who was possessed by demons in 1949.
• The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) Loosely based on America’s horrifying serial killer Ed Gein, who had nine human skin masks in his possession at the time of his arrest.
• A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) Inspired by a group of Laotian refugees who died in the throes of a nightmare. Medical reports showed no evidence of anything wrong with them physically.
• Child’s Play (1988) The script was based on a nurse who allegedly put a voodoo curse on author Robert Otto, which transformed one of his childhood dolls into a nighttime menace.
• The Amityville Horror (2005) The movie is based on paranormal events and demonic forces that took place in 1975 at the new home of the Lutz family in the town of Amityville.
The Reel Corner is not a big fan of horror films but loves Halloween with its costumes, folklore, trick or treating and carving pumpkins. And hey, this year again we can get creative with those masks. Have fun…be safe.
References: www.history.com, www.wikipedia.com, www.imdb.com
Donne Paine, film enthusiast, once lived around the corner from the Orson Welles Theater in Cambridge Massachusetts, where her strong interest in films, especially independent ones, began. Supporter of the arts, especially films, she travels to local and national film festivals, including Sundance, Toronto and Tribeca. There is nothing like seeing a film on the big screen. She encourages film-goers to support Hilton Head local theaters; Coligny Theater, Park Plaza Theater and Northridge. To support her habit of frequent movie going, Donne is a travel medicine nurse consultant. See you at the movies!