From greedy children holding up whole neighborhoods to blackmail as they seek a cheap fix for their addiction to stores selling cheap plastic masks and covering their aisles in fake cobwebs, I’ve always found Halloween to be tedious time of the year. Everything ends up looking more crappy than creepy. As the day lacks its own miserly Ebenezer Scrooge-figure I would be more than happy to fill the role.
Of course, that makes me a poor choice indeed to write a Halloween-themed post for The Displaced Nation, but we can all take solace in the knowledge that as I write this I have the lights in my living room turned off and I am ignoring the pleading of the legions of candy junkies knocking on my door asking for one last Hershey hit.
But enough whinging, Windram. Now for my picks for atmospheric locations that can send a chill down your spine:
1) Whitby, United Kingdom
Quite understandably Dracula is associated with Transylvania, but the Yorkshire coastal town of Whitby is also heavily featured in Bram Stoker’s novel as the site of Dracula’s shipwreck.
Stoker visited Whitby in 1890 and was struck by the atmospheric fishing town. It is easy to see why with the ruins of Whitby Abbey high atop the east cliff overlooking the town it is visually spectacular, which makes it a wonder why the Whitby portions of Stoker original novel have so often been ignored by filmmakers adapting Dracula. John Badham’s 1979 adaptation is one of the few movie Draculas to try and depict Whitby, though unfortunately even here the use of the Whitby storyline is disappointing as the Cornish coast in fact stood in for the Yorkshire coast. This adaptation also has Frank Langella as Count Dracula, so make of that what you will. It’s certainly not obvious casting, I’ll give them that.
2) Geneva, Switzerland
Sticking with a Gothic theme, let’s focus our attention on that other horror mainstay: Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley.
Frakenstein was inspired by Shelley’s stay in Geneva, and large parts of the novel are also set there. Of course, modern, clean, ever-so-slightly-dull Geneva is not the inspiration, but rather the Villa Diodati, a country house on the shores of Lake Geneva. It is here that famously the Shelleys, Byron, and Dr Polidori challenged each other to come up with a horror story. From this challenge Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein.
For an appropriate bit of campy Halloween schlock, Ken Russell’s film Gothic (1986), which is about the events of that challenge, is well worth a watch.
Equally, Benjamin Markovits’ novel Imposture, about Dr Polidori and his writing of the short story “The Vampyre” during that same challenge, is recommended.
3) A field of susuki grass, Japan
This entry is something of a cheat. This is an entry about the 1964 Japanese film Onibaba (literally, “Demon Hag”), which has no specific setting beyond Medieval Japan; but it’s one of the few horror films I’ve found genuinely affecting.
This is a very brief and unsatisfying summary of the film, but during a civil war two women, one old and one young—living in poverty in an area thick with reeds—kill soldiers who find themselves lost near their home, taking their possessions to sell. The older woman is worried that the younger woman, who is having an affair with a neighbor recently returned from the war, will soon be leaving her so she will have to fend to herself. When the older woman kills a samurai wearing a demon mask, she pulls the mask off the corpse (his face is disfigured) and wears it pretending to be a demon so as to scare the younger woman. Once she puts on the mask, however, she is unable to take it off.
Wow, that summary really doesn’t do the film justice. The film’s director, Kaneto Shindo, was especially keen for the film to be shot in a field of susuki grass, which they found near a river bank in Chiba Prefecture. That setting really makes Onibaba visually arresting. Claustrophobic, but also surreal and languid, these grasses heighten the tension, which is why I feel justified in adding a susuki grass field in Japan to this list.
4) Maine, USA
Obviously this is in reference to the frighteningly prodigious novelist Stephen King, a Maine native and someone who in his work has made use of the fictional Derry, Maine.
With its atmospheric coastline, rocky and dramatic, it’s easy to see how it has inspired King in a similar way to how east cliff in Whitby inspired Stoker a century before.
Or, more specifically, the stone steps that are on M Street in Georgetown, which were made famous in the classic horror film The Exorcist (1973). May the power of Christ compel you to visit! Word of warning: The steps are pretty steep, so if you’re heart starts beating fast, it’s probably the cardio-vascular workout you’re getting rather than any ghoulish happening.
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Readers, literature and film are of course packed with thrills and chills. Have I missed anywhere you think belongs in the Top Five? Let me know in the comments…
STAY TUNED for next tomorrow’s Halloween posts, and prepare to be scared!
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