Let’s pretend it’s a normal October for a sec. Humour me, it’s been a year!

Do you smell that in the air, that scent lingering just under the cool Autumn breeze? It’s leaves – blankets of dead, crunchy leaves raked awkwardly into piles and crushed into orange-and-black garbage bags by the side of the road. Some are printed with warped Jack-O-Lantern faces, others, plain, slump like sleeping bodies. Tell-tale impressions mark the ones picked out as makeshift chairs by passing children digging through their trick-or-treat bags; others are stacked into slouchy scarecrow-shapes by enterprising parents looking for a cheap Hallowe’en decoration. Others still are picked open by pets or raccoons and spill their reddish-orange guts onto the sidewalk. Some just sit open, inviting candy wrappers, cigarette butts and insects.

Maybe you were like me and learned the hard way not to reach inside.

It is last year, next year and twenty years ago at once. It’s the scent of Hallowe’en, that hint of smoke in the air – whether from the leaves, burnt up in piles, or from candles left to glow themselves out inside pumpkins on the front step. It’s the itch of a costume that doesn’t quite fit, but is too good to give up on (yet). It’s the acetone reek of fresh rubber in a new mask, the whisper of a cape swishing past your heels. It’s makeup for the first time, it’s nail polish, awkwardly applied. It’s the startling first look in the mirror at a friend’s house: the exhilaration of a temporary change of identity, name, shape.

It’s magic. Hallowe’en will always be magic.

I feel like we’ve been here before.

Welcome back.

This Long Hallowe’en is tremendously busy, so look for fewer (stronger!) articles than past years. Gone, for now, are the days when I could release an article and a playlist and art every single day. I have many, many in-person jobs this year! But DO prepare for surprises either way – you know I won’t be able to help myself. So whether you’re dropping in for the first time, or have been putting up with [Me In October] for the last 10 years, thank you so much for reading.

Happy Hallowe’en! Check back, I’ll be around.

(Alright sit down, it’s time for the keynote. We’ll get back to the 10 Years thing later.)

Of course, we aren’t quite at the crunchy-leaves point of the year yet. Right now, the leaves are still mostly on their trees because apparently it’s still summer in Vancouver.

I began writing this post at about noon on Saturday – the first of Hallowe’en – when it was 26 degrees outside and the sun was beaming in through every window. It’s October first (second, third … fifth, by the time you read this), but it certainly doesn’t feel like it: Summer refuses to go quietly. It’s a bit difficult to get into the spooky spirit when it’s still Shorts Weather outside, I’ll admit. Aside from the odd daylight-horror film that really capitalizes on the uncanny spirit of the harvest season (Midsommar, Wicker Man, Texas Chainsaw, the other Wicker Man), it just doesn’t feel like haunting season until there’s a bite to the air and it rains every other day. That just means we’ll have to work extra hard to make things feel seasonally appropriate in a world in which our seasons continue to lurch forward into one another – and that’s on top of the work we already put in to continue surviving on our Extremely Normal and Okay Planet.

Let’s address the elephant in the room – by which I mean the entire planet Earth in 2022 – as we roll into the Horror Media season. Surprising (hopefully) no one, I’ve had Horror on my mind.

No one is going to get in trouble for feeling this way, so we might as well look it right in the eye: things kind of suck right now! For lots of folks, for lots of reasons! Hallowe’en finds itself in a strange spot: it can be tough to reach for Fun, Fictional Horror when Genuine, Real-World Horror seems right around every corner. Horror – especially extreme, realistic Horror – has a way of becoming a topic of debate when things are going badly. We might ask ourselves, “Is it okay to enjoy fake horror when real horror knocks on our door?” It’s true on the other end of the Hallowe’en spectrum as well, where fluffy, comforting escapism can feel like a needless indulgence! When we indulge our fictional demons, scary or otherwise, do we risk taking focus away from the real-world monsters hard at work outside? Is that how any of this works, is escapism irresponsible? It’s an important distinction to make!

It gets at the root of why we make Art to begin with, and where its boundaries and responsibilities lie. Because Hallowe’en and Horror are never just escapism, and a scare is never just a scare – though being frightened can certainly be fun. They’re so much more.

Horror, at its absolute best, is a fun-house mirror through which we analyze our darkest fears. It can paint the nightmares of our real-world lives into a corner, and solve them like puzzle-boxes. In its finest, most powerful forms, Horror allows us to draw strength from the things that scare us. It helps us understand those fears, and ourselves, more clearly. In this sense it’s a form of escapism which, ironically, can bring us closer to an understanding of our own experiences by re-contextualizing them in our own words. This is true of so much cinema, and indeed Art in general!

Some of my most distressing experiences with media have, strangely, been my most powerful. And I’m sure I’m not alone in that – this month’s column will address some of these without a doubt.

That said, raw Horror can also, sometimes, just be a bit of a bummer. There are times to dive into our worst nightmares head-first, and times to seek comfort away from them, to transform the shape of our fear into something that can be absorbed, controlled and nullified. There are forms of Horror which can, themselves, constitute trauma – and for some people with certain sets of experiences, can be genuinely dangerous. People deserve to know what they’re in for, because people have different sets of sensitivities and content thresholds; this gets into conversations about informed consent and content warnings rather quickly, but there’s a reason these concepts exist. They accommodate actual, physical and emotional needs – they are Accessibility tools. In a seemingly uncaring world, safe escapism can be vital.

Sometimes people need to exorcise their fears and see them writ-large before they can be properly understood – that’s Horror. And sometimes, people like myself need to watch Hotel Transylvania because it does not take place on our Hell World, and instead is set on a different, better earth where I am worried Adam Sandler will make bad parenting decisions because he is a Dracula. And because there is no way in which that world can harm me.

Putting on a Hallowe’en costume can serve the same, quietly transformational purpose. A better world is possible because we can imagine it. For ourselves, for everyone else. And for Dracula.

After all we must, before all else, love ourselves.
Nick Cave taught me that. (The song is not about love.)

Scary or not, our escapism (our fictional media) is never just escapism. There’s more going on behind the scenes!

Horror, the fickle heart of Hallowe’en, is never without this double-edged nature, its capacity to both excite, frighten, inform and potentially harm. That inherent tension and difficulty is what gives Horror its power as an Art form, but it also erects a wall around the genre. Both sides show up in the same film all the time – even the goofiest, most indulgent Splat-Stick Comedies come with an implicit contract: You must be this willing to put up with silly ultraviolence in order to ride. Hope you like fake blood and jump-scares. And anyone who didn’t find humour in The Lighthouse simply wasn’t paying attention.

Fluffy escapism and capital-A Art go hand in hand on Hallowe’en, they’re trick and treat. They’re the two sides of the brain, vying for control. It filters into a lot of what I think we all love about the holiday to begin with: tension, fear, catharsis and (in some sense) personal reflection all go hand-in-hand. They’re the scary-movie circle of life, and on Hallowe’en they’re on full display.

So here’s my larger point:

Pure, joyful escapism is as vital a component of Hallowe’en as Horror itself – even if it sometimes feels like the complete opposite. On Hallowe’en, a season of extremes, they’re two parts of the same whole – and that impulse is healthy, especially when the world feels like it’s going sideways.

Tension, release, catharsis and escapism – these are all human impulses that allow us to navigate the complex emotional landscape of the goddamn apocalypse we find ourselves living out. As much as great Horror allows us to sketch out a taxonomy of our fears (and therefore ourselves), the transformational power of joy and its expression – escapism – lends us a language to imagine a world in which we are not living under constant threat of like nine different world-ending events. It’s a quietly radical thing to be joyful in the face of great turmoil, and that includes taking joy in your own imagination. Paired with the self-reflection of gazing deeply into one’s darkest fears, it makes for a potent cocktail of self-expression, examination and growth.

Joy is more powerful than cynicism, Horror is the examination of the self, and Hallowe’en is the most important holiday there is – especially when life is tough. If you hadn’t picked up on that yet, it is the entire thesis of Pop Culture Death Drive. It’s why I’m here!

By rocking us from extreme to extreme of human experience, Hallowe’en, the greatest 31 days of the year, is uniquely qualified to see us through the end times. Or whatever it is we’re dealing with out here. Not only is the indulgence of Hallowe’en okay in 2022, when nothing is certain and everything hurts, it is absolutely vital. It’s the best thing we can do for ourselves.

I seriously believe this to be true.

Scream for joy or scream for the jump-scare. We’re already scared of everything all the goddamn time.

Why not put it to work?

I’m putting this out in front of The Long Hallowe’en 2022 because it’s been on my mind, but also because it’s been challenging approaching Horror at a time when Horror also awaits us in the news, outside, and in Ukraine (amongst many other places!). Anyone who watched 2011’s Contagion in the last couple years can tell you: it’s possible for a film to hit too close to home. Yet pure escapism doesn’t seem to be the answer either – to completely look away from the nightmare-world feels irresponsible in some sense, even if there are times when it’s absolutely necessary to take a break. The answer has to lie somewhere in-between, in a combination of self-examination and celebration that gets us somewhere, or at least brings us joy at a time when joy can be difficult to locate.

The 2022 edition of the Long Hallowe’en will be a series where both modes are given space the shine: the shattering, reflexive terror of the Horror film and the escapist celebration of the Self that finds its expression in costumes, Spirit Halloween and candy corn. That’s what makes this time of year so special, it’s the reason every artist on Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok and (yes) WordPress is scrambling to pump out way more content than is creatively realistic for these 31 days. It means something to us – I think it means something even more this year than usual. I think we needed it.

The 31 days of Hallowe’en are an opportunity to prod our collective fears, anxieties and identities in a variety of shifting, safe and cathartic ways. Some of those will be extreme and outrageous, others cozy and validating; all will be liberating. To me, that’s what makes Hallowe’en so powerful: it’s an exercise in freedom and rebellion. Always has been.

I’ll be here for the whole month, publishing as much as I can between the schedules of my hundred different jobs and events. Thank you, as always, for reading and for taking part in my favourite time of the year.

I’ll be back as soon as I can – now go on, get out of here. Go watch a scary movie or something.❤️

This article is the thesis thing for The Long Hallowe’en 2022, a celebration of spooky media and other creepy odds and ends! You read this far, have a treat: it’s last year’s Psychobilly blowout hour, KING RAT: