The Old Ways
“It was the start of the year in our old Celtic lands, and we’d be waiting in our houses of wattles and clay. The barriers would be down, you see, between the real and the unreal, and the dead might be looking in to sit by our fires of turf.”
– Halloween 3 (1982)
However you feel about them, traditions are one of the ways we anchor ourselves – to the past, to our families and friends, to the world we know. From traditions that are part of cultural norms (presents at Christmas, fireworks at the 4th of July, the basic structures of weddings and funerals) to personal rituals that are bespoke for each individual, we all have them.
For me, one tradition that has settled in over the past decade is Nerdoween. It happens every October, hosted by the gents from the Nightmare Junkhead podcast. A themed triple-feature of horror movies, with the titles a mystery until the picture begins to roll. I went to the very first one, eight years ago now, and saw both Demons and Night of the Demons for the first time. (The third film on the docket was Demon Knight, but by then it was early morning and I had just watched Demon Knight the week before, as it happened.)
My adopted brother, Jay, came with me to that first Nerdoween, and he’s been with me at every one since. Over the course of the intervening years, I’ve seen twenty more movies courtesy of Nerdoween, skipping out on only one, for similar reasons to why I missed Demon Knight that first time around. Of those movies, 22 in total, counting that first year, nine were first-time watches. Which, given how many horror movies I’ve consumed, is a pretty good average. Every year but two I saw at least one movie for the first time.
This year’s theme was eating, and the movie I saw for the first time was Gnaw: The Food of the Gods 2 (1989), which was an experience. I did that over this previous weekend, when I also partook of a somewhat less long-lived but equally vital Halloween tradition: an Analog Sunday double feature, this time watching Dead Inn (1997) and Witches Sabbath (2005).
For those who have been following along for a while, you’ll know that Analog Sunday has become an important part of my life over the last few years. Through it, I’ve seen all sorts of movies I would probably otherwise never have experienced and, even more importantly, made some of my closest friends. Recently, it has moved into the Rewind bar in the basement of the Screenland Armour, which has been accompanied by some growing pains, but this double-feature was back upstairs and felt like a return to old times.
After watching five movies at the Screenland in two days, I drove back just two days later and hosted a screening of House on Haunted Hill (1999), a movie that has been a favorite since I first saw it in its Halloween theatrical run. Back then, I had never seen the original 1959 version, which has since become my literal favorite movie of all time.
The screening was fun. Haunted Hill ’99 makes for good seasonal programming. Spooky and campy and occasionally genuinely deranged. We had a good crowd, including one person who was seeing her first horror movie in a theatre. I think she picked a good one to start.
Eli, who hosts Analog Sunday, loaned me his tombstone props, and so I was able to decorate the place for some ambiance – harkening back to when I first saw the much worse haunted house movie of 1999, Jan de Bont’s frankly terrible remake of The Haunting, on opening night in a Wichita theatre whose lobby was decked out in fog machines and fake headstones.
That’s almost it for me this Halloween season, when it comes to appearances and theatrical endeavors. There’s just one left – another thing that has become a monthly staple, hosting a movie followed by a live podcast at the Stray Cat Film Center. It’s something that we’ve only been doing for a short while now, but it’s going strong. Last month, we did Uzumaki, which had our best turn-out to date. For Halloween, on October 27, we’re showing the movie that I’m probably most excited about of anything we’ve done yet: the 1992 faux newscast Ghostwatch.
It’s going to be a special night. And, in a lot of ways, the culmination of what has felt like a special Halloween season, despite some behind-the-scenes things that have kept me busier and less engaged than I might otherwise be. And the season isn’t over yet. There should be some news about my next collection, How to See Ghosts & Other Figments, coming very soon now…