“Everyone’s Entitled to One Good Scare”: Halloween Horror in America’s Favorite Holidays

From its beginnings as the Celtic festival of Samhain to its connections to the Christian All Saint’s Day to its domestication for children in the early 20th century, the celebration of Halloween has undergone a dramatic, centuries-long metamorphosis. Even the modern traditions of gore and terror are a relatively new invention, following 50 or so years of sanitized, family-friendly trick-or-treating and costumes alone.

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Bruce David Forbes explores the candid history of Halloween’s return to horror, and adult participation in its festivities, in America’s Favorite Holidays:

Theatrical poster for Friday the 13th (1980).
Theatrical poster for Friday the 13th (1980).

John Carpenter’s 1978 movie played a role. … Halloween‘s success helped launch at least two other horror movie series, Friday the 13th, featuring Jason (eleven sequels and a remake), and Nightmare on Elm Street, with Freddy Krueger (seven sequels and a remake), plus countless other films, some gory, some frightening, some spoofs.”

“The surprise success of this low-budget movie and its successors can be explained at least partially by the desire of young adults to be included in Halloween festivities. From their perspective, this was a night for pretending and experimenting, for some release from societal inhibitions, and for playing with adult themes of fear and death, all of which was missing from a sanitized children’s costume parade. The movies helped add young adult participation back into Halloween.”

Theatrical poster for The Nightmare Before Christmas, (1993).
Theatrical poster for The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993).

“Tim Burton, the noted film director and producer and co-writer of The Nightmare before Christmas, summarized the spirit of Halloween very well: “To me, Hallowe’en has always been the most fun night of the year. It’s where rules are dropped and you can be anything at all. Fantasy rules. It’s only scary in a funny way. Nobody’s out to really scare anybody to death. They’re out to delight people with their scariness, which is what Hallowe’en is all about.”

Learn more about the history of Halloween, Christmas and other seasonal standbys in America’s Favorite Holidays, releasing this month.