Opinion

How my love of horror made me a better person: Opinion

As an adult, I can draw a direct connection from my horror fanaticism to the development of my imagination, of my creative abilities, of my interest in other cultures, and in the strengthening of my empathy. Yes, empathy.

Snidely dubbed 'Monster Man' as a child, Dave Stewart explains why he celebrates Halloween all month long

Dave Stewart in a Halloween costume as a child, in the 1960s. (Submitted by Dave Stewart)

I've been celebrating Halloween 2018 for a month now — a series of horror movie screenings, a few decorations here and there. You see, for we horror fanatics, Halloween is a month-long event, beginning on Oct. 1 and culminating on All Hallow's Eve.

As a pre-teen horror fan, what I learned was that my kind of interest was frowned upon, considered unhealthy by people who thought I should be more into hockey than Godzilla. What I've come to realize about that pre-teen interest, however, is that these people were wrong.

Dead wrong.

As an adult, I can draw a direct connection from my horror fanaticism to the development of my imagination, of my creative abilities, of my interest in other cultures, and in the strengthening of my empathy.

Yes, empathy.

Stewart ready for a night of Halloween festivities as a child. (Submitted by Dave Stewart)

After all, what horror movie fan doesn't feel for Frankenstein's monster or King Kong as they are pursued and brought down by local authorities, whether by torch-wielding mob or a squadron of biplanes?

What horror fan doesn't place themselves in the shoes of Laurie Strode as she fights to stay alive despite Michael Myers' best efforts in Halloween? To crib from our neighbours to the south, we horror fans staunchly believe in the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Dubbed "Monster Man" by another kid's snide and judgmental mother (remember, kids sense attitude), I learned that my interest was best expressed in the shadows, as opposed to sharing it with other kids. Later, the Monster Man moniker gave way to down-the-nose queries of "Why do you like horror?", which today have been replaced by the simple and dismissive "I don't like horror."

If I may, to dismiss horror is to turn your back on Shakespeare, Shirley Jackson and Poe: films by Hitchcock, Claire Denis, and Georges Franju; art by Cindy Sherman, Goya and Bacon. Masterworks with plenty to teach us about the art of their respective mediums, and a lot to say about the human condition.

Why I love Halloween

I come by my love of the holiday honestly. My two earliest memories are: one — waking from a nightmare about being eaten alive in my crib by a gigantic frog, and not knowing it was a fantasy, and two — my parents taking me to a screening of some version of Jack and the Beanstalk and having to run out of the theatre with me because I was sure the giant was going to crush us beneath his gargantuan boot.

Shortly thereafter, I caught a TV screening of the 1957 giant bug movie The Deadly Mantis. I was so engrossed, so sure that a smaller though no less terrifying version of the titular creature was going to grab my leg from under our couch, that I had to sit on the backrest for the majority of its running time.

Stewart in front of Stephen King's house in Bangor, Maine. (Submitted by Dave Stewart)

Instead of turning me against the darker aspects of life, however, these incidents helped to encourage my fascination with things that go bump in the night. The feelings were so intense, so intriguing, how could I help but reflect upon them? And so, thus began a lifelong fascination with all things horror.

The night when evil walks the earth

When I was a kid, Halloween meant picking the best scary costume I could think of. It meant trick or treating, and maybe even a Halloween party. It meant finally catching some horror flick I'd longed to see when it hit the Late Show. It meant the fun of a good natured scare, as long as the neighbourhood bullies didn't elbow in.

Today, for me it means that our big box stores will bring in extra horror Blu-rays. It means a month of themed horror movie viewing — maybe Hammer horror from the UK, maybe an Italian splatter movie fest. It means that I'll hang out at my dad's place and help hand out Halloween treats. It means that for one night of the year, we publicly embrace what I love. For one night, my world is bathed in orange and black.

Another childhood Halloween costume of Stewart's. (Submitted by Dave Stewart)

It's the night when evil walks the earth, and we ward it away from our homes with hastily carved jack-o'-lanterns. Or, if you like, the night that costumed kids go door-to-door in search of the house that actually gives out potato chips.

It's also a time when I feel super nostalgic. It's hard to describe the joy I used to feel when I was a kid at this time of year, walking the seasonal aisles at K-Mart as the shelves were lined with boxes and boxes of costumes, ripe for the picking. They were more simple things then. A brittle plastic mask that would hinder your breathing, and a terrifyingly flammable onesie, viewed through the cellophane window on each box. Man, that was heaven for a Monster Kid like me.

Dave Stewart as 'Carey,' a male version of Carrie, during a recent Halloween. (Submitted by Dave Stewart)

It also makes me think of the local rumours disguised as stories that we kids would share to scare each other silly — the estate in Charlottetown with the window that was boarded because a ghost haunted the room beyond. The Satanists who held black masses in the woods of Victoria Park. The worker who had fallen into one of the piers of the old Hillsborough Bridge, only to be buried alive in its still-wet cement. The house in the woods nearby where a witch was purported to live.

Creeeeeepy!

This Halloween, I invite you to let go of your fears, or maybe face a few of them. Halloween is the perfect holiday for it. Just make sure your jack-o'-lantern burns bright on your doorstep. You wouldn't want something that's better kept outside to get in, would you?

Happy Halloween.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.