Nobody’s afraid of the dark; we’re afraid of what’s in the dark. It’s a primitive instinct that goes back to a time when getting eaten alive was part of the human experience. We are all naturally apprehensive about what we can’t see coming, because at one time, our survival as a species depended on it. These days, of course, most of us no longer even know what the dark looks like. (Our technology has put a stop to that.) But the instinct remains — a combination of tense anticipation followed by an unholy rush of adrenaline. And for some weird reason — even psychologists can’t figure out why — we have an uncontrollable need to feed it.
Think about it.
The vast majority of horror movies have little or no artistic value, but they are a gabillion dollar industry. Why? Because they scare the bejesus out of us. And it’s not as if we don’t know what’s coming: at some point, some big ugly something is going to jump out at us — guaranteed. After all, horror movies haven’t changed that much since Prana Film ripped off Bram Stoker to produce Nosferatu in 1922. The truth is we cozy up on the sofa with our popcorn, our Pepsi™ and Friday the 13t, Parts 1 through 37 because we’re actively searching for that shot of adrenaline.
This is the place Halloween comes from. It’s part of our intrinsic desire to feel fear. It reminds us that, despite our manicured lawns, painted fences and bold-as-day streetlights, there are still things lurking in the shadows. And it doesn’t matter that it’s only some kid in a Walmart Batman costume or his parents as Sexy Bo Peep and her single, sorry-lookin’ sheep. The point is, there might be something else out there. Something we don’t see. Something that doesn’t sleep. Something whose cold, bony subliminal fingers can reach out from the night and caress the beating flesh of our primeval heart. Something … that might still be hungry.
We live in a society that works overtime trying to eliminate risk — from antibacterial soaps, sprays and potions to airbags in our automobiles. Ironically, however, there is a place, deep in our psychological DNA, that defies the marvels of modern science and social engineering. It draws its power from the pictograph caves of a world lit only by fire, where long macabre shadows dance up the walls. Where the night outside is solid black and breathing. We know this place. It’s part of our cultural memory. We were born there. And Halloween is an annual opportunity to keep that world alive.