Great American Haunting Tales! – by Sara Benincasa

Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe circa 1849, restored by Yann Forget and Adam Cuerden, via Wikipedia

The news is eternally full of horrors, which makes it a particularly apt time to dip into Imagination-land, no? Some folks understandably prefer entertainment that is entirely sweet, charming, and cute, perhaps culminating in Julia Roberts smiling through tears as a symmetrical-faced man finally admits he loves her. This is excellent! But if you prefer your escapism to be weird and frightening, here are some Great American Scary Stories designed to freak you out.

“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe — This short story has been reprinted, reinterpreted, and re-read about a billion kajillion times since it was first published in 1843. I revisited it via a fabulous 2020 audiobook version narrated by Ruth Wilson. This English lady scared the shit out of me! I love her!

I am embarrassed to admit I had never before considered how the tale might feel a little different when read by a woman, and yet, I found it refreshing and even more fucked up. Other than the use of the gendered term “madmen,” there is no indication in the original text that the narrator is a dude.

If you’d prefer to read it yourself, check out the online version published by The Poe Museum in 2021. I didn’t even know Richmond, Virginia, had a museum to honor the coolest artist to emerge from its depths (besides GWAR, of course — did you know some of the founders were art students at Virginia Commonwealth University?).

The Shining (1980, dir. Stanley Kubrick) — My favorite movie as a kid (probably something I should’ve brought up to my social worker when I was 14), this adaptation of Stephen King’s novel (Wonkette cut link) is famously not King’s own favorite anything. I adore Steven Weber, and unfortunately still haven’t seen the 1997 miniseries adaptation in which he co-starred with Rebecca De Mornay. But wow, do I love Kubrick’s masterpiece.

If one watches the film as a portrait of a violent alcoholic in decline, it becomes more heart-wrenching than merely spooky-scary. As the nominal head of a horrifically dysfunctional family, Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) deserves his legendary place in cinema history. But Shelley Duvall, whom Kubrick notoriously manipulated and psychologically abused on set, gives something extraordinary as Wendy Torrance that I appreciate more with each viewing.

King felt Kubrick’s version of Wendy was written in a way that was deeply misogynistic, counter to his intent in the novel. I don’t disagree. But to watch the film is to experience a heightened version of a very common experience: being raised by an abusive parent with a partner who enables the terror until it’s almost too late.

Or you can just watch it as a fucked up ghost story. Choose your own adventure.

Neil Gaiman’s Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Colleen Doran — Okay, so Gaiman is famously A British Person. However! He mostly lives in these United States, and Doran is an American, so this counts as a Great American Scary Story. This illustrated retelling of Snow White is based on Gaiman’s 1994 short story of the same title. It freaks me the fuck out. (The above link gives a commission to your Wonkette.)

Enjoy this week. Give out full-size candy bars or organic fruit or whatever you want. Or hide inside from the demon children in their terrifying seasonal wardrobe! I will be burning various scented candles, honoring my ancestors, eating Coffin Crisp (Canadian perfection) and emotionally co-regulating with my cat. Please enjoy these photographs of my nephew when he was a justifiably concerned infant.

Give us candy once but make it dollars!