Pseudopod: The 2016 Halloween Parade

Every year, I do a Halloween Parade at Pseudopod. It’s a look at the pieces of dark and horror fiction that have stayed with me in the year and an excuse to have a little fun with metafictionality. The episode is up over here and the text, plus notes on who’s where, is below.

 

The parade looks different this year. There are floats, certainly, but they’re interspersed with individuals. People who either bring the audience’s attention or simply refuse to allow it to be anywhere else.

the directorThe first is the woman in the suit and gloves. As is always the way, she’s smiling. As is always the way, no one can quite remember where she came from. There’s just a hint of motion and she’s there. Smiling, patient, polite. Never breaking eye contact.

Sigourney Weaver’s Cabin in the Woods cameo is a thing of beauty. I can’t imagine anyone else leading the parade. And she wouldn’t let anyone else…

winchestersBehind her comes the Impala. Not as crowded this year, but the two brothers are still there, the cassette deck is still booming and the backseat is filled. Just…never quite with the same person. The redheaded woman is there sometimes, the trucker capped older mad others, a female sherriff at others. The small, immaculately tailored man who smells of brimstone though? He’s always there.

The Winchester boys! Supernatural always has a strong showing in the parade and this year is no exception. That’s Charlie, Bobby, Sherriff Mills and Crowley in the book too.

maggieThe father follows them. A huge, bear of a man with grey hair, a beard and such a weight of sadness to him. He carries a hatchet in one hand and his other vast paw is wrapped around that of his daughter. She’s dressed like he is; utilitarian but there’s something haunted in her eyes, something off about her pallid skin. Something hungry just below the surface.
Maggie
, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. A very odd choice, a very odd movie but it’s a brave, weird piece.poltergeist

Behind them comes the first actual float. It’s a gag one, two living rooms, obviously meant to be the same room in different decades. One, decorated in 1980s housing development, is spacious and so, so beige. The other is smaller, brighter and somehow more artificial. It’s not just the décor either but the sense of unease the float gives you. The modern one feels like a ghost train ride. The 1980s one feels like it’s working out where you live.

The Poltergeist remake hit this year and was crammed full of great actors doing great work that couldn’t lift the movie. That’s the modern living room, the other one is, of course, the original.insidious

Behind them come the exorcists and what a bunch they are. Two look like steampunk Mormon evangelists, all big dials and video cameras. Another, dressed like a priest and wearing a hat but, you notice, without a dog collar walks next to them and smiles to himself. Kids. The young, and old, priests next to him both look haunted but he catches their eye and winks and, despite himself, the young priest smiles. The young priest looks away and smiles wider when a woman breaks from the two groups of parapsychologists behind them. They’re busy arguing about the float in front but she, without making eye contact, closes her hand in that of the man in the hat. They both relax. Neither tries to show it. They both fail.

Stuff like this why I do the parade, the chance to throw thematically similar characters together and have them hang out. Here you’ve got the two teams of parapsychologists from the two Poltergeist movies mixing with the steampunk Mormon-alikes from Insidious and the priests from The Exorcist. And yes, Doctor Powell and Carrigan Burke, from the Poltergeist remake, are both very cute and completely deserving of showing up in a better movie.

ghostbustersBehind them come two of the ugliest cars you’ve ever seen. Magnificently ugly in fact. One is an honest to God Hearse, painted white with what might be a nuclear reactor on top. The other is a station wagon, again white, again…that looks pretty fissile. That one’s being driven by an irrationally handsome young man who somehow manages to still look gawky. The hearse is being driven by a tall, lanky chap with spectacles. He’s slightly translucent. But he’s there. And you suspect, always will be.

ghostbusters

Behind the two cars are seven people in similar overalls. They’re all carrying bulky backpacks with what seems to be a weapon attached and they’re all bickering. Four women, three guys and all of them are going at it hell for leather. One woman in particular is launching this heroic fount of stream of consciousness profanity at one of the guys who seems to be trying to tell her about his cable tv show. None of them are quiet, none of them are polite and they are all absolutely giving no ground. They’re also all, you notice, having a lot of fun.

Egon Spengler is, and always will be, a hero of mine. He’s also not the sort of person to let that whole ‘being dead’ thing get in the way of good research. Both sets of Ghostbusters are here too, because the epic bicker-off they would not doubt engage in makes me laugh every time I think of it.

constantineMaybe more fun than the blonde magician. He’s behind them this year and there’s two versions of him. One is precise and well-drawn. The other is a shambling wreck. Both are ridiculously good looking. In between bantering they’re chatting to the people on either side of them. One’s a cheerful, well dressed man in his twenties who looks to be carrying a wooden stake. On the other side is a short blonde woman and her slightly taller, somewhat more rock and roll friend. The blonde? Not sure what to make of the magician. Rock and roll? Oh she likes him. Unobserved by all of them, but clear to you, a hooded figure crouches on a roof and watches them go past. He knows the magician. But, you suspect, the magician doesn’t know him. Yet. On the roof behind him, a taller, older man in a great cloak stares down. He’s lost everything, even his name. But not the code that goes with it.

rossmo constantineIt’s been a best of times worst of times kind of year for John Constantine. The immensely fun TV show was cancelled but the reboot of his comic series is both infinitely closer to the original than the previous attempt and really very good. Plus, as I write this we still have his appearance on Arrow to look forward to. That’s going to be made even more fun by the rumours that apparently John and Ollie have met before. So, the line about Ollie watching unobserved from the rooftops doesn’t quite work now but he’s a broody guy. I figure he can make it work.

buffy and faithAnd yes, of course Constantine is both chatting to, and flirting with Buffy and Faith.

billyAnd yes, of course, the comic version of Constantine is both chatting to, and flirting with Billy, the first male Slayer introduced in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 9 comics.

The older gentleman watching the parade is Galahad from The Order; 1886. Speaking as one of the five people on the planet who apparently played and enjoyed that game, he’s earnt a spot here. But he’s also a dreadful poor-person-murdering sociopath so no Churros for him.

unfriendedBehind them comes the oddest group yet. Five teens, heads down and buried in their phones. They flit between windows with ease, carrying on conversations digitally despite being five feet apart. You’re reminded of an old term; oya yubi sedai. The thumb tribe. Those who live by their phones. You’re still thinking of that when the sixth teen, the one cloaked in darkness and rage, draws level with you. She makes eye contact, puts a finger to her lips and motions SSSSSH. Then touches the back of one of the teenagers. You look away. Knowing they can’t.

The cast of Unfriended show up, and can’t see the doom they’ve built for themselves. That’s a smart little movie, well worth an hour and a half of your time.

until dawnBehind them come another group of bickering teens but these are…odd. They’re tied together by something, gossamer knots of trauma and obligation that you can see but you suspect they can’t. One in particular, a clown on his t-shirt and a strange look in his eye draws your attention. The kid’s planning something, and you suspect, he may not be the only one.

As is Until Dawn, which for a game that’s been in development hell for years is immense fun. A steerable movie of sorts it’s a classic ‘horrible things happen in an isolated location’ story combined with really bang on performances from a great cast who even make the thing’s paper-thin female characters work. Absolutely worth playing, even if games like that aren’t your sort of thing.jamie lee curtisFinally, there are the survivors. The Final Girls and the Lucky Nerd, the comic relief and the sherriff who knows everything other than how to get directly involved. They’re led by another tall, imposing woman in a suit but this one has agency, energy. The Director drags your attention to her. This woman demands it and you give it, readily.

Dana and Marty from Cabin in the Woods lead this group in along with the poor sheriff from Sinister. Also in there are the casts of Final Girl, Final Girls and Scream Queens, led by Jamie Lee Curtis.

dying light

Behind her group of focused, angry, powerful young women come the runners and they make your heart swell because there are THOUSANDS of them. Their gear is battered, their faces are bloody and not one looks like another. You see a doctor with a flashlight taped to her shoulder, a man with a headwound, another carrying a hockeystick with what looks like a battery attached to it. Behind them comes a communications guy, voice light and precise, talking fast and somehow relaxed. Nesxt to him, a line of runners, men, women, young, old. All of them have numbers on their chest. There’s a remarkable amount of 5s.

zombies runAlmost none of them look fit. None of them care. Each one is ready to build something better, in their bodies and their world. Take down a zombie, clear a building, grab some supplies and get home. A new world built on a million tiny victories. A new world built on sweat and effort and bravery. Not all of them will come home. But they know that and they run anyway. The other floats and groups have been applauded but this lot, and the odd, surprised group of boffins at their centre, this lot get the one and only standing ovation. They smile, and they bow and clap and look embarrassed and, then, as one and at a million different speeds, they run off. There is, after all, work to be done. The last one left is the comm tech who, as the parade passes you by, turns, bows and grins.

Then runs after them, nagging them to come home safe.

Just as we all should. Happy Halloween everyone.

This has been a big year for zombies and parkour. Dying Light is a phenomenally good game that drops you into the middle of a zombie outbreak and forces you to ally with one of the groups in the besieged city. It’s really smart, has incredible visuals and the entire supporting cast are here.

Then there’s Zombies Run which I used for a while in 2012 and came back to this year. One part audio drama, one part app and one part zombie survival horror it’s an extraordinary, unprecedented piece of culture that has changed the lives of millions of people across the planet.  I’m one of them.

It’s also the embodiment of one of the things I love best about horror; survival. No one who uses it is perfect, no one is the same and no one is going anywhere else. It’s a community of survivors who never meet, facing down the things that get in their way and beating them. Just a lovely, inspiring thing that’s a pleasure to interact with.

Which is why Sam, the communications guy from it, takes a bow at the end. Because everyone involved with the game deserves to.

 

So there you go, games, comics, TV shows and movies all combined in a brief, riotous parade celebrating the best in dark fiction. Enjoy and do try the Churros…

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