Halloween? Scary? No chance, you say! Crass and commercial! Soulless! A holiday to ignore or just an excuse for a party!

Face it: you’re jaded. It wasn’t always like that.

If you ever want to recapture what it was like to be a child, there is no better way than to remember the terror.

Dredging up memories of what first scared me is curiously unnerving, a deep sense of dread coming along for the ride. An image of The Phantom of the Muppet Show still sets me on edge, those eyes that would look at me from the dark shadows of my bedroom, malign and cold.

It’s curious, too, how fleeting some of those moments must have been, built up over the years by the mind going back to them. Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen features a passage in which the protagonists find themselves escaping through tunnels under a mountain, chased by certain death. The tunnel narrows then dips down until it is fully submerged. They have no way to know if the tunnel rises above the water again, but they have no choice. They must keep going. One by one they go under, perhaps to drown. The idea terrified me.

Recently I was in the library with my 12 year old daughter, and I found the book. I located the section and showed it to her, and was amazed by how short it was. A sentence or two, that was all, but it had stayed with me all those years.

Images from Dr Who were burned into my brain, too, and provide a fascinating timestamp on the experience. The Ark in Space was broadcast when I was four years old. I recall moments from it with such clarity, yet what I remember is very different to the way it actually was. Seeing it again when I was older, the sense of ‘that wasn’t what I saw’ was incredibly strong, such was the power of the impression it had left. The Horror of Fang Rock, too, buried itself in my mind, but I was six years old by then. An old hand.

Recently my own six-year-old son saw the first two minutes of Monster House and didn’t sleep for a week. It’s odd to wonder if that will fade quickly, or take root. For her birthday, my daughter asked if she could read my novel Reviver, and I reluctantly said yes. Because all too soon, she’ll hit that magical 15, when even the dark terrors of films like Alien are considered fine by the BBFC.

Of course, as we get older most traditional horror becomes more of an entertainment than a chill, as the things that truly scare us change, becoming financial, medical, career, family. The mundane horrors. Nightmares of illness, mortgages and bills.

When we get an occasional sense of that terror we had as kids, it feels like nostalgia: comforting, somehow, small and manageable chunks of fear. That’s because you think yourself immune.

But you’re not. It just takes a little more effort, and you can find your inner child and scare the hell out of it. There are only three steps required:

1: Shadows. It must be night. Any lighting must be dim, and only where absolutely necessary.

2: Be as alone as possible. Well after midnight is ideal, avoiding the reassurance of sounds from the outside world. From those who might save you. One or two companions can help, as long as they are keen to boost the atmosphere rather than destroy it.

3: Creeping fear. Terror works on a ratchet. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, be it film or novel; instead, dip briefly into a varied bunch of sinister moments. Short tales of terror work well; the ‘real-life’ tales especially. Tell each other – or yourself – the stories you remember hearing as a child. Make some up. Remind yourself that there are unknowns in the darkness. Remind yourself that death can take many forms. Some are human. Some are not.

But all are waiting in the shadows.

So remember the terror this Halloween. Remind yourself what real fear is like.

And in the morning, you’ll be grateful for the light.


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Seven scary books for Halloween