It’s Halloween Eve, which means it’s time to get spooky. Usually told at sleepovers or bonfires ghost stories are the defining element to a good spooky season and Halloween. Some of writers talk about their favourite ghost stories and why they have the ultimate scare-factor.
When you think of modern-day horror writers you usually find the same names cropping up: Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Susan Hill to name a few. However, one writer that doesn’t get the attention he deserves is Peter Straub, not only for his vast contribution to horror overall but also in his subversion of the genre as clear in books like Ghost Story. Telling the tale of five elderly men who get together periodically to share ghost stories, the novel foregrounds the implications of ghosts and ghouls when the storytelling is simply a device to distract from a dark secret buried in the men’s past. As fictions collide with truth, Straub weaves a tale of haunted youth and regret that embodies themes and ideas, unlike anything the reader would have read before. It’s utterly enthralling to see Straub write genuine characters and create incredible story-arcs which are always grounded in an unsettling horror of creeping sensibilities. It’s a book that deserves to be read on a dark chilly night while sat next to fire as you become the sixth member of the proclaimed “Chowder Society” and read the ultimate ghost story.
At Halloween, we mostly look to the ethereal creatures and eerie spectres of Irish and Japanese folklore when we’re looking for a good scare. Banshee, Kuchisake-Onna, and the Headless Horseman are all classics when swapping scary stories. But Latin America has a wealth of chilling stories, from El Chupacabra to La Ciguapa, there is no end to the cautionary tales and consequent adaptations that we see on our screens. In my opinion, only the imagination can do justice to the haunting legacy of La Llorona.
La Llorona (Spanish for The Weeping Woman) is a folktale, with origins spanning across Mexico and Venezuela, about the ghost of María, who drowned her two children when she saw her husband with another woman. Drowning herself immediately after, she is denied entry at Heaven’s Gates, condemned to walk the earth until she finds the bodies of her drowned children. She is said to stalk the banks of rivers and lakes in a white funeral gown, crying “¡Ay mis hijos!” (“Oh my children!”), at which point you should start running away.
The story has differed over time, some say that she drowns children when she finds out that they are not her own. Others say that she targets unfaithful men to take revenge on her husband. Regardless, La Llorona is just one example of the plethora of Latin American folk stories that have earned their place at the campfire this October.
The Business Man
Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson’s psychological horror play will remain to this day one of my favourite works of horror fiction. Ghost Stories (2010) is a conceptually unique horror ‘experience’ that really brings you into the horrific world of parapsychology through the exploration of three different ghost stories. Although all three stories are incredibly strong in their impact of tension and creation of an eerie atmosphere, it is the third and final story ‘The Businessman’ which has a narrative that constantly plays in my head whenever I think of a ‘ghost story’. The Businessman whom the story revolves around experiences a range of horrific hallucinations after the birth of his newborn first child, including visions of apparitions and unexplained events. Without giving too much away, the story is one that grips you and haunts you for a long time after – with an extremely blunt ending its one to check out. (The film is available on most streaming sites and the play will soon be running again in London)