SUMMER SCARES AND AUTUMN ABSENCE: HORROR BY SEASON

By PJ Grisar

Living, as I always have, in a place with seasons, fall has always had a homey air about it. There’s a coziness in the parched and pulped leaves that pepper the ground and collect in black plastic masses along curbsides. There’s a comfort in flannels, cardigans and seasonal gourds that coincide with the first, teething nip of winter in the air. But fall also brings us stark, naked trees stripped of color, their wet orange-brownbaggage strangling sewer grates. There’s hay fever and the looming, full-on chew of the bitter cold months. And at the equinox, we have what’s purported to be the scariest day of all: Halloween.

Blame the timing on the harvest, or a pagan tradition or some Protestant conspiracy to get Catholic kids all hung over for All Saints services. But to Hollywood, and to me, summer has always been the real time for serious horror.


The summer of 2015 boasted five major release horror films—six if you count Entourage. This October gives us three: the family fare fluff Goosebumps, the umpteenth Paranormal Activity and some weird Victorian thing that Guillermo del Toro dreamt up after Robo-tripping his way through a Bronte sister’s book. Why has the film industry put so many of its major horror eggs in a closer-to-Easter-than-Halloween basket?I think it’s ‘cause kids are out of school and have too much free time. And most teen-centered slashers or scarers seem to have the ethos of aimless summers dead center in their punitive theses.

The Summer Horror flick, for all its gore and T&A, is a puritanical animal. So much so that it’s become a point of commentary. Films like It Follows and The Cabin in the Woods skewer the convention of promiscuity marking you for death. Drugs and drinking also have you pegged for bad shit. So do drugs. So do drugs, driving, hitting a guy with a car and throwing him off a dock only to have him come back later and know that you did that. And should you escape these tropes unscathed, you better bet Death will be hounding you to arrive at your Final Destination by way of shoddy roller coaster, faulty tanning bed or bifurcation by the wing of a 747. The autumnal answer to such sins? Well, fall doesn’t seem to enter into it much, does it? It’s back-to-school, after all.

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Summertime, and the dying’s easy. Fishermen are slashing, and the teens are high.

In a Fall Horror, people are subject to death by knife or scarecrow because once the leaves brown, weird shit just has to go down. Michael Myers and Jigsaw kill because they’re disturbed. Ghosts, like the Paranormal ones, kill because we’ve disturbed them or in the case of those tow-headed fucks in the corn field or leisure-suited assholes on an island, because we’re part of some Shirley Jackson-esque cull. The autumn months are not naturally inclined to id, it seems, and that makes them less primed for the kind of summer numbers or the bust-a-gut punch of the Camp Crystal Lake brand.

But here’s where my logic fails me. Next month comes Victor Frankenstein. A month later, around Christmas, comes Krampus. The Scream films came around in December and the above-referenced Wicker Man and Children of the Corn (movies that are about autumnal as pumpkin spice bullshits and Trytophan-poisoning) came out in March and June respectively, the movie Trick ‘r Treat came in December and on a tangent, the best Christmas film ever made was released in July.

So really, my distinction is moot because anything coming from that place of eternal summer has very little regard for seasonality outside the LA bubble. ‘Fall’ and ‘Summer’ belong to when the movies are set, and not a given release date, many of which come in late winter or early spring.

These decisions are made by people in much bigger offices than me and for what I’m sure are far less pedantic or philosophical reasons. It’s all about filling seats, and so horror, like any other genre, lies heavy between the big seasonal bookends: winter and summer. October is a pretty slow month for movies and so the spookiest season is often reduced to the dregs (read: Goosebumps).

So where the hell am I even coming from with all this? Has Hollywood robbed the real scares from the time that once suited with them? Are we doomed to Hocus Pocus and the odd films whose titles or conceits kind of force your hand in terms of timing?

Why lie to ourselves? Any time’s a good time to be scared.

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