Oh the horror! What should scare us at Halloween

It’s Halloween today. Although ‘trick or treating’ has started to catch on over the last couple of decades, Halloween has never been that big a deal here in NZ. Perhaps it’s because it happens in spring when everything is greening up, new life abounds around us, and we are starting to appreciate the lengthening days and warmth. In the northern hemisphere it is the opposite and perhaps lends itself to the sinister, the thinning of the veil between worlds, the slide into the difficult time of the year.

Halloween – a time for ghouls and ghosts.

Most obviously, Halloween is a time for horror movies and themes. Scary images show up on our screens and theatres and aim to frighten us. I’ve often thought that horror does not capture Halloween that well. Halloween is more about fey magics, creatures of legend appearing to drive uncanny bargains, the sense of the other, and perhaps a sense of dread. Horror seems like a small part of this.

To be fair, I am not a horror fan. I am certainly not a gore and blood person. I enjoyed the old Hammer Horror films, was scared by “The exorcist”, and scarred by “The fly” (the old black and white version – “Help me…”). But I have stayed clear of slasher films and probably haven’t seen a full-on horror for, well, for a long time.

What are people horrified by at Halloween? Mostly it is ghouls, witches, zombies, vampires, English rugby referees, and ghosts. But it seems to me that there are plenty of other things to be horrified about.

What’s down that path….? Opportunity or threat?

Cate Macinnis-Ng and a host of authors, including Will Godsoe from Lincoln, have published a paper in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand. In this they look at the potential threats and opportunities with the ongoing change in climate. The neat angle here is that they take perspectives from many different people and apply an ecological method, a horizon-scanning approach, to come up with ten for each.

Most of the benefits revolve around the application of new technologies and the chance for major positive societal changes. The negatives are much more specific, more disease outbreaks, dealing with heat waves, increasing black swan events and so on. It is not difficult to read this and feel a real sense of alarm for the future.

So, if you want some real dread this Halloween day, then this is an article to read. Perhaps under your bed covers with the torch. There are no bumps in the night, no jump cuts, no creepy faces in mirrors (although I guess NZ is a bit like a cabin in the woods).

But there is plenty of dread and horror.

Adrian Paterson is a lecturer at the Department of Pest-management and Conservation, Lincoln University.

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