By Dushyant Shekhawat Oct. 18, 2019
October is a twilit month, suspended between bright summers and shadowy winters. For a fan of horror, there’s no better time in the year. This year, it’s The Terror, a gripping survival horror series, and the new Stephen King adaptation, In the Tall Grass, with which I’m greeting the season of spookiness.
It might sound strange, but last week, on a typically still October night in Mumbai, I got goosebumps. It had nothing to do with the weather – in Mumbai, October is when the sun takes its blazing revenge on the city for enjoying the rains – but with what I was reading on my phone. I was engrossed in a Reddit thread where people who worked the night shift alone were sharing the creepiest experiences they’d had on the job. Somewhere between reading the stories of a security guard following phantom footsteps around an empty factory and an interstate trucker who stopped for a night-time snack, only to find the diner had been closed for five years when he revisited it in daylight on his return journey, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck and on my arms rise up. Sure, getting sleep was difficult that night, but I wouldn’t do anything differently. Because of all the months in the year, October is the best one in which to scare yourself silly.
At first, this might seem strange to some. Isn’t October one of the most-crowded months on the Indian festive calendar? Dussehra and Diwali usually fall within October, pandals for Durga Pujo spring up in narrow streets, and garba music emanates from venues filled with revellers celebrating Navratri. The blooms of firecrackers lighting up the night sky become more frequent, their brightness rivalled only by the flashy festive attire people sport on their way to functions. But as the old proverb goes, “Man proposes, God disposes”, and while we humans are busy trying to make the month of October as colourful as possible, Mother Nature has entirely different designs.
October is the twilit month of the year, suspended between bright summers and shadowy winters. As far as being colourful goes, October has no interest in it. Instead, it resolutely leaches colour out of the world, introducing greys, blues, and the black that will become more familiar in the months ahead. Days grow shorter. Even on the occasions when there is sunlight, it can be maddeningly schizophrenic, with the sun’s face suddenly being obscured from view by a cloudy shroud thrown over it by the retreating monsoon winds. The weather is equally erratic, going from pleasant and breezy to cemetery-still in seconds. And in places more temperate than Mumbai, the first dips in the mercury are felt, heralding the chilly winter to come. The diurnal birds return to their roosts earlier and earlier, leaving the darkening skies to owls, bats, and other things that go bump in the night. For a fan of horror, there’s no better time in the year.
The summer months are perfect for beach vacations and superhero blockbusters, the monsoon showers are the ideal time to enjoy steaming cups of chai and acoustic music – different times of the year call for different distractions, and fear, or at least a fascination with the unknown, is my preferred poison for October. In the last week of September, I was neck-deep in the middle of a Peaky Blinders binge. Come October, I dropped it to dive headfirst into The Terror, swapping a gangster drama for a survival horror series without a second thought. My justification to my girlfriend, who was as caught up in Peaky Blinders as I was, was simply “It’s October.”
Say what you will about their taste in Presidents, but you must credit Americans for fully realising October’s macabre potential.
This year, it was The Terror and the new Stephen King adaptation, In the Tall Grass, with which I greeted the season of spookiness. Last year, I chose to re-watch The Shining, because even if Mumbai is going to withhold the eerie delight of powdered snow covering everything in sight from me, Stanley Kubrick will always provide. The year before that, it was The Witch, a movie so wondrously unsettling that it managed to make a goat seem like the scariest entity in all of creation. I keep going back to it every October, if I run out of stories that make me jump out of my skin.
It’s no coincidence that Halloween lands in October. Say what you will about their taste in Presidents, but you must credit Americans for fully realising the month’s macabre potential. And since the US is still the de facto global superpower, their popular culture trickles down across the globe. Suddenly, websites begin ranking the best horror movies and shows, and spooky memes become almost as ubiquitous as cat videos on the internet (at least for a time). In the past few years there’s been a trend to look down our noses at people celebrating Halloween as being too Americanised, but if being called Americanised is the price of enjoying a spooky October, so be it.
So while your family might think you’re weird for bringing a collection of Edgar Allan Poe stories on your Diwali trip, don’t deny yourself the frightening pleasure of enjoying horror in the month it was best meant to be enjoyed.