Hello everyone, and welcome to LukeLore. A quick deep dive into a folklore topic, where I share some of the stories from around the world that have piqued my interest. Welcome to your spooky season, the BEST season, podcasting! There’s obviously a Halloween special to come, this time as the Samhein spot of the Pagan Wheel of the Year series, but there’s even more Halloween shenanigans going on in the media. The movie ‘Halloween Ends’ just dropped, and is an ideal time for some more media tie-in content. Horror movies arguably being modern folklore (and trust me, I WILL argue extensively on that topic) it’s always interesting to take a look at how pop culture is intersecting with our history of storytelling. It’s certainly something I’ve had fun exploring recently with Close Encounters of the Nope Kind as well as the Predator and Prey episodes. Also, technically, our second Witches episode with Lady Mariam Draeger coincided with Hocus Pocus 2, although we kind of did that by accident - missing an opportunity to directly tie-in. Anyway, ‘Halloween’, the movie series, ahead of Halloween, the holiday date! This is going to be a little different to the usual episode, but hopefully it will be as fascinating for you as the topic is for me. Let’s dig down into something primal, then take a tour around the concept I’m about to expound upon. SECTION BREAK – Why the Pursuit is Terrifying The killer of the ‘Halloween’ franchise occupies a pretty weird place in the pop culture zeitgeist. Known by the character’s name “Michael Myers” despite having the much cooler moniker ‘The Shape’ in the credits for the original movie, the concept has been through a lot of iterations in 44 years. Rob Zombie tried to humanise him somewhat, Blumhouse’s recent trilogy that culminates in ‘Halloween Ends’ has been a meta commentary on the phenomenon of a supernatural stalker/killer, there was a period of truly terrible iterative sequels for a while, and a few reboots between here and the noughties. The original, however, was considered the birth of the modern slasher movie. Not strictly speaking the first cinematic slasher killer, however. There’s Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’, although that was very much off doing its own thing. Radical in a lot of respects, but with this traditional storytelling undercurrent of having a forbidden place that must be ventured into for disaster to unfold (which, now I think about it, weirdly has a through line with ‘Friday the 13th’s Camp Crystal Lake). Italian Giallo movies of the 70s seem to be an obvious inspiration to point to, even with a different stylistic approach. ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ was 1974, although had that classic dangerous place dynamic again. It wasn’t even a first transgressive invasion of suburbia with the concept - that honour goes to the forgotten for a while, yet enjoying a wave of rediscovery, ‘The Town That Dreaded Sundown’. A kind of proto-slasher movie that beat Carpenter to the big screen by about 2 years, with an odd release date of Christmas Eve 1976. The Shape is a bogeyman made on a shoestring, carried by a solid concept with a brilliant execution. Boiler suit. William Shatner mask picked up cheap, painted white, and with the eyes cut out a little larger. Knife. The Shape then stalks hapless victims with a lot of teasing and tension building, if there is a chase then they just follow at a brisk stride that never seems to fall behind, and no attempt to fight back seems to work. The imagination was captured from here, with this now becoming iconic horror movie villain activity. Jason Vorheese is The Shape dialled up to 11, Freddy Kruger is very different in the execution; but is a suburban invader who cannot be escaped, many are the forgotten imitators, and modern iterations from Scream onwards clearly know the rules of the stalker/slasher whether it’s to further develop or else subvert the concept. Which is all well and cool and all, but what’s with the relentless walking? I have several theories. There’s a few simple applications here. There’s the abstract, inexorable advance of death, which is solid but a little simplistic. There’s a dream logic to it, where no amount of running can save you. Pretty much everyone has had that particular anxiety bomb go off in their subconscious at some point! But I think there’s something deeper and more primal to this. Pursuit predation. It’s a method of hunting that has direct links to how we are long haul bipeds as a species, despite how terrible that is for our spines over time and how much cooler our simian evolutionary cousins are swinging about in trees. A lot of nature is set up to chase, or be chased. A combination of cunning and conditioning will determine who the winner is in this case, with a lot of predators being explosive hunters who assortedly lurk or creep. Look at sharks and crocodiles, living fossils that evolution decided peaked and left to get on with it pretty much unchanged millions of years ago. They drift with a creepy stillness, until they get in striking distance and go into a murderous goblin mode. People are a little different. We didn’t suddenly go “Oh, sweet, tools! Let’s get some agriculture going.” then do superhero landings out of the trees and on to two feet. We were pursuit predators, and still have some signs of that now even with boomsticks and field-to-slaughterhouse hamburger production lines. With rocks and with sticks, and even worse our too big very active brains, our ancestors would walk all day after their prey. Relentless. Able to keep going, and going, and going while a prey animal would flee in tiring bursts of activity, burning up all their energy. And the hominids would keep coming. They would work out where their prey went, and just keep. On. Coming. Eventually the prey animal, unable to outsmart the bipedal hunting pack, never able to outrun them for long, would inevitably end up cornered or else just collapse from exhaustion to await their fate. Then the sticks and rocks would come down for the last time. Humans are, frankly, terrifying when you step back and analyse them as animals. Especially as how other animals must see us! This pursuit predation feels like it’s baked into us on some level, and I think that’s where a lot of the fear of these slasher/killer horror movie archetypes come from. Invasive. Relentless. Inescapable. Unbeatable. Instinctually, we would be able to recreate this hunt if we really had to, if all the modern technology was wished away and it was back to rocks and sticks, we would know how to not go hungry. I therefore deeply suspect, that when it comes to horror stories, we know how to turn that against ourselves, and that’s why it’s so frightening to be the prey on the other side of this. Pursuit predation is our ultimate base reset mode as a hunter, and to apply that as an idea of BEING hunted that way has an instinctual terror response that gives these slasher villains a pervasive impact on viewers. SECTION BREAK – The Real Life Michael Myers The golden age of slasher movies was a part of America’s “Serial Killer Phenomenon”, or else the “golden age of serial murder”. From the 1970s to the turn of the millennium there was what was supposedly a rise in serial killer activity. Some would argue this is more an increase in the discovery and capture of that type of killer, but whatever was going on in reality; within pop culture there was definitely a fascination with serial killers. They were discussed more, documented more, and pretty much became near-celebrity media figures. Something which even continues to this day. Both Alfred Hitchcock and Tobe Hooper were inspired by the disgusting actions of Ed Gein, but Michael Myers in ‘Halloween’ didn’t have a direct serial killer to be based upon. Although that doesn’t mean there was no real life inspiration at play here… John Carpenter has at times discussed a story of a real life encounter that stuck with him, and heavily inspired his enduring cinematic bogeyman. While studying psychology at Western Kentucky University, there was a field trip to a mental institution. Something that would feel a little icky for a Creative Writing or Filmmaking course, I guess it makes sense here for a social science. Among the people encountered was a committed boy. Twelve or thirteen years old, and this boy stared down the young John Carpenter with an “evil stare” completely lacking in emotion. Something at once both inhuman, and dehumanising, that stuck with the future director. In his own words: “It was unsettling to me; it was like the creepiest thing I’d ever seen as a stranger. It was completely insane.” This has an obvious and direct inspiration to the future ‘Halloween’ movie. It starts with the young Michael Myers as a child who commits a murder and is committed to a psychiatric institution, then in the performance of The Shape as a remorseless void of emotion that is more of a force of nature than a person. The long term impact of this encounter feels pretty explicit in the script, Carpenter giving his Doctor Loomis the lines: “I met this six-year-old child with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes; the devil’s eyes. I realised what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… evil.” This may be overstated, or coming from a place of misunderstanding, but the impact this anonymous boy had on Carpenter was visceral and become something of a viral memetic idea now. This impression of evil, the cinematic bogeyman of Michael Myer’s as The Shape, is something automatically recognisable now. To be a little lighter with the real life inspiration, let’s talk a little about Halloween itself. I’m not sure how important the setting of the movie was for the ongoing pop culture background radiation of the holiday… Weird thing to articulate, but how much did the movie ‘Halloween’ do to infer what people feel about the modern holiday of Halloween? There’s some weird high fidelity going on in the creation of the original movie we kind of take for granted now, it’s virtually subtext, but Carpenter actually did feel like the Celtic traditions of Samhein were important here. He liked the idea that there was a time of year evil could walk among what should usually be the safe places of civilisation, and also the idea that evil was a force you couldn’t actually defeat or kill. All additional layers to the final story we all now know. This isn’t some after-the-fact mythologizing, either. The movie wasn’t filmed at ‘Halloween’ for some easy production value, it was shot in Summer and the shoestring budget Carpenter had to work with needed stretching to decorate the suburban setting, up to and including ordering in a very small number of white gourds they then painted orange for their jack-o-lanterns. If I remember right it was a tragically small number of them too, we’re talking counting on one hand the amount they had, making the scene where they smash one a hair raising risk to the production. So, in summary, there was a real inspiration for The Shape, which is terrifying. But a sincere commitment to Samhein and Halloween, which is awesome, making the titular holiday for the franchise more than a cheap gimmick. SECTION BREAK – And Now For Some Folklore I was going to make this more of a true crime episode, but then I researched it and got sad. Halloween should be fun! So, for my one friend who was looking forwards to more real life stuff, I’m sorry. Hopefully the real life anxiety behind movie slasher killers and the evil eyes of an unnerving child will carry you over. For everyone else, not least of all me, let’s have some mostly harmless Yokai. I say “mostly”, they’re still Yokai. But there’s two on theme! Actually, there’s three on theme, but I already did that same Yokai twice by accident. Head back to the Yokai-a-Go-Go episode for the Okuri Inu, or sending-off dog. These two which follow are new to the show, but at least one is kind of adorably iconic and may already be known to listeners. First up: Nobaigari The Nobaigari is something of a shapeshifter who appears at sundown, its name roughly localising into English as the “shadow-spectre”. They may take the form of a Buddhist monk, the shadow of its chosen victim come to life, or else some misshapen humanoid. It will appear out of nowhere at the right times, that being usually in winter as the sun gets low in the sky, and it will stick right behind the unfortunate human it has chosen. From here it will follow along mostly behind, but just vaguely in sight, to unnerve the twilight wanderer. You can do a couple of things at this point. Ignore the otherworldly stalker, put your head down, and keep going either to safety indoors or just until full nightfall, at which moment the Nobaigari will fade away into the shadows which had made it in the sunset. Alternatively, you can quickly turn around to catch your stalker by surprise! This will go somewhat similar to the “get her” moment at the start of ‘Ghostbusters’. If you look directly at the Nobaigari that had only just been tormenting you by creeping along far behind and to your side, it will grow to a massive terrifying size. This giant twisted shadow creature will leap up to a ginormous size and lean over its chosen victim to scare them before vanishing. Now, at this point I would need some clean trousers, but the Nobaigari for the most part seems to be a trickster. There are some more niche stories of them going for the neck of their chosen victim, but that’s probably down to a subset of stories where an extra transgression has occurred (file that quite rightly under “never mess with a Yokai”). For the most part, this entity will wander along spooking you, ready to give you a quite literally big jump scare if you fall for what it wants and turn around to confront it. One to the second Yokai stalker, this one a fair amount of listeners may have heard of: Betobeto-san Sometimes mistranslated as Mister Sticky, the more accurate meaning is Mr Footsteps. The ‘beto beto’ being onomatopoeia of traditional wooden clogs. This Yokai likes to follow along behind people at night, and is completely invisible. The only sign of Betobeto-san is the footsteps right behind you, in what seems to be pure mischief behaviour. Betobeto-san does have an iconic visual interpretation thanks to the well loved mangaka, and preserver of Yokai stories, Shigeru Mizuki. In his work GeGeGe No Kitarou, Betobeto-san looks like the spooky cousin of Pacman, a giant round ghost with only a big smiling mouth, and two legs to wear the geta wooden clogs the Yokai clatters along behind his victim in. The bad news is that Betobeto-san is everyone’s secret stalker. Anyone walking down a mountain trail can pick up this pursuer. The good news is that this Yokai is harmless, if still unnerving, and they follow simple rules of manners that can be used to shake them if your unseen follower is worrying you. Take the following three steps, and DO do all of them. Minding your manners is very important to Yokai, and even if Mr Footsteps himself is harmless there’s a whole otherworld to enrage with your poor form. Step one: Get off the path. Completely to one side, leaving the way ahead clear. Step two: Face the path, and politely bow down. Step three: Say “Betebeto-san, osakini okoshi”. You will have just politely said “Mr Footsteps, please go ahead”. If you have observed the ritual correctly, Betobeto-san will be obliged to politely move on ahead. Their footsteps will pass you by and fade away, leaving you unharrassed as you go about your business. Unless you run into another Yokai. Honestly, at this point, I would just not wander about Japanese mountains at night if it can be helped. That’s Yokai territory, and there are very much not harmless otherworldy stalkers to attract when you’re a trespassing mortal. SECTION BREAK It feels like it’s been a little while since I’ve been experimental with my format. Let me know how something of a more abstract discussion landed, it’s not going to be happening a lot but I do feel like there are plenty of interesting topics out there if I go a little further off the usual folklore pathways at times. We did get a couple of Yokai to end the episode on at least, on theme no less! Apologies again for my audio on the 2nd Witches episode. I’m beginning to suspect that reading out an actual discovered curse used to hex a real person may not have been my best idea… I’ll probably do it again at some point, but it’s for the preservation of history! Plus, I’ll be more careful with my equipment once I inevitably do fail to learn that particular lesson. LukeLore is a Ghost Story Guys production. If you do want to contact me there’s the show’s dedicated email firstname.lastname@example.org, and the general show email email@example.com. Both myself and the main show are really easy to find on Facebook and Twitter if you want to make day to day contact, as well as a very active Instagram account a lot of the community gets involved with. If you want to support the show directly check out our Patreon at Patreon.com/ghoststoryguys. We do have LukeLore merchandise available at the Ghost Story Guys online store, feel very free to show off any you get online! 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Goodbye for now.