In some minds, it supercedes the previously A&E/History Channel special "THE HAUNTED HISTORY OF HALLOWEEN" which first aired in 1997. The original special was quite good but somehow didn't capture my attention as much as this new one. THE REAL STORY OF HALLOWEEN is simply more fun to watch. THE HAUNTED HISTORY OF HALLOWEEN was too "evening magaziney" - it frequently played more like a nightly news puff piece or a segment of 60 MINUTES whereas "REAL STORY" has all the atmosphere and imagination of the subject it's describing: Halloween. There are a lot of good things in HAUNTED HISTORY but there is too much tired footage of modern-day frumpy Wiccans prancing rather lamely around campfires and consumers shopping in Halloween party stores for my liking. REAL STORY" looks more like a moving storybook which is more appropriate for the magical, mystical qualities of legendary lore discussed in the programme. This difference can be seen right at the beginning of both shows. A comparison between the opening of HAUNTED HISTORY and REAL STORY shows the tonal differences: HAUNTED HISTORY begins with the familiar strains of Bobby Pickett's "Monster Mash" song accompanying shots of costumed revellers and Halloween parades -- the opening of REAL STORY features a huge, grinning jack o'lantern with crashing lightning, ominous orchestral horror movie music, a clip from John Carpenter's classic 1978 film "HALLOWEEN", live shots of gravedigging and narration about Halloween being the night where the veil between this world and the next is lifted. "It's coming! There's no escape!" HAUNTED HISTORY begins in an unthreatening way focusing on the commercialisation aspect of the holiday whereas REAL STORY opens spooky and scary -- like a storyteller around a campfire spinning a tale to chill the blood. That's the difference and, to me, there's simply no comparison.
The show follows the origins of Halloween from it's earliest Christian co-opting of pagan traditions like Samhain into All Hallow's Eve through the Puritans attempts to stamp out Halloween (and Guy Fawkes Day) celebrations brought to the new world up to the Irish importation of such traditions as the "Jack of the Lantern" etc. are all familiar to those Halloweeniephiles among us. However, this programme is very artfully done with colourfully animated graphics galore and uses countless ingravings, paintings, Victorian postcard art (such as Tuck's) and even highlights the turn-of-the-century Dennison's Bogie Books which were some of the first instances of commercially-produced Halloween costumes and decorations in America -- I talked about them here on last year's Countdown to Halloween. The programme also spends time showing the origins of such popular Halloween icons as the aforementioned Jack O'Lantern, the Halloween witch, the white-sheeted ghost, and the origin of trick or treat itself with the practice of going "souling" for soul cakes. Regardless of the historical merit of this show or the earlier "HAUNTED HISTORY OF HALLOWEEN" (and any TV show less than an hour can only barely scratch the surface -- these are all pop histories, after all), the History Channel's "REAL STORY OF HALLOWEEN" plays as just that -- a beautifully illustrated story which makes yet another nice treat to watch during October Halloween viewing.
While we're on the subject, there's another Halloween hour special making the rounds on demand this month: HALLOWEEN UNMASKED produced by the National Geographic Channel for kids. Since it's target audience is young people, the programme is more light-weight -- but not by much. The programme is just as enjoyable for adults since the show plays more like it was produced for older kids. Horror historian David J. Skal appears in this show as well as "REAL STORY OF HALLOWEEN" and a much condensed version of the entire history of Halloween is also featured in this programme. Other segments focus on the manufacture of candy corn and latex masks, pumpkin carving and "punkin chunkin", the physiological reaction of fear on the human body, vampire legends possibly arising from rabies cases and the legend of Vlad Tepes as well as copious clips from countless classic horror movies and an interview with Roger Corman! So this is also quite worthwhile Halloween viewing. THE HAUNTED HISTORY OF HALLOWEEN, THE REAL STORY OF HALLOWEEN and HALLOWEEN UNMASKED all have too similar subject matter to watch simultaneously but scattering them across the month of October in between your monster movie viewing might be a nice idea. Both "THE REAL STORY OF HALLOWEEN" and "HALLOWEEN UNMASKED" are playing this month on demand so check them out. And the main thing in favour of all three programmes is that there is not a single "sparkly vampire" among 'em!