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From Horror Films to Holiday History, Here are 7+ Video Essays You Need to Watch This Halloween

Video essayists, educators, and public historians talking about Halloween. Image: screencaps from Elexus Jionde and Kaz Rowe.

One of my favorite places on YouTube is the video essay corner, and despite the heavy nature of most of the videos, there are a lot of fun ones, too! So in honor of my favorite holiday (Halloween), here are some of my favorites from the last few years. A handful of these are not in any sort of essay structure and function more like public histories. Both types of videos have crossover appeal and will be loved by nerds of all types. All of these creators have more recent work out there, too, so you should definitely follow up with the most interesting ones for 2022 uploads!

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While many of these will touch on monsters and film, this is not The Best Video Essays on Horror Movies list. For one, I’m a newbie to horror and have no authority. Secondly, Cold Crash Pictures’ Candyman: Breaking All the Rules of Horror would be the first entry in that list, and it’s not here (but you should watch it anyways). Many of these will mention certain movies and horror subgenres, but none of these be a straight-up review or deep exploration of a single horror film.

A Monstress Comes of Age: Horror & Girlhood

Yhara Zayd

While there are no straight-up analyses on certain horror films here, I had to include some that talk about the genre more broadly, especially since there is a tradition many hold of watching scary movies leading up to Halloween. Here, Yhara Zayd discusses early women in horror films, how the genre is discussed in relation to feminism, and where the genre appears to be going. In addition to a relative timeline, Zayd explores how “puberty makes monsters out of girls.”

I was debating between including this and her latest video, The Catharsis of Body Horror [censored], so feel free to watch both. Honestly, Zayd has a lot of essays that delve into the topic of horror! Be warned, though, that she spoils a lot, so I would only advise watching a lot of her horror videos in row if you are okay with spoilers or have already seen the movies. Thoughtfully, early in each video, Zayd will fully list the films that go into spoiler territory.

A Black People’s History of Halloween & Haunts

Intelexual Media

Instead of a “straightforward” history (which would be nearly impossible for many reasons), Elexus Jionde a.k.a. Lexxi looks at different aspects of Halloween and how those traditions manifested in the Black community. This includes exploring supernatural folklore within the Black Diaspora on this side of the Atlantic and how our people have celebrated Halloween in various decades. She also includes sections on how Black Americans navigated the holiday around white people and structural inequities.

The Psychological Horror of Gaslighting

cherry bepsi

Using Junji Ito‘s The Town Without Streets, and the movies Gaslight (1944), and The Invisible Man (2020), Mandeep (a.k.a. cheery bepsi) discusses how gaslighting is a form of psychological horror. They don’t just explore the emotional abuse of gaslighting, but the voyeurism involved especially in regards to two of these works. Horror is already one of the most voyeuristic genres next to, like, pornography, so I love to engage with conversation about it. Much of the video delves into The Town Without Streets, so if you don’t know much about manga or Ito specifically, you’re in for a treat!

Mainland Chinese Horror & Censorship

Accented Cinema

As a channel dedicated to non-American, international filmmaking, Accented Cinema (AC) usually shows the best and most interesting films, genres, and more from across the world. This is the exception to that rule. Here, AC shares frustration and context as to why Chinese censorship (politically and culturally) limits Chinese horror. They mostly focus on horror within the 2010s, but also veer outside this, too. AC also draws anecdotal experience studying in China.

If you want light analysis and recommendations from a nearby country that isn’t part of East Asia (which is overrepresented in the U.S., as opposed to to other parts of the continent), check out AC’s Thai Horror Is So Underrated.

Bram Stoker and the Fears that Built Dracula

Kaz Rowe

This video by Kaz Rowe is an exploration of the social, political, and technological changes in the U.K. at the time that influenced Bram Stoker’s most famous work, Dracula. They carefully balance historical records and subtext to dive deep into the work. Rowe makes it very clear that we can’t project contemporary labels onto Stoker, but his work and life can be examined through that lens. Dracula wasn’t the first vampire story, but it was the first one that stuck around and influenced the media over 100 years later.

After you watch this, or if you already have gone down a deep dive into how Stoker’s world reflected his work, check out Rowe’s latest The Gruesome History of Real Life Vampire Hunting.

100+ Years of Halloween Costumes: A History

Mina Le

Mina Le always pulls through, and this video is no different. Like the title states, Le focuses on the dressing-up part of Halloween from its start in pre-Christianity, Celtic height to contemporary trends today. Most accessible writing about the Celtic origins of Halloween kind of speed through that aspect because it feel so removed form today’s traditions (many holidays are like that). However, Le includes more here because the idea of dressing up can be traced back here, too!

Per usual, Le doesn’t just go through a timeline but explores how economic, political, and social factors affected the waxing and waning of certain customs and traditions. I hope she revisits this one day and expands on a section because this was a lot of history for one 17-minute video!

Editors Note: 1/2/2024: I removed the seventh and final entry following James Somerton’s plagiarism scandal. After this reveal by Harris Brewis and others, Somerton unlisted all of his videos. This includes Monsters in the Closet – A History of LGBT Representation in Horror Cinema. Somerton shared he wished to make the videos public in the future, however rampant misinformation also plagued his library.

(featured image: Elexus Jionde and Kaz Rowe.)

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Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.

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