Of course, at this point, given the coronavirus pandemic, no one seems to know just how much trick-or-treating will actually occur. No doubt, the candy makers and costume manufacturers are hoping against hope that people will still choose to get out and about.
The entertainment industry, too, is feverishly hoping to cash in. While movie theaters nationwide remain largely shuttered, television networks and streaming services are booming. Sensing their opportunity (for the time being, at least) to see the small screen supplant the large one, these latter providers are flooding the airwaves with scary movies. I have a confession: I will likely watch one or two of these myself.
I was never really allowed to watch horror movies as a child. This is largely due to the fact that my mother neither liked nor understood them. However, being a typical enterprising boy, I often found ways around her moratorium. On several occasions, while staying at my aunt’s house after school, I happened across Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman, and other such 1930’s Universal Studios horror classics being shown on the local 4 p.m. “Dialing for Dollars” movie.
Later, as a grown man, I would actually discover and read the novels upon which these movies were all based. As always, the books were much better than the movie! This is especially true for Mary Shelley’s groundbreaking novel, Frankenstein, Or the Modern Prometheus, written way back in 1818. Not only is it the granddaddy of all horror stories, but it is also the first of many cautionary tales designed to warn us about the dangers of science when it is pursued without moral boundaries.
Of course, the first time or two that I viewed such classics, I will admit to having been scared. But even as a child, I soon realized that most of the time, the hero won out even as the monster was vanquished. Alas! It was only after World War Two that Hollywood ceased to produce movies with a moral!
Still, as I recall it, none of these famed Universal Studios horror monsters scared me anywhere near as much as did one other movie I saw as a child. Absolutely the scaredest I ever remember being as a child was when I first watched a rerun of the 1963 movie, The Birds, by Alfred Hitchcock. Spoiler alert: the people of the small town of Bodega Bay in northern California is inexplicably and relentlessly attacked by flocks of crows and seagulls.
I now know that Hitchcock based his movie on Daphne du Maurier’s classic short story of the same name. This had been written as an allegory wherein the birds which continuously gather and attack a small coastal English town represent the terrifying real life assaults of the German Luftwaffe (Air Force) on the English people during the Battle of Britain in World War Two. The author uses her work to explore the issues of how and why evil arises, and how and why we respond to it as we do.
Ever the perfectionist, Hitchcock capitalizes on this notion by subtly having a strange woman with blond (Nordic?) hair show up uninvited in Bodega Bay even as the birds begin to amass and attack the locals, all of whom have dark (Celtic/Anglo?) hair.
Of course, at the time, I knew none of these things. As a red-blooded all-American boy, other than thinking that Tippi Hedren, with her blond hair, and Suzanne Pleshette, with her black hair, were the two most beautiful women on the planet, the only other thing I was focused on was what I would do if all the birds, wild (owls, hawks, crows, doves, swallows, purple martins, etc...) and domestic (turkeys, chickens, guineas, etc...) alike, on my dad’s farm suddenly decided to turn on us poor humans!
In my dreams, at least, I always rose to the occasion, supplanted the far less masculine Rod Taylor, single-handedly defeated the hoards of menacing birds, and generally won the day. (Along with the eternal affection of the two leading ladies, of course!) Since not everyone has seen the film, I will not tell you here how it actually turns out. But suffice it to say that the film effectively raises questions about why evil happens and how we respond when it does.
Even though I did not recognize any of these underlying themes when I first saw the movie, I was nonetheless hooked on Hitchcock from that day forward. These days, my wife and I still love all things Hitchcock. Clearly, we are not alone on this count; for rarely has Hollywood produced a director with the ability to captivate an audience as well as this man could. In his six decade career in Hollywood, “The Master of Suspense”, as he was known, directed over fifty feature films, garnering forty-six Academy Award nominations and six wins.
Little wonder! To this day, once one views such classics as North by Northwest, Vertigo, Saboteur, (and especially) Rear Window, he or she will have few lingering questions as to why Hitchcock is so revered by movie buffs. They are simply the pinnacle of motion picture arts and sciences - all made possible by the tireless devotion of the man behind the scenes.
Of course, Hitchcock was famous for one other thing as well. He made a very subtle cameo appearance in every movie he ever produced and/or directed. This was his way of providing his signature, as it were, to his work; and it most always occurs toward the front of a given film, where he can be seen exiting a building, crossing a street, boarding a bus, etc… His appearance, whenever it happens, is always fleeting. But once you know he can be seen at some point, you find yourself looking for his appearance. And if you are reasonably attentive, you will quickly learn to spot him. My wife and I have become adept at it.
I share these things in order to make the following point. In a strikingly similar fashion, there is one other Master of His craft Who can also be seen in and among and behind His creative work. That individual is none other than the ultimate Producer and Director of all creation and life, Almighty God.
As the Apostle Paul told the Romans (chapter 1, verse 20 of his New Testament letter addressed to them) about God: “His invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”
In so doing, he was echoing the sentiment of the Old Testament Psalmist, who (in Psalm 19, verses 1-4) famously declared: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. Without speech or language, without a sound to be heard, their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
As you go about your daily life this week, I challenge you to look about carefully for the presence of this Master Craftsman. If you do, I believe you will soon see evidence of His very presence. I know I do, each and every day. What is more, once you see Him, you will never again fail to see Him! He will always be there, just behind the scenes!
Hopefully, such a realization, once experienced, will prove encouraging. Moreover, it is especially needed during this week leading up to Halloween, when the world at large seems to focus on all things evil. Maybe, just maybe, in the midst of all the ghosts, goblins, witches, and zombies we will see, we all could do with a subtle reminder that Almighty God, and not the Devil, is still in control.
And while evil may reign temporarily, good will most assuredly win out in the end. For, as the Apostle Paul puts it (in his New Testament Letter to the Philippians, chapter 1, verse 6), “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”
If you doubt this, just read the back of the book. Evil loses and good wins out!
FOR MORE INFO ON ALFRED HITCHCOCK:
FOR MORE INFO ON “THE BIRDS”:
The original short story is available online and can be found here in a PDF format: https://mrnsmith.files.wordpress.com/2016/10/the-birds-by-daphne-du-maurier.pdf.
NOTE: On 20 July 1953, long before the movie came out, Episode 838 of Lux Radio Theater presented a radio production of “The Birds”. Cf.: https://archive.org/details/Lux18/Lux-530720-52m26s-839hrt-Birds-HMarshallBLGerson.mp3.