Apparently ghost stories are back in business. After nearly a decade of wizards, magic and love-starved vampires, it seems kids are looking for something a little different and like most things, everything old is new again.
According to the childhood psychology experts, ghost stories have a place in cultural change and social upheaval, helping young minds deal with uncertainties and discover the meaning of life.
For me, a good old ghost story was just something you listened to, told or read to get a cheap thrill in the dark without taking your clothes off.
Who remembers the Virginia Andrews’ series of those kids locked in an attic, the terrifying Amityville Horror, even before it was put on the big screen, and of course The Shining?
As a teenager, these scary, gory tales of paranormal persecution kept me awake at night, turning the shadows on the bedroom wall into the silhouettes of supernatural serial killers sneaking out of the cupboard to take me away to some desolate hideaway where I’d be forced to live the rest of my days in terror eating nothing but spiders and cockroaches.
The books were made even more terrifying because the psychopathic killer was often just an ordinary bloke who lived down the road before taking up residence in the in-between.
Getting out the old EverReady torch at sleepovers and shining the light in that unflattering way from under your chin made tales of the maniacal hitchhiker even more terrifying as you recounted the way he banged the head of his latest victim on the roof of the car as the unwitting travellers shook inside.
However terrifying those tales of sadistic ghostly stalkers seemed, in the back of our minds we knew they were just that – stories designed to give us a fright but which could never be true.
Unfortunately, it seems that cushion from reality has become little more than a thin sheet of veneer, because rather than something we considered back then as an implausible story with no basis in reality, many of those old fashioned ghost stories now pale in comparison to what we know happens in the real world.
With the internet, immediate news and our unwavering desire for the bizarre and the grotesque, those tales of murder, mayhem and mystique seem tame and pedestrian in their execution – pun intended – to what our children now see and hear on nearly a daily basis.
Although the existence of ghosts is yet to be proven, the ghouls and monsters today are more real than ever before. Terrorist attacks, rapes, murders, tortures, all manner of crimes against humanity are given little more than a headline or a sound bite on the evening news as they become part and parcel of everyday happenings.
The headless horseman riding through Sleepy Hollow can’t compare to the real-life massacre in a suburban cinema by a crazed gunman who had delusions of channelling a comic book hero.
While ghost stories may be a rite of passage for kids around the world, it’s hard to fathom something as trivial as an apparition wandering through the walls could go far in helping young minds to unravel the complexities of our modern world.
While a human loving vampire and a pack of young native Americans who can morph into wolves may be the stuff of fantasy, perhaps the latest generation has moved on from ghost stories to help navigate the unfamiliar territory of growing up and is looking for escapism into a world we know can’t be real.