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THE SKELETON DANCE, The History Of The Danse Macabre And MORE!
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The Bite #81
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THE SKELETON DANCE, The History Of The Danse Macabre And MORE!

October 22, 2019

In this Issue:


HORROR HISTORY: MIDNIGHT MISCHIEF: THE SKELETON DANCE AND THE HISTORY OF THE DANSE MACABRE

By Anya Stanley*

This year marks the 90th anniversary of Disney Cartoons’ innovative Silly Symphony series debut, The Skeleton Dance. Directed by the mouse man himself and drawn by Ub Iwerks, the short film features midnight mischief as a group of skeletons rise and dance a gruesome jig in a howling graveyard. Playing tunes on each other’s ribcages and stacking their skulls together, the dead unite for one night only, all to the cheeky tunes of composer Carl W. Stalling.

The term for such a dance is a well-known one: the danse macabre from the French, “dance of death”. In German, it’s known as totentanz or “dance of the dead”. Some scholars posit that the phrase stems from the Arabic word for “cemetery”. Regardless of its beginnings, the danse macabre has figured its way into religious art and music for ages, back to the mid-14th century. Frescoes, murals, and engravings most commonly depict a variety of people in procession towards their graves: labor workers, clergymen, royals, and children. The scene is often peppered with the dead themselves, thinly-robed skeletons joining them in the promenade.

Conceptually, the danse waltzes hand-in-hand with the memento mori (Latin for “remember you must die”) as a statement on man’s mortality. Rather than presenting a dialogue between Death himself and his victims, the danse simply says that we are all connected in death: prince and pauper, liberal and conservative, man, woman, and child.

In Disney’s short, the skeletons spring forth from graves marked with illegible headstones, their worldly identities remaining unknown. For all we know, the four ghouls could quite easily be a pope, a queen, a teen, and a farmer. In that regard, Disney and Iwerks followed a time-honored tradition. As is, The Skeleton Dance remains one of the most lighthearted and beloved meditations on death as a universal unifier. All that unites us is our place in the ether, roaming the earth when the veil between life and death is at its thinnest on Halloween.


*Anya Stanley is a film critic, Dread Central columnist, and Halloween 6 apologist whose sole focus is on the horror genre. Her work has appeared in Rue Morgue, Birth.Movies.Death., and Fangoria Magazine.


IMAGE OF THE WEEK

Hang Onto Your Head - Bite #81 Image of the Week

Hang Onto Your Head

Fall in love with Billy all over again in this behind-the-scenes picture from the most perfect Halloween movie ever made: Hocus Pocus. The one-and-only Doug Jones can be seen standing in his not-so-final resting place alongside David Kirschner, Tony Gardner, Kenny Ortega, and Ralph Winter. Ain’t no party like a Sanderson Sisters party, because a Sanderson Sisters party is usually grave-side.


TINY BITES

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L’Officiel wants you to get stylish this Halloween with these chic horror flicks

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“Is there a formula for frights?” SyFy Wire looks at how you construct a horror trailer, from the early days of Boris and Bela to the controversial campaigns for films like The Nun.

John Carpenter famously pulled from Psycho (1960) when making Halloween (1978), and the Hitchcockian references are well worth a deep dive in this Psycho-analysis of the film.

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9 More Days 'Till Halloween - The Bite #81 Things We Love

9 MORE DAYS ‘TILL HALLOWEEN!

Halloween is fast approaching, and we’re head over witchy heels for this Halloween III-inspired card that’s tailor-made for the season from Ghost Girl Greetings. The best part? It’s just one of many options for spooky season and beyond. You’ll never have to struggle to find the perfect horror-themed card again.


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