As much as Horror Freaks love reveling in all things macabre and creepy on Halloween, the truth is our favorite holiday is a mainstream affair. October 31st is actually more of a celebration for the kiddies than it is for hardcore gore hounds. But Halloween has an antithesis, a sort of evil twin that’s definitely not a family friendly event; all trick and no treat! I’m talking about October 30th, also known as Devil’s Night.
Devil’s Night began as Mischief Night (or Miggy Night in the UK) about 50 years ago. The anti-holiday saw kids and teens roaming the streets on the night before Halloween in order to commit acts of petty vandalism; common Mischief Night activities included: Egging houses, toilet-papering trees, and leaving flaming bags of dog shit on front porches. Mischief Night morphed into Devil’s Night, something altogether more sinister, in the late 1970’s.
Perhaps it was a response to racism and class disparity that turned a night of harmless pranking into a truly dangerous event. Devil’s Night became most prominent in Detroit, but it was a common occurrence in many inner cities, with chaos occasionally overflowing into suburbs. Gangs of disenfranchised teens and adults would turn their frustration on derelict building, turning October 30th into a night of criminal arson. Buildings, and sometimes entire blocks were decimated by flames. The destruction reached a peak in the mid-to-late-1980’s, with more than 800 fires set in 1984, and 500 to 800 fires in the three days and nights before Halloween in a typical year. (Source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devil%27s_Night)
Angel’s Night was established in the 1990’s as a response to the escalating violence associated with Devil’s Night in Detroit (1994 was an especially brutal evening). During the days and nights leading up to Halloween, members of the community would work in tandem with local authorities in an effort to report suspicious activity and potential acts of arson. As a result, arson and crimes associated with Devil’s Night have dropped to an all-time low. Still, a curfew still remains in effect in Detroit on October 30th to this day.
Despite the fact that Devil’s Night is no longer the feared event it used to be, the anti-Halloween has permeated into popular culture in music, film, and literature. Several Detroit based hip hop outfits have extolled the violence and chaos of Devil’s Night, including Esham in 1993 and the Insane Clown Posse in 1998. The debut album of hip-hop super-group D12, which features Eminem, was titled Devil’s Night. You can check out an unofficial video for the title track below. (Warning: Explicit lyrics)
In The Crow (released in 1994), Devil’s Night plays an integral role. The film’s lead antagonist, Top Dollar (played by Michael Wincott), claims to be the inventor of Devil’s Night, having lit the first fires only to be imitated in the following years. It was Devil’s Night violence that led to the death of Eric Craven (played by Brandon Lee), and it was the date of his resurrection as The Crow a year later.
American Horror Story: Hotel (Season 5 of the anthology series) had an entire episode dedicated to Devil’s Night. It saw America’s most infamous deceased serial killers congregating at the Hotel Cortez for a night of bloody mayhem. See a clip for the episode below.
The following documentary, Detroit on Fire, includes personal accounts and archival footage from past Devil’s Nights and should be considered essential viewing for anyone interested in this dangerous phenomenon.
I think we can all be thankful that Devil’s Night is becoming somewhat of a thing of the past. Still, its violent and chaotic history will always resonate with those drawn to the darker side of Halloween, and the very core of human nature.