31 October 2005

Happy Halloween!

I'm so damn The current mood of augustdreams at www.imood.com

My plans for Halloween were foiled by my rebellious body. So I watched the Most Haunted Live special on Travel Channel, and answered the door for the few trick or treaters that haunted our mostly empty streets. One of the parents remarked to me that they thought they were the only ones out. I told them we'd had one other visitor. The grand total for the night was three small groups. Altogether there was a witch, a Gypsy, a Ghoul, two little masked goblins and a small, eager Skeleton accompanied by an older sister not dressed up and looking at me sheepishly as she held out a pillowcase that I gladly filled with at least a dozen of the mini candybars and packs of chewy tart and tinys that we bought in hopes that there would be more trick or treaters this year than last.

Halloween here just isn't the same as it was when I was growing up. Perhaps it's a regional thing? Most of the kids down here go to the theme parks on Halloween. Or is it that times have changed? Did you guys get a lot of begging goblins?

If someone could grant me a wish tonight, I'd wish to go back October 31, 1987. I was 11 years old. My best friend and I were in our costumes. I could feel the heat and condensation behind my mask, which caused me to lift it up now and then in between houses and take a few deep breaths of the cool, night air. We'd started in her neighborhood, all the way across town. We worked our through it, laughing at everything and nothing. The wind was chilled enough that we both wore sweatshirts under our costumes. The moon shone through a gathering of wispy clouds, and dry leaves scratched across the pavement.

We made our way downtown where a few of the stores were open and handing out treats. We stopped in at the party being held at Town Hall and gulped down apple cider. Then back out into the night air, trick-or-treating our way to my neighborhood. We still hadn't had enough. Flushed and giddy with freedom, we decided to circle up and through two more neighborhoods before finally heading back to my house for a sleepover.

That night remains one of my favorite memories of childhood. I think those Halloween nights are still going on back up north. New England is truly Halloween Country. When I have children, they're going out to trick or treat. Even if they're the only kids out there. Even if I have to drive them to New England to do it. Christmas, Halloween and Easter are the sacred kid holidays. So much of childhood is hell. We need those good memories, the experience of them and the looking back.

Tradition dictates that I do something extra-special for Halloween since life has gotten in the way far too much this month for me to do my usual flurry of Halloween-themed entries. I promise to make up for it next year. (Shhh. Let me keep my delusion that readers far and wide look forward to those! I'm a legend in my own mind, don't forget. Heh.)

I figure this night is appropriate for honoring horror artists of all kinds. Hieronymus Bosch was creating gruesome scenes of monstrosities, mutants and gore long before Jason and Freddy were even a glimmer in the eyes of their creators. In his time, the paintings weren't looked upon as delightfully spooky. They were warnings. They depicted the kind of torments that awaited sinners in hell. Here is one of his paintings, showing Hell and Paradise:

M.C. Escher had a love for the macabre. His works included grinning skulls:

and impossible, labyrinthine staircases peopled with blank-faced beings who seem immune to the laws of gravity:

Horror is not without it's modern artists. Such as Clive Barker:

and Mike Bohatch:

Horror truly is an art. There's an art to scaring people. Doing research for my book on the history of horror films has made me realize just how much those movies reflect the fears of every culture and generation. Horror is often swept under the rug or dismissed as not being "serious" cinema. Every once in a while, movies like JAWS, The Exorcist or Silence of the Lambs attract the attention of the powers that be in Hollywood but films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th will never track bloody footprints up to the stage to accept their Academy Awards. Which annoys people like me. And yet, even people who have never seen Friday the 13th or any of it's seemingly endless sequels could still pick Jason out of a crowd. People who have never seen a single scary movie would know Freddy Kruger's razored glove if they saw it laying around. There's something about horror that really gets under your skin, and I think ten years after everyone's forgotten the plot to The English Patient, we'll still get a sudden shiver and a strong urge to look over our shoulders whenever we hear that soft Ch-ch-ch-ha-ha-ha music that spelled doom for all those unlucky campers.

Happy Halloween and thanks for reading.

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