Twelve minutes until Halloween!
Dinner is nearly concluded, gooey grilled cheese hastily washed down with tomato soup, and my children scramble to find their costumes. Trick or Treating is a big deal in our house, and we’ve never missed a single season—except for the one year (pre-children) when we napped through the entire two-hour block of candy-demanding kids. This year the kids are role playing as Plague Doctor, and two characters from the Harry Potter universe: Ginny Weasley and Hermione Granger. Cloaks and masks and wands and neckties, oh, and don’t forget the pillow cases to collect your candy.
Nine minutes until Halloween!
Someone has to clean up the table scraps so the dog doesn’t do it for us while we’re away. My wife is hobbling around the kitchen, declaring episodes of intense pain in her leg and foot: Revenge of Tendonitis, or else she’s just faking it. Despite my personal, sixteen-year tradition of dispensing candy for the kids, I’ve been elected to walk around the neighborhood with Ginny and Hermione. Guess I need to find my shoes, jacket, flashlight, and winter Steelers cap; it’s chilly out there kiddies!
Six minutes until Halloween!
This is your first year for handling out candy, dear wife, are you prepared? Do you have your candy supply in a bowl and folding chair? Are the jack-o-lanterns lit? You know, the kids will be here in three minutes? Is the front-yard inflatable inflated?
Three minutes until Halloween!
Attention Trickers! Please gather in the driveway for your photo opportunity. The plague doctor is joined by his out-of-neighborhood best friend, Nintendo’s adventurous hero Link, and both girls from Gryffindor House await their photo portrait of the evening. Pose, click, the Call of the Candy Bars beckons. My son and his best friend have already left.
Never trust child clowns or pale-faced mechanics, unless you’re braver than I!
John Carpenter’s Halloween hit the silver screen in 1978. I was five-years old at the time. Based on memories of where our family lived at the time, I would have watched the horror movie (on old-school VHS tape) before the age of eight.
Tommy: It’s the boogeyman! The boogeyman’s outside! Laurie: Oh, Tommy, stop it! You’re scaring Lindsey. There’s nobody out there. Now, if you don’t stop this I’m going to have to turn the TV off and send you to bed. ~ Halloween (1978)
My younger brother, Kim, would have been four, with my youngest brother making his entrance as a newborn. To this day, Kim is terrified (nay traumatized) by the signature melody of Halloween, and probably with good reason. There are some things that you just can’t unsee, in life.
There is an appropriate age for everything—I suppose—as briefly highlighted in the previous installment of Mythology of Being Upside Down, but certainly not as a mere kid. Additional characters of fright also made recurring appearances of the years: Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. Regardless, I grew up with Halloween, and the movie scared me then (it still scares me today), although I set a priority each year to watch some scary movie each Halloween season.
Tommy, unlock the door! Come here, now you listen to me. I want you to go down the stairs, and out the front door. I want you to go down the street to the Mackenzie’s house. I want you to tell them to call the police and tell them to send them over here. Now, do you understand me? Go do as I say! ~ Laurie Strode, Halloween (1978)
Considering that I don’t own too many horror titles in my movie library, I usually opt for watching whatever is freely available on cable or streaming services. One of my go-to scares is that of The Blair Witch Project (1999), however I selected the newer-quasi-sequel title of Blair Witch (2016) this year. It was terrible; I finished half of the movie. Completed films of the season include: House on Haunted Hill (1959), Backcountry (2014), and the television series The Mist (2017).
Is there a point to my ramblings? I surely hope so; let me gather my punchlines.
Here is my loosely, unscientific philosophy of the boogeyman: we watch horror flicks because they affect us, albeit in different ways.
You may identify with the psychopath in a movie, or perhaps the victims. You may feel alive, or at least appreciative for your real-life life. You may be fulfilling a curiosity of what Crystal Lake camp-life in the 1970s was all about. You could just be seeking that primal experience of fear, followed by a rush of adrenaline.
In itself, I don’t think there is anything wrong with horror films, but…here comes the Big But…you can begin to form a tolerance to the visual media. Eventually, simple jump scares won’t be enough and you’ll find yourself, with a bucket of popcorn and 96oz Coke in hand, sitting in the front row at the opening premiere of Saw XVI, The Reckoning someday—don’t say I didn’t warn you.
What scares me is what scares you. We’re all afraid of the same things. That’s why horror is such a powerful genre. All you have to do is ask yourself what frightens you and you’ll know what frightens me ~ John Carpenter
Illusions of Irish school girls and the joys of back pocket dance parties.
The official Halloween time is 6:00pm. It’s still light out, but the moon is rising as the sun begins to descend for the day. My girls have already attacked the cul-de-sac, gathering full-sized Snickers, eliminating several houses from the list of participators. With precision: if the light is on, march the sidewalk, knock the door, grab the treats, beeline to the next house. There is almost an unspoken science to this process, something previously unknown to me.
Who are you two supposed to be? Are you Irish school girls or something? ~ Random Front-door Candy Distributor, overheard statement from the street (as if school girls in Belfast carry magic wands on a regular basis).
I’m witnessing, and simultaneously experiencing, Trick or Treating for the first time in my neighborhood of seventeen years. It’s pretty fun. My role is simple: walk the curb, watch that my children don’t get sucked into any house by an Australian woman wearing a witch costume, and flag down any speeding vehicles with my wimpy flashlight. I can handle this responsibility, no issues thus far, but the one thing that is missing in this equation is music.
I dial up a streaming channel of Halloween-themed music on my phone—I just love technology!—crank the volume, and place the device in my back pocket. Creepy tunes emanate. My children, upon returning from the previous front door, with cross looks on their faces, ask “where is that music coming from?”
In the driveway of a family friend, the mom asks why my wife is “breaking tradition” and not walking around. I explain Revenge of Tendonitis with minimal dramatic flair. No one can see me rolling my eyes in the darkness, faintly illuminated by their campfire.
At the next house, an old man (old, as in retirement old) prompts the social exchange: “What’s the magic word?” My girls answer accordingly. The screen door opens. He’s holding a basket of vegetables, indicating for them to make a selection: potato, red onion, or mango. How I love old man jokes. I make a mental note, and a loose promise to myself: at some distant Halloween, far into the future, I’ll be as cool as him.
At the next house, all three of us are standing in the foyer of a family friend. They’ve invited us inside the house for a special stock of full-sized candy bars. This is the good stuff; this is what we’ve been training for people! As the girls root through the box for the perfect confectionary treat, a new song is queued from my back pocket:
Well, I saw the thing comin’ out of the sky
It had the one long horn, one big eye
I commenced to shakin’ and I said “ooh-eee”
It looks like a purple eater to me
It was a one-eyed, one-horned, flyin’ purple people eater
(One-eyed, one-horned, flyin’ purple people eater)
A one-eyed, one-horned, flyin’ purple people eater
Sure looks strange to me (one eye?)
~ The Purple People Eater by Sheb Wooley
“Where is that music coming from?”, our hosts inquire. Of course, I point to my butt. They start to dance to the music, and I—as to not be extremely rude—reciprocate with my best [insert heavy doses of sarcasm here] dance moves and miscellaneous hip gyrations. We all laugh; my girls are indubitably mortified, and that’s fine with me.
Here is my loosely, unscientific philosophy of Halloween: the holiday should be an evening of fun, not of tear-inducing terror, and that’s the approach that my wife and I have taken when raising Christian children in an increasingly non-Christian world.
We dissuade patronage to the local haunted house of horror. We do not celebrate the Guts n’ Gore of Halloween, nor do we allow our kids to dress up as a serial killer, the victim of said serial killer, or even the Sexy Pirate (which seemed to be a popular option at the costume store this year).
There is (should be, at least) a component of community and fun that can be enjoyed each October 31st, from year to year, from decade to decade. I see value in neighborhood children interacting with neighborhood grumps, shut-ins, or generally-old-I’m-not-invested-in-anyone type people. Children enjoy compliments such as “love your costume”, “that’s so creative”, or “you’re getting to be so grown-up”. Well, that last one may be a stretch—that’s why I’m walking the curb, within earshot, in case I have to step in, and jack someone to protect my kids from predators.
I know that Halloween is as far from a holiday of faith as culturally possible; however, our kids have always participated—as a kid, I always participated; as a grandparent, I hope that my grandchildren participate; as a resident of my small community, I hope that kids of all ages participate (even teenagers: there are so many harmful boogeyman-like activities that teens could be alternatively engaged in).
As we walk the block, return to our house once more, we notice that Mom has dragged the fire pit from the backyard shed, lighting a small pyre for the Trick or Treaters. The three jack-o-lanterns have been relocated from sidewalk to curb, and illuminated. The inflatable ghost towers above the yard, visible from the crest of the hill. Wow, she’s really trying to out-do my former sixteen-year reign as Candy Distributor!
In that moment, I couldn’t help to wonder if I had been permanently promoted to Designated Trick or Treat Parent. If that’s the case, I will step up my game next year by fetching the wagon from the garage, loading it with a giant sound system, and dragging it around the neighborhood while pumping The Purple People Eater and other various sounds of the Halloween season into the crisp, evening sky—as the moon rises, and the sun descends for the day.
So when you ask me why, as a Christian parent, I endorse Halloween, I will point to the previously listed components in my Unscientific Philosophy of the Boogeyman. Halloween (for me, at least) is a mixture of tradition, fun, community, chocolate, creativity, and good old-fashioned fright. It is up to you, as today’s story-enjoyer, to interpret the ratio and percentages of each.