Reflections on Hallows Eve...

I love Halloween. I always have… people that know me would not be surprised by this. Yet, for some reason, I don’t think I’m enjoying Halloween as much as I used to. Now, the last 2 Halloweens have flat-out sucked for me… but through no fault of anyone’s, really. One was surrounded by personal drama, and the other, I just didn’t get much of a chance to do anything for it. Oh well… c’est la vie. I’ve had bad Halloweens before, so I always just looked forward to the next year.

I’m not saying I had a BAD Halloween this time around… it was actually okay. For the first time since 1998, I’ve been in New England for Halloween. And in my opinion it’s the absolute best place to be at this time of year. For one, the Autumn leaves are all changing colors, lots of orange, red, yellow leaves around… and it is very pretty. There is a reason people come to see the leaves change, and it’s a good reason. But it also helps provide a nice backdrop to the idea of “Halloween”… there are many areas throughout the whole 6-state region where you actually feel like you’re living in a horror film. There is a VERY good reason why Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft set most of their stories in New England.

This year… I went with some friends to Salem, Massachusetts. Now, logic would tell you that it is the perfect place to be for Halloween. The site of the Salem Witch Trials… all that creepy history… what would be better? Well… this time around… “Logic” is arguable. I think it depends on what you want out of Halloween to figure out if Salem is a great place to go or not. Cause I’m not so sure it’s the place for me anymore.

I’d been there once before… back in 1998… my last Halloween in New England before moving to California. The friend I went with back then had her boyfriend coming into town that night through Boston… so we didn’t stay THAT long in Salem before heading out to South Station to pick him up. But there were literally hundreds of thousands of people all walking around in costume. They shut off all traffic through several streets because there are so many people walking around. It really is a sight to see. The other place I would say is comparable to it is Halloween in West Hollywood… with probably just as many people walking around in costume. The primary difference is that in West Hollywood… most of the costumes are people in Drag.

The only personal qualm I have with THAT has nothing to do with the fact that they’re in Drag… it’s the fact that most of the people there dress in Drag *anyway*… you know, they’re practicing transvestites… so doing it for Halloween is redundant, and just an excuse to do what they do on a normal night out… just with more participants. Halloween is more than that, frankly. I’ve always seen it as an opportunity to dress as something DIFFERENT. To look how you normally wouldn’t look. And preferably… it should also be scary. While dressing in drag might make you scary in several parts of the Midwest… I myself think you can try a little harder. But that’s just me. Anyhoo…

One of the first things we encountered, was the creepiest thing we saw all day or night... I thought. The parking lot attendant. No… he wasn’t dressed in costume. Just an older gentleman sitting by a sign that advertised $10 dollar parking. We pulled in, and he approached us saying meekly and with a very wobbly voice, “You guys know that we charge for parking here?” No problem with that… we knew as we were pulling in… but then I noticed that he had that “just off the medication” look in his eyes and was constantly, blatantly ogling the females in our group… most of whom were dressed pretty conservatively. Hell, they could be dressed as Eskimoes, and this guy still would have been overly-excited. THAT creeped the hell out of me. *shudder* Eww….

Salem was very much like the last time. Roads closed off… hundreds of thousands of people… vendor kiosks all over the place… police driving around these nifty little scooters (okay, they didn’t have *those* last time, but they were neat.)… generally speaking, it was one big party. It kinda surprised me how many stores there were with the “Witch” or a Spooky theme to them… and I’m not talking about the temporary kiosks that people put up… I mean the PERMANENT stores and fixtures. Sweet Jeebus, there were a lot of them… and I *was* expecting several of them, but by gum, that was a LOT. I also know there are several places where practicing Pagans and Wiccans and whatnot gather for their own little ceremony, to pay tribute to all those that were victims in the Salem Witch Trials, etc.

Now… something about that bugs me. Really just on a conceptual level. For one… if you want to talk history… back then, the spot of what is now Salem, Massachusetts… all the way up to around Meredith, NH… (a good 100 mile stretch or so)… that was ALL “Salem, Massachusetts”. So the place where we think the Trials took place… most likely they DIDN’T take place right there. Secondly, I’ve yet to see any evidence that showed that anyone who was executed as a witch from that time… was ACTUALLY a witch. You see, back then… if you accused someone of being a witch, and they were convicted… you got their land. And they pretty much had a 100% conviction rate… due in large part to the “court of public opinion” (all too influenced by gossip)… so if someone said you were a Witch… face it, you’re screwed with no way to defend yourself. So, if some guy was eyeing a nice piece of real estate, and the young widow/single woman didn’t react to your advances for marriage… you call her a Witch, you get her farm. And not just women… men too. No one was safe, quite frankly. If they WERE witches… you could at least say, “Well, it was against the law to be a witch, so they were just acting in accordance to the law.” In which case, you simply say, “The Law Blows”, and we say, “Yeah, they figured that out… that’s why they changed it.” But if they were never breaking any law to begin with… well, that seems a little more heinous to me.

Either way, it’s pretty F-ed up, I’m sure everyone will agree… but now looking at today… with the majority of the town industry being BASED around the perception of these trials (not even the facts)… just seemed kind of… I guess “Sell-out” would be the term. Even all these “spiritual tributes” from modern-day witches (as nice as the idea behind them is)… seems kind of pointless if the accused were never even witches themselves. But I’m always willing to be wrong.

I guess I was expecting/hoping to see something that basically said, “Yeah, our town has this bloody history… so once a year we break it out on Halloween night and try to have a fun time. You know, turn a negative into a positive. Why Halloween? Well, it seemed appropriate.” But to realize that people are trying to cash in on this every day of the year… Yeah, that’s where I start to think “Sell-out”.

But having the Halloween celebration there, despite all this… is not a bad thing. Hell… *I* went. Twice. And it is really a sight to see… so many people in costume. Just the logistics of the gathering is worth seeing. And a lot of people do put some imagination into their costumes… some go all out with the blood and gore, etc… and others… not so much.

You know, on one level, there is *nothing* wrong with “Sexy” costumes… dressing as a sexy nurse, sexy cop, sexy firefighter, sexy army girl, sexy cowgirl, sexy cabaret dancer, sexy schoolgirl, sexy sexy, sexy Nintendo character, sexy hand-lotion… whatever. The (large) part of me that appreciates the female form will admire happily… but I will STILL make one complaint: Not scary.

Though what IS scary is when parents who are accompanying their children to things like this… Letting their 7 year old dress as a sexy/slutty nurse… is F-ing wrong. Just flat-out. I believe that as a general rule for ANY girl whose outfit title contains the word “Sexy”… they shouldn’t wear it unless they’re old enough and big enough so that if they aim for the genitals of sexual assailant… they will double him over, not annoy him. Hell, there should just be a plain test for women… you’re not allowed to wear a slutty outfit, unless you know how to throw a solid punch. Because while freedom of fashion is important… it WILL eventually bring unpleasant consequences… so unless you’re equipped to deal with those consequences, don’t go asking for trouble. Common sense, people!

Alright, alright… coming off the soapbox…

Kids dressing as sluts… it’s like the creepy parking attendant… scary in the wrong way. And Halloween has to be about SCARY. I truly believe that.

I love horror movies… I always have. Truth be told… I hate real-life violence. I’m not crazy about the sight of blood. I don’t like needles. I generally avoid fights, and I’m more apt to put a spider outside than squash it. But I’m fascinated by horror stories and horror films. I think its because it’s a “safe violence”… an artistic expression that helps get frustrations out. Its such a powerful form of art, because someone ELSE can feel expressed or cleansed from witnessing a presentation of that art… the art of horror. If you’re pissed off about something… so much so that you feel the need to hit something… sometimes watching a violent or horror movie can relieve that. It gives and performs the revenge that we wish we could give ourselves… and no one really gets hurt in the end. And all you have to do… is sit and watch it. It releases an “active” urge in a “passive” way.

It can also actively engage your imagination… by NOT showing you certain things. The great filmmakers always knew this. They let your mind fill in the blanks, and next thing you know, you’re in an adrenaline rush of fear… and you never physically moved. Your heart is pumping, you’re breathing quicker… experiencing the thrill of an adventure and danger you’ll thankfully never have yourself.

Some of the best horror movies… are the ones that do just this… and they DON’T show you any blood or gore. One of my favorites, and what I think is one of the best horror movies every made… is The Haunting (the b&w original from 1963). There’s not a drop of blood anywhere in that movie… just story and atmosphere all the way through.

And I think that’s what was missing for me from Salem… Atmosphere. A dark, ominous, moody background… a set stage for a good scary story. Salem is… well… commercial. Stores, kiosks, sausage and pizza vendors, port-o-potties and TOO many people. Really… it was overwhelming. We even left fairly early, and it was getting hard to walk there. And when I think of my favorite horror movies… it was always involving small groups of people… even singular people. It plays on the theme of isolation… being all alone. 400,000 people walking around 1 town at the same time… conceptually doesn’t seem very “isolated”. No real spooky Halloween-type horrors can happen to you when you’re surrounded by people. Even obnoxious drunk ones.

Which becomes ANOTHER qualm of mine. St. Patrick’s Day is for drinking… it was a whole holiday set aside for getting blitzed. So people that use Halloween as just another excuse for getting drunk… doesn’t impress me. Its like the excuse to dress “sexy”. Nothing wrong with it, whatever gets you your Slack. Go for it… Free Country. For me personally… I like to think there’s *more* to it. You can get drunk anyday… this is a day to get “Scared”.

Maybe I consider Halloween to be a chance to actually BE in a horror film… to experience that type of amazing extreme adventure that we can’t get in this world. Not only a chance to imagine going against the fantastic and unknown… but to act out being in it.

That could be why I have such a hard time making Halloween costumes for myself. I didn’t even dress up this year. I put on a “Day of the Dead” shirt I have, loaded up my camera, and just wanted to be a spectator and people-watcher. I always LOVE doing decorations… and being in and making environments to walk through and experience… but dressing up… that won’t scare ME. And if I were in those extreme supernatural situations… I wouldn’t be wearing an annoying, cold, constrictive costume with smelly cream makeup on my face… I would be… Me.

Maybe that’s it… I don’t want to scare. I want to BE scared.

I think the best Halloween I ever had… was very simple. While I did dress up that year, I kept it very simple… and I sat around with a small group of friends, and we told scary stories. I was in undergraduate college… and its one of the fondest memories I have. Even though I was asked to read the most stories (being the “actor”)… telling them was still a way to live through them… and experience those stories like all of those friends that were there to listen. I loved every second of it.

So, I don’t think Salem is for me. Maybe I’ll go back next year… who knows? But right now, I know what I’d prefer… a cloudy night, with the moon peeking through… sitting by candlelight with a select few… reveling in the gloom… savoring the chills up your spine… feeling the heartbeat increase ever so slightly… and then laughing in relief along with good companions.

Yeah… simplicity is what it’s all about.


Anonymous said...

"I think its because it’s a “safe violence”… an artistic expression that helps get frustrations...that . It releases an “active” urge in a “passive” way."
Are you serious? It is not that I believe that movies make people do bad things but I am saddened by how easy it is to be in awe about the mutilation of another human being. I love horror movies that scare me, but I can't stand the reckless violence we are being subjected to nowadays. Hostel and Saw and all that crap. When I watch a movie like Jaws or 30 Days of Night, it is not about humans killing humans but demons and s#$%. I can take that, but when it is humans mutilating their own, there is something sick about this.

V. Riley said...

Oh, I agree. I am not into the "Torture Porn" genre that has cropped up in the last few years. (Though I do admit I was impressed with the first "Saw"... it could have been a LOT bloodier than it ended up being) I too prefer my horror to be against supernatural-type foes. Especially zombies... who USED to be human, but obviously aren't anymore. Mmmm.... zombies.
That's more of a "gross-out" kind of horror... not a true get-under-your-skin-and-eat-away-at-your-sanity kind of horror.
There's a difference between the artistic kind I'm referring to, and just plain gratuitous.
Its the same with nudity in a movie... if it actually has something to do with the story and moves it forward, it's fine. But if its just there for no other reason than to show boobs or blood... then I roll my eyes.
That's sort of the reason I never bothered to see "The Passion of the Christ". Probably the most violent film ever made... but that's not reason for me to see a movie. And since I already knew the story... I see no reason to waste my time seeing it. *shrug*

Anonymous said...

I agree with you on the last point. Less is always more! And oh Lawd! The Passion of the Christ was EXTREME. I watched it, closed my eyes through most of the whipping. I mean, goodness, even thinking about me makes me want to throw up!

I just believe that the more we make this kind of material "acceptable" the more we create a disconnect when it comes to inflicting harm on others. Apathy is nurtured. There will be some sociopaths out there willing to "experiment" with this shittee!!

Anonymous said...

We, as a society, are definitely becoming more desensitised to violence. It doesn't bother me to watch the horror stuff that I feel could never happen to me.. Zombies, monsters, etc.. But the human element in movies like Hostel are definitely unnecessarily violent. It makes me sad that the new movies and sequels they make have to be bigger, badder, more disgusting than the last one..

Onto another subject you talked about- slutty costumes. As a girl who tries to keep all her clothing (outside the bedroom) as sexy as possible- not slutty, I am more than a little annoyed that Halloween has disintigrated to "sexiest costume contests". Halloween is about being scary and/or scared. I'm not saying everyone has to be a monster, but come on- last year I saw a girl in nipple tassels, a thong, and 6 inch heels... how is that a costume? I can see how the boys out there appreciate it, but really.. these girls are usually the ones who wear little to nothing on a regular Friday night out!! Stay home on Halloween and just go out normal the Friday after. Not only is it annoying to those of us who actually put time and effort into our costumes, but they're not promoting good morals for little girls out there. Dinsey Princess this year, Hannah Montana next, then sexy nurse?? Show people you have more respect for yourself than to be naked in public (and not even getting paid for it!)

Great blog- always love reading :)

fritz said...

I'm just not into horror. I don't enjoy being scared, even when it's a "safe" kind of scared. Too much of a control freak. My brother loves horror flicks, though. My comfort level is Freddy Krueger, but only b/c big bro watched those movies so often I got used to them. I still haven't watched more than a few minutes of Psycho, The Amityville Horror, or Hellraiser (some of his viewing preferences).

Having said that, though, one of my favorite movies is "Shaun of the Dead"--a zombie flick. And when I was growing up, I can't tell you how many times I used to watch "Night of the Comet"--another zombie flick. And I really don't like zombie flicks, so I can't figure out why these two horror-ish flicks are on my fav list, but, oh well!

As for Halloween and Salem...I've never been to present-day Salem, MA; however, shortly after moving to NH, I was very confused until somebody pointed out that Salem, NH and Salem, MA were two completely different locations, and it was the MA one that had the witchcraft rap. That was a real lightbulb moment. At the time I hadn't even been to Salem, NH (if I had, I think I would have figured out there were two different Salems around a lot quicker b/c although miles of nothing but strip malls is scary in its own way, it's not very spooky). And yes, Halloween in New England is way creepier (just from atmospheric natural surroundings) than, say, SoCal.