Halloween Extravaganza: Christa Carmen: It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Looking back, I don’t remember loving Halloween any more than my peers. Sure, pillowcases bursting with candy and trekking through my neighborhood after dark with friends was fun, and my mom was great at coming up with unique costumes she fashioned on her Singer sewing machine (a bushel of grapes, a fortune teller, and an evil queen are a few that come to mind). But for the most part, Halloween was one more exciting day in a childhood that I was extremely fortunate to experience as having its fair share of them.

Still, I did enjoy the darker aspects of other youthful pastimes. My bookshelves and OG TBR, i.e., the Scholastic book fair newsletter, were full of Bunnicula volumes, Nancy Drew titles, and the R.L. Stine Goosebumps and Fear Street series, and this appreciation for horror literature eventually morphed into a love of horror films. I saw John Carpenter’s Halloween a few months after I turned thirteen, and the Scream / I Know What You Did Last Summer / Urban Legend era of the late nineties solidified this infatuation. Now, twenty years later, my adoration of All Hallows’ Eve and all things horror is fully-formed and multifaceted. Here are the top five reasons why I love Halloween… maybe you love the holiday for some of the very same reasons.

1. The General public expresses their appreciation for all things spooky.

From November to September, my house is not going to be confused with the Halloween section of Michael’s, however, my wardrobe usually revolves around one particular end of the color spectrum and my home office remains decorated year-round with Stephen King-inspired artwork, black flowers, and skull-and-raven bookends. Some late weekend in September, I cart the Halloween bins up from the basement and let the black cats and cotton cobwebs infiltrate every corner of my house. The remote-control tray on the coffee table is replaced with a black-and-silver skull dish; the salad tongs become skeleton hands, the soap dispensers get their witch hats on, and every single candle is swapped with its pumpkin spice or cinnamon apple-scented counterpart.

The best part of this transformation? Pier 1, TJ Maxx, Target, The Home Depot, pretty much every well-known chain and massive department store is packed to the rafters with dark delights. Ouija board throw pillows, tombstone yard accents, Gothic tea sets, and creepy clown dishware, you can find any manner of Halloween or horror-themed household item as easily as you can buy a loaf of bread. I love strolling the aisles of Home Goods and running into an Ann-Taylor-garbed housewife with a shopping cart full of yoga mats and leisurewear reaching for a bat-bedecked candelabra worthy of Morticia’s dining room table. When school starts and the September equinox looms, mainstream America offers up affordable tricks and adorable treats for perpetual horror lovers and Halloween-enthusiasts alike.

2. Horror film snobs relax their horror snobbery.

I’ve expressed my annoyance at this phenomenon before, but one of my biggest pet peeves is when people turn up their nose at the horror genre then claim their all-time favorite movie is The Silence of the Lambs. “That movie can’t be horror,” they say. “Did you know it won the Oscar for Best Picture?” Cue eye roll. October is the one time of the year when movie lovers seem to relax their highbrow opinion of horror films and embrace vampires, serial killers, and buckets of (fake) blood. Zombieland: Double Tap was released this October, though I can all but guarantee that scores of folks too busy and uninterested to see earlier horror releases of 2019 will stream The Curse of La Lorna, Pet Sematary, Us, Happy Death Day 2U, and The Prodigy before the month is out. Similarly, The Terror, Castle Rock, The Haunting of Hill House, and American Horror Story will likely see an uptick in viewers.

And you know what? Bring it on. Sure, it’s obnoxious when some know-it-all film buff wants to eschew horror will simultaneously discoursing on the genius of the Duffer Brothers, but I will talk all October long with every summertime-horror-hater and Christmas-splatter-film-skeptic about their theory that Hopper is still alive or whether the ending of the Pet Sematary remake was better than the original. You know why? Because there’s room at the table for the fair-weather-horror fans, and, as my next section will detail, Halloween equals love.

3. Horror-centric couples express their love for one another.

Halloween and love go together like milk chocolate and peanut butter in a Reese’s pumpkin cup, and my husband and I are just two of many individuals who chose to cement our relationship on the day of the year dedicated to remembering the dead. Other couples who have mixed love and spook: Rob and Sheri Moon Zombie, Jack Skellington and ragdoll Sally, Morticia and Gomez Addams, Frankenstein and his lovely bride, Herman and Lily Munster, demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, Beetlejuice’s nemeses Adam and Barbara Maitland, and, despite some mid-movie meddling by the eponymous corpse bride, Victor and Victoria.

So why do so many real-life couples and fictional sweethearts find that horror and/or Halloween strengthens their bonds? Marriage is no cakewalk, and yet plenty of newlyweds find themselves unprepared for the trials that come with long-term commitment: steep mortgages and the rising cost of living, the decision of whether or not to have children, illness and loss, in-laws and the ebb and flow of friendships with other people, growing old and keeping your relationship new. Couples that interweave commitment with the acknowledgment of inevitable death could potentially be more in tune with the bleaker but necessary aspects of the human condition. What’s a bit of adversity when you know your partner can stomach Cannibal Holocaust, or that they once performed a madcap but heartbreakingly unsuccessful experiment to try and resurrect their childhood dog, Frankenweenie-style? They do say that the couple that slays together, stays together (I think the ‘they’ in this sentence refers to the marketing team behind Santa Clarita Diet, but hey, it works, and Sheila and Joel Hammond are another great example of a couple made stronger by ghouls and gore).

4. Haunted attractions become the norm.

Here are some of the Halloween activities in which I have partaken: haunted hayrides, haunted corn mazes, haunted houses (or a haunted factory, or asylum, or whatever that year’s or location’s theme happens to be), a paranormal excursion and theatrical séance at the Stanley Hotel, an overnight stay at the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast Museum, a daytrip to Salem, Massachusetts, a visit to the gravesite of alleged vampire Mercy Brown, a journey through the nationally acclaimed Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular at Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, and a historic ghost tour in that same city.

All those haunted houses and ghostly tours were, if not actually frightening then completely entertaining, but according to Halloween New England, I haven’t even scratched the surface of haunted attractions in Rhode Island or the surrounding states. Here is a (radically incomplete) selection of activities across New England that I still have left to pursue: in Connecticut, the Trolley Museum’s Pumpkin Patch ride; in Maine, a special FX make-up class or a ghostly Bangor walking tour; in Massachusetts, a flashlight maze at Connors Farm or a date with the Ghost Hunters Paranormal Society; in Rhode Island, a Ghosts of Newport excursion; in New Hampshire, Screeemfest at Canobie Lake Park; and in Vermont, a haunted hayride at Gaines Farm called Vengeance in the Valley that promises both the undead and flesh-eating extra-terrestrials. I’ve now lost the thread of this paragraph on haunted attractions and must systematically enter the ten different Halloween New England website-sponsored giveaways as well as purchase tickets to the Haunted Graveyard at Lake Compounce before I can move on to my final point.

5. The boundary between the living and the dead is penetrable.

My final reason for loving Halloween is not commercial, social, or societal in nature. When you strip away the candy and the costumes and the Stephen King movie marathons on AMC, when you remove the ghost-dog dish towels and witch-cat coffee mugs from the shelves of TJ Maxx, Halloween is the time of the year when the boundary between the physical and the spiritual worlds is the thinnest. It’s the perfect time to engage in respective personal and cultural traditions, whether that’s baking soul cakes, leaving an offering for a deceased relative, or lighting a bonfire in celebration of Samhain. If spirits and faeries can enter our world more easily at this lush, liminal time, than I am of the mind to give them the widest possible gateway through which to pass.

Tarot cards, oracle decks, candle magic, Ouija boards, graveyard séances, scary stories around a campfire, or any of the other tools employed for spiritual enlightenment and fulfillment throughout the year take on new meaning once darkness descends on October thirty-first. So, this Halloween, gather up your friends and dance a danse macabre in honor of death. I hope your path to the grave is one of mind-bending horror movies and cider-scented hayrides, of delicious cupcakes with R.I.P. frosted across Peppermint Pattie tombstones and relationships on par with Gomez and Morticia’s l’amour vrai. In other words, I wish you one long, spooky, spectacular walk past the ghosts and goblins, through the dark and cobweb-draped corridors, and all the way to the end of the haunted, hallowed corn maze.

Christa Carmen’s work has been featured in anthologies, ezines, and podcasts such as Fireside Fiction, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror, Outpost 28, and Tales to Terrify. Her debut collection, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked, is available now from Unnerving, and won the 2018 Indie Horror Book Award for Best Debut Collection. Christa lives in Rhode Island with her husband and their bluetick beagle. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania in English and psychology, a master’s degree from Boston College in counseling psychology, and is an MFA candidate at the Stonecoast Creative Writing program, of the University of Southern Maine. You can find her online at her website.

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