Whether scary or spooky, Halloween helps us exorcise our true fears.
We are in the scariest time of the year, when the bowls of candy are full and the veil between the worlds is thin.
Tiny monsters will soon be unleashed across America, at least until bedtime arrives. And earth-shattering horror movies air on Netflix, some focusing on our very immediate fears, like illness and homelessness.
Halloween is the time of year when we explore the universe’s greatest division: the passage between the world of the living and the land of those who have already passed. We do this by exploring the macabre and the cute and scary movies and the adorable ghosts.
Horror is the entertainment through which we explore – in safety – what deeply frightens us. During the pandemic, horror-based entertainment has been very popular, with some of it focusing on issues that seem too real.
The new horror movie Bingo hell, directed by Gigi Saul Guerrero and streamed on Amazon Video, takes place in the gentrifying neighborhood of Oak Springs. Oak Springs is a multiracial enclave where many residents switch between Spanish and English. The leader of the small community is Lupita, the grandmother we all want to lead the charge against the dark forces or greedy developers.
Longtime residents of Oak Springs are being offered huge sums for their old homes, just as hip establishments like FOMO Bean Cafe are moving to the gentrifying neighborhood.
Given the pandemic housing price spike, along with the looming threat of eviction for many in the wake of the pandemic, it’s no surprise that Guerrero has made a movie that includes the horrors of gentrification.
I find aging scary, perhaps because my transition to the other side is getting closer. Or maybe I’m just conceited.
As a woman who just received her first senior discount in a culture that values youth, I fully understand the allure of becoming a vampire. If I could guarantee that I would be young and beautiful forever just by switching to a diet based on human blood, maybe I would think about it. I already avoid the sun to avoid premature wrinkles.
Fear of aging and dementia meet fear of pandemic in brilliant new South African film Tight from first-time director Kelsey Egan, which recently screened at Austin’s Fantastic Fest. It is an isolated family unit standing together in a dystopian world plagued by airborne dementia. The so-called Forgetters, who have breathed the poisonous air and no longer know their own names, are shot on sight if they attempt to approach the colonial-era family complex.
Humans have always looked to fantasy horror to exorcise their true fears. The Grimm brothers collected terribly dark old fairy tales. Penny Dreadfuls entertained Victorian children with stories of murders and vampires. The Théâtre du Grand-Guignol was where you went for the best splash show on stage in Paris during WWI and WWII. Hollywood has been making monster movies ever since it started making movies.
Halloween has slowly gone from “I should start putting together a costume” the night before Halloween to a “spooky season”.
Halloween decorating has become so important that the “Zero Waste” city of Austin has published an “Oh my gourd” guide to making October decorating more environmentally friendly. Suggestions include using actual pumpkins in your seasonal decor and making a costume from something you already own.
“Reuse sheets and old t-shirts to create ghosts,” “Forgo the plastic pumpkin bucket and reuse a pillowcase as a candy bag. And “Use all the shipping boxes that have been delivered to your doorstep to create spooky tombstones, pumpkins and witches.”
Maybe someone in the city of Austin is channeling my Grandma Hazel for her old school vacation tips.
One of the hottest decorations of the season is a 12 foot tall skeleton. I ordered mine last summer and put Mr. Bones on the lawn. Good thing I bought my skeleton early. I was shocked when my cousin told me that the giant skeletons sold out almost immediately and that they were selling for a lot of money in the aftermarket.
If you hear the chains ringing around Mr. Bones, it’s not a nod to the ghost of Jacob Marley in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, it’s just to keep him from being robbed.
It’s no big surprise that the giant skeleton has turned into a big hit. The last few years have seen a rise in “spoopy” culture, the golden mean between scary and cute. Disney’s “Haunted Mansion” ride is spooky, not scary. The song “Monster Mash” is spooky. The Earl von Count on Sesame Street is a prime example of spoopy. The beloved film of the 90s Hocus pocus is spooky, not scary, even if it does involve three witches coming back to life in Salem, Mass.
For me the scariest thing in Hocus pocus think of the upkeep of the Ropes Mansion, the historic Salem home built in the 1700s that was one of the main sets in the film. This is a milestone for many millions of visitors drawn to “Witch City” in October.
Given the number of little ones I’ve seen enthusiastically say hello to Mr. Bones in the yard, I know my skeleton is spooky, not scary.
Soon the little beasts in my hippie hoodie will probably haunt my doorbell in an eco-friendly way: they’ll be wearing old sheets to dress up as ghosts while lugging around their candy pillow cases. I doubt any of my treats are wasted.
Anna Hanks is a freelance writer in Austin. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
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