Tim Mitchell Sold His Soul to Halloween [Fierce Anticipation]


I’m a horror film fan — of course I’m looking forward to Halloween! This is the one time during the year where many of the things that make my freak flag fly–ghosts, skeletons, giant spiders, zombies, tombstones, and haunted houses–are not only considered acceptable decorum in both public and private settings, they are actively encouraged. I’ve lost track of how many spur-of-the-moment stores I’ve seen pop up this time of year to sell masks, costumes and all sorts of props, and some companies have even launched lines of Halloween tree ornaments, which opens up all sorts of new possibilities for eerie self-expression. It’s almost as if the horror sections of bookstores, libraries and video rental businesses break out of their (ab)normal dwellings and seize control of the public sphere for a few weeks. It’s glorious.

Gargoyles!(Of course, I never let seasonal restrictions stop me from indulging in ghoulish glee. My wife and I put up two gargoyles in our front lawn for one Halloween. Not only did we never take them down, we went out and got four more, and our gaggle of gargoyles is still on display to this day. I also picked up some eyeball ornaments but since we don’t put up our tree until December, they go up with the rest of the ornaments then. Thus, if you ever see our Christmas tree, don’t be surprised to find it staring back at you.)

No one is required to subject themselves to anything scary on Halloween, but to me there’s something very refreshing and genuine about a holiday that openly combines fear and fun. We live in a scary enough world as it is, and sometimes the best way to cope with that is to actively engage the most extremely irrational, absurd fears possible and turn them into sources of catharsis. There are those who can’t grasp the logic of using fear to relieve stress and cope with stressful situations but for those of us who get it (such as Aristotle), Halloween is a holiday like no other that deserves enthusiastic celebration. The fundamentalist religious groups that loudly and repeatedly oppose Halloween are living proof of my point: Since fear and paranoia permeate religious fundamentalism, I can see why strict followers of such belief systems would want to avoid a celebratory release from these emotions.

Besides, Halloween is one of the few holidays that don’t involve awkward family obligations. If that isn’t worth celebrating, I don’t know what is.


If Valentine’s Day is a revenue generator for greeting card companies and Thanksgiving is a boon for turkey farms, then Halloween is the best advertisement possible for anything related to the horror genre. Many newspapers and magazines publish articles about horror literature and movies that would normally avoid the subject, while TV stations and movie theaters run horror movie marathons. Yet the best kinds of seasonal celebrations are the film festivals that feature showings of independently made horror films, both the short and feature-length varieties. For those who are tired of Hollywood’s infatuation with horror remakes and sequels, these are the places to go for a fresh batch of frights. For example, The Spooky Movie International Horror Film Festival is held every October in the Washington DC area, and this year’s selection included The Dead, The Oregonian, and Skew–quality titles you won’t find playing at any of the major movie theater chains.

Unfortunately, there are three big drawbacks to this kind of Halloween entertainment:

  1. Horror film festivals aren’t always held during the Halloween season.
  2. Of the horror film festivals that are held during the Halloween season, they aren’t always easy to find and attend.
  3. Unlike big studio releases in the multiplexes, you can’t choose when to go see a movie a horror film festival. If you can’t make the festival showing of a horror film that piques your interest, you won’t see it until it becomes available elsewhere–or you won’t see it at all if it’s not picked up for wide release.


Sadly, Halloween isn’t what it used to be in some parts of the country. From what I’ve been hearing, some public schools have been opting out of having Halloween celebrations of any sort, choosing instead to have “Harvest Festivals” or some other vaguely-named substitute. Between fundamentalist religious groups complaining about Halloween being a pagan recruitment tool, the difficult enforcement of costume dress codes, and the lack of time available to have any sort of party in the classroom, Halloween has disappeared from quite a few public schools (including one that I used to attend).

While this feels like a cop-out, I nevertheless understand why public schools are dropping Halloween just so they have one less figurative monkey on their backs — particularly during the current era of massive federal cuts to education funding and repeated political attacks against teachers’ unions. Still, to lose Halloween in public schools is a setback, because that’s one less place for kids to have fun with this unique holiday. At its best, Halloween is about imagination and creativity. It’s not tied to any particular ethnic, religious or national identity, so kids can dress up as whoever or whatever they want. How many other holidays offer that kind of open expression? (No, cosplay events at geek conventions do not count in this context.)

As with most other things aimed at kids, the only way for Halloween to stay fun and exciting in areas where it is under attack is for adults–particularly maturity-challenged adults (a.k.a. man-children, like me)–to take the lead. For example:

While a school district as a whole may not have a Halloween celebration, art classes, art clubs and drama clubs within the district can do Halloween-themed activities, such as making masks and costumes. It doesn’t even have to be that expensive, either. There were two books published back in the late 70s, Make-Up Monsters and Creature Costumes, which featured all sorts of ideas that only required cheap, easily available and non-toxic items–flour, cotton balls, corn syrup, and so on. (You can read my blog post about it here.) These books are still available at very cheap prices, so they’re an easy way to keep Halloween fun going among curious students.

With the availability of many old classic horror movies available on DVD and Blu-ray, there’s no reason why anyone couldn’t organize a horror film festival of their own. To keep the events fun for all ages, organizers could pull a few ideas from Shock!, a promotional book that was used by Screen Gems to promote the sale and distribution of old horror movies on syndication back in the late 1950s. Shock! was a guidance manual for local TV stations that instructed them how to encourage audience participation in their weekend broadcasts of the Universal horror movies. (In fact, these recommendations were essentially the blueprints for the horror hosts who would later appear in TV markets across the country, and who still appear on public access TV, Internet sites and at horror conventions to this day.) Some of the ideas in Shock! would fit perfectly for a local film festival, such as a “most shocking photo” contest and a monster-themed cooking contest. The Shock! book was re-published in Shock Theater: An Illustrated History by Jim Clatterbaugh, the editor and publisher of Monsters From The Vault magazine.

Have a Happy Halloween!

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