By Chris Ringler
There’s something primal about Halloween. It reaches not just back to our youth but to the youth of the human race. It reaches back to a time when the darkness held within it a dangerous world we could barely imagine. A time when we felt the presence of the dead all around us and felt compelled to honor and appease them lest they take their mischief out on us. Much has changed over the passing of hundreds of generations but the dark heart of Halloween remains the same – an appreciation that in one way or another the dead are amongst us and that mischief is at hand on Halloween.
It’s been a very, very long time since I have been trick or treating but I can still feel the effects that the holiday had on my childhood. I can still remember the skeleton costume my mom made out of some blue jeans I had, or the plastic Spider Man costume I had that I both loved and hated at the same time. I remember the adventures my friends and I had as we went on an epic quest for as much candy as would fill a pillow case, never quite reaching our goal but already planning for the next year. I even remember the sorrow I felt at knowing I had gotten too old to trick or treat. Halloween is a time for children to free their imaginations, a night where the monsters are out from under the beds and stalking through the night. A time for adventure and exploration and a healthy fear of a very big world. This is a holiday for children, yes, but not just for children. Not at all. For many, too many, Halloween is something that adults need to put behind them to, well, be adults. We, well, we know better.
The best part of Halloween, our modern version of it, is that it embraces both children and adults. For kids it’s a time to dress like your favorite hero, monster, cartoon, profession, or anything your heart desires. For adults it’s a time to either craft a magic holiday for your kids or to revel in the mystery and fun of the season for yourself. And it IS truly a season, though, perhaps too LONG of one. Let’s just admit it, putting Halloween stuff out the first week of September is ridiculous. There’s a reason we get burned out on the holidays – we celebrate them for too long, and Halloween is part of that. Keep it to Mid-September at the earliest, when the haunts open. THAT is when the season really starts. Yeesh, I adore Halloween but even I get a little sick of seeing the decorations for two months just to see it all pulled down and gone the day following the holiday. Heck, if you want to lose that ‘holiday spirit’, just work in retail, it’ll ruin it in no time.Back to Haunt Season though, the time when haunted attractions open up leading into the Halloween season. Haunt Season is the thing that makes the modern Halloween something really special for adults because it lets us experience a horror movie live and we get to tell the tale afterward. The best haunts remember to craft a credible story that suspends your disbelief long enough to imagine you may actually be in danger. The best haunts create an atmosphere of danger without being dangerous. The best haunts mix animatronics and people to create a sense of dread and horror. The best haunts are not a fear grindhouse, churning out stale ideas and half-hearted scares because it’s a good way to make some money, no, the best haunts are a thrill ride that stays with you long after you have experienced them. Too many modern haunts rely on gore, jump scares, and ‘extreme’ horror without building tension or dread. We have all been to mediocre and bad haunts. How many though have you been to that stick with you? That you remember fondly? THAT should be the standard, shouldn’t it? A haunt that people talk about, reminisce over, and that they look forward to experiencing again. And it’s funny because if you go to enough mediocre haunts you start to think that it must be some sort of arcane science behind a good haunt. It isn’t. It’s remembering the basics of horror and what makes horror work – story, suspense, dread, laughter, fear, and pay off. You have to ramp things up to a climax and pay off in a way that makes the person feel like they actually survived something scary. THAT is what makes a great haunt.
For some though Halloween isn’t about kids or haunts, it’s all about the party. THE PARTY! WOO! Sadly, most parties consist of sleazy, or offending store bought costumes, cheap beer, and people standing around talking about their jobs. Yeesh! Where’s the fun? The scares? The, uh…less cheap beer? We can take a cue from kids when it comes to our parties – we need more fun. I get it, we’re older – most of us – and a fun night is a night away from kids, and work, and darn it cheap beer can still be refreshing, I guess. But maybe Martha Stewart has something in the notion of creating an atmosphere for the party. Maybe she’s right that there should be themed food and drink. Maybe we AREN’T too old for games. And maybe, JUST MAYBE we could try a little harder on a costume. I mean, we can’t do better than wearing a mask of a political figure or wearing some sexed-up version of a television or movie icon? Really? For real, do we really need a sexy Michael Myers? Can you REALLY make Freddy Krueger, a child killer, sexy? Just saying. Halloween is one night, a night about having fun and cutting loose (safely kids, remember to do it safely!) so why not really go for it? Why not dance, and sing, and eat food and candy and just have some darn fun for a change, like we did when we were kids?
More than anything else Halloween, and all holidays to be honest, are opportunities to create our own traditions. Chances to take the tried and true and to make them our own. Whether it’s trick or treating and scary stories with the kids or it’s a haunted attraction tour, or an over the top Halloween bash with friends this is one of those holidays that we can put a stamp on. Our OWN stamp. Halloween can be so magical, so powerful for those of us that celebrate it because it takes us back to being a kid again and captures a piece of that wonder for a world that still seemed scary but which had candy for those of us brave enough to venture out into the night. The Halloween season is a time for movie marathons, for ghost stories, for experimenting with make-up kits, for checking out the store displays, and for re-living, if just for a little while, a time in our lives when we didn’t worry over work and bills and relationships. It’s a time to think about the people we have all lost, and to wish them well on their journey as the veil between their world and ours is at its thinnest. We never want to live our lives in the past, regretting that we had to age but we do want to cherish the memories and that sense that we can, in some small way, go back to our youth. A time when movie monsters were real and we loved them because they were. Halloween is ours, however we celebrate it. Let’s just make sure we DO celebrate it this year.
Chris Ringler was raised in Linden, Michigan, a where he lived and attended school. He fell in love with writing as a teenager when he started writing short stories and began working on fanzines with friends. In 1999 BACK FROM NOTHING, a short story collection was published by University Editions. Since that time Chris has been published in BARE BONE and CTHULHU SEX MAGAZINE, received Honorable Mention in THE YEAR’S BEST FANTASY AND HORROR twice, was voted Best in Blood on HORRORADDICTS.COM, and has been working on his writing and art.
Chris has written and published nine books which range from horror and dark fiction to fairy tales.
Chris is a writer, artist, weirdo, and was the creator of many events in the Flint area such as the Flint Horror Convention.