True story: As a kid, I was unnaturally obsessed with monsters.
I would read or buy anything I could get my hands on that involved the classic characters, especially Dracula, the Wolfman, the Mummy, Frankenstein’s monster or Mr. Hyde.
Looking back now on that time from the perspective a parent, I’m sure my own parents were a little concerned.
I partially blame my obsession on Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, which combined with MAD magazine pretty much explains why I write the way I do.
Every month Famous Monsters featured as many stories as you could possibly wring out of every monster movie ever made. Pictorials featured background stories on the movies and – most importantly to me – stories about the makeup.
So important, in fact, that at one time I actually considered becoming a makeup artist as a career. It was a nice idea and led me into one really cool high school job, but what I was missing was the “artist” bit.
My interest in monsters also led to to a period of masterful (if I do say so myself) construction of Halloween haunted houses in the spare attic over my parents’ garage at our house in Summerville, S.C.
Fortunately, I had equally bored, weird and enthusiastic friends who would help me in their own masterful ways to pull these off. The other (more normal) neighborhood kids would come and drop a quarter a pop to walk through and be frightened by old spook-house gags like grapes as human eyeballs. a glow-in-the-dark ghost suspended from a beam by black fishing line and one friend apparently being sliced open by a giant pendulum blade.
Yeah, we were those kids. To the parents of the neighbor kids who paid to see our horror shows, I apologize for any therapy your youngsters had to undergo.
So now I’m living Halloween as a 45-year-old, and I can’t help casting my mind back to those days. We did a lot of improvising as far as special effects and materials. The giant pendulum was cardboard spray-painted silver and embellished at the blade edge with red tempura paint. We pillaged my dad’s spare lumber and used tools that these days, should I suggest that my son go off and build something with them, would get me arrested for child endangerment. There was lots of simulated gore (usually ketchup or red food coloring) and always – always – a record or cassette of spooky sound effects (thunder, groans, cats, evil laughing, etc.) playing in the background.
But should my kid want to do the same thing today, an entire industry exists to support him. Round about Sept. 15, Halloween shops pop up like mushrooms in otherwise vacant strip mall storefronts, packing in every single effect that we wish we had back them into a few thousand square feet, readily for sale to anyone with the wherewithal to pony up the cost. That cost, say those who track such things, is rapidly approaching what we typically spend on Christmas decorations.
Animated, full-sized talking monster mannequins. Smoke machines. Light effects. Everything you need for excellent make-up and costumes. Bony, motorized skeleton hands that rise from the earth and is guaranteed to make children under the age of 7 soil their pants and run away screaming. The spooky sounds, meanwhile, are available via download so you can freak out anyone anywhere with just your iPod.
It’s depressing, not because it’s too much, but because it’s everything I ever wanted and never could get my hands on.
My wife has hinted around that some year she’d like one of those giant inflatable Christmas decorations to go on our lawn. I say let’s take the money and invest in some really kick-ass Halloween decorations.
Santa chasing reindeer in an eternal loop of yuletide kitsch? Nah. Scaring the pants off the neighbor children? Yeah, that’s money well spent.