Everything Went Black: Boo! Scary!
Whatever happened to the Transylvania Twist?
By Marc Savlov, 7:15AM, Thu. Oct. 4, 2012
Judging by the temperature outside as I write this in the early, pre-dawn hours, it's my favorite time of the year again, and not a moment too soon. Scratch that. It's everyone's favorite time of the year, at least among my friends and fellow film devotees. You can almost catch the treacly scent of calaveras de azucar on the still morning air.
There's a veritable slew of Halloween and Dia de los Muertos events in Austin this month, more than usual I think, some of which are first-time festivities that look to be natural (or unnatural, heh, heh, heh) fits for Austin. Bat City is, I think, rivaled only by New York and San Francisco in its -- you'll pardon the pun, but we've been reading back issues of Forest J Ackerman's Famous Monsters of Filmland just lately -- deadication to this most all-American of holidays. So look for this column to be oozing All Hallows horrors and strange goings-on all month long.
Fantastic Fest is well behind us at this point, but there's one notable moment that I wanted to bring up briefly as it's entirely germane to the conversation.
Following the premiere of Michael Paul Stephenson's charming and heartfelt documentary The American Scream, Q&A moderator and Fest overlord Tim League posed a terrific question to Victor Bariteau and the other "home haunters" who had flown in from their picturesque hometown of Fairhaven, Massachusetts.
I'm paraphrasing here, but in essence League asked, "What is it about Fairhaven that all the kids get to run around trick-or-treating all night long? Here in Austin they're out on the streets at five o'clock and home by nightfall? So what makes Fairhaven such a great place for that more traditional concept of Halloween?"
That's a good question and one that both die-hard fans of this most unholy (to some) and gloriously creative (to the rest of us) holiday have been asking for ages now. League's point is well taken, and while none of The American Scream's Fairhaven subjects had much of an answer to the question beyond "It's a pretty safe place to raise your kids," it underscores an idea that's been making the rounds online and in print quite a bit lately, mainly, have we, as adults, allowed ourselves to become so saturated with supposed real-life fears that we've ceded a major slice of kidhood fun to our own overblown night terrors?
I think we have.
As parents (or, at least, potential parents), we're barraged on a moment-by-moment basis by images of global chaos and mayhem, Nancy Grace's borderline creepy predilection for reporting on missing and murdered kids, and a general malodorous air of unease and anxiety which infuses our 24-hour streaming news cycle with something approaching a daily dose of dread. In times like these, we tend to overreact and overprotect; countless studies have shown that violent crime is actually way, way down than it was in, say, the 1970s, and for every vile Child Catcher (thanks, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), there's likely far more normal, caring adults lurking around the edges of your suburban cul-de-sac than ever before.
Bad news makes for good headlines, and in this instant age, it's also what impacts our parental psyches quickest and lodges deepest. To quote Frank Herbert's visionary sic-fi novel Dune, "Fear is the mind-killer." Sustained fear -- and in this election cycle there's no shortage of that -- is even more malignant and creatively stunting. It cripples rational thought and, more to the point of my point, it hobbles creativity, imagination, and has somehow managed to render every kid's favorite holiday a pale shadow of its former dark glory.
The Halloweens that I fondly recall from my own youth in upstate New York -- the all-encompassing, full-family fun-fest of black and orange crepe, mom's hand-sewn costumes, and multiple-neighborhood sojourns, more often than not unaccompanied by hovering parents -- are a thing of the past in most parts of the country, Fairhaven notwithstanding.
And that's a howling shame, because, of course, they gave me one of my first tastes of true, creative independence, heavily laced with molar-destroying Tootsie Rolls, all-night Universal monster movies on WOR-TV, and mom and dad patiently waiting at home (mom in a witch costume, dad in a Groucho Marx outfit) while their monster mag-addled only child ran riot through the night with all the other pint-sized Frankentein monsters and Don Post-masked Tor Johnsons. The worst thing that ever followed us home was a stomach ache from too much sugary awesomeness.
The real monsters left us alone on Halloween. I learned, eventually and as a parent myself -- and despite what Newt (and Cartman) might say -- that they mostly come out in the daytime. Mostly.
The American Scream premieres Sunday, October 28, 8pm ET, on NBCUniversal's ChillerTV.