Tuesday, April 17, 2018

You Thought I Was Madness (Maniac Mansion)

A House, Haunted.
When I was a kid, I used to go out Trick or Treating with my brother and my mom (my dad tended to be out for business trips for most of the year, but he’d always be home for Christmas [with one exception, but I don’t hold it against him]). While the whole family didn’t go out in costume, my brother and I always did. One year I was Superman and he was Batman, another we were Ghostface (from a film series I hadn’t seen a single entry of until way into High School. I had seen the first Scary Movie film, which was eh. I wasn’t much into horror films outside of George A. Romero, but I since grown an appreciation of Wes Craven, though more due to New Nightmare than anything else. The Scream films [of which, I’ve only seen the first and fourth] are pretty good, though Craven and horror have done better). Another year, he was a generic alien and I was the Hook Handed Man from A Series of Unfortunate Events in a medical robe (a book series I have yet to finish, to the point where it defines my relationship with them). I always had a blast those years.

When we went Trick or Treating, we’d stick mainly to the houses that were close to ours (hence why I never went with my friends, who all lived in another part of town). I think the furthest I went was to my friend Patrick’s house, though mostly to hang out and watch scary movies (I remember one year, we did a double feature of Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, but we screwed up the tapes and accidentally watched the shitty version of Night where they changed the soundtrack and added a few unnecessary scenes. It wasn’t until last October that I saw Night in its original format), but that’s still less than a quarter mile away from my house.

The main thing I remember from my years Trick or Treating was the house down Elizabeth Lane. For those of you who don’t live in Riverside, Elizabeth is a dead end street angled on a hill. The road was shaped almost like a thermometer: a straight line and a circle at the end. The house itself was larger than most of the other houses in the area: a three-story house when the rest were only one (mine was another exception as we have a two-story house [though we’re not the only ones]. Though to be fair, my grandfather did rebuild the house when my parents first found out they were pregnant with my brother, Patrick, to add that second floor, so it’s not like we bought the house that way [sorry, I have this inexplicable tendency to defend my class status for no good reason. Guilt, maybe, I’m getting off topic]). I didn’t know the people who lived in that house. I never hung out with their children, even on the few occasions I played on Elizabeth (mostly tossing a football around Andy, my neighbor, and his cousins. I spent most of my time shooting hoops with Andy at his basketball hoop outside his house). Looking back, I don’t think they even had children.

Every Halloween, the family that lived in that house would make their house into a DIY haunted house. It wasn’t up to professional quality; they simply had a fog machine and a few makeshift walls (amongst other Halloween decorations like gravestones and cobwebs) to create a small maze for the kids to go through before we’d get the candy. Some years, the maze would start out outside of the house while others it would go back and forth between in and outdoors. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t even that good of a maze. It only had one path. If you’re going to give your audience the implication of multiple possibilities, you should definitely deliver.

Still, I had a lot of fun at that house. The ambience and aesthetic of the makeshift haunted house frightened me to the point where one year (I think I was seven or eight), I actually ran out of the house before I got to the candy because I was so frightened. I forget what I was dressed up as; I might have been the Hook Handed Man, though I’m pretty sure I was in black. I don’t think I was wearing a mask, since I could touch the tears slightly dripping down my cheeks. It was one of the few years my dad was home for Halloween (I think he was in between gigs). I was terrified of what I saw in the house, though now I realize that it was probably nothing more than a few dark lights and some well-placed sound effects.

When my dad saw me come out of that house, he didn’t quite comfort me. He was there for me, certainly. But he didn’t say “Their, their. It’s all right” or anything like that. I forget what he actually said; this wasn’t one of my formative memories of my father (or even my formative Halloween memory, that would be him taking me to see a double feature at the Avon [a local theatre that mostly shows art house and independent films like The Shape of Water and Moonlight. They used to do a weekly cult classic night were they’d show off various old movies like The Evil Dead or A Clockwork Orange, though they paired it down to once a month due to lack of popularity, mores the pity] on a school night of Return of the Living Dead and a surprise second feature, which turned out to be Day of the Dead [at the time, I considered it the sole Romero zombie film I hadn’t seen. I have since rectified that belief as I realized soon after watching it that I had never actually seen Night of the Living Dead]. I won a poster of a female zombie you could do target practice on from a trivia contest they were holding during intermission). It wasn’t even one of the more important ones. The core of the experience for me was running scared out of the house. Maybe he said something along the lines of “There’s nothing to be afraid of in there” or “I’ll come in there with you if you want,” though I can’t remember which exactly, if either.

What I do remember is that whatever my dad said emboldened me to go back in alone. It was a dark, unfamiliar house. Next to the bathroom was a painting of a lovely couple that, if looked at in the right angle, deformed into a pair of smiling corpses. There was the kitchen where the candy was, in a bowl with a moving hand. And the rooms were all a shade of deep sea blue. I put my candy into my sleeping bag (or was it a pumpkin that year? No, it was definitely a sleeping bag, I remember emptying it out in the dining room along with my brother’s haul and splitting it up “evenly” amongst ourselves) and left to find my brother and father waiting for me.

Two years later, the family moved to somewhere else. The people who moved into their house had no desire to keep up the tradition of haunted houses or giving out candy. After one more year, I stopped Trick or Treating all together. I didn’t stop dressing up for Halloween, as the middle and high schools I went to did an annual Halloween party (one year, I dressed up as V from V for Vendetta [the comic not the film, which I like quite a bit at the time and I feel I should revisit it at some point. I had really gotten into the comic since reading it during a break in-between class, along with Habibi, the works of Stephen King and Terry Pratchett, and a Harry Potter fan fiction where his life is manipulated by the Endless {as opposed to the normal fan fiction where he becomes a new atheist and saves the world via rationality} {I actually stayed up until 2 AM reading that fan fic and while it doesn’t hold up to that first read, I still think there are a few good ideas in there}]. Thinking about it now, it was probably more of an excuse to get myself a Guy Fawkes mask than anything else).

Nowadays, fewer kids are Trick or Treating, though I can only judge from last year’s Halloween since I spent the past four years at college (I did a double feature of Land of the Dead [my first and favorite Romero, and ties up a lot of his themes of utopianism, class struggle, and horror quite nicely in a story about how rubbish George W. Bush is] and Texas Chainsaw Massacre [which is not as good as its sequel and is quite frankly a bit too mean, even given its subject matter of slaughtering hapless young adults for the lols]). But it felt like there was a decrease from the last time I’d given kids candy. I could speculate as to why this is: fear of the world around us, less people having kids in the area, Halloween not being a national holiday.

But I think there’s something else to it: it was a very warm October. It didn’t feel like fall. Now, I love the feeling of fall. The cool breeze in the air, the way the sun glistens that perfect orange at sunset, the sounds of leaves waltzing in the wind. There’s something about the feeling of fall that feels so much like Halloween. Maybe it’s because so many things start to wither and die that it can’t help but evoke the dread of the season. Maybe it’s because I have a weird brain that feels extra ennui when this time of year comes that I can’t help but think of where things are going to go from here. How everything is going to fall apart at the seams, and it’s going to somehow all be my fault (ok, maybe I don’t love that part, but I still have a fondness for the things that surround it and trigger that response despite it all). But there was none of that this year (well, except for that last part, though I’m not completely sure as to why that is). The fall was stalled until the middle of November due to an inexplicably extended summer and the winter refused to compensate for it. It went by so fast we didn’t know it was there.

Maybe there’s something about this feeling of fall that attracts people to go out to strangers houses and ask, for no reason whatsoever, for some candy. I mean it was probably because it was a school night that this happened, but there was just something missing from the air that Halloween evening that just made the whole proceedings feel somewhat lacking. Certainly I had fun watching scary movies and all (though not as much as I wish I had, considering I spent most of the day caring for my sick brother, who could only lie down and passively watch Stranger Things [which {given his “all modern, mainstream, American films are garbage, except for the ones made by James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez” tastes in cinema and his utter disdain for modern television series that aren’t Twin Peaks, Game of Thrones, South Park, or Fuller House} he rather surprisingly liked quite a bit. I still haven’t watched it, though the Invisibles references do give me more motivation than other shows I watch. Maybe when I’ve actually finished The Invisibles]. We were supposed to watch Texas Chainsaw Massacre together, but he was too sick, so I watched the VHS tape by myself), but that Halloween still felt like it was missing something. I wish there were more kids out there, dressed up in costumes from shows I’m too old to watch. Maybe they needed their own haunted house to have mixed up memories from.

(Next Time: Capitalism!)

[Photo: Ghostlight Part One Directed by Alan Wareing Written by Marc Platt]

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