I’m not from North America but I like Halloween in general, or rather I like festivals. I get sucked into the atmosphere and appreciate how everyone suddenly becomes willing to do something they’d normally find appalling. You wouldn’t normally see people dressed in ridiculous outfits (except for comic conventions), or go to fancy dress parties and competitions (except for comic conventions), or have fun shocking or even scaring others (except for comic conventions). But I am especially fond of the set rules that everyone seems to agree on when it comes to Halloween stereotypes (yes, I’m approving of a stereotype. Try not to faint). They provide the common ground for everyone to recognise the same horror or caution and at the same time enjoy the experience without feeling true fear. The treat of halloween is obvious, but it’s the subtle tricks that I’m interested in. How everyone seems to agree that witches have pointy hats, or that ghosts really don’t have anything better to do than haunt (for example, why not tourism? If you’re a ghost, you can go anywhere! Or if you can’t travel for whatever plot-driven reason, at least pick up a nice hobby). But most of all, it’s how everyone has been tricked into pretending to fear something that really isn’t all that scary any longer.
As one of the great innovators of our time, I felt as though it were my duty to push the boundaries of Halloween and reintroduce fear back into the festival. Witches have been poisoned by Harry potter, vampires are apparently sexy now (damn you sparkly Edward Cullen), and everyone seems to think it’d be cool to survive in the zombie apocalypse (or that’s just a sign of underlying need for excessive violence in society. The inexplicable urge to cave your neighbours skull in, because ‘this is the world we live in now’). So every year, I tried to find ways to either mock the old rules in order to adapt them, or to find new frightening things.
‘Halloween’ is a film by John Carpenter which follows all of the old hollywood guidelines for horror films; the teenagers that get drunk or have sex are guaranteed to die first, the mild mannered heroine in spite of overwhelming odds is able to triumph through ingenuity or luck and the antagonist has little to no endearing qualities in order to appear as evil as possible. Throw in some tense hiding scenes, a pinch of context and a spoonful of blood and violence and you have yourself your very own typical horror film (as juicy as the fake syrup blood they splash on the actors). For those of you not familiar, ‘Halloween’ is about an escapee from the insane asylum who dons a white mask and wanders town on Halloween murdering people and chasing Jamie Lee Curtis around. In my first year of Sheffield we agreed to watch this together on Halloween and I had high hopes that, although most would enjoy the predictable guidelines, it would still manage to frighten those who were new to it. The lights were off, and all of huddled on the bed in front of the tv. Mon Mon beside me along with others, screeched at every tense moment and I thought that perhaps I had been successful. Until I got slapped hard in the face. Not deliberately of course. Mon Mon, as I discovered, tends to flail when surprised and I was left in the crosshairs of her involuntary violence. The bed was too crowded for me to edge away, leaving me with only one choice; assume the boxers guard position throughout the film. By the end, feeling bruised and with aching ears, I asked her triumphantly if she had found it frightening, assuming I already knew the answer. No she happily exclaimed; she’d already seen it before. Suddenly my bruises ached that little bit more.
In Yokohama everyone decided to dress up for the Halloween party. This was the perfect opportunity to reveal something new, something far more terrifying than their witches or vampires (it had nothing to do with laziness or my unwillingness to spend money on a costume). The result was very real and satisfyingly scary. I arrived in a suit, bow tie and a paper badge attached to my chest that I’d made myself; it read ‘Tax collector’ (terrifying right! I know you can appreciate it but please don’t be alarmed. It’s just a costume). Financial troubles cause most of our stress in life, so who worse than the man or woman responsible for taking your money from you? Someone who can send auditors to confiscate your belongings and reduce your standard of living. It’s a chilling idea isn’t it, imagining that at a mathematical whim you might not be able to afford that extra dohnut you’re munching on right now.The guys from Yokohama however couldn’t appreciate it as much as I did. Every conversation that evening began the same way; “Oh wow Poncho! You came as Dr Who! Can I be your assistant?”. I had 7 offers for an assistant but not a single frightened friend.
In Sapporo, the streets were packed with people in costumes but there was a definite trend among them. More than half were dressed Nintendo’s Mario and the other half were zombies (I’m not entirely which would be scarier if you met a small army of them. Sure zombies would eat you but, that’s a lot of very overly-happy Italian plumbers). Cede came dressed as a Van Gogh Sunflower painting which was creative, interesting and not the least bit scary. We walked through town judging who really pulled off Mario the best (definitely the guy who arrived in a go-cart) when I suddenly felt as though I were being watched. I turned around and saw them across the road; two pint sized zombies pushing their melted faces together in avid discussion. Maybe they were just envious that I had a face full of skin. I disregarded it and carried on down the main high street. Except every time I looked back, there they’d be. Always more than ten feet away but definitely following. When I considered why, my mind raced. Were they going to try and mug us? It was dark enough and it was only a matter of time before we reached somewhere with less people (although considering their size I knew we could take them. Unless one of them bit me in which case I’d become one of them the next day). Who could say what devious plot they had in store for us, but I wasn’t willing to wait to find out. Rounding on them, we demanded to know why they were following us. The two zombies looked at each other in fright before squeaking back ‘because you’re our teacher at school!’. It turns out it’s more difficult recognising your own students when the flesh is peeling off their faces.
But this was a revelation at last. I was surrounded by zombies and at no point did I consider any of them scary until two in plaid skirts and striped jackets started chasing me (goths can make most nervous even without the make-up). It felt like an accomplishment of sorts, being afraid on Halloween. For the longest time I wasn’t sure it were possible any more. This has given me hope that my quest is not in vain; fear can be renewed into the spirit of Halloween. All I need is a lot of make-up, possibly a crazy personality and creepily follow someone around. This year I will try to strike fear yet again and I have prepared a costume so terrifying that even the bravest among us will quiver at the sight of it. Something brash and smothered in glitter. Something known for being mad. Something waiting in the sky.