Despite the stubbornly uncooperative weather, Spooky Season is upon us!
I love Halloween. I always have, even back in my very young days when I was only allowed to dress up in costumes like “cow” and “puppy for sale” and the notion of a witch was still deeply terrifying to my family. Things have changed a lot since then, but my love of Halloween has only intensified.
As I kick off spooky season, and as a way to help me organize my own plans, I thought it would be fun to share my favorite Halloween season traditions!
Obviously, watching seasonally appropriate movies, from family Halloween classics like Hocus Pocus to musical melodramas like Sweeney Todd to the many varied films in the horror genre, is a big part of my yearly observance. I like to watch horror all year round, but I ramp up both the frequency and the intensity of my viewings during this time.
One good way to jump start the season is to watch what is technically a miniseries, but it’s almost perfectly movie-length. Over the Garden Wall aired on Cartoon Network originally in 2014. It features ten charming animated episodes of about twelve minutes each, starring Elijah Wood, Collin Dean, and Melanie Lynskey in the main roles, with support from Christopher Lloyd, John Cleese, and Tim Curry. And it is a perfect balance of whimsical fun and atmospheric horror (I think it’s surprisingly scary for a children’s show, but not quite to the extent of FernGully or The Black Cauldron). I usually watch it toward the beginning of the season, and then often wind up watching it again with friends. My dear friend Andy was the first to show Over the Garden Wall to me, and I’ll be grateful forever. I, in turn, have shown several friends, and not one person hasn’t then become strangely evangelical about this weird and relatively little-known miniseries.
When possible, I like to leave plenty of evenings and weekends free to marathon scary movies. I love turning the lights down and watching a new spooky movie…even when it’s quite disappointing (lookin’ at you, I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House). I even have a bit of a Twitter tradition of playing a game during the month of October. A few years ago it was Top Five lists, and more recently it’s a sort of flash review that I call Five Thoughts On… You may be pleased to learn that I’ll be continuing with that fun game this year, and have already Tweeted my thoughts on White Noise, Return of the Living Dead, Child’s Play, and Beetlejuice (you can, of course, follow me @amyreadsstuff, should you be so inclined).
I’m a little behind this year (I blame dissertation stress), but I’m working on a watch list for at least the last two weeks of the month (which I’ll probably share–why not?). It’s sure to include some classics, my personal faves, and some new (or new to me) flicks.
I also like to fill some other free time watching spooky TV shows. We usually watch a short episode of something during our lunch break (the perks of working from home!) so we’ve managed to fit quite a lot into the last couple of months. We’ve just started yet another watch-through of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (not only my favorite spooky show, but my all-time favorite show), after pretty much abandoning an attempt to watch through Supernatural (we gave up in the middle of season 6).
This year, we are all blessed with a new season of What We Do in the Shadows. I’m not quite loving this new season as much as the previous two (which if you haven’t seen I honestly don’t know what you’re doing wasting your time reading my blog instead of getting caught up. It’s on Hulu, and it’s great–whether or not you’ve seen the original mockumentary starring, and created by, Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement). But even so, it’s a spookish good time, especially if you’re into gallows humor.
Also early in the season (sometimes during my first annual viewing of Over the Garden Wall), I decorate our apartment. I sometimes do this as early as the first week in August, and I could not possibly care less about any misguided objections to this practice. This year it was a little later, but still, where I write from the 6th of October, we’ve already enjoyed several weeks of delightful spooky decorations.
I spent a brief period of time working at Michaels, the craft store, in undergrad, and during that time, I became pretty hooked on their yearly fall and Halloween collections of home décor. So I usually add a couple of pieces to my personal collection every year. Some of my favorites include skeletons doing ordinary things, like holding yoga poses or lounging on a sofa with a book. I also bought my partner, Russell, a little man-eating plant in the style of Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors.
Sometimes I don’t get around to carving pumpkins. We did last year, when some friends from grad school travelled to spend the weekend with us. But even when it doesn’t happen, we always have a giant Jack-O-Lantern…but he’s full of candy instead of candles, and he’ll never rot (almost literally never, since he’s made of plastic). This definitely leads to the acquisition of inadvisable amounts of candy every year, but then again, we usually have plenty of opportunities to share it!
Speaking of food, even though this is not a recipe blog, I do have a bit of a reputation for throwing badass Halloween parties, featuring some delicious snacks and drinks, if I do say so myself.
I don’t drink alcohol anymore, but in the past I’ve been successful in coming up with some fun themed cocktails, and I have somehow found myself known for my sangria (at Halloween I make Poison Peach sangria with peaches, dark cherries, and pinot noir). At my last party, I served a drink I called a Dr. Jekyll (Mountain Dew and vodka), which the addition of an ice cube, dyed black and flavored with cherry, turned into a Mr. Hyde. And a few years ago I bought a giant multi pack of 1/3oz plastic syringes, which I now fill with grenadine as a mix-in to a vodka with sprite or ginger ale. I call this drink a Nurse Shirley (a boozy Shirley Temple with a nod to One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest). This year, I’ll give a nonalcoholic version of some of these a try!
The easiest (and therefore most satisfying) pumpkin bars are just a spice cake mix and a can of pumpkin, baked according to box instructions and frosted with cream cheese frosting.
And my favorite Spooky Season snack mix consists of pretzels, peanut MnMs, Honeycomb cereal, Bugles, and candy corn. I’m sure I originally saw it on Pinterest at some point, and I call it Monster Mash mix.
While I’m not generally a big fan of apples (it’s a texture thing), I do love to go apple picking. Especially if the weather is right–chilly, overcast, maybe just a bit foggy–there’s not much that puts me more in the fall mood than wandering around an apple orchard with the promise of a hot cup of cider and a donut at the end of the day. I especially love when the orchard includes a gift shop that sells cute or even kitschy hand towels and decorative bowls, jars of preserves, and fall-themed knick-knacks.
I haven’t been to a corn maze in a long time, but I do quite like them! Then again, I saw an episode of a crime drama where one of the decorative skeletons in a corn maze turned out to be a real murdered corpse…and then I read a news article about an actor, dressed and made up as a zombie, who was actually murdered in the corn maze where he worked. I don’t know, the magic is a little lost for me after that.
I love the idea of a haunted house, but I don’t like being surprised, and I really don’t like not being able to see. Those places are usually so dark, and they rely on sudden loud noises and bright lights, which just don’t mix with my particular sensory issues. So instead, I stick with horror movies and other people’s reviews of the admittedly high-rated haunted houses in our area.
In undergrad, the music department at my school put on a kind of piecemeal pastiche, which included minimal spoken dialogue but several solo and small ensemble performances of show tunes, at the end of every October. We called the show “Howl-o-Ween.” My sophomore year, we did a zombie theme (featuring “I’m Not Afraid of Anything” from Songs from a New World, “Take Me As I Am” from Jekyll and Hyde, “The Dark I Know Well” from Spring Awakening, and “A Home for You” from Bat Boy: the Musical). A classmate taught me how to use liquid latex and tissue paper to simulate wounds, and then he and I were in charge of creating the zombie bites and scratches for the whole show. I had so much fun that I went home and, through the magic of YouTube (namely Mykie of GlamAndGore), taught myself the basics of SFX makeup. Since then, I’ve taken every opportunity possible to incorporate fun SFX into my costumes.
Sometimes, I have to tone it down a bit when I’ve got to go to class in my costume. In undergrad, I once did my SFX look, but just omitted the fake blood that really sold the look (to avoid dripping all over the place–this was before I discovered the higher quality stuff that actually dries). Other times I would take a “Disneybounding” approach to creating a costume, and I’d skip the special effects, at least for class.
A couple of years ago, Russell dressed as Nathan Drake from the Uncharted games, and I went as Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider series. We decided that they would need to be pretty roughed up, but not in any specific way. The coolest part is that we each still have the shirts we wore–all the fake blood and grime came out in the wash! (and before you ask why my bangs look so fucked up in these images, yes, I did cut them myself ten minutes before the party started).
And before that, we dressed as Mrs. Lovett and the demon barber himself from Sweeney Todd, both before and after their respective demises. I did burn makeup for myself, and I made a cut-throat “prosthetic” from scratch for Russell. And, of course, I couldn’t resist a photo referencing one of the show’s iconic lines: “poppin’ pussies into pies!”
This year, I have two different costumes planned, one each for two different functions, and while neither one really includes anything in the way of SFX, I’m very excited to dress up and get up to some spooky hijinks again this year!
I think that’s enough excited rambling for one post. I’m looking forward to more fun spooky activities–and more reflection–as the month progresses.
Thanks for reading, and above all, happy Halloween!