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Halloween Hell – an American obsession goes global


“If you don’t give me your candy, I’m going to bloody your nose!” menaced the big kid who had chased me down and tackled me onto a driveway.

“Here, take it, I don’t want it, I don’t want it,” I whimpered miserably, adrenaline on overtime, phlegm and tears dripping like candlewax down my Pumpkinhead face. I quickly handed over my pillowcase jampacked with Hershey’s, Sweet Tarts, Razzles, Doublemint Gum, Milk Duds, Candy Corns, icky insect-flavored Chunkys, and odious Pomona “Apples” (probably hiding razor blades).

Was this happening because my posse insisted on going out in ungentrifying Plainfield, New Jersey (once a suburban spa town for wealthy New Yorkers and later a site for race riots in the 1960s), without chaperones. Or maybe it was because I always dumped the entire bowls of candies with signs saying “Please Take One” into my bag. I no longer felt fun in my latex Jack O’Lantern mask–ordered from Forrest J. Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine–which was also absconded with.

Secretly I suspected this had something to do with revenge for our neighborhood gang decorating trees with TP and egging historic Victorians on “Mischief Night”–which is a little bit bigger in New Jersey, home of The New Jersey Devils (both the hockey team and the unsubstantiated beast), than elsewhere in the country.

Welcome to the scary-scary-scary world of Halloween!

Inexplicably one of America’s favorite holidays, Halloween, I thought, as I grew older and avoided the “Mard Gras”-like madness of binge drinking and costume parties that always ended up as punchouts or anonymous trysts, was best left to the hoi polloi. Yet I decided anyway to become a kind of paranormal paparazzo and root out the evil origins of my least favorite calendar day: October 31.

Based upon the Celtic holiday of “Samhain” (pronounced “Sow-In”), wherein pagan druids would light bonfires for “sacrifices” (animals and otherwise) and wear “costumes” (animals and otherwise) to drive away nasty poltergeists, it was generally believed that upon this oldest of dread eldritch holidays the dead could return to the earth. Also influenced by the Catholic “All Saints’ Day” and “All Souls’ Day,” what we really have here is the historical continuation of the ungodly Roman festival of “Feralia,” brought to the British Isles and Ireland by the Roman Conquest of 43 AD.

Recently checking my DVD collection for something spooky, I noticed that I did not own the lame slasher flick “Halloween” (a genre that ruined horror films for everyone) but did have a copy of Tim Burton’s wonderful fantasy “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

I suddenly grew nostalgic for the days of “Creature Features” and “Chiller Theater,” which held us spellbound with a six-fingered hand emerging from a pool of blood. Give me Vincent Price over Chuckie any day!

Universal Pictures. Hammer Films. John Carpenter. Wes Craven. Now, who in the hay is Rob Zombie?

Ah, here we go: “THE HILLS HAVE EYES!”

Or maybe “HORROR HOTEL”? Which was an amazingly young-looking Christopher Lee’s first film.

Forget “THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE”!

But maybe, just maybe, insert the disc for “NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.”

If you dare. . . .

With a name derived from “All Hallows Eve,” Halloween was brought to America by European immigrants unwilling to give up the old ways—or, to be blunt about it, witchcraft! But most significantly, Irish settlers, fleeing the Potato Famine of 1846, remade an ancient pagan festival, also known as “Candlemass Eve,” into an enduring American tradition, which over time has watered down into something vaguely Midwestern and even a little vanilla.

Why do we all say “Trick or Treat!”? What if the victims of our door-to-door collaborations ask for a trick? Dunno. Even an exhaustive search on Ask Jeeves delivered no sane explanation of the childhood taunt. Just remember to take along your Dutch clog tapping shoes in case things get serious.

Though I’ve long since thrown away most of my horror memorabilia (I was an “enfant terrible” at the Monster Conventions in Manhattan), I did keep and catalogue all my Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella mags, judging that they would be worth something someday—a false hope dashed by deflationary prices on Ebay.

In other words, Halloween is for weenies.

Indeed, I crank up the radio dial, and the demonic deejays play The October Project’s “Bury My Lovely,” as I flip through a book on the Salem Witch Trials in preparation for an upcoming trip to what is also Nathaniel Hawthorne’s hometown in the Massachusettes Bay Colony, still on the books as a British “Commonwealth” as well as a Revolutionary “State.”

Anyway, calm the eff down! Get this! It is now officially past the years 2000 and 2010, and the world didn’t end at all both times. Even though Y2K wrecked all of our computer files and made us all apocalyptic paranoids, we can safely say that the Final Battle Between Good and Evil—or “Armageddon,” peradventure—obviously ended up, er, as a tie?

Anyway, in high school right before college–back when I was in a garage band with Page McConnell, now the keyboardist for PHISH–I also played with a dynamic demonic group called STP (The Stone Temple Pilots) who offered me the job of bassist, which I refused. Anyway, I helped write “PLUSH” (the opening chords), voted The Best Song of the 20th Century by Rolling Stone Magazine. Which is the perfect soundtrack for those of you looking for something this year with a little more umph and force majeure. . . .

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