Happy Continuation of October, Everyone!
Hope you all are having fun with your ghosts. I love my ghosts. They create such a booo-tiful experience.
My last post was about gathering all my stray ghosts into one basket. These would be the ghosts of inspirations past; the things that fostered my love for the horror genre. Throughout the piece, I reiterated the complications involved in such a gathering. I couldn’t and cannot remember the first horror movie I saw. I couldn’t and cannot recall my very first encounter with the spookies! But I did my best to highlight the influences television and film had on me. As it turns out, some of those ghosts escaped my gathering efforts – slippery bastards! By restricting myself to horror-on-the-screen, I totally missed the off-screen influences that turned me into such a “horrific guy.” (relax, just some healthy self-deprecating humor). I was remiss.
Thank you Smidgy, my dear sister, for reminding me! And I will retread these spooky avenues of my life; these roads that I neglected.
Haunts and Spooky Props
In the previous article, I mentioned that I found scary-themed stories and images on the big and small screen fascinating rather than frightening. What really scared me were the various objects of horror outside the screen. This would include scary masks and the people that wore them in an effort to scare me. They succeeded in their efforts. Also included were scary noises such as ghostly moans. Now, where might one find these kinds of things all in one place? Why, they are found in haunted house attractions, or “haunts” as they are often called! When I was a wee lad, these places scared me so. But I was coaxed into them, dashing through the groans, nerves in a fray, through the house I go, screaming all the way – AAH AAH AHH AHH! Yeah Yeah, I know, I mentioned all this in the previous article. What I failed to mention (or if I mentioned it, I didn’t stress it enough), was the pride I felt AFTER experiencing such a nightmare. I was a survivor. The things in the haunt that scared me so were no longer in front of my face. They were stored safely in my mind as memories. And they were not the memories of nightmare, either. I relished reliving the experience, reminding the adult who took me through the haunt of the terrifying experience which had resurfaced as a fun experience. “Daddy, remember when our car passed by that vampire with the sharp teeth and outstretched arms? (okay, I probably didn’t know the word “outstretched” then, but just go with it!) “Smidgy, remember when that coffin opened and there was a creak and a hand popped out!”
See, when I had control of haunting visuals, when the threat of surprise and the dark notion of the unknown were removed from the equation, I loved the scenes of horror and the props that brought these scenes to “life.” I loved the Halloween decorations my Mom would put up every year. Black cats and skeletons hung on the walls. A light-up plastic ghost holding a pumpkin stood on our table. Every year my Dad would carve pumpkins, one with a Casper face and the other with a mean face. Lit up, they were placed outside above our front door. But what was most fun were the “props” that I could handle, play with. My favorite was a plastic skull connected to a black stick/handle below its jaw. It had pebbles inside its head and it was made for shaking. I guess it was supposed to resemble a skull prop in some Voodoo ceremony. I also had plenty of masks, slimy spiders and bats, and other ghoulish things.
(*Side Note – In them there days, we bought most of our Halloween stuff and a store called Tom Naples on North Avenue. They had a pumpkin patch and sold other produce. They also had plenty of Halloween props. Down the street on North Avenue was the yearly carnival with Amlings Haunted House. North Avenue near 1st Avenue was the place to be during Halloween season!*)
DIY Haunted Houses
One day, my sister Smidgy suggested the we could make our own haunted house.
“REALLY?!?!” I was so excited. I survived Amlings Haunted House. Now the tables would be turned. No longer would I be the haunted. I would be the haunter.
I wanted to know when this could happen.
“Oh, we can do it today,” Smidgy said.
Today?? Did I hear right? Not only was I going to be a haunter, but I was going to be a haunter immediately! What more could a kid want? Instant gratification.
We got to work. Using a tape recorder, we recorded spooky sounds onto a tape. We took over the top floor of our house, which consisted of two bedrooms, a hallway, a bathroom and two closets. In the bedrooms we hung props galore! I remember a bloody doll hanging from the ceiling.
The “victims” of our house would be the other family members. I was the guide. I led them up the stairs and into the hall. Smidgy hid in the closed-door bathroom. Across from the bathroom was a closet. Inside the closet was a stuffed animal snake attached to a rope. Smidgy held the rope’s end from inside the bathroom. I opened the closet door for our victims when all of a sudden, the snake would spring free! Scary!
I then led the victims into one bedroom, closed the door, while Smidgy sneaked out of the bathroom and into the second bedroom. The victims were “scared” when seeing the scary display. I then led them to the second bedroom, where Smidgy hid in a closet, holding a rope that was tied to a small rocking chair that held a doll. She pulled the rope and…wow…look! The chair seemed to be rocking all by itself! How ghostly!
Another time my Dad made a haunted house with me. He took my favorite skull and created a body for Mr. Shaky Skullhead. Mr. Shaky Skullhead wore a hood and my Dad hung him in the closet with an eerie light shining on him. Once again I was to guide the victims into the den of the spookies! I took them into the dark bedroom where my Dad stood in the shadows holding a rope that was tied to the closet doorknob. He would pull the rope and “AAAAAAAHHHH!” – there was the spooky skeleton!
After these experiences, I wanted to make haunted houses all the time. It didn’t need to be Halloween season. I made them year-round. I made them with friends, dragging my poor Grandma around while we hid in toy boxes and jumped out of closets. She pretended to be scared. She was a good sport. We tired the same thing with Blanche, a neighbor lady who babysat me and prevented me from being a young latchkey kid (until I became a latchkey kid at the age of twelve). She…well, instead of walking into the room and following the cue of “Oooo, it’s so spooky in here,” she would utter, “What are you doing messing up your fadder’s room?” When she finally “cooperated” she said something like, “That’s a neat trick”. Oh Blanche, it wasn’t a trick, it was a haunted house!
As a teen, I made a haunted house in our basement with my young nephews. We would scare their school friends. I spent and entire Saturday hanging sheets from the ceiling to create passageways. My buddy was trying to egg me on to go with him some place. “Can’t. I’m making this haunted house”. He be like, “WTF? Danny this is stupid!” It wasn’t stupid, it was fun. I had the props, I had the scare actors (my nephews!). The victims came over, ran as fast as they could through the haunted house, and it was all over in the span of one minute. Oh well, like I said, it was fun.
Many many many years later, I worked as a scare actor in a haunted house. Me an old man compared to my ghoulish peers (mostly teens). Minimum wage, but what the hell, I just wanted to finally, for once in my life, be a “legitimate” ghoul in a “real” haunted house.
So, my experiences frequenting haunted houses and making my own were a huge contributor to my love for the horror genre. I needed to set the record straight. I had to catch those stubborn ghosts that refused to be packed into my basket.
Are there any other stray ghosts? Probably, one can never gather all of life’s influencers. I’ll keep a look out for the possibility of others. In the meant time, I say, “Happy Haunting to you all!”