Halloween Haunts: Halloween Then and Now and in the New Now
by Kate Maruyama
We do enjoy Christmas, but the most wonderful time of the year for my family is the Halloween season. When we first moved to the neighborhood, my husband and I would rent a pile of scary movies, and hand out Halloween candy (as well as eat our share of it).
Then we had kids. Every season (they’d have to wait ‘til October 1st!) we’d decorate the house, make decorations, fabric ghosts one year, a haunted candy tree another. We’d start making treats, planning costumes (always homemade,) and we’d make a gingerbread Halloween house. This may sound like a crafty homemaker pursuit, but the truth is, while I like making things, I’m not a straight edges perfection type person, so any gingerbread house I make comes out looking like a shack. Why not celebrate it? I’d have the kids help me through the process, from making the sticky dough to, the best part, decorating with frosting and candy. It always came out looking murderously awful and totally adorable. The day after Halloween, we’d destroy it and eat the remains.
Every year we’d hold a pumpkin carving party on the Sunday closest to Halloween night, and finally we’d spend Halloween at our friend Miguel Rosales and Valerie Riddel’s house, where we help hand out candy to hundreds of children. Their front yard is its own marvelous ever-expanding Halloween haunt. Built over years with the help of friends, the house features a graveyard, a giant spiderweb my kids help spin every year, twelve jack o’lanterns we help carve, a giant flaming pumpkin, and a huge variety of creatures and animatronics. A few years back, my husband added a 3D animation he created that projects ghosts, giant peering, dripping eyeballs, and centipedes in the attic of Miguel’s house, making it look like the wall has been smashed open to expose the wooden beams of the attic, where all this activity takes place.
When my book Harrowgate was published, Miguel bought a creepy decaying mother and baby in a rocking chair to represent my characters Sarah and Tim in their haunt. Animatronic Sarah gives a speech to her baby about growing up and how proud she is of him. It totally freaks me out and thrills me, as it completely captures the spirit of the book. Our kids have grown up together going to this Halloween, helping with the setup, helping with shifts giving out the candy, and trick or treating for pillowcases full of treats because our neighborhood is, quite simply, that awesome.
But this is the year we will stay home, because while crowds of children hollering “Trick or Treat!” as an animatronic Death unfurls his wings and roars something sinister is fun, losing friends to a deadly super-contagious virus is not. We are lucky as our kids are now in college and won’t be as wrecked by this change as younger kids are. We will likely have our friends over for a distant, masked pumpkin carving. But for Halloween night, it’s time to go back to our original tradition; rent a stack of movies, buy some candy (we’re not handing it out, but dude, what’s Halloween without candy?) and settle in at home. My husband will likely make candy corn popcorn. It’s a perfect mix of salty corn with chunks of candy corn bits thrown in, only slightly melted to stick.
We love the classics. Last year we watched The Invisible Man starring Claude Rains which is quite hilarious if you haven’t seen it. We watched The Wolfman with Lon Chaney Jr. and The Ring which is a favorite. This year, we will likely pick a classic we haven’t seen in a while, and we are totally looking forward to Jordan Peele’s Antebellum. I’m not entirely sure we can hold off until Halloween for that one.
What will you be watching this year? If you’re more the type to curl up with a good book on Halloween night, I had the crap scared out of me by a few books so far this year. I highly recommend Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic, which should be considered an instant classic. It takes the classic gothic spooky house story and breathes into it, opens it up and it ends up being about so much more. Stephen Graham Jones’s The Only Good Indians managed to freak me out and horrify me, and yet had me crying in its last pages. And Elizabeth Hand’s Curious Toys is a wonderful tale of 1915 Chicago, with an adolescent kid who grew up in a sideshow stumbling into a series of murders; the story draws you in, pulls you through and wrecks you in all the best ways at the end.
Happy Halloween! I hope you enjoy it, whatever way you choose to celebrate this year.
“Strangely moving and movingly strange, Harrowgate is the world’s creepiest answer to ‘How’s the wife and kid?’” — Daniel Handler, Why We Broke Up, A Series of Unfortunate Events
Kate Maruyama’s novel, Harrowgate was published by 47North and her novella, Family Solstice will be out from Omnium Gatherum this January 2021. Her short work has appeared in journals in print and online, including the November/December issue of Asimov’s as well as in in numerous anthologies including Winter Horror Days, Halloween Carnival Three, and Phantasma: Stories. She is on the Diverse Works inclusion committee for the HWA, has been a jury chair for the Stoker Awards and twice a juror for the Shirley Jackson Awards. She writes, teaches, cooks, and eats in Los Angeles where she lives with her family.
You can read an excerpt from her upcoming novella, Family Solstice here: