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Halloween has long been one of my favorite holidays. I will admit to having a thing for horror movies, one of the few things my wife and I don’t share. I love even bad horror movies, although I quite prefer good ones. I content myself to watching almost all of them on DVD after Da Queen is asleep, although once in a blue moon she’ll see a trailer for a horror movie that catches her eye and she is willing to go see – The Wolfman starring Benicio del Toro is one of those. She tends to prefer those that are so fantastic they couldn’t possibly happen in real life. She hates slasher films with a passion.

Horror makes for catharsis and allows us a safe means of facing our fears. It is not for everybody, of course. Some people are truly sensitive and horror movies can induce excruciating nightmares for weeks afterwards (my sister is one of those people). There are also people who have survived real-life horrors that can be brought back to mind by the suggestion of them in a horror movie. Rape survivors, for example, might become uncomfortable with a nubile female ingénue getting attacked by a lecherous serial killer or tentacled monster.

There is also a heavy sexual element to horror. Sex can be a truly fear-inducing subject, particularly among adolescents. It has been said by wiser folk than I that screams of passion aren’t that different from screams of fear; you certainly can have a hard time telling them apart from time to time.

I tend to like supernatural horror movies, but I’m happy with a good monster movie as well. Like my wife, I’m less fond of slasher movies but when done well, I can appreciate them too.

 Of late vampire movies have become popular, particularly with teens and pre-teens and even more particularly with girls. Responsible for this surge is the Twilight series of books and movies. Essentially more of a teen romance than true horror, these take a plucky teenaged heroine and give her the kind of soul-stirring, heart-rending doomed romance that appeals to the drama genes all teenagers have within them, particularly in the female gender. Most die-hard horror fans look down on the Twilight movies and I will admit to not having seen any of them, although I expect I will at some point. I will certainly cheerfully admit that there is a place for them and that even if they aren’t necessarily for me, I can’t argue that they have meaning to millions of people. That shouldn’t be discounted out of hand.

Of course, horror movies aren’t the only thing I love about Halloween. I’m fascinated by the costume choices people make. Halloween gives us the opportunity to reveal parts of our psyche we might not ordinarily allow free reign, so that the prim and proper schoolteacher might be dressed as a slutty vampire, or the heroic fireman might party down as Darth Vader. That’s not to say we can’t read too much into a costume; I know from my own personal experience that often a costume choice is made by financial and time constraints as well as by what’s available at the time. If I had my way I’d probably dress up as a super-hero, a gladiator or Tarzan; however, I don’t really have the physique to pull any of them off properly.

That’s all right though. Being something or someone we are not is a kind of catharsis as well. It allows us to express our sexuality, exercise our devilish side, hide our true faces behind masks and display our creativity. Years ago at a costume party at the late lamented Cabaret in San Jose, I asked a waitress who was dressed up in a very revealing vampire costume why she had chosen it; I had always thought her to be a bit more conservative than the other waitresses as she was a bit older, married and a mom to boot. Her answer surprised me a little bit. “Halloween allows me to be who I am inside instead of who I have to be the rest of the year.”

I like that answer. For most of the year we play the roles we are given; wife, mother, breadwinner, respected member of the community, student, whatever it might be. There are parts of ourselves that we may not be able to express because we choose to accept these roles we play, but the truth is that the sum of our parts is not always equal to the whole. We are almost always much more than who we appear to be and Halloween affords us the opportunity to display those sides of ourselves that otherwise remain submerged. Someone who must remain competent and professional gets to allow their sexuality to attract attention, and someone who is older gets to be young again. We can do all this without shame because, after all, it’s an aspect of who we are.

So I’m ready for the trick-or-treaters to come to my door. I’ve got a couple of scary movies picked out to watch (Da Queen usually allows me to watch them on Halloween, so I try to pick movies that she can tolerate). Bring on the goblins, the cowboys, the naughty nurses and French maids. Scare me if you can vampires, ghosts, zombies and monsters. Let’s get cathartic, shall we?


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