Haunted masks, horror movies, Halloween, and me

Art by Karl So

I spent the first decade or so of my life harboring complicated feelings about the day I was born.

Every October, booths teeming with all kinds of plastic goriness — masks, pumpkins, skeletons, the works — would magically appear, like clockwork, at bookstores and toy stores, my favorite places as a child. It would be an understatement to say that I did not like them, for reasons that have become less clear over the years. (I think it had to do with some jerk pulling a prank and scaring me to the point of trauma in the bookstore when I was little.)

This fear, however irrational, was debilitating. I didn’t even need to see any of the more frightening costumes; one sight of a witch hat or sparkly fairy wings, and I would be kicking and screaming, pleading to turn around. My late grandfather brought home a werewolf mask once; he’d been so excited to show it to me, and I could only respond with a shriek that would’ve made Jamie Lee Curtis proud.

For a good few years, the phrase “Halloween mask” was my boogeyman, so much so that it became part of my identity. And there was no bigger irony for someone whose birthday falls on October 31st.

Strangely, all the loathing and apathy I felt towards All Hallows’ Eve did not make me immune to the compulsive, intriguing pull of horror movies.  

Like the origins of my distaste for Halloween paraphernalia, I find it difficult to pinpoint exactly how I became a horror fan. My checkout history in my elementary school library consisted heavily of Goosebumps books, and I never missed an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark. When I was 12 or 13, however, this interest evolved into a deep fascination. Fear has always gone hand in hand with curiosity, after all.

I reveled in it: the kitschy charm of B-movies, the creativity of slashers as the body count soared, the mind-screw of psychological thrillers. Horror movies proved to be a form of art that, due to the genre’s formulaic nature, could be difficult to truly pull off. There was the reliable omnipresence of tropes, and the plot twists that attempted to subvert them. A horror film could be tragic, mysterious, cheesy, magical, even intelligent — but no matter how it ends, you always know where you stand as a viewer. That kind of predictability appealed to me; it was almost reassuring.

 

I was in college when I realized I had outgrown my childhood fear. I would be wandering near the makeshift Halloween sections of stores and malls, and instead of feeling my throat close up and the panic rise, I’d find myself admiring how campy and well-made the decorations and costumes were.

 

I was in college when I realized I had outgrown my childhood fear. I would be wandering near the makeshift Halloween sections of stores and malls, and instead of feeling my throat close up and the panic rise, I’d find myself admiring how campy and well-made the decorations and costumes were. They would remind me of practical effects from my favorite movies, and I’d think to myself, Yeah, I’m a child of Halloween, all right. I had never realized it before, but this celebration is about more than just trick-or-treating and jack-o-lanterns — it’s about bravery, imagination, and being your own person. And that sounded like, well, me to me.

For the first time, surrounded by fake fangs and devil’s horns, I was right at home.

I’ve started to embrace my birthright, so to speak. I spent so many years dreading my birthday when I should’ve been out there, taking on fantastic new identities, gorging myself on candy, and holding scary movie marathons. Let’s just say I’m making up for lost time.

And my grandfather’s werewolf mask is tucked away, somewhere in our house — a funny, poignant reminder of how much things have changed, and how much they’ve stayed the same.

Tags:
#culture #movies #self

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