Wednesday 26 June 2019

Witches are old hat! The trick today is to be scary – but in a non-threatening way

The undead: Zombies are meant to be scary
The undead: Zombies are meant to be scary

David Robbins

My daughter is dressing up as a plain, common-or-garden vampire. Dead brides are also popular among her friends, as are zombies, werewolves and scary schoolgirls.

The word from 3rd class is that witches are old hat – too cute, it seems, when you're all of eight years old. Monsters and skeletons are also out. They're almost as loveable as puppy dogs, apparently.

Like most of her peers, she wants to look scary on Halloween night, but in a non-threatening way. It's a post-modern, ironic take on the netherworld. It's a Rocky Horror Show version of fright night: funny rather than truly terrifying.

Last year, she went as Frankenstein's Daughter, with painted-on neck bolts. It wasn't a success. "Nobody knew what I was," she complained. You've got to have instant recognition to get maximum swag.

Where we live, it's not just the kids who dress up. A grown-up will open the door in full mummy outfit, her Andrex 'bandages' flapping in the breeze.

The kids take this in their stride. Nothing seems to frighten them any more. The Scooby Doo movies have taught them that ghosts and spooks are all the work of some lame-brain criminal behind a curtain.

My daughter will cry when someone is voted off Strictly Come Dancing, or when one of her favourites is axed from The Great British Bake-Off, but she laughs in the face of trolls, orcs and other creatures of the night.

Halloween has been demystified, wrapped in fake spider's web and "Keep Out" tape. "Trick or treat?" they cry now, not the old "Apples or nuts?" of my day. I try to explain that "trick or treating" is an American import, a cynical appropriation of an ancient tradition by commercial interests.

I tell her that Americans spend $6bn every year on Halloween outfits and treats. Only at Christmas do they spend more. "It's become a Hallmark holiday," I say, warming to my theme.

Vampires, I add, and zombies and mummies are supposed to be frightening. They're from the supernatural world. They are not just dead, they are undead. They're from a place that we can't understand, where the normal laws of nature are suspended.

It's dark there, and evil, a place where, on this one night, graves open up and the dead walk abroad once more, where owls hoot and bats fly and beasts without names come forth into the streets.

Halloween is supposed to be scary, I add, not cute and cuddly. When I was your age, I tell her, the old Bela Lugosi vampire movies used to scare the living daylights out of me. I hid behind the sofa and refused to go up to bed on my own. For some reason, the invisible-in-the-mirror thing I found especially terrifying.

Furthermore, parents didn't get involved in Halloween back then. They didn't buy you a costume or host a themed party or stick on a tail and horns to open the door. Pumpkin lanterns were unknown.

It was a kids' thing. We got our own masks and collected wood for our own bonfire. All our parents did was keep a bowl of peanuts and small, sour apples by the door to give out to the little brats who called.

Sometimes, word would go round that Johnny from number 37 had bangers. A frisson would pulse through the group. Johnny would open his coat to reveal three cigarette-sized fireworks.

Now, I said, we have organised fireworks, and your French cousin is coming over because they don't do Halloween in France. "Everything's been Disneyfied," I cry. "Even the netherworld has been globalised!"

My daughter waits for the rant to be over. She mutters something about "the olden days", which is her phrase for anything that predates her arrival into the world and is therefore irrelevant.

"There's no way I'm going to ring on someone's door and say 'any apples or nuts?'," she says.

"Why not? It was good enough for me."

"Duh! Because I want them to give me chocolate!" @dpmrobbins

Irish Independent

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