Halloween 2020: a comfortable 55 degrees, partly cloudy, and best of all, on a Saturday. I mean, really, could you think of more perfect conditions for trick-or-treating and big costume parties?
It feels a little spiteful, doesn’t it? Last year was 22 degrees and I had work in the morning. What gives?
Hopefully everyone has thought of a fun, safe and appropriately spooky way to celebrate the holiday. If you’re just going to stay home this Saturday, here are a few recommendations for marking Halloween.
Reading: “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
I thought better of recommending this story in the early days of lockdown, but I no longer think better of most things.
“The Yellow Wallpaper,” published in 1892, follows a woman whose physician husband prescribes a “rest cure” after she exhibits a “temporary nervous depression.” Confined to a single room and forbidden from any work or excitement, she turns to the languid, putrid and uncanny yellow wallpaper that decorates the room. She traces its tangled design of “endless convolutions,” and before long becomes convinced that there’s a woman trapped inside the wallpaper, crawling on all fours around the room, trying to escape.
Gilman’s story is deeply unsettling, partly for its visceral horror elements, but primarily for its extremely real depiction of developing madness and its unflinching criticism of the treatment of women at the end of the 19th century, particularly with regards to mental and physical health.
All the best horror has something to say, and “The Yellow Wallpaper” is all about society’s horrors.
Viewing: “Theatre of Blood” (a.k.a. “Much Ado About Murder,” which I think we can all agree is a better title)
“The Yellow Wallpaper” is pretty heavy reading, so if you need some lighter Halloween viewing as a palate cleanser, you can do no better than some premium Vincent Price.
In “Much Ado About Murder,” Vincent Price stars as a Shakespearean actor whose career is ruined by some particular vitriolic reviews from London’s premier critics’ circle. After faking his death, he beings picking off his critics one by one, staging each murder after Shakespeare’s most iconic death scenes.
Hammy, clever, humorous and featuring Price having what looks like the most fun ever, “Much Ado About Murder” can only really, honestly, accurately be described as a perfect film.
I’ve made no secret in the past of my undying and unabashed adoration for Vincent Price. I accept that some people may not share my feelings for him, but those people are objectively incorrect.
Listening: “The War of the Worlds” by Orson Welles (and/or the Wood River High School Drama Department)
What better way to get in the mood for a Halloween indoors? In 1938, before TV, American families gathered around their radios for an hour of such terrifying drama that reportedly caused widespread panic.
Orson Welles’ now-infamous “War of the Worlds” radio play casts Welles and several other performers as reporters and experts responding to a Martian invasion. Their performances are so haunting and dedicated that some listeners didn’t realize the whole thing was fiction.
Even today, “The War of the Worlds” sends chills down the spine. Since the internet is a vast thing, you can listen to the whole broadcast for free now on YouTube and elsewhere.
However, if that doesn’t quite feel right to you and you want to recapture the experience of gathering around the radio for an hour of terror, students from the Wood River High School drama department will be performing “The War of the Worlds” on local radio stations STAR 107.5 FM (8 p.m. and 10 p.m.) and KDPI 88.5 FM (9 p.m. and 11 p.m.) on Halloween night. What could be better?
For the Kids: Halloween Scavenger Hunt
Ever since I was small(er), I have loved scavenger hunts. Hide stuff around the house or the yard or around town for me, leave me a series of clues, each one more fiendish than the last, and I just can’t resist.
I see this as potentially a very good alternative to trick-or-treating this year (or any year when it’s snowy and terrible). Think of it as a Halloween version of an Easter egg hunt. Get the kids dressed up in their costumes and hide candy and treats and some of those tiny pumpkins around the house.
A little light Halloween home decorating and some spooky music can help make this even more fun.
Then, of course, there’s an art to crafting a good clue. I personally think all clues should rhyme, but diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks, as they say. A perfect clue can’t be too difficult (don’t put the whole thing in a scrambled version of a language I don’t speak like my brother did one year), but it can’t be too easy, either. A few seconds of dedicated deciphering is a must. And if the kids are dressed as particular characters, maybe craft them to fit the costume. Be the Riddler to a young Batman.
Most importantly—and this is crucial—have a happy Halloween.