By Emmy Serviss / Boston
As a child, I was scared of the dark, spiders and zombies.
As an adult, I’m scared of the dark, spiders and paying out of pocket for my health insurance.
But in my worst nightmares, I never imagined there could be anything as terrifying as a global pandemic. Especially a global pandemic that cancels Halloween.
2020 was a tough year for so many reasons. But cancelling Halloween on top of the six months of boredom, isolation and depression….well, that was just pouring salt in the wound. I tried to keep the Halloween spirit as best I could. I split up my decorations so I could make both my Somerville, Mass. apartment AND my ex-boyfriend’s apartment spooky and festive. I hosted an online murder mystery party, complete with creepy characters and costumes. I subscribed to Shudder and watched countless horror movies.
But it just wasn’t the same.
Halloween isn’t Halloween without the social aspect. Kids can’t go trick-or-treating, teenagers can’t makeout in their parents’ cars and adults can’t host extravagant costume parties. I always LOVED putting together creative Halloween costumes from thrift store finds (no bagged costumes for THIS ghoul!) and I usually had at least two costumes prepared. But last year, I could barely find the motivation to throw together a half-assed tie-dyed costume.
It was a testament to how much the pandemic had affected me, since anyone who knows me know that I AM THE SPOOKY ONE. Seriously, that’s what they call me. I have no idea when it started, or why I’m drawn to the macabre. But as far back as I can remember, I’ve loved Halloween and all things scary.
My earliest Halloween memory is making a “scary” haunted-house audio tape with my mom and brother on a cassette recorder. We groaned like ghosts, howled like werewolves, screamed like banshees, and described the SCARIEST things we could imagine! We also discussed our favorite candy. (I remember specifically mentioning Fiji Fruits, which no one ever remembers but I swear this candy existed.)
My brother’s birthday is a week after Halloween, and for his fifth, sixth and seventh birthdays, I convinced him to have a Halloween themed birthday party. By the time he turned eight, I was no longer able to influence his birthday theme, and he had a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles party. Which was fine, I GUESS.
When I was about 10 years old, I was hanging out at a friend’s house and they were watching the remake of Night of the Living Dead. I don’t remember how much of the movie I watched, but I do remember trying to leave her house CASUALLY as I pretended I wasn’t terrified during my subsequent 10-minute walk home during broad daylight.
The scene of zombies devouring human flesh steered me clear of eating chicken for a whole week. I even signed a contract that my mom drew up, stating I would never watch horror movies again. We filed it away in the freezer, although I have no idea why, or what happened to the contract later. I assume it got freezer burn and became null and void. A few months later I was watching episodes of The Twilight Zone and having nightmares about Talking Tina. Even when the scary things were a little TOO scary, I just couldn’t stay away!
One of my favorite games to play was “Haunted House.” My brother, friends and I would gather all of the Halloween decorations we could find and then stage a haunted house in the basement. It was a lot scarier when we had an unfinished basement. It lost its effectiveness when our parents finally finished drywalling, put in overhead lights and installed wall-to-wall carpeting. But that didn’t stop me from trying!
As I got older, my love of Halloween and scary things only intensified. I took over decorating for the holiday because my mom’s decorations of choice were too cutesy for my liking. I wanted fewer smiling jack-o’-lanterns and more pumpkins stabbed with real knives and pouring fake blood. Since my budget was limited to a babysitter’s income, I opted to make my own cardboard graveyard instead of paying $10 per headstone.
I artfully crafted cobwebs across the bushes and hung each fake spider and bat with care. (Placement is VERY important when decorating.) Fake bodies were positioned along the path to my front door, complete with a plastic pumpkin spilling out candy all over the ground. The candy attracted REAL ants to swarm all over the fake corpse, which I thought was the creepiest and coolest thing ever! Future treat-or-treaters would be warned of their fate.
Soon, my house became THE Halloween house.
The only downside to being THE Halloween house is that the neighborhood kids would come en masse, hang out on my lawn and mess with my decorations. One year they stole my killer clown mask, and I mourned that loss for weeks.
Years rolled by and eventually I grew out of my Halloween obsession…
Bahahahahahhaha, just kidding. I’m still totally obsessed with Halloween.
For two years while I lived in Portland, Ore., I got to volunteer at the local haunted house: Fright Town. Professional makeup artists made me up to look like a sophisticated ghoul, scary clown or gruesome zombie, depending on the night. I gleefully made grown adults scream like children, made teenagers fall on the floor in terror and made children pee their pants.. (Just kidding, it was only the adults that peed their pants.)
While I may be too old to go trick-or-treating, my new favorite Halloween activity is to put on a scary movie and make trick-or-treat bags. I may not own my own place, but my landlord lets me decorate the front yard to a reasonable degree. (No dead bodies or fake blood…YET!)
And the best part about Halloween as an adult? WAY bigger budget!
Granted, the downside to the upside of having an adult budget, is that I also have the awareness that I probably shouldn’t spend $350 on an animatronic zombie for the porch. I mean, TECHNICALLY I can afford it. But it wouldn’t be financially prudent. Sure, it’s good to splurge every once in a while, but an animatronic zombie isn’t really the kind of purchase that you can use year-round. And where would I keep it for the other 11 months?
Wait, I’ve gotten off track.
Where was I?
Halloween may come but once a year, but on the other 364 days, the spooks, scares and horrors are alive and well in my cold, dead heart.
(And also on Shudder.)
Emmy Serviss is a Boston-based writer, actor and video editor. Once it is safe to return to live theater, you can find her performing with ComedySportz Boston and the sketch group SUZZY. When not on the stage, Emmy enjoys indulging in her new pandemic hobbies, laughing way too loudly and counting the days until Halloween.