To an alien species visiting Earth for the first time, Halloween must resemble a kind of sexy war. People and monsters stumble through the streets, slick with blood, knives plunged through their heads, while erotic nurses bounce between divisions, doing a terrible job of triage. Not even the children are spared. In fact, they are frenzied participants, screaming through the shadows with flaming bags of shit or hustling between cobwebbed houses carrying severed limbs and sacks of teeth-rotting courage all night long, or at least until curfew. At the end of it all, everyone either passes out from overstimulation or has sex with a stranger; those are the only two options.
Our forensics swap will be as mediocre as our costume choices!
Halloween is a celebration of reckless indulgence, honoring the dead by living really hard for one night. And while that sounds completely awesome, the bully in me sees other people using it as an opportunity to shed their awkward selves and become superheroes, seductive vampires or Heath Ledger Jokers for a few hours, and my immediate impulse is to ruin it. I'm not fooled. I know that this is just one big live-action role-playing game for nerds that the rest of us were tricked into playing. Well, bad news, dweebs; consider this column the shitty popcorn ball in your bag of candy. With any luck, it will spoil your favorite holiday just a little bit.
Candyman, Bloody Mary, Freddy Krueger and all the dead people in The Sixth Sense have one thing in common: They're stuck in the same mortally wounded state for eternity. They stay sopping wet after drowning and keep a shrunken head after a head shrinking, presumably forever. In fact, this particular type of ghost doesn't just maintain the exact same corporeal form; it also keeps the same bloodstained, dirty clothes as well.
Maybe you already know where this is headed.
That's a crucial detail to remember, given that one of the more unpleasant side effects of death is involuntary defecation. Violent death in particular has a way of squeezing it out of people. If all of these murder victims soiled themselves right as they were dying, that doesn't bode well for their afterlife. It means a good percentage of the most terrifying ghosts in folklore are actually roaming the Earth with perpetual poopy pants.
So let's try an experiment: Imagine the Headless Horseman galloping toward you on the back of a lathered horse, cracking his whip made of a human spine. Now, imagine he's got a big dump working its way around inside his wool pants. Sort of undercuts the horror, doesn't it? Plus, the logistics of riding horseback suggest that all that jostling has probably resulted in a lot of smearing and funneling down into his boots over hundreds of years.
So when you're planning your Halloween costume this year, and you're really trying to nail the specificity of the ghost you're going as, remember that all the eerie looks you've been practicing in the mirror and all the fake blood you're planning to soak yourself in can't make up for the fact that the most authentic thing you can do is poop yourself.
As a child, your parents likely dug through all your Halloween candy before you could eat it and threw away anything without a wrapper. If you complained as they tossed out perfectly good caramel apples, the reasoning was always the same: Someone might have booby-trapped it with a razor blade.
Now that you are an adult with adult faculties, take a minute to really process that logic. Aside from the clumsy way that someone would have to go about cramming a razor inside an apple (blade out), those hypothetical children haters would be making a terrible decision by operating out of their own houses. They aren't handing caramel apples to kids in some alley; they're doing it from their own front door. It's pretty easy even for a 5-year-old to keep track of which house has the cat skeletons in the yard and hands out homemade sweets.
It's the place that screams sometimes.
"But Soren," you're probably saying (except in that "Why so serious?" voice you've been working on), "surely if those stories are just myths then that's good news for Halloween." Well, not so fast. There are still a few instances of kids biting into dangerous objects like pins and poison in their Halloween candy. It does happen, but rarely. The really terrible news, however, is that in nearly every documented case of candy tampering, it was a family member who did it. Like Ronald O'Bryan, who laced his son's Pixy Stix with cyanide in 1974. Or in 1970, when 5-year-old Kevin Toston died after eating his uncle's heroin, then Kevin's parents sprinkled heroin on his Halloween candy to save the uncle from a prison sentence. In each of the cases that incited the whole Halloween candy scare, the Halloween candy was just fine until the kids brought it home.
It turns out that allowing your parents to determine which candy is safe and which is deadly has proven to be more dangerous, historically, than never letting them touch it at all.
Without the pretense of danger, a haunted house won't work. The threat has to feel real, even though every precaution is taken to ensure that the customers aren't actually hurt. But even though the actors are trained not to knock people down or accidentally cut anyone open with chainsaws, the patrons walking through the haunted house have no training at all, and a part of their brain thinks that they're about to die.
The nature of haunted houses is to taunt the instincts of strangers, gambling on flight instead of fight. And while most of us respond to mortal terror by screaming and cowering, there are some people who surprise even themselves by responding with fists. In a real-world scenario, these people could be heroes, but in a haunted house, it's decidedly less brave when they punch in the teeth of a 16-year-old girl in face paint. Customers don't just punch, either -- they elbow, kick and sometimes even bite the staff who startle them, losing all sense of logic and momentarily fighting for their lives.
"I'm learning so many terrible truths about myself right now!"
Even stranger, it's not always just an impulsive response to danger. In some cases, the customers are genuinely angry for being startled and decide that the person responsible deserves to be hurt. In an interview with the Huffington Post, a man who trains actors specifically for haunted house performances said, "I know one actress who scared a guy and he forced his way through a back door so he could hit her in the face." To be clear, that man paid to be scared, got what he paid for and was so mad about it that he went out of his way to hit somebody in the hopes that it might make him feel better. That's like walking out of a horror film and kneeing the ticket vendor in the gut because the movie was so good.
It sort of steals the fun of a haunted house knowing that it might be the only place where the saying "They're more scared of you than you are of them" might actually be true.
If you live in the United States, you may have noticed that in 2007, daylight saving time changed slightly. Instead of ending in the last week of October, it now ends in the first week of November. The decision was made by Congress as part of the Energy Policy Act, a bill that was presented as a way to conserve energy, giving everyone an extra hour of daylight in the afternoons. Never mind the fact that every study conducted on saving energy this way suggested that the change would have absolutely no benefit, and might even result in more energy consumption.
Well, it turns out that the date change had little to do with saving energy and almost everything to do with Halloween. Though it sounds like the scheme of a supervillain, at some point candy companies figured out that the best way to sell more sweets each year wasn't to give everything a gooey center, or to invent new flavors, or even to change their marketing campaigns in any way: It was to control time.
No one was pushing harder to extend daylight saving time through Halloween than the candy industry, because it meant effectively making Halloween longer for trick-or-treaters. While a little extra light for collecting candy may not seem that substantial to you, for an industry that makes over $2 billion each year on the holiday alone, it can result in a small fortune.
So while everyone complains that Valentine's Day and Christmas are corporate-controlled holidays designed to cram merchandise down the throats of everyone silly enough to play along, at least those industries never bullied Congress into adding an extra hour just to sell more shit.
Remember that when you celebrate Halloween this year. Regardless of what you or your children decide to dress up as, we're all technically going as slaves to the candy industry. Enjoy your extra hour.
"Here, please enjoy this metaphor."
For more from Soren, check out 4 Tips for Fixing Up Your New Home (That's Clearly Haunted) and The 5 Dumbest Supernatural Questions Ever Googled (Answered).