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You can keep your haunted houses — I don’t think fear is fun

By From page A19 | October 27, 2013

I’ve never been a fan of haunted houses. Probably because I’ve never been a fan of fear. Fear’s right up there with pain — nope, not a fan. Unless there’s a bodice, thigh-high stilettos and a whip involved. But that’s another column, and probably not one that will run in The Enterprise.

What is it with the haunted houses? I’ve been inundated with press releases about them this year. KCRA morning news featured one of the “best” ones the other morning, complete with bloody, hacked-up zombies attacking from dark closets and a disturbing chamber of horrors filled with maimed and bloody dolls — and they were those dolls that already look creepy to begin with.

Of course, there was the obligatory haunted cemetery, with monsters and the undead crawling from fresh graves, and the proprietor grinned as he told the reporter how his staff just loves jumping out at visitors from dark corners and scaring them so badly that they soil their shorts and run screaming for their mommies.

And those are the daddies.

Seriously. I don’t get it. I’m lacking the gene that equates terror with fun. I’ve never liked horror movies, have always refused to watch them, and can’t wrap my brain around how anyone gets their jollies watching other people being tortured. Ironically, some of my favorite movies include “Silence of the Lambs,” “Terminator II” and both “Kill Bills.” All four are disturbing and bloody, but somewhere between Hannibal Lecter chewing someone’s face off and Freddy Krueger slashing his victims to shreds, there’s a line, and I can’t define it, exactly, but I ain’t crossing it.

Whether it’s movies or haunted houses, I just don’t enjoy being frightened or feeling afraid. I don’t enjoy shrieking and screaming. And to actively seek out that experience of terror? Not gonna happen —maybe because I spent much of my childhood feeling afraid. Revisiting fear makes about as much sense to me as a starving Somali child growing up and becoming anorexic.

My refusal to participate in recreational terror has come back around to bite me in the butt, however. Back in high school, I set off to the movies with a group of friends and when we got there, they all wanted to see “The Exorcist.” Oh hay-ull no. I absolutely, stubbornly, flatly refused. I told them I’d rather wait in the car for two hours than see Linda Blair go all Linda Blair on the screen, and they all sighed and grumbled, and we ultimately compromised on seeing “Looking For Mr. Goodbar.”

Anyone remember how that ends?

Yeah.

I still have the bite marks.

Over the years, it wasn’t hard for this scaredy-cat to avoid horror movies and haunted houses, but come October, there’s no avoiding the mass marketing of scary stuff. Monsters and skeletons and headstones are ubiquitous, but I could mitigate that by turning my attention to lots and lots of candy, and costumes that aren’t scary. I wasn’t about to reject Halloween, because, hey, fun is fun, and I’m all about the fun. Fun is the polar opposite of fear, and therefore a safe haven.

So, here we have a holiday completely devoted to fear, but the whole cheesy orange and black harem-scarem thing is decidedly American. (No, kids, they don’t have Halloween in other countries.) When I moved to Winters, I observed that everyone doesn’t do Halloween the way we do. When I first saw all the decorated, dancing Dia de los Muertos skeletons, I found it unnerving, because I’d been conditioned to believe that skeletons are scary.

OK, they kind of are, buy much less so with rubies in their eye sockets, wearing a Carmen Miranda headdress and playing a pink and purple banjo.

Several years back, I covered Dia de los Muertos at the local elementary school, and interviewed one of the children about what the holiday meant to him. He explained to me, quietly and lovingly, that the little diorama he was building was a tribute to his cousin that died, and showed me the little guitar the skeleton played, and the food he liked, and as I talked to more and more children a new way to look at death slowly began to emerge — rather than it being only equated with terror and avoidance, there was another angle: honoring the dead, celebrating their lives, taking this one day out of the year to remember them with bittersweet love and honor.

Wow. You can learn a lot from children.

Dia de los Muertos is sort of a bridge between mass-marketed American Halloween and the true beginnings of what is celebrated on Oct. 31: Samhain (pronounced “SOW-en” or “sah-WANE”). This is how your pagan ancestors (yes, you had pagan ancestors, because they existed long, long before there were Jews or Christians or Muslims) acknowledged this turn in the wheel of the year, believing it to be the time when the veil between our world and the everafter is thinnest, and therefore the best time to honor and communicate with the deceased, as well as all the ancestors you never knew. It’s a day when you stop to ponder yourself as one link in a chain of perpetual life and death stretching back to the first being that ever was. In a very weird way, it makes you feel connected.

Samhain is also the time of year when leaves and temperatures drop, and sunlight diminishes. In the world around you, it’s a time of letting go, of resting for a bit, with the knowledge and confidence that it’s not the end. Life, warmth and growth will return. But for now, it’s time to pull inward. Rest. Rejuvenate. Remember.

So, you could embrace this holiday and remember those loved ones who’ve passed, and what they meant in your life, and contemplate things that need to fall away from your life, like the autumn leaves, so you can make room for new things to spring forth and grow as the wheel turns, turns, turns…

Or you could go to a haunted house.

— Email Debra DeAngelo at [email protected]; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.ipinionsyndicate.com

Debra DeAngelo

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