Halloween – once relegated (in modern America anyway) to a night with a few kids wandering around in bedsheets trying to score popcorn balls and chocolate from their neighbors – has been upgraded to a bona fide holiday with entire sections of retail stores given over to hanging ghouls and blinking plastic jack-o-lanterns.
Even the venerable Martha Stewart has joined the madness, classing everything up by insisting on spelling the holiday as “Hallowe’en” and transforming the set of her talk show into a haunted house with herself as the centerpiece, dressed as a witch of course (get it?).
I admit to hating the holiday, even if doing so means I must actively override my Martha-as-middle-class-tastemaker automatic setting, but nevertheless, I find that I have my own October rituals that pay homage to the idea of soothing the very human fear of the dark by co-opting it.
My husband and I usually watch an early Alfred Hitchcock film such as The 39 Steps. Just about my speed in the suspense department.
And then I indulge in a marathon of the show Ghost Hunters. I am on my own with this one – my husband detests the show and claims that he would rather poke his eyes out than sit through another long hour in which the Ghost Hunters find exactly nothing. I don’t take him at his word of course, but maybe I should.
Ghost Hunters is fascinating to me for several reasons, not least of which is the interiors of all those houses, inns, prisons and former civil war morgues the GH team bumbles through with their infrared full body spectrum cameras, and their EMF detectors and their little penlights, which they ask the ghosts to turn off and on for them. This year I’ve done my own version of classing up Hallowe’en by watching GHI – Ghost Hunters International.
The ghosts themselves rarely speak English – how very ethnocentric of them – which makes deciphering any captured audio even more challenging for the Ghost Hunters team. And it has the added detraction of frustrating the viewer at an even greater level than watching the original Ghost Hunters show does. American spirits are hard enough to understand, with their garbled communications that sound faintly like versions of “help” or “get out” – if one presses one’s ear very close to the television or computer speakers and tries very hard to suspend disbelief (admittedly, such suspension is not too hard for me).
Actually, I mostly watch Ghost Hunters International – a spin-off of the original New England-based show – for one reason: Barry, Ghost Hunter International’s Tech Manager & Charming Irishman.
Barry wanders through creepy castles and cliff-top fortresses as though on his way to the copier from his cubicle with a stack of quarterly reports – all in a day’s work. But then his voice drops to a near-whisper and he decides to engage the entity in whatever way inspiration strikes. My favorite so far is when he told the ghost of a little girl that he was going to take her one of toys away — toys present-day tourists had left as gifts to her — in an effort to get her to ante up.
As far as the interiors themselves go, based on my previous study of the paranormal as it pertains to hours and hours of Scooby-Doo episodes, I had always rashly assumed that spirits preferred the picturesque. Of course when one sees an abandoned castle, or monastery, or mine shaft (or any subterranean space for that matter) one’s mind immediately turns to those who occupied the world before us. But it ain’t necessarily so. To my surprise, what I’ve learned in watching the show is that many of the most haunted dwellings are as boringly dry-walled and generic as any pre-fab home.
Apparently, there are a lot of factors when it comes to what attracts the Other, and not all of them are of the highest quality. As far as the show is concerned, I confess that it is far more disturbing to hear tales of apparitions manifesting against a backdrop of laminate counter tops from Home Depot and ghostly booted feet stomping across a peel-and-stick tile floor than it is to see the team making their way through yet another castle, which of course is so clearly haunted that trying to document it seems redundant. What keeps me indulging in my October ritual of watching the show are the more pedestrian aspects of what constitutes a modern haunting.
That, and Barry.
So: a very begrudging Happy Hallowe’en. May your own interiors – whether they be picturesque or mundane – be free of unwanted visitors.