• author
    • Debra DeAngelo

    • October 28, 2013 in Columnists

    Fear is not fun

    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.

    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 three are disturbing and bloody, but somewhere between Hannibal Lector 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?


    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, but 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 October 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.



    • Halloween is my birthday so I enjoy it all. I am not into scary or haunted anything either, but I rejoice in all of it on one day of the year. I honor my birth.

      • Kelvin

      • October 28, 2013 at 10:44 am
      • Reply

      Some people are just not into it. I’ve always loved horror movies and I think people who go to haunted houses are no different than people who love rollercoasters, sky diving, BASE jumping, racing etc… Just a way to get that adrenaline pumping. The thing about it is if you listen, when people scream during a horror movie or a haunted house it’s usually followed by laughter. (Unless you’re Cathi. If I scare her, the next thing that happens is me trying to duck a frying pan.) Of course Halloween isn’t just about scary things. People dress in all kinds of creative costumes. But I understand some folks don’t like to be scared. I live with one so I understand you! 😉

    • Nice column! It really is a “to each his own” sort of thing. personally, I’m not into the slasher type films, but I do love a good scary movie that is frightening because of the plot. For me it’s wicked fun to be on edge for a couple of hours. But I can certainly see why someone wouldn’t want that. I’m fascinated that my daughter, one of the sweetest girls on earth just loves horror films. The more gruesome the better. I tell her that her motto should be, “I love unicorns and rainbows and watching people get cut into pieces!” To me, her dichotomy is funny as hell. We all find our horrors in different ways. My own personal horror is manufactured sweetness – like Disneyland. I can think of nothing more terrifying than having to be surrounded by thousands of people waiting hours in line to see a bunch of puppets talking and dancing in C major. That’s some scary shit.

      • Gary – Oh, well I can think of LOTS of other “horrors”…. Let’s begin with fundamentalist religion, of all kinds! Also, Miley Cyrus’s tongue, and anything on the Disney Channel, and that weird hillbilly duck show, and most American mainstream beer!

    • Debra, have I ever told you Halloween is my birthday as well? My take is we know deep down it’s a fantasy, our way of grasping for perspective on the real horrors of our day. The more we fantasize things are out of our control (a zombie apocalypse, for example), the more we retreat from that way of looking at the world, even though we clearly see the devaluation of humanity for profit making deep inroads (Cruz, Ryan, Paul, Kochs, Murdoch, and their celebrity spokespeople, anyone who works for Fox). Interestingly, there are no doubt people out there who view Obama, Moore, Maher in the same light.) Either way, it leads to a bunker mentality that continues to divide us rather than unite us. The zombies are making us turn on ourselves for the illusion of self-preservation. Check out “Walking Dead”. Season Three was about conniving against the living while the real threat was just a barricade away from devouring us.

      • The zombie craze is very, very interesting. What is it saying about us? Maybe we are the walking dead… walking the corporate treadmill for those in power? And yes… I remember that Halloween is your birthday! And yes… there is something about touching the things you fear most and running away screaming… some folks like that. Me, I would rather just run away and skip the screaming.

      • Jesse

      • October 28, 2013 at 11:43 pm
      • Reply

      Best Halloween ever: Backstage passes for Oingo Boingo! With that said, I loathe the scary stuff. Chocolate milk and Calaveras (sugar skull cookies) for me.

    • I’m not a fan of scary stuff and haunted houses on Halloween either. The one time I did go into one a high school girl in costume jumped out of the dark and yelled at me. I punched her in the face. I almost got arrested. It was just a reaction that I don’t want to repeat. Thanks for making me remember that. You have that effect on me.

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