A’ Haunting We Shall Go
Touring the shrines of the season
by Mark Burns
The last time I wore a costume was seven years ago. For a spelling bee. In May.
This only comes to mind as my girlfriend prepares for a trip to Pittsburgh later this month. She’s been invited to a costume party during her visit and is mining for ideas better than dyeing her curly locks green and claiming broccoli again. Inspiration is quick. Having recently taken her to see the Charm City Roller Girls, I suggest the roller derby skater. It’s genius, I insist: both fun and anecdotally contextual. She can dress like a punk tart and get a T-shirt emblazoned with her derby name. Rock on.
Becca sees where this is heading, and her eyes roll up into the scornful stare.
“Badonka-Bonk. You should go as Badonka-Bonk. It would be awesome.”
In the silence, I find opportunity for reflection. It’s ironic, I realize, that I’m pressuring her to choose my brilliant idea even though I have no intention of dressing up myself. In fact, when is the last time I did buy anything for Halloween other than candy?
I used to own that holiday. As a kid, my late October birthday made for some great costume parties, like the time Mom painted up all my elementary school friends as Smurfs. (The parents were quite shocked.) On Halloween, Avenue B was paved in candy; we could practically roll down the hill and pick ourselves up with gobs of chocolate, caramel and nougat glommed all over our costume polyester. After fishing the Smarties out of my ears, we’d ride over to Grammy’s. She would fatten my bag to bursting with Rice Krispie treats, doughnuts and Hershey’s miniatures. Days later I’d wake from a sugar coma wondering how, exactly, I ended up back in class. And still dressed as a skeleton? Oh, bother.
The memory, or what’s left of it, ekes a sneaking smile, and I long to revive some of that glowstick zest. But how? Flipping through Bay Weekly, I find my answer.
In middle school I visited a haunted house, a mild little number put on by the local DARE program. All I remember is exiting onto the grand scare, a room filled with artifacts and displays trumpeting the dangers of drugs. A sheriff’s deputy stood sentry, agitated by a few teenagers actively missing the point in their assessment of the marijuana display.
This is not a very exciting Halloween memory. I must take my first trip through a proper haunted house to put myself in the spirit of the holiday.
So Becca and I are off to Bennett’s Curse, a haunted attraction set up in a vacant lot near Arundel Mills. Aiming my car toward the spotlights, I anticipate Army of Darkness in the flesh with the attraction’s promise of vampires and dark curses overlapping medieval castellans.
Reality is two large, black tents and long, wending lines. Plunking $20 apiece for tickets, we line up for House of the Vampyres, the tent fronted by an inflatable castle façade. Inside, we wander a dark maze peppered with grisly scenes and spooky knights tucked into dim corners, all figures seemingly ready to pounce. Occasionally one does, and we hear the screams of affected travelers even as ghoulish stalkers approach us from behind. A pitch-dark maze winds us into the clutches of monsters who menace us with the wet snarl of Garrr! That way.
We’re chased out of one tent and wander to the next, the Sanctuary of Insanity. Past a gargoylish construction we find ourselves in a foggy maze bounded by panels of vertical steel bars. Groaning and laughing figures in black roam the strobe-lit confusion; a hand reaches through the bars behind me and gently strokes my back. Now I feel like fresh meat entering the prison system on rave night. This isn’t scary; it’s just creepy.
Beyond the bars and fog, the maze becomes a confusion of total blackness, with occasional flashes of light from our stalker guides. We stumble out into the night under chase once more. From there it’s directly to the car where we nurse fog-and-strobe headaches and try to forget about our $20.
Maybe this wasn’t the trick, but I feel a flicker of eagerness for more. Another, better haunted house or trail would be fun, and I see by my paper there are plenty. Perhaps I will get that Extreme Pumpkins book and do some gnarly carving. And the costume? Well, I think I’ll be content to refrain for now. Which reminds me …
“Well, I can’t do it without roller skates,” Becca says, after another nudge.
I think that’s progress.
Becca is the progress in the life of former Bay Weekly intern and staffer Mark Burns, who continues as part of our movie-reviewing team.