BLAME A CHILDHOOD – and, ﬁne, I’ll be honest – a rabid ongoing obsession with Hocus Pocus, a love-hate relationship with all things creepy, and a compulsion to partake in fancy dress at any and all given moments, but my love of Halloween was always a bit of a foregone conclusion. Come on, who wouldn’t want to dress up in something obnoxious to eat chocolate while watching Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and SJP’s synchronised, on-stage warbling? If you ask me, that has all the makings of a wonderful evening. So wonderful, in fact, that I can perform the whole song a cappella if required, complete with sassy dance moves. Such is the power of watching the best Halloween movie ever made at least three times every October from the age of nine.
As you can probably tell, then, the run up to 31 October is one of the six to seven times a year that I become literally unbearable to be around. I decorate (fake spiderwebs, jack-o’-lanterns, the occasional severed hand in the downstairs loo), I cook (sweet pumpkin pie is v underrated if you want my opinion), and I spend approximately two months planning my costume in the manner of someone who has neither a full-time job nor any pressing commitments other than wigs. I once spent ﬁve weeks making an 18th-century Airﬁx model galleon with the sole purpose of afﬁxing it to the top of my foot-high Marie Antoinette hairdo. I’m talking personally handrolling each of the nine sails from off-white linen. It was so good that my 65-year-old dad still has it on display. His mates have just assumed he made it himself as some kind of old-man precursor to retirement.
So yes, in my world, fancy dress is a serious business. See above picture of me three Halloweens ago dressed as a zombie doll by way of Dia de los Muertos. That took dedication, let me tell you. Do you have any idea how much hairspray you need to make a Barbie stand upright in your barnet? Do you? When I woke up the next morning, I looked like a murdered unicorn. Six months later, I was still ﬁnding crystals in the fridge. But I would 100 percent rather put myself through it all than rock up to a Halloween party dressed as anything as pedestrian as a sexy cat. In a world of Mean Girls’ “I’m a mouse, duh!”, always be a Lindsay Lohan.
Aside from the Insta-joy of dressing up, though, why is it that Halloween has just continued to get bigger and badder every year? I refuse to believe it’s solely for sordid commercial purposes, where pumpkins and Catherine Wheels and tinsel just merge into one big, grotesque decoarmageddon in the run-up to the festive season. Something that, incidentally, the bowels of the internet have just spewed out with the advent of the Halloween Christmas tree. Google the Frankensteiny joy that is #halloweentree and tell me this isn’t the greatest time to be alive, eh?
No, I’d like to think its popularity is because there are ever-more thrill-seekers in our midst these days, all looking for an escape from the ordinary. Decking the halls with plastic tombstones might well be part of Halloween’s burgeoning, goodtime appeal, but what about the mysterious, electric energy in the air? Not necessarily anything otherworldly – more of a tingly feeling that anything could happen. A controlled bit of adrenaline in a safe space – like a roller coaster, or a scary movie. The fear of the unknown and a wee bit of ﬂirting with the dark side. No harm in that, right?
“Some people have a need to expose themselves to sensations that are different from the routine,” psychologist Glen Sparks explains. “We often derive gratiﬁcation because the experience is different, and because we’ve made it through something scary.”
Within reason, mind, Glen. I’m still very much traumatised from an assignment I got given at a mag I worked for years ago. We were producing a fear-themed issue for Halloween and I was asked to watch The Amityville Horror, alone, in the dark, while strapped to an ECG machine. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the pads stuck to my body kept popping off, so I had to watch it laying down, completely still and unable to move. When I presented the psychologist I interviewed afterwards with my results, she viewed my heart-rate graphs with considerable amusement. “You see this bit here?” she said, pointing to where the markings had shot off the page, “That’s the same activity as if you’d been having a heart attack.” “Hocus Pocus would never have done that to me,” I thought.
Image: Olivia's own