Every October for the past decade I have told myself that I would watch a Halloween or Horror movie a day for the month of October. This isn’t a particularly novel idea but as a lifelong Halloween lover I do feel a wee bit embarrassed about how many of the contemporary classics I haven’t seen, let alone the fact I haven’t ever completed this aforementioned goal. So, in classic writerly tradition, I’ll set forth a goal that (while about as likely as ever to succeed) I can hold myself vaguely accountable for by having put it down in text online.
I’ll admit it now, I rarely ever read comments on what I write because of current levels of interpersonal anxiety. I’d love recommendations, bonus points if it’s easily available, triple points if it’s already on my list, and brownie points for all the leading ladies of horror.
Have I Mentioned How Much I Love Bob’s Burgers?
I’ve been re-watching seasons 1-5 of Bob’s Burgers on Netflix as my steady background music lately and so its Halloween episodes were already at the top of my list. Nothing is criticism free but since I started watching it, its commitment to creating a new Simpsons-esque family and cast both in terms of talent and growing diversity quickly made it a favorite of mine. I relate to the awkward children, I relate to the awkward adults, and I never feel that the show is mocking me for doing so. The creative writer in me associates each Halloween episode with personal anecdotes, so look forward to that, and I appreciate that the show writers can evoke those emotions that are at once intimate and universal. It’s what we kinda aim to do, especially we who are poets.
List of Costumes
Bob: Fat Suit
Louise: Bunny Hat Edward Scissorhands (featuring duct and electrical tape, belts, and scissors… definitely not spoons)
Tina: Mummy Mommy aka Toilet Paper Roll
Gene: Queen Latifah during her U.N.I.T.Y. phase aka Africa
These are my favorite costumes. Linda’s mermaid costume is recognizable from what I’ve seen people wear before and the kids, well, the kids are all amazing. I’ll say that now and it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise because can we talk about Gene? I’ll admit to immediately recognizing Gene’s costume, I’m that brand of hipster geek who has clear memories of eavesdrop-listening to it from some of the older girls during elementary school recess on the blacktop. That’s not just it though, this isn’t the first time we see Gene identify as/with a girl it won’t be the last and incredibly he is never mocked for his choice. In fact, Gene’s challenges to gender norms are even complimented. When the children go to the rich neighborhood the rich kids recognize the costume with the same hipster grace as I do and so I get to laugh at myself also.
There’s also the fact that the show is all about class difference and changed perspectives. The children get the eponymous full sized candy bars which become their own metaphor for excess, the wealthy woman whose party we assume is going on the background gets to guess that Gene is “Africa.” Those bars are the excess that must be lost along the way to the Belcher kids redemption for having left Bob at home and growing up by saving the rich kids from the terror that is the Hell Hunt. Hell Hunt, which shows the local tradition of socially reinforced toxic masculinity, pee-filled balloons, and routine torture/hazing is not shown without being criticized by the older cool girl and the adult ticket salesman at the pier, who has lasting Hell Hunt trauma. The Belcher kids save the day and lose their candy. Their glimpse into the “good life” and it’s undoing is neatly paralleled with Teddy’s Orange and Black and spray paint themed party back on the mainland.
Teddy’s social anxiety about having a party is the more narrative of the two plotlines: Teddy mentions it in restaurant, situation is set-up for kids to go trick or treating without Bob so that he feels obligated to go, and then Teddy and Bob get to make each other increasingly more uncomfortable but only because they love each other so much. Whereas the Hell Hunt highlights toxic masculinity and questions of class, Teddy’s party explores the tense emotional relationship between Teddy and Bob. While clearly friends, Bob resists emotional attachment in all forms and Teddy desires it more than most others are comfortable with. In the end, even though Teddy finds out that Bob killed his guinea pig (due to the blob-like fat suit Teddy has made him wear) Bob also helps Teddy grieve, in part by pointing out Teddy’s own manslaughter by spray paint fumes. They kinda agree that they’re both equally bad. What better metaphor for friendship and growing up is there?
When I was living in El Paso there was a street within walking distance from mine that gave out full bars. After a previously rural childhood, trick-or-treating with street lights at big houses where they gave out full bars was about as momentous as was the Belcher children’s journey on the ferry to rich person town. The couple of blocks I walked to get there felt as terrifyingly dark and misty as well. It wasn’t at Halloween, in fact it was the last day of school my freshman year of high school, but I’ve had an egg thrown at me before too. The naïve wonder and confusion for being excluded from a world I didn’t even know existed feels most familiar when Tina is leaving the house whose family is on vacation in St. Bart’s; she attempts to make the same joke that Louise made after having been scared by the joke in the first place. She knows it’s not funny nor does it scare anyone but at least she gets the same chance at candy.
List of Costumes
Bob and Linda: the “Trojan” Chinese Dragon
Millie: The (Homicidal) bunny
Darrel: member of Devo
It’s no surprise to most parents that Halloween costumes, like the children who wear them, can sometimes take a village. Oh jeebus that’s an awful joke. Despite that, the picture of Bob, Linda, Teddy, and Mort gluing sequins to try and create the perfect Halloween costume (that is really meant to trick people into giving the kids more free stuff and that only Bob and Linda actually end up wearing) embodies the kind of hope that Halloween is becoming more associated with as a holiday. While it’s an opportunity for the horror that will follow with Millie, it’s also the opportunity to put on a costume and act like a kid with the biggest fear of being laughed at and denied free candy.
The kid’s plotline with Millie is an homage of horror movies in its own right. Trapped in a literal box, we see the kids go through dramatic moments that give homage to a variety of horror classics, all undermined by the setting but still dramatically realistic due to the fact that they really *could* have died. This is the evillest a character, especially one of the children, has really been and the diabolic Millie being the blonde and blue-eyed adversary of the unflinchable Louise is a classic pairing of wills in its own right.
My mother made our Halloween costumes every year until about middle school when I think she went on strike for having already made several versions of witchy medieval princess dresses et al. Although if I’m honest with myself it’s probably the much less endearing probability that it’s when I started asking for store bought costumes because I thought for some reason that their cost meant they were better. So maybe it goes as no surprise that the first time I knew I might be in love with my LDR-partner of almost two years now is when, despite their own lack of excitement over dressing up, they indulged their son in making their own last minute Halloween costume for him. It might have been the fact that it was a specific wolf from MTV’s “Teen Wolf,” and the fact that they didn’t need my assistance to make sure it was screen accurate may have also been a key factor… that and the “Highlander” the TV show mug they had in their car when they drove up to Kalamazoo for the first time a few months later. It should come as absolutely no surprise at all then that the first party Daniel and I went to was a Halloween costume party at his sister’s friend’s house. I was a generic sexy pirate girl and Daniel, who likes to go with the clever punny version of costumes, wore a shirt unbuttoned and celebrated his hirsuteness by saying he was Teen Wolf with an MBA, Teen Wolf: The Later Years, if you will. It is a bit of a surprise that I don’t really have a thing for either Teen Wolf. At least, not really…
List of Costumes
Bob: Dr. Bobenstein, half of the two headed… something or other
Linda: Wife of Dr. Bobenstein, other half
Teddy, Mort, Mort’s mom and her boyfriend: cult cloaks
I’ll admit I was a wee bit annoyed in retrospect when I realized how evenly spaced these episodes are but not quite to a tee. ;) But seriously folks, this episode is a box of nostalgia as musty as Mort’s mom’s house but comforting instead of the perfect setting to scare Louise, the most stalwart of Belchers. The visual and dialogic allusions to Gene Wilder and so Mel Brooks, the culture of going to haunted houses as a kid, and the emotional work they do for each other as a family with the added addition of the extended family of having regulars at a small family owned business. I could (and so probably will) write more about this episode in the future, so for now I’ll focus on the portrait of the family of Louise Belcher.
Written at the pacing of an episode of Scooby Doo, the show takes a turn away from pure fear and retribution instead delivering own the fear that Louise had wanted. I think the nature of that fear, the Haunted House fear, is dependant on its resolution. Louise isn’t afraid of haunted houses because as some brilliant lady* said in conversation recently, “what’s to be scared of? They can’t really do anything to you.” It’s a practical response to fear if we look at it dryly: she doesn’t startle, instead she considers outcomes and possibilities that are more likely. Louise exists in a privileged bubble of love, it’s called childhood. It’s fun to be scared when you’re a kid and, usually, it’s easier. It’s fun to be scared when you have an end to look forward to and when you know that you can trust your family when they stop you from screaming. Louise loves being scared because she is genuinely surprised but she is also genuinely being embraced for who she is by all the people who matter to her in her life. It’s something that I think the show manages to do consistently without being overly saccharine.
From ages 5-ish to 10-ish I lived in an area of rural Southern California, not unlike much of rural America that I’ve been able to see in travels since. Those Halloweens, however, were my own safe happy bubble in time. I have vague memories of activities at the community center before having maps distributed to identify house that were handing out candy. In these memories, there is no light pollution and the night is always dark and all consuming. Some people would really make a spectacle taking advantage of the rural setting to stunning effect and others acted as respite between. I was young enough that our nights were always peppered with preplanned stops at friend’s homes. I was always wearing a homemade costume, which I would proudly explain, even if it was most often some version of a princess cat witch. It’s obvious why we romanticize Halloween when you look at these episodes because ultimately the show succeeds when family and friends come together to try to make something special. Even if you’re only scaring the bejeezus out of one kid, that may be a bigger gift than anything material. Ultimately, it’s the gift of catching you even if I’m the one who made you fall, especially if I am.
*no but really it was me sorry, and I’m paraphrasing myself too, so thereShare on Twitter Share on Facebook