Halloween night is great, but it’s the weeks leading up that I appreciate the most. People invest in the ambiance. I love the ambiance.
The streets are full of it right now. Yards and storefronts are thick with the dead and dead-adjacent. In just a five-minute walk through my neighborhood, I can see more ghosts, creatures, mists, bats, spiders, and sinister purple lights than in all the other months of the year combined.
That’s saying a lot, because I’m always looking for these things no matter the time of year.
Businesses do strange things they couldn’t normally get away with. I’m always impressed when a bridal shop fits the display dress mannequins with ghoul faces. Doesn’t their entire business model require that you find their dresses beautiful, not creepy? But it’s the spirit of the season, so…
Even my lcal hardware store gets in on the act—in the strangest possible way. I went there just yesterday. The only Halloween decoration in the entire shop was this, hanging between the paint samples and the work gloves:
WTH is this? It might be the oddest Halloween decoration I’ve ever seen. The poofed red hair, the gray skin… even the eyeballs are gray. It’s like a 70s junkie vampire who put on a white dress it found in a garbage bin. It creeps me out, yet somehow fits perfectly with the mood of a local corner hardware store.
I need the yards and the storefronts to stay scary(ish) because costumes—which dominates the night itself—have gone to pop culture references. Maybe one out of every thirty costumes references anything dark or supernatural. Mostly it’s movies, tv, music, public figures, or animals. And that’s just fine—I’ve done it myself.
But nobody decorates their yard with Harry Potter or Star Wars figures in October. You won’t see Khaleesi glaring out at you from a clutch of dragon eggs. No princesses, no astronauts, and definitely no Harley Quinns.
Just the classics—the dead, monsters, bats, spiders, cats, witches, and the like. Clowns seem to have bled in, too. I’m not sure if those qualify as pop culture, but they always came from hell, so my theory stands.
In an odd way, Halloween night might be the least Halloween-ish night of the month.
Why do neighborhoods and storefronts stick with traditional Halloween, while costumes are all over the place? I think it goes back to the ambiance thing.
Costumes are an individual art. They give you the chance to be clever each year, to reference the current. But neighborhoods work on a collective theme. Because you know that everyone is doing the same thing, you can build an experience.
That’s why neighborhoods can offer a real taste of October. Trick-or-treaters can count on a genuine Halloween mood. (Fun fact I just learned: trick-or-treating effectively disappeared during World War II because sugar rationing made candy hard to get.)
The yard-decoration arms race is on. Inflatable creatures appeared a few years back and have become a staple. I’ve seen at least twenty giant billowing spiders on rooftops already.
Animatronic creatures are in, too. Once exclusive to theme parks, it’s not rare for me to pass a lawn, trigger a motion sensor, and have a zombie with a movable head and mouth pop up and moan.
Projections and holograms are the next big thing. The one below is pretty damn impressive, projected onto transparent mesh fabric. You have to buy the video from an FX company, but still, my compliments.
So what’s next? Fully autonomous bots, maybe. Spiders that can race down the side of a house and follow you into the street. Zombies that crawl out of the ground and actually chase you.
When the technology gets to that point, we’ll need clothes-changing stations for people who soil themselves while out on a walk. Worth it.
But the analog classics endure. I don’t think any technology will ever be more pants-wetting freaky than this:
The next time you are out this month, appreciate how consistent the Halloween theme is in your neighborhood. For me, the ambiance is everything.