10 Oct 2016

Halloween Tingle Without the Tack

No need to look over your shoulder, Halloween has been creeping up on us like a shiver. A number of you will probably resurrect last year's fluffy spiders, stick-on ghosts and daffy ghouls from their boxed-in torpor for the kids, and shake them back into a semblance of duty. Others might renew their stock through a little expense. Hands-on types like the talented girls at A Beautiful Mess will no doubt go all creative over it. While those without young kids or the inclination to go festive, will just brush the thing away like a bug getting too close. Maybe still get candy for the Trick-or-Treaters (and dive in the bowl later!).

As an aside, why go studio when you have the location? If I wish to trick myself into Halloween I haven't much to do because in my old medieval hamlet, there's a bat colony living in an old ruined dwelling across the way, creepy-crawlies with the weirdest physique trying their hardest to crash my place ('tis that time of year after all!) - and yes I have the privilege (or misfortune) to live within walking distance of a handful of ruined edifices (and that includes a ruined castle up the mountain!). Maybe you too live in a place steeped in history and mystique and the last thing you want is put on a Halloween show when you are already 'living the show'!

Reliquary Box, Cloître de Gnadenthal, Canton d'Argovie, Switzerland (pict source)

The last piece on Halloween that I wrote dates back 6 years, a five-post extravaganza gathered together under A Working Week of Spook, an art project which really amused me back then as I compiled a scenario out of every scary movie title imaginable, with atmospheric snapshots to boot.

This time around, I have been looking at giving yet another adult approach to the theme, in a quirky yet light-hearted celebration of sorts minus the kiddie props, dressed-up pumpkins and silly nonsense. I have compiled a short list of simple ideas that I have practiced in my day (except not necessarily on Halloween), should you want a little pulse racing for Halloween without the tackiness or much effort. Please follow your host...


Nowadays every town and city has guided tourist tours on offer, and those with a troubled past (think Savannah in the Old South) even have ghost tours on their books. Don't do it solo, take your partner, siblings or friends with you, for the more, the merrier! I highly recommend it if just for the experience and fun of it, and for warming up afterwards at a local (haunted) pub over drinks and a platter of antipasti to share! I did the Lincoln Ghost Walk (U.K.), about ten years ago, October time, and our guide was so much fun and interesting! She had all the scary anecdotes, spicy details, the cheeky stone imps, the headless knight on horseback and other Tim Burton-like characters who gently tingled our imagination as we hushed past, from one haunt to the next. The hour-long tour started at dusk, giving old Lincoln's streets and edifices (including the castle and cathedral) a ghostly bias, a creepy ambience nurtured by tales of the unexpected, while the damp weather was closing in on us, slowly sinking into our bones, adding intensity to the shivers....

Foggy Bridge * Explored * (Biarritz, France) by Anth Optic, via Flickr


Ghost or no ghost, I generally find stately homes pretty spooky per se. As soon as you push the door, you enter a different world, almost a static parallel universe. As much as it may look like a permanent show-home or museum (at least the parts of the house open to visitors), the mansion heaves with memories, if only testified by its age, history and historical significance. It is heavy with memorabilia, heavy with mementoes. The place has a soul and it feels like a lot. It feels starched up and stuffy: the high ceilings, the secret door, the solemn arrangements, the cellars, the faded grandeur, the ostentatious artefacts that seem to have sprouted out of the mantelpieces and furniture, the animal trophies on the walls, the cascading draperies, the chandeliers, the rugs that have defied time, the almost rarefied air because those houses are not lived in anymore (or only occasionally). People were born there and they died there. These creepy larger-than-life portraits that stare at you, casting that inquisitive glance in a 'I don't know you' sort of way that follows you around the room. Such encounters are likely to put you in a Halloween mood.

Even Boscobel House looks a little creepy (pict source).


Technology has made it all too easy to tune into in-house on-screen entertainment (Netflix and the likes) to bother going to the movie theatres anymore, never mind the old picture house that has survived redevelopment blitz! Such a shame because these old cinemas are an experience all to themselves: colourful history, architecture and interior design, furnishings, creaky floors, warts et al! Some have been renovated back to their former glory like the Electric Cinema of Portobello Road, Notting Hill, London. Other oldies may still be operating in their raw (unrevamped) state, but don't let it put you off. As you soak in the atmosphere, watching a movie might become secondary! It doesn't have to be a scary movie; a psychological thriller, a film noir classic, or that Hitchcock flick you've meant to watch some day, or even a good comedy that will take on a little edge, courtesy of the location...

The Falcon Maltese film noir by John Huston (1941) is based upon the novel by Dashiell Hammett.


So much fun as it goes rickety rackety in its vintage splendour, whisking you around its bends and corners. The ride isn't scary but it is fun to pretend it is, close your eyes and scream and feel liberated! The settings are so kitsch, make sure to snap photos! The ghost train I'm on about hasn't been startled by technology yet, so no laser beams, optical illusions and other special FX! The creatures are straight out of a bad remake of a 1950s low-budget monster movie and that is ace! Some of the mannequins bear battle scars and broken bits: no worries, that's part of the territory (of age)!

[29-Oct-2016 Update] Joel Zika has developed a habit out of the spooky rides. He is on a rescue mission to the remaining few scattered worldwide (some of which clocking up 100 years of age!). He is immortalising those remaining rides through a virtual reality project, a noble and innovative heritage preservation scheme.

You may add a little edible fright to the shindig! Those head out of Biscuiteers' kichen.


Les Catacombes: if you are into morbid art, then this place is a must! At the end of the 18th century, under a public sanitation order, the Cimetière des Saints-Innocents - which had been in operation for 10 centuries (1000 years!) - was closed down. Its remains (skulls and bones) were transfered to a depository - an ossuary - housed in a former limestone quarry (14th arrondissement). Throughout the 19th century, the remains from other central Parisian cemeteries were deposited at the catacombs too. Ultimately the ossuary holds the remains of 6 to 7 million Parisians! The beyond-the-grave showcase (as we are tempted to describe is as) is an artistic skull-and-bone display within a subterranean gallery, a symbiosis of place and content. You may surprise yourself holding your breath as you amble deeper than 6ft under past death personified in a way that might be too close to the bone for some! The popular place certainly isn't for the faint-hearted or the claustrophobic but you sure will get the Halloween tingle! More fascinating details from the illustrated guide.

Crypte Archéologique du Parvis de Notre-Dame: Admittedly the crypt underneath the square of Cathédrale Notre-Dame is neither scary nor does it house a cabinet of curiosity but awe has the power to tingle your spine all the same for building vestiges are holders of truth and mysticism, and imagination may take you places that summon a shiver. Archaelogical excavations (1965-1972) unveiled a condensate of 2000 years of the History of Paris through building foundation vestiges, including a 4th century bath house, with overlapping layers and untangled parts, like pieces of Lego from different eras that somehow managed to intersect and ultimately slot into one another. More fascinating details from the illustrated guide.

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