About 30 years or so ago an art collector and close friend, Jeanette, asked me and some other folks to help her put together a spook house for Halloween. Many of the people in our gang were in the arts – painters, singers, actors. You know: weirdos. It became a yearly event.
Jeanette lived in an old, creaky wooden house, the walls of which were mostly unpainted. We moved out most of the furniture and hung makeshift curtains in doorways. I forget how we advertised it, but we charged five bucks to get in. We donated all the proceeds to the local volunteer fire department who’d park one of their engines in the front yard with their lights twirling. This gave an unsettling first impression to the visitors who started arriving at dusk.
There were no fog machines back then so we placed buckets of dry ice around the house, making it hard to see the floor or even your hand in front of your face in some areas. Each room became a tableau of terror. There were severed heads in sinks, mutilated but still alive bodies in bathtubs, etc. We bought copious amounts of fake blood and employed it liberally. Folks hiding in corners with ghastly makeup and costumes jumped out of the shadows to startling effect.
The first room visitors walked into was the kitchen. We’d go to a butcher and get some animal innards to decorate the sink and stovetop. One year my wife, then girlfriend, wore an old starched white uniform she had left over from nursing school. She smeared fake blood all over it and her face. She was the pretty nurse you never want to see.
One year I shot three and a half minutes of my flaming patio fireplace with a super 8 movie camera. I set up the developed film on a loop and projected it from the corner of one of the rooms. A guy dressed up like Satan stood behind a gauzy curtain brandishing a pitchfork. Welcome to hell!
We always had an especially nasty scare in the last room. One year I dressed up like an executioner complete with a full head mask. We took the chain off of an old chainsaw. If someone walked into that last room looking all cocky, I’d crank up the chainsaw and run up to them holding it over my head. It’s an old gag but it made lots of people go screaming into the night . One guy actually dove toward the screen door leaving his date standing in the middle of the room frozen in terror.
Speaking of terror, the first time we put on this show a young mother came through the house carrying a very young girl on her hip. The poor child was in hysterics. This made me realize how well we had done our job. However, we were in the business of scary fun. We didn’t want to scar anyone for life. We were careful to warn people showing up with kids just how intense this spook house was.
I honestly don’t remember how many times we put on this spooktacular. At some point we all approached our thirties, got married, had kids or just plain grew up and out of it.
Jeanette and I have kept in touch over the years. We run into each other at plays, art openings and holiday get-togethers. Lately we’ve been meeting for lunch occasionally. Time is a sneak thief. As we get older we realize it’s a bad idea to take old friendships for granted. We’re due to meet for some Lebanese soon. I can’t wait to let her read this. It’ll be fun to see if it scares up any old ghosts from Halloweens past.