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Scary is scary
November 4, 2009 - Rick Chatenever
It’s normally a quiet place, but once a year — on Halloween — the street where I live becomes ground zero.
There are no street lights, and it’s steep to walk from the bottom of the hill, but it happens to be in one part of Kula that qualifies as an actual neighborhood. Every year, parents from elsewhere on the island truck their kids in. Some even monitor the little bands of spooks and goblins with walkie-talkies, going up and down the street in golf carts, like a military operation.
Some of the neighbors get in the spirit big time. They’re Halloween’s answer to Chevy Chase in “Christmas Vacation,” lighting up their homes —only darker. Electric jack-o’-lanterns mark paths to front doors, and the overture to “Phantom of the Opera” or other scary soundtracks boom out of loudspeakers up and down the block. This year’s buttery full moon in its veil of clouds added to the effect.
The little clusters of fairies,vampires, ninjas and princesses straggling to the door never fail to delight. You have to wonder what’s going through the minds of the youngest ones on this one night of the year that’s so out of the ordinary.
First they dress up like something they’re not. Then they set out — in the darkness! — approaching homes of absolute strangers, goodie bags in hand. Not quite grokking the concept of trick-or-treating, the littlest ones boldly walk right into the living room when we open the door.
It’s so counterintuitive to everything they’ve been taught … and strangest of all, it’s their parents making them do it!
At the other end of the parade come the ones taller than you are — the ones we ask which middle school they attend. We had the the whole cast of “Wizard of Oz” on our porch, Dorothy to Auntie Em, not quite ready to say a last goodbye to this last vestige of their childhood.
It’s a weird one, Halloween. Weird by design. Researching All Saints Day in Europe or Mexico’s Day of the Dead, you can connect some dots about where the ghosts and skeletons come from. But the holiday’s roots go deeper into Celtic times, when no excuse was required to act a pagan. The onset of cold weather and a new season of darkness and dormancy helped everyone get in the mood.
As with so many things anymore, Halloween brings its reminders of how much, and how fast, everything’s changed. When we were kids, we’d venture out into the darkness for block after block, as far as we could go on foot. No one had flashlights, much less, glow sticks. The last thing anyone would think of bringing along would be a parent.
Safety wasn’t something we worried, or even thought, about. It was just the way things were. Dangerous weirdos existed only in horror movies — not in registries of sex offenders. Fright and terror had yet to become growth industries.
Since I never understood the fun part of going to movies in order to get scared, I never developed a taste for it. Scary is scary, right? Going to movies to get nauseous was even further beyond my grasp, so I’ve managed to miss all the “Saws,” “Hostels” and other box-office hits specializing in graphic sadism and recreational amputation that have spawned a whole new genre known as sado-porn.
But the industry buzz around a movie called “Paranormal Activity” is not to be denied. Made on a budget of $11,000, shot on a home camcorder and featuring two unknown actors, it’s fast approaching the $100 million mark at the box office. This is the kind of “killer” Hollywood takes to heart.
Like “The Blair Witch Project,” it’s less an actual movie than an ingenious cinematic novelty. Indeed, its most creative touch is pretending not to be a movie at all, but a “found” videotape, after the fact.
Katie Featherston and Micha Sloat play a girl- and boyfriend who move into a suburban San Diego home where they start hearing strange noises. Although they’re both pretty casual, even funny about it, she’s more worried than he is. His solution is to get a new video camera and record everything, even running it in their bedroom when they’re sleeping.
This is like the horror equivalent of “Seinfeld” — a movie where, for long stretches, nothing happens. In night-vision mode, the only thing moving for long sequences is the time-counter on the screen.
Writer-director Oren Peli knows how to do more with less, and the actors are natural improvisers, playful until the fear takes over.
“Paranormal Activity” is one of those tense experiences that has audience members laughing a lot, trying to ward off their own apprehensions.
There turns out to be less than meets the eye when it comes to plotting or explaining the mystery. Still, with its clever concept and jerky, handheld camera moves, “Paranormal Activity” keeps you scared — and nauseous— as it laughs all the way to the bank.
• Contact Rick Chatenever at email@example.com.
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