Confessions of a Halloween Addict
By Paul Venturella
Hi, my name is Paul and I'm a Halloweenaholic.
This is a true story of one man's voyage from putting a pumpkin on the porch to a near addiction to Halloween prop building. A journey that will reveal all the gory details of my slide from homeowner to haunt master. But I hope you also see what I do as the "art of illusion" in the creation of atmosphere for adults and children. Helping them to enjoy the unique character of an ancient holiday, Halloween.
Let me first make clear that I am not overly interested in the devil worship or the magic and witchcraft aspects of Halloween. The magic I find in Halloween is the magic of stage craft. Creating illusions through the use of lights, sounds, and props. I've only lately come to the realization (or is that justification?) that what I do is not an addiction but could be thought of as a hobby and even a craft. Making me not an addict, but a craftsman? Even with that said, I must take a moment to say how thankful I am to have had the support of my lovely bride Louise from our first Halloween together in 1984 up to the present time even as she threatens to leave me if I buy another prop or don't cut back . I also appreciate the understanding and support from our children, Nicholas (21) and Brooklyn (18), as they shake their heads and wonder..."..what's up with Dad and Halloween?"
As a child growing up in New York City I loved Halloween. But most kids do! The concept is simple, you get to dress up in costume (thanks Mom!) and run around with your friends knocking on neighbors doors, saying "Trick or Treat" and they give you candy. What a holiday! Knock on a door, say, Trick or Treat, GET CANDY! (As an adult, I also like the Mardi Gras version...give woman beads and they show you their breasts!) All during those years I don't think there was any hint of what I might become...a Halloweenaholic. After considerable thought over a period of weeks, I can now remember an incident or two that might have foretold the future, but if there were those clues, no one recognized them...at least I didn't.
As I remember it, my first real attempt at decorating the house for Halloween was with construction paper pumpkins and witches brought home from grade school. My first incident as an adult took place in Price, Utah in 1984. This was as simple as putting a pumpkin on the porch, a cardboard decoration on the door and having lots of candy and a little dry ice in a witch's caldron waiting for the Trick or Treaters to arrive. Seven years later in Provo, Utah, Halloween 1991, the pumpkins still on the porch (grown in our garden and carved into a Jack o Lantern) but now there's a "wiggling hand" (bought at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco when we lived there) placed in the ground as if it were someone returning from the dead. From this point on, the road is downhill and the slope is steep and slippery.
The decade between 1991 and 2001 had me spending a little more time and money each year on Halloween. A few more store bought decorations, a few more homemade tombstones and then some home made props. In 1993 I built a coffin and used it in a little Halloween display in my front lobby at the cable TV office I managed in Provo, Utah. By 1995 I was in Highland, New York making more tombstones. The epitaphs are written on the white Styrofoam with a liquid shoe polish bottle (black) In 1996 I used a sump pump, hose and skull to create a blood fountain for our Algonquin, Illinois home. Thanks to my wife, sheets and sticks became a Dancing Ghost Ring, Sheets of plywood were cut into giant teeth over the front door. By this time (1996-1998) I was decorating quiet a bit and thought I was decorating with the best of them.
Sadly, 1999 was the year without a Halloween. I actually moved from the Chicago area back to Utah on Halloween day. It was at this time I discovered "the list"! I was searching the internet for Halloween ideas and found a link to the list on someone's web site. I wish I could remember who's site that was...to thank them, but alas I can't. "The Lists" (Halloween-l, Howl, CreapCrafters) changed everything. I learned of props I had never heard of....making cemetery fence from PVC, Bucky skeletons, corpsing, flying crank ghosts and so much more. I learned that I was really an amateur and not worthy to consider myself a real haunter.
Since then I have learned so much. I am on a number of different Halloween email lists. I receive from 25 to 300 emails a day...365 days a year...from these Halloween lists. I'm made friends all over the country and even the world. I've founded (with a few other haunters) a local group of Halloween addicts called Rocky Mountain Haunters and hosted a number of "Haunter's Gathering's" and helped create a set of DVD's of haunts from around the world. The Rocky Mountain Haunters now number some 130+ members. We have our own email list, an annual 3 day gathering where we build props, and a smaller prop building seminar every other month. This groups web site is www.rockymountainhaunters.com
I moved into animated figures, starting with hacking a Wal-Mart Santa into a Pirate, Monster, etc. Then using windshield wiper motors to animate props and now I'm even building and using pneumatic props.
Today....well today I'm spending $400+ on full size candy bars and giving out 1300 of them in a few hours on Halloween night. I'm also trying to avoid the therapy I so badly need.
...to be continued
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