Lesley Pratt Bannatyne of Somerville is the author of five books about Halloween, including the recent “Halloween Nation: Behind the Scenes of America’s Fright Night.” The proprietor of Iskullhalloween.com, Bannatyne has been chronicling the expanding popularity of the holiday for more than two decades.
Q. What keeps you fascinated with Halloween?
A. When I checked into it in the mid-’80s it was going from a kid’s holiday to an adult holiday, from a small neighborhood celebration to a city-wide, Mardi Gras-size celebration. It was great to be there along the way and watch what was happening.
Q. You note that adults do not want to give up Halloween. Does that explain the changes in how Halloween is celebrated?
A. The people who were crazy about Halloween used to think they were the only ones. Once the Internet came along, they found each other and created this amazing do-it-yourself community. People started building more things and yards became more decorated. As our culture was becoming more horror-filled there was a sense that Halloween was becoming too graphic. People who grew up in the ’60s and ’70s were nostalgic for their childhood Halloween and started creating it for their children. Adults started walking around with their kids. It was partly a safety thing, but it was also “I’m not going to stop and I don’t have to.’’
Also, the marketing of Halloween went through the roof. With the whole pumpkin industry and haunted attraction industry, there’s lots of money to be made.
Q. How has the horror movie industry affected Halloween?
A. For guys raised in the ’70s on slasher films, that is their nostalgia. Halloween and horror first became associated in the 1978 John Carpenter film called “Halloween.” Horror fans adopted Halloween as their holiday.
Q. For your book, you interviewed Halloween industry people to get a sense of what the holiday means today. Did you draw a conclusion?
A. The most common answer was candy — and this was from adults. But a lot of people talked about how free they felt on that night to dress as they want to dress and be with a lot of people who are on the same page. Halloween doesn’t celebrate anything, so it’s what you want to make of it. It’s not ethnically based; it’s not based on an event or a person. People with hand-made fangs can wear them to work for a week. People who think Halloween is out of control and want to keep it smaller for their kids put out hay bales and close off their neighborhoods. There’s smaller, and there’s bigger, depending on what people want.
Q. You write that zombies are the current superstar monsters. Why?
A. It’s a group glee kind of thing: We are all in this together. Let’s go freak some people out. People who study zombies talk about a death wish, or a wish for apocalypse, or for the cycle to finish so we can start anew. But I think it is more simple. It’s just plain old stupid fun. It’s exciting to be in the same place at the same time with people who think like you do. You’re a little different, a little wilder, a little more adventurous — and here you have your gang.
Q. Why do people go to haunted houses to be scared?
A. Adrenaline sets off things in our brains that make us feel good. When something comes out at you in a haunted house, there is just this millisecond of fear, and the rest of it is a rush of mastery. “I know what that is. I got this.” You get used to confronting this fear, and you wrap your arms around it. When I first started, I would scream bloody murder. Now I go through haunted houses and make notes about the settings. I know where the characters are going to come from. I’ll still scream when somebody jumps out at me. And that’s exciting. There’s nothing wrong with screaming for 30 minutes. It’s really fun.
Q. Has your research made you braver?
A. Definitely braver, more open-minded, and more appreciative of things that are different and twisted.Interview was condensed and edited. Patricia Harris and David Lyon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.