Wednesday, October 30, 2013

I'm an adult, you can't scare me on Halloween

A version of this column first appeared in The Dallas Morning News and on DallasNews.com.
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For a month now, I’ve been driving by billboards for haunted-house theme parks. They’re not very subtle, of course, but they are very effective.

The billboard for Dollz Haunted House, featuring a doll with piranha teeth, grabs your attention. And the sign for Dark Hour, with a Freddy Krueger-like guy experiencing serious dental issues, gets in your head. I also thought WinStar Casino had a haunted house until I realized the creepy-looking guy on its billboard is singer Robin Thicke.

(The look on his face is ridiculous. But, then again, he is pretty ridiculous. He's certainly creepier than his Beetlejuice lookalike.)

The Dallas-Fort Worth area has nearly two dozen haunted attractions, and these places go way beyond someone jumping out and yelling “Boo!” The elaborate sets, high-tech special effects and animatronics are perfect for people who like a really good fright.

That used to be me.

Oh Freddy, you were once so scary.
When I was in high school, my friends and I watched all the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th movies. We also saw Child’s Play, which had the original evil doll, Chucky. I wasn’t old enough to rent horror movies because they were almost all R-rated, so my mom got them for me. (Relax, mom, it’s too late for child protective services to intervene).

It was so much fun to be scared back then. If I had seen the Dollz billboard screaming “Wanna Play?” in big letters, I would’ve enthusiastically accepted.

But now?

No thanks, evil-spirited doll, I’ve got other things to frighten me. Such as how ridiculous I’m going to look on Halloween night, when I’m dressed up as Gru, a character from the Despicable Me movies. My three sons are going to be Despicable Me minions, and apparently it’s unacceptable for me to dress normally while taking them trick-or-treating.

Back when my friends and I were visiting haunted houses, I never envisioned a Halloween that included leading around kids wearing blue overalls and helmets that were formerly large barrels of Cheese Balls. On our Halloween night, there will be no terror beyond a spilled treat bucket. If a house looks at all spooky, I’m not sure anything -- including the lure of a full-size Kit Kat -- will get my 5-year-old to the door.

And so it will be a very sedate, sugary night.

But I still remember that tingly mixture of terror and excitement as I walked through haunted houses years ago. I loved it. What was the next big surprise? What was around the corner?

The fear of what came next made my heart race.

Now I’ll be dawdling around the neighborhood with my kids, telling them to watch for cars and searching their candy for items that I should sample (for quality-assurance purposes). It will be a very mellow night.

But that’s okay. There are plenty of things in this world that are actually scary, such as the fear of anything happening to my wife and kids.

It doesn’t even have to be that dramatic. You could give me a first-rate scare with a haunted house decorated like my living room, with the simple addition of a huge crack on the wall that indicates a foundation problem. That would be the perfect suburban haunted house. It would horrify me far more than an actor with a chainsaw.

Sorry, evil-spirited doll, I don’t want to play. The game has changed for me, and I now prefer to know what’s around the corner. No tricks, please. Just treats.

That’s what my minions will want on Halloween night, and I’ll be trick-or-treating with them. Hopefully it will be years before they give me a really big scare:

Telling me they want to go it alone.

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