In what may not be the biggest surprise to regular readers of this column, Halloween is hands down my absolute favorite holiday. I love a good spectacle (spooktacle?) and to me the week before Halloween is far more exciting than the build up to Christmas. What will everyone wear? What will I wear? How much of this getup should be hand-crafted and how much should be pre-fab? I usually start plotting the costume months in advance, but get so hung up on details and process that I end up panicking and slapping something together last minute anyhow.
The sheer number of possibilities is both overwhelming and thrilling – which makes it all the more disappointing when people trot out Native American costumes, or blackface or the standard sexy fill-in-the-blanks. Aside from being problematic, a lot of these getups are rather bland and would not even startle one ghost, let alone frighten off a horde of restless spirits. For, lest we forget, this is the true reason for the season. Bearing this in mind, here follows a list of some off-the-beaten-path monsters, along with the bare minimum of supplies one can purchase in the next day and a half or so (ahem).
1) Can’t seem to tear yourself away from appropriating elements of Native culture? Then why not go as the Wendigo: a voracious elk-human hybrid of Algonquin and Inuit lore? According to most accounts, a human who partakes of cannibalism (out of desperation due to famine or other calamity) runs the risk of transforming into a Wendigo. Monstrous and emaciated, the Wendigo is doomed to roam the earth in search of more and more human flesh to blunt its insatiable hunger.
At one point anthropologists believed this legend had its roots in a genuine mental disorder that afflicted real life cannibals, dubbed “Wendigo psychosis.” Basically, the idea is that human flesh is very similar to Pringles – once you pop, you can’t stop; a person afflicted with Wendigo psychosis will continue to try to eat human meat though alternative foods are available (even the salt and vinegar Pringles!). The existence of Wendigo psychosis has thus far not stood up to the barest scientific scrutiny, but I don’t think it is completely far-fetched: after all, wicked bad prion diseases like kuru exist. The strong taboo against cannibalism likely originated from some crazy incident in times past.
Fright rating, in spiders: a Daddy Longlegs
2) One of my personal favorites comes from Struwwelpeter, which is a collection of illustrated didactic stories written with the intent to terrify German children. There’s a boy who decides to stop eating his soup, and he shrivels up and dies. Another girl plays with matches and burns to her death. Santa actually dunks a couple of kids in a well of ink as punishment for teasing a dark-skinned child (another variant of blackface, so we’ll skip that idea while costume-sourcing). By far the story forever etched into most German children’s imaginations concerns the fate of Little Suck-a-Thumb, in which a tailor runs around with GIANT SCISSORS snipping off the thumbs of little children. The punishment seems a touch disproportionate to the severity of the crime, no?
(Just a nice, wholesome instructional video for children!)
Fright rating: a spider you spotted earlier in your house but can no longer find
3) While doing my habitual research on haunted dolls, I came across this gem of a website, exposing the little-known topic of Womb Ghosts. One such example can be seen in this un-retouched photo – that giant lens flare is helpfully highlighting the spot where the womb ghost inhabits.
According to the paranormal task force investigator who creates and curates this treasure trove of womb ghost information, it turns out ghosts can inhabit a good many areas of the body outside the womb. “Anal ghosts” can infect one’s colon or rectum. For those afflicted by such spiritual maladies, ghost-removing enemas are available. The site is bafflingly vague, however, about how to extricate womb ghosts (it does caution against douching).
Men, too, can be affected by such phenomena: “[a]ccording to scientists, some fathers-to-be are so in tune with their expectant partners they actually experience a phantom pregnancy.” Now I had heard of that term before, it is true; it had never once occurred to me to interpret the word “phantom” so literally. Clearly, this is why we need the paranormal task force investigative team around to connect those dots.
There are also ball ghosts; the site features a sad case study of a man whose deceased wife haunted his testicles. Again, the site creator remains unclear about how to remove ball ghosts, but I imagine the remedy is for sale somewhere.
Difficulty: VERY easy
Fright rating: a pug wearing a Spiderman costume
4. This next idea for a couples costume comes from Russian folk tales: the Baba Yaga and her Hut on Chicken Legs. Baba Yaga features in a lot of tales, and often tries to eat children, though more often than not she ends up helping them with their various tasks. She flies around on a giant mortar and pestle, which is like the recumbent bike version of a witches’ broom.
The Hut just kind of hangs out in the woods on its chicken legs, until someone approaches and shouts at it, ordering the hut to turn and face her. The Hut then screams bloody murder as it turns, shrieking inchoately at the intruder, until it shudders to a stop. Its windows are blank eyes, and it is usually surrounded by some crazy fence fashioned of bones and flame-bearing skulls. It is my dream home.
Last minute supply list: Baba Yaga: peasant dress, head scarf, pool noodle (mortar), round tub (pestle), baby doll, fake blood
Chicken Hut: 1/5 of a chicken suit, large cardboard box
Cost: $$ / $ (though really you should consider doing an even cost share if this is a couples outfit)
Fright rating: a photo of a spider popping up in your Facebook feed
5. Finally, my most favorite monster is Erzsebet Bathory (in English commonly known as “Elizabeth”), one of the more wicked real-life inspirations for vampire lore. Here is a long and incredibly gripping account of the history behind the myths surrounding Bathory. According to legend, she was known for trapping servant girls in her castle, slaughtering them and bathing in their blood to keep her skin pure and supple. Though there’s not much evidence to back up the claim of blood-bathing, by all accounts Bathory did pretty much anything and everything else to torture these poor girls, and (almost) got away with it due to her status as a high-born lady.
Testimony at her trial included accounts of torture involving jabbing girls with needles, smearing them in honey and throwing them outside before hives of bees. She liked to stick oiled parchment between their fingers and toes and light the parchment on fire, turning the poor girls into candles. Often, she’d have them lashed hundreds of times and tossed out and bleeding in the snow. Occasionally she would cut off bits of the girls and force feed them their own flesh … and the list of rejected Hostel scene pitches goes on, ad nauseum. Her kill count has been put as anywhere between 30 – 650, with the “official” number considered to be closer to 80.
Last minute supply list: Elizabethan gown, neck ruff, 1 or 2 gallons of fake blood
Hopefully, this resource guide to monsters helps you step up your costume game, and also ward off any ghosts that may be haunting you. I have also created a few helpful Polyvore sets for all of these if you require further guidance. Have yourself a happy and safe Hallow’s Eve!
Kim Le is a writer and shiftless gadabout who hails from the distant wheat fields of Kansas. Obsessions include sustainability, yurts and extreme DIY. Also, she makes sculptures out of food, mostly potatoes. She never updates her blog at http://badmetaphor.net.