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How I Learned To Embrace Spooky Season

By Andrew Sanford | Film | September 18, 2023 |

By Andrew Sanford | Film | September 18, 2023 |


I almost died when I was 12 and 13 years old. At 12, I had an asthma attack so severe that, had I not gone to the hospital that night, it would have killed me. I woke up in a different hospital with a respirator and a catheter inside my body and was there for three days. Almost exactly a year later, I got a staph infection, which kicked off another asthma attack. That bout with illness kept me in the hospital for over a week.

Both incidents took place in October. After the first, I was released just in time for Halloween. I dressed up as Batman and ventured into the cool autumn air, only to be told by my mother to return as quickly as possible. The following year, my hospital stay was extended past Halloween. While my friends were dressing up and getting candy, I was getting fluids from an IV. My last chance to go trick-or-treating (without being mocked) was ruined.

I did not realize how much I loved Halloween until that year. Thanks to my mother, I enjoyed a steady diet of horror films. Some of my favorite The Simpsons episodes were (and still are) the “Treehouse of Horror” specials. Everyone else seemed to know this about me, as I was brought a The Simpsons Halloween slushie (thanks, Burger King and Aunt Lissy) and a Treehouse of Horror graphic novel (thanks, Dad) while I was stuck in a stiff hospital bed.

From that point on, my love of horror and that time of year grew exponentially. I had missed out on something special and have spent almost every year trying to reclaim it. I can’t go trick-or-treating again, but I can take my niece (and eventually, my sons) or hand out candy to neighborhood kids. During my week-long hospital stay, my eyes were glued to AMC’s Monsterfest. I could recapture that feeling every October! For me, that’s when Shocktober was born.

I was a Shocktober purist. I would abstain from watching horror films in September. Then, when October rolled along, I would watch one or two scary movies a day. I hosted a pop culture podcast for five years, and every Shocktober, I would ignore the purpose of the podcast and talk about horror movies. Nothing would interfere with my movie-watching! That’s what I would say, very confidently, before my children were born.

2020 was the last year I would celebrate Shocktober “properly.” I assumed as much. My wife was two months pregnant, and I knew my time doing whatever I wanted was short; so did my incredible wife. We decided to spend midnight on the night of September 30th, 2020 (early morning of October 1st, 2020) watching The Frighteners! I wasn’t going to waste a moment of my “last” Shocktober, and because my wife is so amazing, she decided to join me. Instead of marveling at Peter Jackson’s pre-LOTR work, we were plagued by our own horror movie.

Joy (my wife) called me into the bathroom. I had never heard her sound that scared, and I had never seen that much blood in my life. This was the third time we had had such an incident in the month and a half she had been pregnant. It was the worst one so far. Let me assure you that everything worked out fine; I have two beautiful boys making a mess in my living room to prove it. But at the time, I put on some rubber gloves and retrieved a small bloody mass from the bathroom sink, which my wife was (rightfully) too nervous to even look at.

I know now that the mass was too big to be a fetus. At the time I didn’t, so I placed it in a Ziploc bag and stored that bag in the fridge. I thought that maybe the doctors would need to see it. I turned white, assuming I had placed one of my children in the ice box (I didn’t). To put it mildly, the night’s events put a damper on that year’s Shocktober. The following year, Joy and my fears of a miscarriage had thankfully passed by.

In 2021, I was a new Dad (thankfully), dealing with everything that brings. When Shocktober rolled along, I tried to watch as many horror movies as possible. Not only was it emotionally taxing (I learned quickly that my sensibilities had changed), it was hard to schedule. We were sleep-training the boys (which I highly recommend), and I was exhausted. Watching one or more horror movies a day wasn’t in the cards. This time of the year that I treasured was going away again.

It seems silly to complain about now. The alternative was not being a father at all. I may love horror movies, but I love being a dad even more. Still, it was a loss of self that I wasn’t prepared for. I assumed that, since I loved this time of year, I would make it work. I tried. 2022 presented similar challenges. Even as a more “experienced” parent, I learned watching a bunch of horror movies is not easy when you have young kids for whom you were the primary caregiver (did I mention how fantastic Joy is?).

Now, I’ve learned to embrace being a restricted dad. My kids are sleep-trained, so they (and Joy and I) get a decent amount of sleep. The trade-off is that we don’t get to do a lot outside of their set schedule. Instead of seeing it as an issue, I’ve adapted. I can’t do things exactly how I used to, but the positive outweighs the negative. That extends to Shocktober as well.

As I said, I was a purist when it came to Shocktober. It starts in October and is followed by a bout of depression as soon as November hits. The self-imposed restrictions seem arbitrary, but they made it more fun. A few years ago, I began to see people talking about “Spooky Season.” I turned my nose up at the idea, which was silly of me to do. I didn’t realize that a solution to my problem was presenting itself.

This year, I decided to release myself from any self-imposed restrictions. Not going to parties because my boys need to nap exactly at 1 p.m. makes sense. Not watching some of my favorite movies for over a month because of some voluntary limitations is ridiculous. I had inadvertently put myself right back in that hospital room. I was being kept from what I loved, and there was no one to blame but myself.

This year, I made a change. Instead of waiting for October 1st, unsure if my schedule would allow for copious amounts of terror, I popped on The Frighteners on September 3rd. I didn’t even start right on September 1st. The time for being rigid has passed. Coming close to death kept me from living. If starting festivities a month earlier and calling it something else fixes that, I’d be a fool not to welcome it.

I am a Dad. I am a lover of horror movies. Both things can be true. Sometimes, I’m more one than the other, but I am both. Eventually, my kids might be horror movie lovers with me (one is already embracing Halloween). It’s on me to let them know that, if they love something, they can embrace it any way they want.