As a holiday whose distinguishing trait is costumery, and specifically costumes of a spooky ilk, there are occasions when some of the things we fear most are a little more difficult than others to embody, particularly in ways that’ll win us that annual bit of tepid praise for our creativity to propel us through our dull existences for the rest of the year, until the next October where we plan some punny combination of Emeril Lagasse and a zombie to get the office chuckling. But, like fear itself, some of the scariest things out there are intangible. And even the roots of fears in horror movies often boil down to something far less concrete than a physical villain. So alas, here’s your guide — complete with an acknowledgement of certain obstacles and suggested solutions— to upping the ante on scary costumes, by giving into the idea that perhaps the most effective costumes aren’t even visible.
The It, It Follows
The problem: The most iconic intangible monster in the recent horror canon, the “It” of It Follows, is essentially a very slow-paced, walking STD that takes the shape of entirely random people, instead of pustules or crab lice (which, yes, are technically STIs, but perhaps so is the “It,” as an official diagnosis is never given.) The problem with this costume, of course, is a) the whole intangibility thing, and b) whatever this ghoulish STD is, it takes the form of anyone/thing, and there’s no iconic image to cling to. What’s a creative cat like you who just wants to dress as spooky herpes to do?
The Conceptual, Intangible Solution: Don’t go out. But tell your friends you’re going out. When they call to ask why you haven’t met up with them yet, say you have. Then leave them wondering as to which person wandering the street you are, wondering who the “It” is, whether It’s Following, and whether it’d be irresponsible of them to hook up with someone this Halloween.
The Concrete, but Indirect Solution: Go as a large crab louse. Or. Play the hero. Go as a bottle of Nix.
Untapped Potential, Mulholland Drive
The Problem: Similar to many of the other films on this list, a literalist misreading of this film could interpret the homeless woman behind Winky’s Diner with the blue box full of tiny evil old people as the pervasive villainous force throughout this film, but Mulholland Drive‘s plot is far too mercurial and erratic to validate surface interpretations (or for that matter, to fully validate most deeper interpretations.) But if there’s one thing that’s truly haunting the protagonist/antagonist, Betty/Diane, it’s untapped potential, and particularly the kind Hollywood — and the near-universality of shit luck — has a knack for keeping in the shadows. If the first part of the film is (at least initially) the literal manifestation of the Hollywood dream, in which a small-town naïf migrates to So-Cal and immediately begins finding a. love and b. recognition for her multilayered performances, the second part sees a person embittered by the illusions of big hearts and big talents being rewarded… to the point where she’s driven to hire an assassin with potentially unspoken ties to a homeless woman who possesses a powerful, gerontophobic blue box.
The Conceptual, Intangible Solution: Wear an unrelated but spectacular, elaborate costume, and make sure to only go out with your cruelest friends who’ll entirely ignore your efforts.
The Concrete, but Indirect Solution: Buy two blonde bob wigs. Tease one of them a bit. Buy prosthetic circles to put under your eyes. Switch back and forth throughout the evening with your friends and see how their perceptions of you change; go home; cry; masturbate; fear the tiny elderly people stampeding through the crack in the door.
Modernity, The Village
The Problem: Though it may be tempting to go as that porcine spiked thing that’s really just (12 year old spoiler alert) Joaquin Phoenix’s human character in a costume of his own, this is, after all, an M. Night Shyamalan film, and so of course that faux-monster isn’t really the root of the fears of the small colonial village. Rather, it turns out, the eponymous village exists due to a fear/rejection of modernity, and that the village is actually a very extreme look at one idea of what making America “great” again looks like — as in, a bunch of scared white people being supremely regressive, hiding behind a wall that they keep themselves sealed within via the perpetuation of inane myths.
The Conceptual, Intangible Solution: Take pictures of Amish people with your smartphone and embody the twist of startling temporal juxtapositions!
The Concrete, but Indirect Solution: Go as a physical monster from another film, as it’s probably a little embarrassing to show costumed reverence towards mid-career Shyamalan. Or, if you’re going to give into the badness and obsolescence of this era of his films, go full out and dress as the Lady in the Water.
The problem: Vertigo is one of the most important psychological horror films out there, but of course the problem is that at least at the beginning of the film (and titularly, of course) the key factor tormenting James Stewart’s character is a violent case of, you guessed it, vertigo, which of course is something of an intangible beast.
The Conceptual, Intangible Solution: Do not wear a costume, make sure to only spend the evening in high places, and spin frequently. Other people may not be able to see your vertigo, but as long as you’re feeling it, the costume’s totally there.
The Concrete, but Indirect Solution: Go as vomit.
Misogyny? Or Not Misogyny? Or maybe Ambiguity?, Antichrist
The Problem: Lars Von Trier polarized critics by smirkingly perpetuating the persistent question of whether or not his films are misogynist with Antichrist, which sees Charlotte Gainsbourg’s character — who’s in the midst of doing a research project on gynocide — slowly becoming a castrating force of evil following the death of her son (which she may or may not have induced). So is the film misogynist because it’s saying womanhood is somehow linked to devilry? If so, “womanhood” as a costume might want to be avoided, unless you, yourself, are a misogynist. Or is the film feminist because it’s saying misogyny is the real link to evil, and the narrative is one of liberation? If so, one could go as misogyny itself, but that could also prove…problematic. Really, the film is actually far too abstract in its symbolism and is immune to these simple yes or no questions (though it’s not immune to criticism of its dialogue being ridiculous), so ultimately the real villain here is the thing that miffs critics the most (though they also praise it infinitely): ambiguity. But that, it turns out, likewise isn’t such an easy costume to sport.
The Conceptual, Intangible Solution: Be fatiguingly ambiguous. Answer yes to a question. Then answer no to the same question. Then say “maybe.” Watch as your friends become horrorstruck.
The Concrete, but Indirect Solution: Go as Freud.
Tree anger, The Happening
The Problem: Like The Village, M. Night Shyamalan resists telling a horror story that’d make for a good costume, or that’d make for a good movie. Even if you haven’t seen this film, you probably know about its infamously silly (albeit refreshingly eco-conscious!) twist: that plants are behind an epidemic of mass suicides in the US, sending neurotoxins out as a warning to humans to stop ruining shit. Of course, plant anger is something we humans don’t really know how to enact, so this costume could prove rather difficult, especially if you’re trying to avoid being hideously appropriative.
The Conceptual, Intangible Solution: There’s no way around plant appropriation here. You cannot wear this costume tangibly or intangibly.
Insomnia, The Machinist
The problem: Though you could obviously lose half your body weight and go as Christian Bale’s character in the Machinist, that wouldn’t really be going as the antagonist, which, like Vertigo’s eponymous bad feeling, a harder costume to envision.
The Conceptual, Intangible Solutuion: Retroactively don’t sleep for a year before this Halloween, be antisocial, have a hard time speaking, and when words do come out, feel like you have no control whatsoever over what you’re doing and like you’re living in a waking nightmare.
The Concrete, but Indirect Solution: Wear a sandwich board bearing a poster for the film Insomnia.
The Absence of Actual Bugs, Bug
The Problem: While Michael Shannon and Ashley Judd may be so specific in their depictions of…itchiness in this adaptation of Tracy Letts’ play as to make you feel that the bugs of which Michael Shannon’s character speaks are real, the crux of this film is that (again, very old spoiler) there are no bugs, but rather that paranoia — embodied by Shannon’s character himself — is the bug. As Michael Shannon’s character Peter, a stranger with a very vague personal history, digs deeper and deeper into the life of Agnes, a woman still mourning the disappearance of her son, his own paranoia starts to embed itself in and infest her consciousness. The result: so much itchiness.
The Conceptual, Intangible Solution: Scratch throughout the evening, with no bugs present.
The Concrete, but Indirect Solution: Contract bedbugs. Scratch throughout the evening, with bugs present.
Bad Plumbing, Dark Water
Okay, ultimately there’s a real ghost in this one, but it’s certainly more enjoyable to pretend that the premise of this tepidly received 2005 horror movie based on a 2002 Japanese horror film all boils down to bad plumbing, which of course is a multifaceted problem with no one solution, which is of course why the world needs plumbers.
The Conceptual, Intangible Solution: I think it’s really all in the sound effects. As it’s pretty impossible to turn yourself into a) a pipe or b) dark water, it’s more just a matter of haunting your friends with ominous dripping sounds all night long, as they question why you decided to be this intangible costume from a horror movie everyone’s forgotten.
The Concrete, but Indirect Solution: Go as a water tower with a person stuck in it. Build miniature water tower around yourself, with legs exposed so you can walk and enjoy Halloween activities as water tower/the person in it.
The Filmmaker, Funny Games
The Problem: Funny Games is very much about testing the limits of what audiences will watch, incriminating both the viewer and the filmmaker. Following a vacationing family who’re tortured by two sociopathic preps, there is, as in all horror movies, a sense of hope that propels the viewer (and perhaps makes them feel less guilty about what they’re watching), even if hopelessness is really quite inevitable in the genre. That is, until Naomi Watts’ character manages to actually one-up one of the two WASPy nightmares — and then the second turns directly to the camera, breaks the fourth wall, aims a remote at it, presses rewind, and then becomes able to stop her from doing what she just did. This directorial intervention to ensure hopelessness suddenly places the viewer in a different scenario than most horror movies: one in which there’s an acknowledgement of the sick control of a creator (i.e. the director) and where the audience suddenly has no excuse for watching; there is literally no chance the characters will make it out alive if the antagonists can simply acknowledge that they’re in a movie, rewind it, and start over to ensure the effectiveness of their sadism.
The Conceptual, Intangible Solution: Just do the spinning reel hand-gesture from charades, a lot.
The Concrete, bit Indirect Solution: Just go as Michael Haneke. People will guess that immediately.