The autumn wind skittered curling leaves under a bright quarter moon on Thursday night as 1,200 people gathered at Barrett’s Haunted Mansion in Abington for the chance to be scared. Mary Barrett, who created the attraction 18 years ago on the property of her Abington Ale House, knows why they come. “I think people like scary things because they like being scared,” said Barrett, 54, of Scituate, who has always had an interest in the supernatural. “It’s just a total release. It puts you in a totally different world.”
The autumn wind skittered curling leaves under a bright quarter moon on Thursday night as 1,200 people gathered at Barrett’s Haunted Mansion in Abington for the chance to be scared.
Mary Barrett, who created the attraction 18 years ago on the property of her Abington Ale House, knows why they come.
“I think people like scary things because they like being scared,” said Barrett, 54, of Scituate, who has always had an interest in the supernatural. “It’s just a total release. It puts you in a totally different world.”
Halloween has always been about spooky things, but this year, fear’s appeal seems greater than ever.
Haunted houses — including Berwick House of Horrors in West Bridgewater and the Lakeville Haunted House in Lakeville — have been drawing paying customers for weeks. Now there’s a movie, “Paranormal Activity,” about a young couple that moves into a new home only to be disturbed by a presence that may be demonic.
With the economy in crisis, unemployment on the rise, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and swine flu in the schools, isn’t life frightening enough already? Yes, and that’s exactly why we have horror films and haunted houses, said Leora Lev, a professor of foreign languages at Bridgewater State College who teaches a popular freshman seminar, “Vampires: Monstrous Desire and Taboo.”
Scary movies, books and Halloween ghosts and ghouls help us confront and manage our fears and anxieties in the reassuring companionship of people around us, said Lev.
“We can confront our fear in a situation that is a controlled one,” said Lev. “It can feel very terrifying, but we know there is a community around us that we experience it with, and we have a feeling that nothing too terrible can happen.”
In her course, Lev studies the underlying fears of different cultures through time, and the way they were expressed in the legends of monsters such as Dracula.
As a child, she remembers visiting haunted houses and “loving being terrified,” Lev said.
“Freud said that one of our greatest fears is that our home, a symbol of everything that is reassuring and comforting to us, maybe isn’t, that there maybe are monsters under the bed, or our parent is secretly a monster,” said Lev.
“One of our biggest fears is that which we look to for safety isn’t safe after all,” Lev said. “The haunted house is the opportunity for little kids to negotiate these fears.”
It’s also true that fears are unique to the times. During the Cold War, horror movies were about the after-effects of nuclear radiation and fall-out and featured aliens and pod people.
During the 1970s, when the family structure was changing, slasher films showed the literal dismemberment of people.
Now we have a renewed fascination with the vampire, as demonstrated by the success of the “Twilight” book and movie series, said Lev. It is really about “the coming-of-age fear of romantic and sexual encounters. The vampire is a huge metaphor for loss of control.”
While it might be healthy, then, to love what’s most frightening, 11-year-old Andrew Mydan said he will settle for being a Ninja for Halloween.
Examining plastic spiders at the Itz A Party store in Raynham while his grandmother, Carol Magoon of Taunton, was shopping, Andrew confessed that he doesn’t like scary things very much.
“Not really,” said Andrew. “I only like the ‘Saw’ movies, and ‘Friday the 13th One.’”
Kristina Nalbandian, 19, a student at Johnson and Wales University in Providence, R.I., said she visited a haunted house last year and loved it.
“I like the adrenaline rush,” said Nalbandian, who was shopping for a costume. “Some of them are pretty scary. You know you’re going to get scared, but you want to just go anyway. It’s the season.”
Vicki-Ann Downing can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org