A robotic, life-size Michael Myers stands near the entrance of National City’s Spirit Halloween, awkwardly rotating its torso and stabbing air. The theme song from Halloween bleeds out from some hidden speaker — tinny and forever repeating. Children keep running up and activating Michael’s motion, immune to the maddening repetition of it. I have to walk away, but it’s impossible to go anywhere in the place without hearing John Carpenter’s iconic score. After a while, it really does make my skin crawl.
I’m not at this Spirit Halloween Store to purchase spooky decor, or Skeleboner, what I can only assume is this year’s hottest item: a skeleton costume with an inflatable dick.
Rather, I’m looking for evidence.
Soon I find what I’m looking for: graphics of Hollywood Video logos — wrapped with flowing film strips — are printed onto the carpet. I try to think back to when Hollywood Video was still a company. I have a vague memory of being 20 years old and opening an account at a Hollywood Video just so I could rent Maniac Cop. When I gawked at the price of the rental — maybe $6 — the store clerk was quick to remind me that Hollywood Video was a “cinema library,” which I guess was their way of distinguishing themselves from Blockbuster Video.
That was 2004, and although that was the last time I stepped into a Hollywood Video, the chain officially shuttered in 2010.
Which means this National City Spirit Halloween Store occupies a building that has been… [Scooby Doo realization voice] a-a-a-abandoned for at least eight years!
I take a couple photos of the carpet, careful not to touch it. The brown stains could be water or blood. It feels a little like I’m taking pics of a dead body at a crime scene. The Halloween song trickles over the sinister sounds of gleeful children and by now my unease is real. It’s not the song, nor the children, nor the jerky robot movements affecting me per se, but the culmination of experiencing it all at once in such a damned place — much like playing with a Ouija board in a cemetery.
It’s a thrilling feeling, that unease. Ideal for the Halloween season. Spirit Halloween Stores are masters at peddling scares, but their real (and probably inadvertent) beauty comes from reanimating the dead, exorcising demons, and creating real goddamn haunts. Because what else do you call a transitory inhabitation apart from a haunting?