With Halloween around the corner, actor Ulysses Castellanos says the best way to get kids to embrace spookiness is to let them be monsters in their own horror movies.
Castellanos, a Toronto film actor and artist, is part of a multi-disciplinary artistic team that will be in Victoria with Intrepid Theatre for an evening where kids and their families can stage, shoot and star in their own horror pictures.
On Oct. 30 and 31, families will be invited into the Da Vinci Community Centre, where they can dress up, apply makeup, arrange props and sets and shoot their own short movie scenes. Afterwards, they can watch their creations in a private screening room.
The event will include a set with props and a camera operator.
Castellanos said experience with similar events in Toronto has shown him how much fun kids have inhabiting a frightening reality of their own creation for a few moments. "I love being scared; I love watching scary movies," said Castellanos. "That's the whole idea behind this, so kids can actually see how much fun they really are."
He said horror movies are enjoyable because they "disassociate our reality."
"For a short while, they make us feel powerless and in that feeling, we become aware we can handle it."
Staged horror in movies, plays and books has long fascinated us. A holiday such as Halloween combines eery elements with a sense of fun.
But according to one psychologist, just why we're attracted by things that unnerve us hasn't been studied extensively.
Martin Antony, a professor of psychology at Ryerson University in Toronto and co-author of the Anti-Anxiety Workbook, said research psychologists have tended to focus on how to overcome anxieties, fears and phobias. Psychologists, however, have spent significantly less effort in discovering why we actually like to be scared.
Antony speculated that spooky things give us an adrenaline rush, which can feel good. That feeling of relief when it's all over can similarly be a big attraction. "So you get that rush of adrenaline and that enormous relief at the end and yet you know the whole time that nothing bad is going to really happen," he said in a telephone interview.
Antony cautioned, however, that young children can lack the maturity to understand that nothing really bad will happen. "They are not able to step back and say, 'This isn't real.' "
Even neutral costumes on Halloween can be terrifying for three-or four-year-olds, who sometimes find Santa Claus or Mickey Mouse at Disneyland frightening, too.
Antony said parents shouldn't be tempted to push children into frightening situations and should take steps to prepare them.
Lianne McLarty, an associate professor in the University of Victoria's fine arts faculty, where she teaches history in art, film and popular culture, was delighted to think of kids making their own spook shows.
"That would be so cool," said McLarty, who finds the dramatic horror genre endlessly fascinating, especially in the movies. McLarty said invented monsters reveal a great deal about our compulsions, fixations and fears.
Vampires, for example, always come with a heavy mixture of sexuality and desire. They are aristocratic and compelling, while dangerous at the same time.
Space aliens, usually depicted as malignant, are driven by a fear of "the other," someone who is not like us who may be infiltrating our community. They revolve around the issue of "identity, who is human and who is not human and how is humanity constructed."
Zombies often come with a heavy dose of social commentary. There is a fear of social collapse in zombie movies, along with a kind of democracy of horror.
"It's sort of like a monster that is everyone," said McLarty. "Instead of just one Frankenstein's monster or a vampire, everybody is possibly a monster in a zombie movie."
She said she likes to think that confronting dramatic horror, particularly in movies, is a healthy, fun and instructive way for us to face our own fears. It can make any spooky, scary experience empowering.
"It lets [kids] occupy the position where they get to scare somebody," she said.
"As humans we are just natural storytellers. We can interpret things in a way that is fantastic sometimes, as opposed to a rational explanation."
Movie Monster runs Oct. 30 and 31 from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m., at the DaVinci Centre, 195 Bay St., and is recommended for families with children 10 and under. Tickets are $5 per child or $15 for a family of up to four. You can book specific times in advance by purchasing tickets at ticketrocket.org or phoning 250-590-6291.
Tips for keeping Halloween fun for kids.
? Explain what will happen during Halloween to minimize unpleasant surprises. Take your child to a costume store and even try on a few. Anxiety is easiest to manage when situations are predictable.
? Explain people are just pretending to be scary and it's all meant to be fun.
? Visit familiar homes first, such as those of neighbours, family or friends. As your child becomes more comfortable, you can venture out to strangers' houses for tricks and treats.
? Consider trick or treating during daylight if your child is afraid of the dark.
? A child may feel safer with pals, parents, grandparents or siblings. There is safety in numbers.
? Be supportive, empathetic and flexible. If Halloween plans don't work out, be prepared to end the evening early. Be positive and supportive. It can be helpful to encourage children to face their fears. But forcing a screaming child to do something terrifying can make the fear worse.
? Allow a child to dress up at home and give out candy to other kids if they are too afraid to go out on Halloween.
? Finally, a parent can help by not expressing excessive or unrealistic fears in front of the kids. Parents sometimes worry about their kids' safety on Halloween but they should make an effort to keep their own fears in check.
- Prof. Martin Antony, Ryerson University, co-author Anti-Anxiety Workbook: Proven Strategies to Overcome Worry, Panic, Phobias and Obsessions
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