A Halloween Q&A

In this interview Lisa Morton, author of the award winning Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween shares her passion for the topic. From the best Halloween sweet to her favorite horror film.

How did your interest in Halloween start?

Well, of course I’ve always loved it. When I was a kid, it was something my whole family enjoyed, with Mom and Dad helping me craft costumes and then putting on their own to hand out candy to trick or treaters. I was the odd little girl who preferred monsters to princesses, so it was the one night a year when I could pretend to be the spooky things I watched on television. As an adult, I started collecting vintage Halloween books in the late ‘90s – just before the explosion of interest in Halloween memorabilia – mainly because I was delighted by the quaint, whimsical graphics. That collection led to my first Halloween book, The Halloween Encyclopedia, and it’s all kind of snowballed from there.

As you have dug into Halloween’s history, what have you learned that has grabbed your attention or surprised you the most?

There were two things that I discovered while researching Trick or Treat that were pretty jaw-dropping. The first was finding out that the entire mistaken notion that Halloween is based on the Celtic worship of a “Samhain, Lord of Death” can be traced to one man, an eighteenth-century surveyor and not-very-good historian named Charles Vallancey; two centuries later, that misconception is still widespread, amazingly (and sadly!). The second revelation was how much Halloween has spread around the globe in just the last decade. When I’d researched The Halloween Encyclopedia in the first few years of the new millennium, it was still little known in most of Europe and Asia…but that’s no longer the case.

In the book, you discuss how the Americanized version of Halloween has spread to Europe and beyond (with mixed results) since the 1990s. Are there aspects of the holiday’s past, or from other countries’ celebrations, that Americans might bring into their Halloween fêtes?

If I could make one big prediction for Halloween’s future, it would be that we’re going to see Halloween and Dia de los Muertos merge more and more. Up until recently, Dia de los Muertos celebrations in the United States were confined largely to areas with significant Spanish-speaking populations, but we’re starting to see a lot of the iconography – the colorful skulls, often decorated with floral designs – cross over into Halloween products now. Those wonderful, eye-popping images turn death into something playful, and I think that fits in perfectly with Halloween.

What do you do on October 31 every year?

I know it will surprise people to hear that I’m not really into costuming – I think I’m too much of a perfectionist! What I love, though, is seeing what people have done with their yards; “yard haunts” have become a true kind of folk art. I spend a few weeks before Halloween searching online for tips on the best local yard haunts, then on the night itself I visit as many of those as I can. I’ve got photos and videos of some of my favorites at Halloween.lisamorton.com .

What is your favorite horror flick? Do you have any recommendations for some lesser-known films or books that Halloween fans should check out?

My favorite horror movie is, without question, The Exorcist (which actually does have a brief nod to Halloween!). A seasonal movie that a lot of folks might have missed that I’ll recommend is Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat – it’s an anthology film with several different stories that explore aspects of Halloween ranging from urban legends to costuming to jack-o’-lanterns to trick or treat, all done with tremendous style, genuine chills, and a real sense of glee.

What is, hands down, the best Halloween candy?

That’s a tough one, but I think I have to go with mellowcreme pumpkins. I’m sure I gain a pound every October just from those alone.

Lisa Morton
Trick or Treat