I’ve done a piss-poor job of getting into the Halloween mood this year. Being so busy meant I was left to feel dejected by (and envious of) wonderful blog events like Dark Iris’s 31 Days of Horror, in which she writes about an absolutely terrific set of cheesy/scary films in her erudite and always good-humored voice.

Last night was the first time I had the chance to sit down and watch a scary film — TCM’s showing of the beautiful, weird, and scarily effective The Unknown, a silent starring Lon Chaney and a lovely, round-faced (almost unrecognizable) Joan Crawford. It’s directed by the cult director Tod Browning (most famous for Freaks [1932]).

I’ve said it before: silent films have a capacity to rub up against something primal in our psyches, rendering the best of them truly transfixing. Just take Sunrise (1927) or Diary of a Lost Girl (1929). If you let yourself fall into them — don’t let yourself multi-task or watch ironically — they touch something truly terrifying in us. I’m not exactly sure how this works, but I’m willing to wager that the best directors of the 1920s had smarts about the use of light and cameras that got lost in the shuffle toward sound later on.

The Unknown is a good example. Chaney stars as Alonzo, an armless circus performer whose dexterity with his feet made him a star; when he’s not lighting up cigarettes or holding a teacup with his toes, he uses his feet to throw knives at the luscious Crawford to an appreciative public. Secretly, however, this is all a ruse: an accomplished thief with a record, he binds up his arms in a corset when in public because his hands, which have a distinct deformity, would land him in prison.

At the same time, he loves the gamine Nanon (Crawford), and she displays a distinct affection for him, too. Especially because, as she explains, she’s so tired of having men try to paw her that she has developed a powerful antipathy to men’s hands. The circus’s strongman, Malabar, appears particularly clueless in that regard; his flirtation with her always seems to be going well until he reaches forward and Nanon backs away, horrified and traumatized by all those memories of men trying to get something from her.

No wonder she’s willing to pull herself toward Alonzo. He’s perfect: he has no hands. Which is why his secret is so devastating: he can never be with her and let her know the truth.

Watch the whole thing and tell me if this isn’t fascinating — and oh, that contrast of Chaney’s and Crawford’s faces. This is what the movies are all about.

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I know, right? If you just DO NOT have the energy to go as Honey Boo Boo or to figure out what Hurricane Sandy would look like if a hurricane was a Halloween costume, you feel pressured to look hot for Halloween. Stupid Halloween. And lord knows there are enough sexy witches to throttle a whole future of Dorothys. What does one do if one wants to buck the system, to refuse to dress all sexy when you’d rather channel your inner child?

Answer: find a costume so weird that people don’t know what to do with it. Where to find inspiration? Old photographs!

These are, of course, the least practical, least attractive, and possibly most difficult costumes to create in the history of the universe (I mean, how is that woman in the eggshell going to hold a cocktail?) but I for one applaud the outright embrace of weirdness. That chicken-man would have me pawing all over his feathery softness. And that poor woman in her playing-card outfit … well, I want to kiss her on the lips.

See more costume oddities at this wonderful Flavorwire site. And c’mon, people — do something a little different. Last year I advocated going as a glowing, irradiated Marie Curie, a hatchet-wielding Carrie Nation, or as the goddess Athena. This year I say let it all hang loose, people. Weird is the new sexy!

I know what you’re thinking: hell, here comes another Halloween and I feel pressured to go as a Sexy Witch. Or a Naughty Evil Librarian. Or a Playboy Bunny of Death. Girls’ and women’s costumes have been completely hijacked by Proctor & Gamble, porn culture, and the Beauty Industrial Complex such that if you’re not showing a lotta T&A when you go to that cocktail party, you might as well kiss goodbye any chance of getting a date, ever (or so we are led to believe).

It’s at moments like this that I suggest you ask, “What would Leslie Knope do?”
(WWLKD for short) — that is, put yourself in the sensible shoes of Amy Poehler’s character in Parks and Recreation, that bullheaded feminist whose desk is covered with photos of great women like Hillary Clinton and Madeline Albright. Leslie Knope says that when you’re wondering how to dress for Halloween, think Athena!

I mean, having a spear and shield is always handy for parties, and going as Athena means you get to say things like, “I was born from my father’s head with all this great armor on already!” or “Say that again, and I’ll stick my spear straight up your nose into your brain.” Plus, you get an owl.

If you’re not really the knowledge/ reason/ heavy armor kinda gal, maybe you’d prefer going as Marie Curie (just figure out a way to glow in the dark — how awesome would that be?), or Carrie Nation, the turn-of-the-century temperance crusader who marched into bars with a hatchet and chopped them to pieces as a way of making her point that the nation needed prohibition laws.

Let’s pause on the Carrie Nation idea for a moment (I mean, that Ken Burns series, Prohibition, was just on TV this fall — people will actually get that reference!). Can you imagine how great it’ll be to show up to a cocktail party as Carrie Nation?!? That’s way more scary than a Sexy Zombie or Sexy Vampire. Plus, you get to wear that lace collar! (Sadly, the Carrie Nation outfit does not come with an owl.)

So show some imagination, people! Strike envy into the hearts of those poor wispy types shivering in their Playboy Bunny or Air Hostess from the 60s outfits, even as you steal their potential dates. Hold up your hatchet / spear / glowing arm and ask, “Did you forget to ask yourself, What Would Leslie Knope Do?

I mean, who wouldn’t want to date the glowing Marie Curie or the woman with the hatchet? I’m turned on just thinking about it. Your potential dates will mutter to themselves, “I’ve forgotten everything I ever knew. I feel impossibly transfixed by that amazing woman in the helmet. Is it possible she could tell me as much about weaving as the art of war?”