I’ve never been one to shy away from all things spooky. My childhood was a colorful blur of Beistle decorations, Disney Villains, and haunting and haunted tales from days of old. I had a King Kong stuffed animal, from the old days of Universal Studios merch, that was (besides Elmo, duh) my best friend. My first crush was Jack Skellington. My first Halloween I dressed as, of course, the traditional pumpkin…and, also, the not-so-traditional baby Wolfman- fur onesie and all. In truth, my Horrific Origin began even before then – in the generations before me.
944 Harding Avenue in Venice, CA was our familial home. Every year, in the too-short and equally too-slow hours before that magical hour of tricks and treats approached, my enormous, delightful, musical, Mexican-Irish Catholic Family took to work creating the spookhouse that the whole neighborhood would talk about. People would line the block in anticipation as over 100 busy hands worked and waited for the sun to dip below the horizon – and the fun to start. A rushed dinner of McDonald’s (just up the street – and easy to order en masse) as makeup and costumes were flown and flung – just the right scarf for the gypsy, the perfect greasepaint grin on the clown. Anywhere from 45-50 players, all in their perfect costumes and perfect makeup – ready to treat the neighborhood to a scare, and a laugh, and a night to remember.
My great grandmother – the matriarch of our giant, loud, wonderful family – begrudgingly, and with a smile and grace beyond this world, allowed absolute chaos for just a brief 24 hours – within a day, just like the remnants of Ichabod Crane’s final ride, the remnants of Halloween were gone. Put up in a mad dash and taken down just as quickly, October comes and goes…leaving nothing but memories and a sweet spice in the cool air. In my lifetime, these are just memories – the family home was sold in the late nineties after a nearly complete exodus of my extended family in the early part of the decade – but even so, the legend of the Harding House has permeated generations since, not just for us family members, but for California natives who either visited themselves or heard about it from their parents. The first “home haunt” I ever knew about – long before I’d take on a career in haunts.
Moving on to my life and my personal origins – while I got a few Halloweens at that precious home, most of my Halloween memories are at my own home in Woodland Hills, CA. My dad was the Trick or Treater Leader – he even had a baseball cap that said so, and once I was old enough to help with handing out candy it was a heart wrenching decision for me whether to stay behind and greet those excited faces or go out and get my own hoard. Halloween cartoons were a permanent fixture in our home – Halloween is Grinch Night (available below!) is still a favorite to this day.
Classics like Mad Monster Party and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown were on constant rotation not just on Halloween night but all throughout the season. Arsenic and Old Lace is another classically spooky romp that has a special place in my heart – and one I could recite by rote. I honestly couldn’t tell you the first time true, classic horror began creeping into my life. Frankenstein and Dracula and (my favorite) Creature From the Black Lagoon have always been part of my lexicon of beloved monsters. Psycho and The Shining – classics by any account – were also a permanent fixture in my upbringing, without any real acknowledgement or warning that they were horror. They were just incredible films that taught me how fun it could be to be scared. Halloweens, as I got older, were shared with my uncle – an artist and Monster Kid in his own right, who created ghoulish creatures – including a living Great Pumpkin and a singing skeleton quartet – in his small front yard in Branson, MO. I have photos of me at an excruciatingly young age, sitting in the crook of his left arm as his right controls a full size (six-plus-feet-tall) Jack Skellington puppet. This bizarre and wonderful relationship would help me blossom into the creator that I am now – and introduced me to the world of Monster Conventions – as I played Art Director and Girl Friday for his various haunted creations over a decade of Monsterpalooza shows here in Burbank, CA. But I should backtrack a bit…
As I headed into my teen years my horror world blew open wide – Jaws became a film I would comfort watch, and I can still recite the whole thing. Alien, and the Alien franchise, saved my life – truly. I even have Ripley’s 8 tattoo from the controversial Alien: Resurrection tattooed on my arm. Then, one cool, crisp, October night, I was introduced to the love of my life: Jerry Dandrige. Fright Night is a cult classic to many, most watch with tongues planted firmly in cheeks – but I watched with stunned awe.
First of all, my childhood crush on Chris Sarandon, which started as I learned that Prince Humperdinck and Jack Skellington were in fact one and the same, had gallons of gasoline dumped onto the already roaring fire. His suave, sexy portrayal of Dandrige was almost too hot to handle. Then, there was the makeup and special effects. I remember watching in stunned awe as Evil Ed transformed from boy to vampire, to wolf, back to boy. The concept that that was a job, that that was something I could do, hit me for the very first time. That’s something that people create. And I could create that too. Thus began a career that has brought me more joy – and fear – and creativity than I could ever imagine.
This magical, frightful circle culminated at Monsterpalooza 2019, where I was able to work alongside beloved friend and fellow makeup artist David Woodruff, assisted by Jose Restrepo, to create a film-perfect homage to Jerry, and Fright Night. Dear friend and remarkable actor and composer Lito Velasco was our model – and he brought Jerry to life beyond my wildest dreams.
Photos by Eric Anderson
Many jack-o’-lanterns, many horror films (some wonderful – some real stinkers), and close to a decade now of Haunt makeup experience mean that I’ve built myself a reputation as Halloween Royalty (Some say “Halloween Queen,” but I prefer “Your Worshipfulness”). I keep a Halloween wreath on my door – and in my heart – year round.
I guess you could say, in the fashion set out before me by beloveds and mentors like Verne Langdon, Forrest J. Ackerman and Ray Bradbury, I am one of the October People. I am a Monster Kid, through to my orange and black heart. I live, eat, breathe, and sleep horror films – and my life would be not nearly as fun – or as spooky – without my beloved friends. From Phantom of the Opera to Pumpkinhead, Carrie to the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the monstrous ones will always have my heart – just a little strange, just a little different – and just like me.
Until a new Horrific Origin next week, when Brian does Frankenstein, I’ll simply leave you with a Happy Halloween–always and forever!
Makeup Artist, Monster Maker, Educator, Producer, Haunt-lover, and all around Halloween freak. When Miranda isn't watching horror films, she's making them happen. When she's not doing either of those things, she's probably dreaming about them. Or baking cookies.