Satan’s Playhouse and the Pig’s Head

From “18 Terrifying Old Costumes You Can’t Unsee” on MentalFloss.com. Click on the image to see the other 17, if you dare…

I have a knee-jerk fear reaction to realistic (or real!) pig costumes.  Here’s why:

As an undergrad, I was involved with the Yale Children’s Theater as an actor, director, producer, costume designer, and probably other positions that I can’t remember right now.  They did tons of productions every year for the local kids. Every Halloween, however, the group put on a haunted house that was most definitely NOT for children.  Satan’s Playhouse was an opportunity for us all to shed our wholesomeness and indulge in some hardcore depravity.  And oh boy, did we come up with some disturbing stuff.

The Satan’s Playhouse my freshman year had a Christmas theme.  It was arranged in a series of tableaus, including a family dinner where the main course was a trussed naked woman, and a Christmas tree where the presents looked normal until lights went on inside them and revealed the cellophane boxes contained twisted, struggling and bleeding people (also naked…there was a lot of nudity…).  But the most disturbing thing was the rotting Santa Claus.  That image alone is disturbing, but what really got me was the pig’s head he would pull out of his sack, stick on a pike, and use to chase the spectators.  It was the first and last thing the spectators saw: they were chased into and out of the house by a cackling Jolly Old Saint Nick.

What pushed that from disturbing to horrifying for me was that the pig’s head was real.  They kept it in a large cooler between performances to keep it fresh, but the smell was still repulsive: raw meat, swine, an insidious whiff of decay.  The rotten Santa “accidentally” touched me with the cold, slimy, bristly snout once, and after five minutes in the bathroom frantically scrubbing my skin, I spent the rest of the performances staying as far away from the guy and the horrible thing.

I think the pig’s head terrified me most because it was the one thing in the whole performance that broke the fourth wall, that could not be safely categorized as fiction.  The flesh that was cut off the roasted woman and gobbled up by a ravenous family?  Cold cuts.  The blood that wept from the flailing half-dead human presents? Corn syrup dyed with food coloring.  But that head, with its rictus grin, lolling tongue, clouded eyes?  A day earlier that was a living animal that was brutally slaughtered.  Its horror could not be denied.  It was True.

What about you, dear readers?  What sort of Halloween costume are you reflexively repulsed by, and why?

Naked

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When I was a sophomore in college, I decided to take an intro drawing class.  I had always loved art and drawing, and had filled many sketchbooks as a kid, mostly with cats.  I thought taking a class would be fun.

I had no idea what I was in for.

I arrived on the first day of class with my required sketchpads and pencils and charcoals, not knowing what to expect but excited to get started.  There was a circle of easels in the studio, and we were told to pick one and set up with newsprint and a pencil.  I was just about ready when a stout man walked into the room, barefoot and wearing a powder blue bathrobe.  He strolled to the center of the circle, and with a complete lack of reservation shed the bathrobe, revealing that he was entirely naked underneath.  He placed a fist on one hip and held out his other arm, his hand dangling limply from his wrist.

Everyone started drawing.

Everyone but me.

I was shocked, and felt stupid for being shocked.  The course description had mentioned exploring the human form, but for some reason I didn’t realize that meant nudes.  I couldn’t look straight at the man.  I was fighting the urge to dissolve into nervous laughter, and felt stupid for that, too.  What was I, twelve?  No one else was laughing.

Then the door opened, and two students came in.  They saw the naked guy and their eyes went wide.  “OH MY GOD!” one of them gasped, and they turned tail and rushed out, the door slamming behind them.

Several of us laughed. The tension was broken, and I was able to actually start drawing.  Granted, I was still pretty uncomfortable.  And I still wasn’t able to draw anything below the waist of our model…that took a couple sessions.  But at least I wasn’t afraid I was just going to start giggling uncontrollably.