For those who love to drink—making sure to be creative while doing so—it’s the most wonderful time of the year not named Christmas. But before we get to October 31, let’s start with the ultimate brilliance of Halloween, namely that there’s nothing stopping anyone from celebrating it 365 days a year.
What do Sarah Bernhardt, Siouxsie Sioux, Ivan the Terrible, Elvira, The Mad Duke Of Portland, Maila Nurmi, and Patricia Morrison all have in common? That’s easy—upon spinning Ministry’s “Halloween”, they sing loud enough to wake the dead when Al Jourgensen croons “Well any time, any place, anywhere that I go/All the people seem to stop and stare/They say ‘Why are you dressed like it’s Halloween?’ ”. And then they crank the volume a notch one verse later with “And I dress this way just to keep them at bay/’Cause Halloween is everyday”.
Walk around dressed like Kris Kringle, Buddy the Elf, or everyone’s favourite dark overlord Krampus, in the middle of summer, and people will go out of their way to avoid eye contact. Hit the Commercial Drive food co-op in white greasepaint, three layers of NYX Matte Liquid eyeliner, and a death’s-black-haystack hairdo, however, and folks will just assume Bauhaus, the Misfits, and Skinny Puppy are three of your two favourite bands.
But back to the Halloween season, which, over the past couple of decades, has become mondo-huge business.
Drive around any Lotusland neighbourhood that hasn’t been turned into a ghost town by real-estate speculators (looking at you West Van!), and you’ll see homes festooned with dangling skeletons, epic spiderwebs, menacing ravens, leaf-strewn tombstones, and shrunken heads on sticks. The American-based National Retail Federation estimates that our U.S. neighbours will spend an eye-popping $10.14 billion on Halloween-related items this year, a huge increase from the $8.05 billion in 2020. And as sure as Spirit Halloween is the best place to pick up a six-foot animatronic 400-pound butcher with a buzzsaw for one hand and a meat-mallet for another, what happens in America is a mirror of Canada.
The big night for trick-or-treaters is October 31, but the buildup starts long before then. Which is why, for 30 straight days, it’s all about watching horror films: Dawn of the Dead, The Evil Dead, Hereditary, Planet Terror, Dead and Buried, The Return of the Living Dead, and the indescribably awesome Sleepaway Camp.
And nothing—with the possible exception of a half-dozen mini Wunderbars—goes better with those nightly screenings than seasonally appropriate cocktails.
A couple of tiki-nation classics make supernatural October go-tos. The Zombie and Last Rites have great names. They also work a tropical vibe that whisks imbibers away from a West Coast where the fall monsoons start in the third week of September.
Three different rums, apricot and cherry brandies, orgeat syrup, and pineapple, papaya, lime, and orange juice go into Salvatore Calabrese’s potent spin on the Zombie—whip up a batch and then cue up 1932’s pre-Hays code cult classic White Zombie.
The Last Rites is easier to execute, assuming you can get your hands on Falernum (hit up Modern Bartender in Chinatown) and Martinique rum (which the British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch promised it would start carrying last month, but is still nowhere to be found on its website). From there, all you need is fresh lime and passion fruit syrup (pick up a package of Goya passion fruit pulp at your local Latino grocery, and mix with an equal amount of sugar). Then sit down with 1988’s Last Rites and see if you agree with Roger Ebert’s zero-stars rating, as well as his contention that it was the worst film of that year.
While we’re on the subject of great cocktail names, the Corpse Reviver dates back to the 1800s in the States. Popular legend is that the drink—which has its own sequels, including the Corpse Reviver #2—came to life at the Savoy Hotel in London. And, sorry, while a Corpse Reviver sounds a natural for a Re-Animator rewatch, famed bartender Harry Craddock is said to have whipped it up for customers so hungover they felt dead.
For the Corpse Reviver No. 2, the recipe for which is below, you’ll get a crash course in the beauty of oh-so-French Lillet Blanc. As for the spirit-forward Corpse Reviver, line up the cognac, apple brandy, and sweet vermouth, and then bludgeon that screaming hangover into submission. Preferably with your cocktail in one hand, and a metal mallet tenderizer in the other while The Midnight Meat Train plays on the 60-inch flatscreen.
Sticking with the theme of human meat—albeit of the organ variety—why not make a double-bill of things with the Mo Brothers’ wildly blood-splattered Indonesian film Macabre? Even if there’s nothing stopping you from celebrating Halloween all 52 weeks of each spin around the sun, officially the second most wonderful time of the year only comes every 12 months. Make the most of it this October, whether you’re embracing a traditional Zombie, or going a bit more modern with a Witches’ Brew, Necromancer, or Grave Digger. And don’t forget the mini-Wunderbars.
Here, from The Savoy Cocktail Book, is an original Corpse Reviver #2 recipe you can make right before you rent The Serpent and the Rainbow.
Corpse Reviver #2
3/4 oz. London dry gin
3/4 oz. Lillet blanc
3/4 oz. orange liqueur
3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
Rinse a chilled coupe glass with absinthe. Add the gin, Lillet blanc, orange liqueur, and lemon juice into a shaker with ice, shake until well-chilled, and then strain into the coupe glass.