Halloween used to be so simple. As a kid, my mother transformed me into plenty of things that filled me with joy: a strawberry, a ladybug, an angel with devil horns and a barbed tail. She had a knack for costume making (my brother's Venkman costume featured a damn-near-exact replica proton pack), and as long as I made it to the Brewsters' house in time for a homemade popcorn ball, all was right with the world.
In college, I learned the fine art of Halloween sluttery: Pick out a headband decorated with horns, ears, antennae or the like; couple it with something tight, shiny, short, etc. and—voilà! But what's a gal to do when she inevitably outgrows fishnets and Natural Ice?
A grown-up Halloween can mean a lot of things: If you have kids, break out the Simplicity patterns and dress 'em up yourself; if you're a homeowner, employ fake blood and yard decorations to give your trick-or-treaters a gory scare. But if you're an apartment-dwelling, childless twentysomething like myself (and many other Portlanders), these aren't realistic options—which is why I ended up at the Mission Theater for Mood Area 52's live scoring of F.W. Murnau's classic vampire flick, Nosferatu, this Halloween.
As ghouls and mice, starlets and beatniks filed into the 200-capacity hall, Michael Roderick's Eugene-based, klezmer-tinged neo-tango ensemble, Mood Area 52—which holds the title for most mismatched band name, as there are no trippy light shows or spacey keyboards to be found—ushered in the evening. Roderick, seated on a tiny stool and donning a sort of mad circus ringleader getup (tailored suit, dark-circled eyes, tall hat, unruly beard), teetered on the edge of the stage, roiling accordion in hand. Later, he took to shouting chanty verses at the crowd, channeling the gruff spirit of Isaac Brock from Modest Mouse's "March Into the Sea."
When Nosferatu finally began, the band melted skillfully into the background; it was so subtle I could have sworn actual sound effects, like creaking-door and wind noises, were part of the film, even though I knew better. But Mood Area 52—which has also lent its sound (a melding of tango with everything from electronic beats and surf guitar to Roderick's masterfully played cornet) to British sci-fi flick La Jetée and several Buster Keaton shorts—also swelled and shattered at all the right moments; it created tension and drama in a film that, though quite entertaining, does have dull, lagging moments. Even when vocalist Marietta Bonaventure sang intermittently, the startling sound of her voice quickly and appropriately blended into the experience as a whole.
And though I expected the event—with its mature soundtrack, ornate venue and seated, wine-drinking crowd—to make for a sophisticated way to appreciate my favorite holiday, I couldn't help but grin and giggle with delight at every one of Count Orlok's creepy moves or drummer James West's spooky accoutrements. I was even a bit disappointed to discover that Roderick doesn't usually dress and act like the crazed conductor he played last Wednesday night. Maybe I don't want to grow up after all.
Mood Area 52 plays regularly in Portland and Eugene; its next scheduled Portland show is Saturday, Dec. 22, at the Press Club. 8 pm. Free. All ages.