Halloween has been smoothed down and polished up until it resembles Valentine's Day: Give candy to a stubby goblin; tell a knee-high witch you love her.
All Hallow's Eve is the night of the dead -- restless souls in the cold night air and who knows what lurking beneath the stair. It is a time to scare yourself to death.
A proper Halloweed party will induce nightmares. To begin, give each arriving guest a supermarket bag and magic markers. These are to make monster masks -- faces with fangs, bloodshot eyes and evil smirks.The result, artistically, is less important than that when people disappear behind the false faces, reality recedes.
Let the only light be jack-o'-lanterns set on the floor, where they will cast wavery shadows. If you want decorations, don't use dime store skeletons or plastic pumpkins; instead, cut out illustrations from "The Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta" (Peacock Press/Bantam Books, $7.95) -- snakes wrapping themselves around screaming women, creatures you hope never to see in the sea, blood-hungry apes -- or from "The Art of the Brothers Hildebrandt (Ballantine Books, $8.95), a scary collection of gnomes, monsters and large, hairy spiders.
For background music, nothing chills like the atonal chords of certain modern music. Steve Wheatton at Discount Records particularly recommends "Mikrophonie I" from Stockhausen's "Mikrophonie I -- Mikrophonie II" (Deutsche Gramophone, $8.99), which he says is "scary like a Martian zoo," or George Crumb's "Black Angels. (Images I)" from "The Contemporary Composer in the USA" (Vox Turnabout, $4.98).
While the music creaks and snarls in the background, have someone read aloud "The Tell-Tale Heart" or "The Masque of the Red Death" from "The Selected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe" (The Penguin English Library, $2.95).
Or, if you either have two phonographs or are willing to forego background music, there is the Master of Horror series with "H. P. Lovecraft, The Rats in the Walls, The Outsider" (Lava Mt., $6.99), or Basil Rathbone reading Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher and other Works" (Caedmon, $7.95).
It never hurts, midway through the evening, to have a chalky face appear outside the window, scratching at the glass.
You presumably will have told guests you were going to scare them, not feed them, but you might set out the traditional Halloween foods: cider, bowls of candy corn, apples and peanut-butter cookies, on which you have first dropped the apples, to achieve the proper texture.
And if you doubt you can scare everyone to death, turn down the lights and read aloud these lines from "The Tell-Tale Heart":
"He had the eye of a vulture -- a pale blue eye with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold . . . "