Musings on Utah’s unlikely love of all things bloody

There is no sex allowed in Zion, unless it be between a man and his wife. Drugs are a big no-no too, and anyone loosely keeping the dream alive that some day weed will be legal in this teetotaling hellhole would be more realistic hoping for the poisonous Great Salt Lake to magically turn into a beer reservoir. And rock and roll? Let me remind you that the biggest thing to come out of Utah in terms of pop and rock recently is the caterwauling of the Neon Trees – spastic subhumans lead by a mohawk so douchetastic it retroactively ruins every other mohawk in history, including Mr. T’s. And before that, we had the Osmond family.

But if it’s blood and guts you seek, we seem to have an abundance of gore and viscera just oozing all over the state. Every October from St. George to Logan, haunted houses, forests and asylums dot the countryside. Halloween is big business around here.

Aside from all things haunted, there are corn mazes, impromptu costume shops, and trunk or treats for the milquetoasts. And everyone is participating. Even your bishop is doused in dyed corn syrup, brandishing something menacing from out of his toolshed. The only day that might be bigger in Utah than All Hallow’s Eve might be the Second Coming. Which, whenever it occurs, will involve a lot less candy; and the girls who dress up like slutty nurses, naughty schoolgirls, sexy meter maids and scantily-clad lunch ladies will be thrown into the lake of fire. Right now, we’d say Halloween is a lot more popular.

Halloween’s popularity in Utah is somewhat surprising, given the state’s palpable religious atmosphere. Spend an autumn down in the deep South, where the Fundamentalists and the Evangelicals roam, and Halloween becomes a morbid opportunity to proselytize the non-believers, specifically through the “Hallelujah House,” a Christian-themed spooks galley where gays and single mothers are depicted writhing in hell’s flames and then a guy that looks like Scott Stapp tries to get you accept Jesus. While this is extremely frightening, it’s more of an off-putting scare than a good-natured thrill.

But despite the large number of church-goers, Hallelujah Houses are virtually absent in Utah. Instead, Utah is home to some of the most renown haunted houses in the United States, including Nightmare on 13th, which has  been featured on The Travel Channel and in USA Today.

Every year, droves of Utahns line up to be thoroughly freaked out at twenty dollars a head. Among other things, Nightmare on 13th features an Aztec witch doctor sacrificing humans, zombies, a spin off the Bates Motel, and enough creepy clowns to rival the Gathering of the Juggalos. The popularity and the longevity of this institution, as well as others, seems to suggest that while buying a Hustler in a Midvale Maverick might be unheard of, the sons and daughters of the pioneers are more than comfortable watching actors simulate raw gruesome murders right within arm’s reach.

So what’s the secret behind Utah’s happy acceptance of gore and guts? Probably two things. Firstly, Americans still dwell in a puritanical culture, where Jack Bauer can rip out a guy’s fingernails on television, but Peter Griffin must take it easy on the sexual innuendos.

Secondly, and more specific to Utah, would be the noticeable dearth of scriptural or otherwise authoritative commentary from the LDS Church on the spiritual ramifications of exposure to violence.

While a haunted house is all good fun, perhaps Utah’s love of Halloween stems from a religious culture that places more stock in following the guidelines set by a recognized authority figure than in pondering deeply about the meaning behind those values. If eschewing frank depictions of sex in film or in literature, particularly pre-marital sex, is about respecting the ability of God and Man to create life, than is paying an entire Andrew Jackson to watch an axe murderer destroy lives any less disrespectful than ogling some Interweb porn?

If abstinence from drugs, alcohol and tobacco motivated by the desire to maintain a clean, properly working house for the spirit, how does the spirit remain clean when the mind is flooded with sensationalist blood and guts? Would renting Halloween or The Hills Have Eyes be a more appropriate Family Home Evening than cozying up with a bowl of popcorn in front of Boogie Nights or 9 ½ Weeks? Probably not. However, since violence has not been directly and specifically addressed ad nausea in the way that porn and booze have, it’s likely that the thought has not crossed most minds.

But let’s not get too critical. Thanks to good old-fashioned seasonal Utah bloodlust, there’s actually something to do in this wasteland state other than hit up Denny’s, go to a dollar movie or dry hump in the mountains. At least for one month out of the year, anyway. Happy Halloween, you gore-starved prudes.