There’s no such thing as too much Halloween. At least not according to Bucksport resident Amy Violette and her two children, Nathaniel Cusack, 12, and Lizzie Cusack, 15, whose white and green house is a vault of all things gory and spooky.
The kitchen is covered floor to ceiling with decorations, including “Support the zombies” stickers in the shape of breast cancer awareness ribbons on the range hood above the stove. A giant furry spider adorns one wall and a life size poster of bloody zombies covers another. Even the dog’s toy box under the table is full of stuffed black and orange toys.
For Lizzie and Nathaniel, this year’s decorations aren’t anything abnormal — they’ve been inundated with Halloween props, makeup, stories and movies since they wore diapers. They even were participants — babies in coffins — at Violette’s annual cemetery which often drew visitors from more than an hour away. And while Nathaniel Cusack is more into gore and helping out mom these days than his sister, Violette did remind her daughter that her favorite band as a child was “Rob Zombie.”
Each year, more decorations, some realistic, others gross, but never in the least bit “cheesy,” are added to the family’s collection in their basement.
Violette and Nathaniel Cusack are also the artist and “palette” for tutorials she holds with staff at Fort Knox for the park’s Fright at the Fort event. She creates the makeup, and he is her dummy, holding still as she demonstrates how to create a realistic looking boil by covering a packing bubble with latex and blood.
“He’s my canvas,” Violette said of her son.
From beyond the veil
The trio regularly volunteer at The Alamo, Bucksport’s historic theatre, which will screen classics such as “Rocky Horror Show” around Halloween. But they keep going back for more than just the lure of a good scare. It has more to do with a number.
Violette’s grandfather worked at the theatre for years manning the projection machine. Each year, she and the children say they notice a number cropping up in conversations and around the building. His number, the number 13.
It’s the date he was born on, and a number that played a significant role in his life. The family takes it as a sign.
“I think he’s still there,” Violette said. Nathaniel Cusack agrees.
In the toolkit
A large gray and black toolbox is home to everything Nathaniel and Violette need to create every gory or spooky look in the book. It’s filled with vials of fake blood, boils, latex, scars and palettes of colors used to create anything from a bruise to putrefied flesh.
“Good makeup is more effective and scary,” Violette said explaining that she’s come a long way from her first days dressed as an ape from the movie “The Planet of the Apes.” There’s been grim reapers, banshees, bullet wounds, zombie tactical response teams — all increasing in complexity and detail as the years went on.
The family will scour Halloween and costume stores in Maine and Massachusetts for new supplies, though Violette and Nathaniel Cusack also enjoy finding ways to incorporate everyday items into their arsenal of techniques each year.
Violette has created skin ailments using elmers glue and toilet paper. She is even considering experimenting with gelatin and concealer to create a melted skin look.
This year, to go along with the fort’s theme of “Black Plague,” the pair created boils using bubble wrap, latex and a little blood. They started months ago and bounced ideas off Facebook friends — much to the chagrin of at least one person who wrote to Violette saying she would pray for Nathaniel after seeing the practice boils on his face in a photo.
“She has awesome ideas about costumes and makeup … she outdoes herself basically,” Lizzie Cusack said.
Last year, a few local television stations felt she went too far over the top and banned a commercial for the fort event featuring Nathaniel Cusack eating a heart and licking a severed finger.
Keys to a good scare
Violette and her children aren’t scary looking by any means when they aren’t dressed in more than a few zombie-themed t-shirts with sayings like, “Zombies make the best boyfriends.” The kids have a spattering of innocent freckles across their faces and though Violette sports long, black hair, her smile lights up her whole face.
But they’re kind of into dispelling stereotypes about Halloween enthusiasts.
“We totally believe in God, but we just really love Halloween, so thank you God for zombies,” Violette said.
And as Nathaniel Cusack is quick to point out, it’s not necessarily what someone looks like — there are keys to creating a good scare.
Always have an element of surprise involved and avoid anything predictable.
“The rule is you have to hide or do something they don’t expect — like pretend you aren’t real because if they aren’t expecting it, it will be even better of a scare,” he said with a grin.
Nathaniel remembers his best scare. He was wearing a pumpkin mask — known among the family as a sure-fire way to scare Lizzie — and he headed to a neighbor’s house where he tried to scare them through a window. When that idea failed, he hid behind a bush in the yard and jumped out as a family leaned toward him for a closer look.
“A grown woman just started running down the driveway,” Nathaniel Cusack said.
And while scaring seems to come naturally to them, Violette isn’t beyond taking credit for some of her kids’ enthusiasm for the holiday.
“When they grow up in this world, they just like it,” Violette said.