You might think that a guy known as “Monster Man” would be all about the gore, but John Aranza’s favorite thing about Halloween isn’t the extreme scare factor.
“The most intriguing part of the holiday for me is getting lost for a day. It is escapism,” says Aranza, owner of Berwyn’s Horrorbles (6729 W Roosevelt Rd, 708-484-7370), the ultimate shop specializing year-round in Halloween-style films, costumes, collectibles, memorabilia and other themed goodies.
“Halloween is one of those holidays where you see a different side of people. The most straitlaced people spook it up and make their houses look like graveyards. For me, the fun around Halloween is just punching around, almost like Christmas, to see what people’s creative juices have created. It is not one particular thing. I have always loved taking enjoyment in other people’s creativity.”
Once an assistant sommelier at the Mag Mile restaurant Spiaggia, Aranza always had an affinity for horror and science fiction, genres that fueled his imagination. Now he “lives and breathes it.” One day when surfing online for a copy of a movie he hadn’t seen, he came across an ad for a convention for horror-film buffs.
“I drove with my then-wife-to-be to the convention and it just opened a floodgate,” Aranza remembers. The convention led him to launch an online business, then to the now-six-year-old Horrorbles store, and most recently into expanding Horrorbles’ offerings. The two-story space now has an offbeat art gallery and mini theater space, as well as classroom space to teach the art of being spooky, plus shelves stocked with zombie dolls, custom-made hockey masks, vintage horror movie posters and anything else a fan could want.
Aranza has tried to share the sense of wonder he experienced as a kid with those who come to his store. “Sure, there is that vein of people who come in and they want everything and anything extreme,” he says. “But Horrorbles is really family-friendly. This is not about trying to scare the wits out of children. Instead, we try to create a childlike quality that goes along with all of these things. It should all be in good taste. If you are trying to achieve a scare or a haunt, less is always more, like the best films.”
To that end, Horrorbles helped launch an annual zombie walk down Roosevelt Road on Halloween. Last year between 200 and 300 people participated; funds raised were donated to a local charity (the event will be repeated on October 29th this year). The store also teaches how-to classes on creating your own front-yard graveyard and other decorating feats. The events dovetail with Horrorbles’ efforts to be “a hub in the community” for all things Halloween. “It sparks the child in everybody. It helps you go back to a more innocent time.”
A native of Bridgeport, Aranza and his wife now also own a restaurant, Autre Monde, next door to Horrorbles. But even with the new business, the influences of the shop are everywhere.
“At first she kind of let me run with it,” says Aranza of his wife’s tolerance for all things October 31. “She has always been supportive and loves the creative side of it. But there’s still a separation of church and state.” Aranza trolls flea markets and conventions for vintage merchandise. “Sometimes I’ll come home with a life-size figure and plop it on the couch, and she’ll give me that look.”
If there’s one person whom Aranza likes to spook best, it’s himself. “You get that feeling in your stomach, ‘What if?’ I absolutely love it. I am the first person to scare myself. I’ll go into the basement without the lights on to get something and run back up.”