‘Good evening’; This Halloween, take a cue from Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense

This story originally appeared in the Sunday, October 22, 2006 edition of The Kansas City Star

Want to celebrate the suspense of the season, but without the same old witches, ghosts and pumpkins? Host an Alfred Hitchcock film festival.

Hitchcock, one of the most prominent and recognizable directors of the 20th century, is well known for the suspenseful thrillers he made during his 50-year career, says Jim McDevitt, a writer for www.dvdinmypants.com, which is running a 52-part series on Hitchcock. The director loved to eat and drink wine, McDevitt says, so it’s appropriate to party in his honor.

The perfect invitation could feature Hitchcock’s famous silhouette or could contain a clue to a mystery the guest would have to figure out,

Most of Hitchcock’s movies are available on DVD, McDevitt says. He suggests his favorite, "North by Northwest" (1959), or "Shadow of a Doubt" (1943), which he describes as a very dark movie but also very funny. Lead a discussion when the movie is done. There is always something to talk about after a Hitchcock movie, he says.

Food for a Hitchcock party can be as simple as serving chicken wings in celebration of "The Birds" (1963), says Bob Lunn, head of audiovisual services at the Kansas City Public Library and a Hitchcock fan. In honor of "Psycho" (1960), offer bowls of candy corn, which Norman Bates munched throughout the movie, and sandwiches, which Bates served to Janet Leigh’s character, Marion Crane, in the parlor.

Martinis, champagne and wine -- "all very dry," Lunn says -- would be the perfect drinks from the height of Hitchcock’s success in the 1950s and ’60s.

Despite Hitchcock’s obvious love of food, the party can’t be all about the refreshments. Decorate with Hitchcock movie posters or hang shower curtains, complete with slash marks, between rooms. In the bathroom, plant a dummy behind the shower curtain and dim the lights. Hitchcock’s silhouette, backlit on a sheet, also would help set the tone.

Place birds at various locations throughout the home. Or place pictures of Hitchcock in various spots and see which guest can find the most. This, of course, plays off the cameo appearances that Hitchcock made in all his movies. Or give a prize to the first guest who spots Hitchcock in each movie.

Ask guests to dress up like the movie stars that Hitchcock used most often -- James Stewart, Cary Grant, Grace Kelly and Ingrid Bergman. Or tape the name of a character on guests’ backs when they arrive and instruct them they must ask one another only yes or no questions to find out who they are.

In between movies play a Hitchcock trivia game, where the true fans will be apparent. Research questions ahead of time in the many books and Web sites devoted to "Hitch."

Introduce a MacGuffin into the party. Hitchcock perfected the use of a MacGuffin, a plot device that advances the story but has little to do with it. For example, in "Psycho" the MacGuffin was the money that Marion Crane had stolen. Instead of money it could have been diamonds or any number of other things.

Place an item that is seemingly out of place, and obvious to your guests, in a prominent location. At the end of the evening see which guests have figured out that it is a MacGuffin. If nothing else, it will be a conversation starter.

Jan Landon is a freelance writer in Overland Park.