Thursday, October 30, 2014

An Ode to the Seasonal Halloween Stores of 2014!

A fond farewell to the fly-by-night shops that warmed the cockles of our hearts this Halloween...



The seasonal Halloween supply shop, as we've already discussed in 2011 and 2012, is the ultimate harbinger of All Hallows Eve. Although we all use different gauges for when the Halloween season actually begins (for some, it's when college football starts and for others, it's when you can buy Pumpkin Spice Lattes at Starbucks), my personal measuring stick has always been the local Halloween novelty store's opening. When it pops up in the abandoned strip mall parking lot, that's when Halloween starts, and as for as I'm concerned, the season ain't really over until all of its signage has been removed. 

With Halloween 2014 soon to become just another thing that once was that is no more, I reckoned it was worth our mutual times to reflect on the kooky, creepy charm the various, seasonal supply stores across America have provided for us this fall.

So, what things will I miss most about shops of the like? Well, I'm glad you asked. Here are seven good reasons why I'm going to desperately long for the seasonal Halloween store over the next 11 months.You might need some Kleenex for this one -- I've never been good at saying goodbye.

The Party Supplies and Festive Sundries!

The in-laws are coming over this weekend, honey. Be sure to break out the bloody hand print table cover!

Any day of the week, you can just waltz into a Wal-Mart or Target and pick up Tupperware, plastic cups and napkins. But only at the seasonal Halloween supply shop can you pick up terrifying Tupperware, phantasmagorical plastic cups and, uh ... spooky napkins, I guess.

Perfect for when you want to make Ray Lewis cookies!

That's the beauty of Halloween as as a holiday. Everything is familiar, but at the same time, oh so different. Yeah, you can tell all of this stuff has a practical, and even mundane use, but at the same time? It's normal, household stuff shaped like a goddamn Frankenstein head.

What discount stores on Predator's home world must surely resemble. 

And let's not forget about the other dressings, either. Halloween is the only time of year where kitsch is practically a cultural edict, and we as consumers can feel nary a shred of remorse when we go out and spend $30 on inflatable pumpkins, bloody decals and various doodads that serve no real utility other than to look scary or weird. Halloween is so wonderfully asinine ... and cheap, practically disposable goods like this are certainly one of the things that make it such a delightfully absurd time of the year.


The Thematically Inappropriate Children's Costumes!

...actually, as anyone who's seen the first ten minutes of the original "Halloween" can attest, this actually makes some degree of sense, if you think about it. 

A few years ago, I recalled encountering kid-sized Michael Jackson costumes, featuring a child with a ten mile wide grin clad in the Gloved One's trademark, garish regalia. Believe it or not, that's probably one of the more tasteful kids costumes you'll encounter at the local fly-by-night Halloween shop.

Do you think that in 80 years, the children of 2094 will be dressing up as cartoonish facsimiles of today's drug runners?

Amid a million trillion Elsa and Monster High costumes, the year's offerings for girls were rather expected -- basically, just a bunch of variations on the princess / popular girl motif, with fluctuating degrees of unsettling sexualization. Whereas the girl costumes celebrated beauty and sensuality, the boy costumes seemed to cater almost exclusively to the gruesome and the violent -- a subconscious, sociological reinforcement of males' nearly-codified inferiority to the fairer sex, perhaps?

Bet the manufacturers of these suckers had no idea their offerings would be so topical this autumn, no?


While one can argue that the general society is moving towards a pan-gender-preferred state, the children's costume aisle at the seasonal Halloween shop is still showing a pretty vast divide between the fantastical idealization of boys and girls -- and much to the chagrin of parents nationwide, those idealized visions seem to lean towards belly dancers and mass murderers. 

The Horror Hokum!

Sigh...it's just like waltzing down the VHS horror section at Blockbuster, circa 1997!

In years past, the local seasonal Halloween stores have been utterly glutted with licensed horror movie goods. Hell, I even saw a Rob Zombie latex mask pop up once. While there's still a healthy amount of Freddy K, Chucky and Jason Voorhees merchandise on store shelves, I've noticed an intriguing shift away from popular monsters of the day and towards proprietary horror offerings -- especially in 2014. 

These decorations can't wait to find themselves situated on a suburban lawn!

That's right, who needs Linda Blair and Boris Karloff animatronics when you can go all out with blood-spattered corpses and your own, store-branded psycho hillbilly killer wearing a burlap sack? The degree of creativity here is pretty impressive, and sans all of that licensing poppycock, stores are pretty much free to make their products as gory and ghoulish as they want. I'd say it's only a matter of time until these stores start marketing make-believe vivisection dioramas, but the blunt reality? They pretty much already are.

Uh...just to be on the safe side, try not to sit too close to the TV while wearing these things, kids.

Even the take on traditional Halloween iconography has gotten a major boost in the (severed) arm as of late. Just take a gander at the Halloween masks above, featuring some gnarly Jack O'Lantern skull hybridizations and what can only be described as the Incredible Hulk and Frankenstein's retarded lovechild. And goddamn, why a movie studio has't made a cheapie about a half panda/half Juggalo serial killer is simply beyond me. 

The Really Weird Impulse Purchase Offerings!

Crap nobody needs ... that, conversely, nobody has the wherewithal to turn down, either. 

In a lot of ways, the absolute best Halloween props aren't the really grandiose ones -- like, say, your giant inflatable Stay Puft Marshmallow men, which will certainly lead to my divorce proceedings some day -- but the really small, almost inconspicuous ones, like the funky plastic rings and bag of squishy rat toys they hawk right next to the check out table. 

Kids: always make sure your aerosol hair coloring isn't Floam before you buy it. 

When I think "seasonal Halloween store," the first thing I think about aren't animtronic demons or super skanky costumes, but stuff like the insta-dye hair color kits. They're so ubiquitous as to barely register as Halloween-branded items, but then, you start thinking about how dadgum hard it is to find spinach green blacklights and fog machine juice the other 11 months out of the year.

When you need fake Dracula blood by the half gallon, you KNOW you take the holiday season seriously!

Shit, where else are you going to see wind-up eyeball toys, holographic cat pencils, glow in the dark faux spider webbing and plastic gladiator helmets under one roof? Unless it's at the local, fly-by-night Halloween shop, I doubt it'll be anywhere else on the planet

The Ghoulish Gruesomeness!

Honestly, I preferred the version of "Frozen" with the singing snowman instead of the one where Elsa got decapitated.
Halloween is a visceral holiday. More so than any other holiday, it's all about the aesthetics, and the name of the game here is brutality. Whereas most holidays basically just cull imagery from naturalistic motifs, Halloween takes a totally different approach and focuses on humanity ... in particular, the part of humanity that involves severed limbs, innards and gore galore.

Who doesn't enjoy a nice, pastoral recreation of the contents of Jeffrey Dahmer's refrigerator? 
Back in the day, our traditional holidays were basically fertility festivals -- Easter being the most prominent, obviously. With Americans shying away from human sexuality like dirty dogs avoiding bathwater, I've always kind of viewed the insane facsimile of bodily carnage associated with our Halloween rites as sort of an offshoot of our collective sexual frustrations. Our admiration of the human form is frowned upon all year round, so what do we do each October? Why, we decorate our homes and lawns with as much synthetic mayhem as humanly possible!

Two girls kissing? Wildly inappropriate. Household goods made out of bloody tissue and enamel? Fun for the whole family!
It's hard to not get into the ghastly joys each year, though. With so many saccharine celebrations during Christmas -- this, after being pounded over the head with semi-jingoistic, pseudo-ethnocentric and blatantly religious iconography during spring and summer -- it actually is a bit of fun to instead reflect upon severed limbs, bloody stumps and various plastic representations of disemboweled abdomens. Karen Horney, no doubt, would give us an earful on the undertones of sexual representation on display on each and every aisle at Halloween City.

The Unadulterated Skankiness!

The best part about contemporary women's costumes, obviously,  is all of that subtlety. 
Of course, that's not to say there isn't some blatant, blindingly apparent oversexualizing going on every All Hallow's Eve, either. There's just something about the Halloween season that changes women -- I have known girls who are just about the meekest human beings on the planet, but around Samhain time, they seem to transform themselves into super aggressive seductresses, shameless vixens and unabashed man eaters. They may dress like Ugly Betty eleven months out of the year, but as Oct. 31 approaches, all of a sudden, every female in America seems to temporarily turn into Bettie Page and Dita von Teese. 


$50 clams to dress up like something out of a bad Roger Corman movie? Money WELL SPENT, obviously.
I guess it's hard to not lose one's self in the deindividuating bliss of the season, but some of these costumes are just too ridiculous for me to believe. From a functional standpoint, I just can't grasp the mindset behind some of the skimpier offerings. I mean, this is late October we're talking about here: when the wind chill is nearly sub-freezing, is it really that good of an idea to be waltzing around in a two-piece bikini and the obligatory animal ears?

...when we've sexualized Marge Simpson, you know the rape culture has won. 

The properties and thematics sexualized have also confounded and flabbergasted me. Ok, so maybe a female Joker ensemble kind of makes sense, but female Freddy Kruegers and Chuckies? That's just too woolly for me, and I'm probably a sexual degenerate or something. And don't even get me started on all of the sexy nun outfits. Well, maybe a little, if you're hot. 

The Unmistakable Ethereal-ness! 

I always stockpile; you ever try finding latex rubber neck wounds around Easter?

The magic of Halloween, and seasonal Halloween stores as a concept, is the fact that you only really feel it once per year. No, not see or hear, but sense in your bones. It arrives on a wisp of  lukewarm September air and slightly browned leaves and exits on chilled November gusts and a fleeting farewell from leaf-less trees. It's here, and then, it's gone.

The candy is clearly designed to allude to a highly noxious, deadly chemicals but in a way, aren't the actual ingredients of the candy highly noxious, deadly chemicals when considering lifetime health impacts? Yeah ... that's fucking meta

You never see latex scars or giant plastic rats or neon blue hair spray on store shelves in February, and you don't see combination fogger/strobe light machines, orange blacklights and glow in the dark lip gloss available at Target in June. For a month -- maybe two, if you're lucky -- you have so much delightful weirdness in your life, and in the blink of an eye? The home decor section at Garden Ridge is nothing but farting Santa animatronics and inflatable snowmen.

I knew the culture war was over, as soon as I could buy more than one zombie teddy bear eating its own intestines.

And so, our local shoppes and outlets are beginning to close their doors, box up their surplus inventories and mark down prices like crazy. The store managers probably e-mailed their resumes to the nearest Michaels around mid-September, and the property owners are desperately wondering what the hell could possibly fill their floor space for the next 320-some-odd days. 

Halloween, regrettably, is soon to become but just another memory, and the seasonal stores associated with it will likewise fade away into obscure recollections of jumbled images, odd smells and depending on whether or not you picked up the gummie bats at the cash register, peculiar tastes as well. 

The witch's season is over, my friends, but it's impact on our lives lingers onward. Farewell, noble Halloween stores of America ... we're already counting down the days 'til your beautifully absurd products once again fill our lives with that seasonal splendor we wait for all year 'round. 

1 comment:

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    ReplyDelete