Saturday, October 31, 2015

An Ode to the Halloween Stores of 2015!

What better way to wrap up the Samhain season than a fond look back at all the wonder and whimsy supplied to us by the fly-by-night Halloween shops that -- much like the magic of the holiday itself -- will soon cascade off into the pre-Thanksgiving ether?

By: Jimbo X

Every year here at the Internet Is In America (uh, except 2013, for some reason) we close out the All Hallow's season with a fond, heartfelt recollection of the fly-by-night Halloween supply stores that popped up -- then quickly vanish -- from the hinterlands of metro-Atlanta. (For those of you feeling nostalgic already, here are the links for our first, second and third annual recaps.)

Ever the traditionalist, I reckon we ought to close shop on Halloween 2015 the same way we've wrapped it up every year since the year of our Satan 2011 -- with a photographic essay detailing all the odd, icky, and oftentimes offensive Halloween costumes, props and supplies that dumb people squandered their disposable income on since late August. Pop open a nice cold beverage and stash away a little Halloween candy for yourself, amigo ... it's time to wax nostalgic on what, as of tomorrow afternoon, will be nothing but a memory of what once was...

Despite my particular grievances with their use as generic genre film fodder, I suppose zombie props are as good a place as any to being our whirlwind tour of all things seasonal-supply store, no?

I'm especially intrigued by the electronic zombie displays, which seem to get goofier and more garish each and every year. I mean, where exactly can you go after selling motion-sensing animatronics of the undead springing out of the shitter? 

Of course, if you are more into classical decor, stores of the like have you covered as well. I also like the redundancy on the vampire and monster parking signs -- couldn't you have changed the verbiage on one of them to read "violators will be chased" or something?

And yes, you also get your more standard tee-shirts and mock zoot suits, pending you ever feel like cosplaying as a McDonalds Halloween bucket or the Samhain version of Matthew Lesko. 

It's always good to see Robert Englund's latex-soaked face on store shelves ... even if there is an entire generation growing up having no idea what a "Freddy Krueger" is, outside of a hokey Halloween costume that "old people" sometimes adorn. 

Ladies, don't you feel left out! If you so chose, you can wrap yourself up in some Freddy Krueger attack-inspired leggings, or even doll yourself up like Poison I...I mean, a gloriously nondescript plant-themed "Lethal Beauty!"

Although this spider skeleton thingie looks cool, my inner biology student is crying foul ... arachnids don't have bones, you purveyors of anti-science!

If dressing up like Jason or Max Headroom is too predictably 80's, why not dress up like Tom Hank's iconic character from Cocktail? Or is that his flight jacket from Days of Thunder? Oh well, not that it matters. Meanwhile, some stores are trying to convince you to spend $40 on DVDs of looping ghosts flying up to your TV screen going boo and shit. Naturally, I bought four of 'em. 

I know I've brought this up in Halloweens past, but the "pimp" section at certain retailers has always irked me. I don't know what's more troubling here: the brazen general cultural appropriation of urban violence and sexual debauchery or the fact they sell child-sized pimp canes

That's a really nice take on old Scratch. Why not fuse the devil and the Grim Reaper into one entity, anyway? If nothing else, it makes for a bad-ass unused Castlevania boss, at least. 

One of the things I LOVE about Halloween is that it's literally the only time of year you see certain objects on store shelves. Por exemple? Do you know how hard it must be finding plastic horror bicuspids for technical fruits around May?

The same goes for fog machine juice. I, for one, never knew there were this many competing brands of the stuff.

Of course, you can't really have a Halloween without funky-hued light bulbs. I always buy these things in bulk, just in case Obama has a mind to take these away from me like he did my old 40-watts.

When it comes to Jason rip-offs, this has to be one of the better costumes I've encountered. This kid totally could have been a WWF villain circa 1993. 

...and here we get three or four different unlicensed properties in one; with only twenty bucks in my pockets, do I vouch for the unauthorized Scream voice changer with the X-Files alien on it or the fusion Jason Voorhees/Hannibal Lector mask?

2016 being an election year and all, I suppose the political-themed masks were pretty much a given. Strangely, there weren't any Donald Trump costumes on display at this store, although they did have a cherubic JFK mask and one of Ronald Reagan, which looks so much like Zeke the Plumber from Salute Your Shorts that it's almost pants-peeing.

While the liberal politicos were well-represented, I saw nary a Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio mask anywhere. Although I suppose if you modify the eye holes in a Jabba the Hutt mask, you could probably mod it into a Chris Christie costume, if you really wanted to.

Not to get overly sociocultural here, but when it comes to appropriation of black culture in costume form, it's either civil rights hero or 1980s TV star, with virtually no costume selections in-between.

The best part? It doubles as a Morgan Freeman and/or Fred Sanford costume, if your friends are really, really ignorant. 

Yeah ... I am just as shocked as you are that PETA hasn't called for a boycott yet, either.

I think one of my favorite things about Halloween that wasn't one of my favorite things about the holiday before I started this blog is the hilariously nondescript titles given to obvious rip-off costumes. I mean, it isn't easy coming up with a marketing-friendly stand-in for "Richard Simmons," but "Exercise Maniac Character" was the best these folks could come up with? I bet these same people also offer a knock-off Charlie Brown costume, probably named "big headed yellow shirt depressed kid character" or something.

Get it! Because the sexual exploitation of women is funny!

Then again, there are quite a few costumes that are subtler...

... and more refined. 

The sad thing is, for the $50 asking price, you could probably buy enough ingredients to make $300 or so dollars in bathtub meth. 

Man, this makes me wish I would have bought that one Resident Evil 4 controller for the GameCube when I had the chance!

But if the more traditional blades are more your thing, you've got quite the assortment to choose from, as well. Including, uh ... gay pride machetes, I think? 

And lastly, we come to a cheap-o latex mask that is one part Freddy Krueger, one part Mars Attack alien and one part Tar Man from Return of the Living Dead. An over-priced, needlessly garish, utterly functionless piece of crap probably made by a half-starved Chinese child, modeled after a fusion of American media advents, mass marketed and sold on store shelves from Bangor, Maine to Spokane, Washington -- this, my friends, isn't just what makes Halloween great

Indeed, it's what makes this far and away the best time to be alive in the history of humanity. Happy Halloween -- and civilization -- folks!

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Seasonal Foodstuffs of Halloween 2015!

Our fifth annual round-up of the best limited-time-only snacks and treats of the All Hallows Eve season!

By: Jimbo X

Another year, another $200 or so blown on limited-time-only Halloween-themed junk foods since August. Sure, manufacturers have gone all-out in Halloween's prior (in fact, here's a longitudinal comparison from 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014, if you are interested) but this year? Holy goddamn shit, was there a lot of Halloween-themed stuff out there to gobble, slurp and chew. To be fair, most of it was just pumpkin spice flavored variations of existing products, but there were also some more daring items mass manufactured and mass marketed, as well. 

Without further adieu, howza bout we hop headlong into this year's Halloween/autumnal-themed foodstuffs, drinkstuffs, and chewstuffs, why dont' we? (P.S.: I really hope you like pumpkin spice -flavored things, by the way...)

The "New" Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks!

Next to the General Mills assortment of monster cereals, I really can't think of foodstuff that really embodies the spirit of the season as much as Starbucks' Pumpkin Spice Latte. Say what you will about it inspiring a surfeit of cinnamon and nutmeg flavored junk foods (and as you will soon see, there are certainly plenty of those to go around) the fact of the matter is that this thing is now an autumn stalwart up there with watching Jason movies on AMC and waiting for the Raiders head coach to get fired. Love it, hate it, it's indisputably a big part of our collective consciousness now, and the All's Hallow season just wouldn't be the same without its presence. This year, the 'Bucks actually reformulated the product, to make it more "all natural" and whatnot, but to my discriminate taste buds, this year's PSL didn't really taste all that different from the PSL of years' prior. Apparently, adding "real pumpkin" to the mix didn't affect the flavor whatsoever -- which means, yeah, they probably didn't add anything at all to the mix and just told us they did. Sure, I could be semi-upset about that, but who cares? It's still a delicious, smooth and savory (coffees can be savory, can't they?) rite of fall, and -- despite the product's utter ubiquity nowadays -- something I will always look forward to each and every Halloween. 

Frosted Mini Wheats Pumpkin Spice!

Frankly, I have never really been a big fan of Mini Wheats ... primarily due to the fact that I have a hard time eating any kind of cereal that isn't shaped like supernatural beasts. Alas, I nonetheless had a keen interest in these here Pumpkin Spice Frosted Mini Wheats, mostly 'cause of the rustic, inviting packaging, which really could have been featured on the cover of Country Living or something.  

Alas, despite the rich ocher-hue, the products hardly tasted pumpkin-spicy at all. In fact, I couldn't really tell how the products differed from the generic frosted mini-wheats whatsoever. Basically, this is the kind of foodstuff where you have to STRAIN to taste the flavor, which is something I alll believe we can agree is total and utter bullshit. Nice try, Kellogg's but you ain't foolin' anybody with this crap. 

Pumpkin Spice Latte M&M's!

If you are thinking to yourself, "hey Jimbo, didn't the Mars Company release a pumpkin spice M&M's variation a few years ago?" you, sir, madame or transperson would be correct. Alas, these newfangled milk chocolate candies (complete with the Tina Fey "basic" b-word M&M giving it her seal of approval on the packaging) are pumpkin spice-latte flavored, which takes things into an entirely different dimension. 

And yes, the things do indeed taste remarkably similar to the beloved Starbucks seasonal drink (in case you've forgotten, M&M's first go at replicating the flavor tasted like cinnamon and high fructose corn syrup, and hardly anything else.) It's hard to describe, but there is definitely a creamy, coffee taste going on, and for bonus points? The candies themselves seem to have a nice, weathered texture, which (to me, at least) appears to imitate the aged fascia of a rural farmhouse. (And also, because they are generic fall colors, you can also serve these sumbitches late into the Thanksgiving season and get away with it, which is something you probably can't do with Candy Corn Hershey Bars and ghost-shaped Snickers.) 

Froot Loops with Motherfucking Skeletons in Them!

As a general rule of thumb, I am not a fan of fruity-flavored cereals. Then again, most cereals don't come with dismembered marshmallow corpses, either, so I was able to put aside my aversion to synthetic strawberries and tangerines for this item. 

While I wasn't enthusiastic about the product's taste (sorry, but the only way I am slurping on a bowl of artificially flavored fruity wheat puffs is if it is promoted by a werewolf and\or the ghost of the child murderer from M") there is simply NO DENYING the appeal of the skeleton marshmallows. Not content with just chucking some puffy skulls in the mix, Kellogg's went on ahead and threw in FIVE different skeletal fragments, watch makes this Fruit Loops variation quite possibly the first children's breakfast cereal to include an edible replica of a human pelvis. 

Kellogg's also used the same gimmick for a limited-time-only Apple Jacks variation this season, but I"d vouch for the Froot Loops if you had to pick one or the other, simply because the tie-dye swirl of the latter cereal gives the thing an even more surreal vibe (which, I suppose, would also make this the closest we're likely to ever get to a Grateful Dead-themed cereal.) Clearly, this is a foodstuff you're designed to experience rather than just ingest  -- even if you don't like the cereal itself, it's still worth a purchase simply for the ability to play make-believe C.S.I at the breakfast table. And if you hoard up enough of these things, and combine the marshmallows with some Boo Berry? Yeah, you've pretty much got your own unauthorized opening sequence of Terminator 2 cereal right there waiting for you...

Krispy Kreme Pumpkin Spice Krispy Juniors!

Last year, Krispy Kreme gave us what may very well be the Halloween foodstuff of 2014 -- the limited-edition Ghostbusters doughnuts. While the franchise abandoned the 1980s nostalgia for autumn 2015, they did give us something fairly noteworthy ... namely, a whole fleet of assorted pumpkin spice flavored items. 

Ya'll know about Krispy Kreme, don't you? Down here in Atlanta, it's a cultural institution, the same way Tim Horton's is up in Canada, or Fat Burger is out in California. Best known for their oil-fried doughnuts, Krispy Kreme has recently begun selling "lite" versions of their most popular menu items in local grocery stores. That includes bags of sugar-dusted "mini-mes" of their chain store starters -- and wouldn't you know it, just in time for Halloween, they decided to get all sorts of pumpkin spicy on us

These Krispy Juniors more or less sum up the marketing brilliance of the pumpkin spice bandwagon. Almost by default, the more autumnal, less Halloween-vibe extends the product's shelf life and thematic relevancy for another month, when all of the Frankenstein and vampire-shaped foods are pretty much irrelevant as soon as Nov. 1 rolls around. These things may not be evergreen products, per se, but they definitely have lengthier legs than your Count Choculas and your Jack O'Lantern-shaped marshmallows. In terms of general taste and texture, they are pretty much your standard, greasy, fluffy and exuberantly frosting-soaked pastries, topped off with a healthy amount of cinnamon, nutmeg and ... something else. I'm not quite sure what spice it is supposed to be (cumin? oregano? dillweed?) but whatever it is, it most certainly isn't a typical pumpkin spice, uh, spice. Of course, the product itself is still delicious as all hell, just a bit peculiar tasting. Or a part of it is peculiar tasting. A big positive here is that you actually get A lot of food for the selling point, which I think was about four bucks. Seriously, one bag could feed an entire family post-dinner, and if you are a bachelor? You can guarantee yourself a complementary pastry alongside your morning Folgers Black Silk for a week, if not longer. The volume alone here merits a purchase -- lest we forget, nothing is scarier than paying extra money for packaged air.

Keebler Pumpkin Spice Fudge Stripes!

Outside of E.L. Fudge, I've never really been a big fan of the Keebler family of products. Alas, with that wicker-basket-inspired packaging, how could I not be enthusiastic about the prospect of this Pumpkin Spice Fudge Stripes stuff?

As indicative by the packaging, this is clearly a product with dessert-dysmorphic disorder. While it claims to be a PSL-flavored offering on the wrapper, I'm pretty dadgum sure that's a piece of pumpkin pie right there, which is NOT the same thing as pumpkin spice. Unless, you know, they are talking about the dollop of cream on top of the pie, which looks like it has cinnamon flakes in it. Which, you have to admit, is quite confusing

The items were your usual store-bought, mass-manufactured, mass-produced dessert-thingie. The cookies came shellacked in a thick, unnaturally white coat of frosting, which really didn't taste like any actual foodstuff I've ever eaten before. Not that it's a bad thing, in essence. These things want you to know they are nothing more than synthetic substances, and that alternating graham cracker/frosting pattern might as well be the caloric version of the stripes on a coral snake ... white touches brown, you're going down. 

Even as a connoisseur of crap food, I just couldn't find myself enjoying these things. Granted, there is a fine line between trashily delicious and deliciously trashy, but quite frankly, these pumpkin spice cookies just weren't trashy or delicious enough for my liking either way. Yeah, you can eat them if you have to, but the entire time I chowed down on them, it just felt like I was over at my grandma's house, after the candy dish had been plucked bare. It feels seasonal, I suppose, but it's seasonal in the most disappointing of ways, I am afraid. 

3 Musketeers Muskefears Mini Candy Bars!

In a year with a real deficit of outlandish Halloween-branded candies, I have to give the manufacturers of this limited-time only 3 Musketeers variation some serious dap: what better way to ring in the autumnal season than rebranding a flagship product with blood red nougat?

That's right, these aren't just slight tweaks of the standard 3 Musketeers product, they are indeed a full-fledged re-casting of the tried and true product formula. Well, actually, that's not the case at all, since technically, the product tastes the exact same as the normal candy bar, but dude! Blood red nougat!

You really have to admire the ingenuity on this one. Anybody can add same extra caramel or pump in some cinnamon seasonings and call it good, but to actually retweak the core product to make it resemble gory taffy is pretty brilliant outside-the-box (err, outside-the-wrapper?) thinkin'. Alas, there does seem to be one slight hitch to the concept...

...namely, the fact that the product itself isn't really red on the inside. Sure, it's most certainly a redder nougat than the standard blend, but calling the hue above "crimson" would be a really, really liberal interpretation of the color scale. Alas, I can't slight the manufacturers too hard for marketing it as a "red" nougat concoction ... just stating that something is a darker tan hue than normal hardly sounds like a hard seasonal sale, no?

Hostess Pumpkin Spice Cup Cakes!

On the brink of insolvency just a few years ago, Hostess has come roaring back onto the market, and their array of L.T.O. seasonal foodstuffs does not disappoint. While the candy corn-flavored cup cakes were definitely tempting, I decided to go with the pumpkin spice variation instead ... because who can turn down fall-colored sprinkles, right?

As with the Krispy Kreme Juniors, you DEFINITELY get a lot for your money here. The solo cart comes with eight individually-wrapped cup cakes, which I assure you, is more than enough to last a week, maybe even two weeks if you're conservative about your limited time only pastries. And these things are also quite bulky, too; one cup cake is MORE than enough to fill you up, even on an empty stomach.

The sprinkles are a potpourri of the usual fall colors; yellow, brown, orange, red. Basically, any color leaf you can think of in the increasingly shorter interstitial between hot-as-fuck summer and cold-as-a-witch's-nipple winter, which in my neck of the woods, is literally a six week affair now. While the packaging shows cup cakes sprinkled with a half ton of decorative frosting flakes, the actual products are nowhere near as loaded with crunchy, sugary adornments. I am as shocked as you are: a manufacturer, actually employing misleading marketing tactics!

Oh, and since these are Hostess products, of course they come loaded with spongy, creamy filling. Overall, it's quite a sound product; the frosting atop the cup cake and the frosting inside actually taste different and the sweetened sponge-filling inside the cake does have a very nice, pumpkin-spice tincture and flavor, which was a lot more authentic than most other pumpkin spice-flavored things I tried this Halloween. All in all, I have to say I was plum impressed with this permutation: but then again, what else would you expect from the maestros who brought us both the Twinkee and the Chocodile?

Dunkin' Donuts Pumpkin Spice Coffee!

Of course DD offers their own pumpkin spice blend. They pretty much have to, under the Geneva Convention and shit. 

Clearly, this store-bought stuff doesn't have all the accoutrements and brick-a-brack of the in-restaurant-blend, but that's hardly a negative whatsoever. Indeed, this is a very robust, hearty mix, with a super sweet -- yet still dark -- taste and texture. And on the plus side? The coffee grinds make your garbage smell fucking delicious. Being a great tasting seasonal beverage in and of itself is pretty great, but serving an additional odor-control function of the like? Yeah, that makes this thing outstanding, in a litany of ways. (Oh, and for those of you wondering what the final brewed product looks like? Well, it looks like every other cup of damn coffee you've ever seen -- black, and kinda' foamy around the margins.)

Russell Stover Pumpkin Spice Mini Pumpkins!

Who doesn't like themselves a chocolatey marshmallow single-serve, uh, thing? Well, thanks to those humble humanitarians over at Russell Stover, we all have an opportunity to chow down on a chocolatey, marshmallow, single-serve thing that also kinda, sorta tastes like Pumpkin Spice Latte, but not really. 

Granted, the product doesn't look all that much like a pumpkin ... or really, any other tangible item, for that matter. Alas, what the item lacks in definition, it more than makes up for it in sheer physical weirdness. Despite the chocolate shell, it is just about impossible to rip the product in half, thanks to that Stretch Armstrong-like marshmallow core that, no matter how much you yank, ALWAYS manages to return to its primary shape, with the chocolate mystically refusing together EVEN when the husk breaks off while you are trying to pull it apart. So yeah, I've pretty much determined this is the titular Stuff from the Larry Cohen movie of the same name

Halloween Krave!

By now, we should all be well aware of my adulation for Krave and its many variations on store shelves ... especially the S'mores remix, which is easily one of the best cereals I've ever tasted (and, for perhaps the only time in this article, that's not me being insincere.) 

As soon as I saw these things on store shelves, I got ecstatic. How do you make an already terrific consumer brand even more terrific? Why, you dye the sumbitch orange and stuff it into a beautiful purple and green box which could double as the cover of a bad NES game. Some products, it seems, really do sell themselves.

The cereal tastes indistinguishable from the normal cereal, albeit with a darker orange appearance. The lighting here doesn't really do an adequate job of depicting the true ocher sheen of the item, which actually is quite vibrant. Although it would have been cool to see Kellogg's add a little flavor variation to the mix (Pumpkin Spice Krave? Oh, hell yes.), I really can't complain about the end product here whatsoever. This is just good old fashioned, sugary breakfast gunk, with a subtle -- yet still noteworthy -- seasonal hook. It doesn't attempt to reinvent the wheel; instead, it just makes the wheel that's already delicious a little bit cooler looking. 

Betty Crocker Candy Corn Frosting

...and wrapping up all this Halloween hullaballoo, we conclude with a product that's gross, yet unquestionably intriguing (which, in a way, describes the overall appeal of the holiday as a whole.) Sure, candy corn flavored canned frosting may sound kinda sickening in theory, but in execution, is it surprisingly decent? 

As with a whole host of previous Betty Crocker holiday-themed frosting products, this one also includes an add-on of sugary sprinkles. Although this time around, the toppings are a bit uninspired -- they are just weirdly shaped white stars, with a nice, chalky, confectioner's sugar texture and flavor. And also, holy shit, does this stuff look like cocaine powder at first glance. 

The product has a nice sherbert ice cream hue, although I am still a little freaked out that my tub had a weird indent smackdab in the middle of it, like a puppy left a paw print. Amazingly, I thought that was adorable for a much longer time than I found it repugnant. 

So, how does the product taste? Well, it tastes like sugar, mixed with sugar, with an added layer of sugar on top of it. This may sound like hyperbole, but after one spoonful, I was ready to vomit. I am sure some people out there would love this junk spread on their cupcakes, but for me? Eh, I'd prefer not ingesting diabetes-flavored frosting this or any other time of the year. Furthermore, this stuff tasted just like the maple bacon permutation from last Halloween, which means that in addition to being nauseating, it is also nauseatingly uninspired. That said, IF you want something kooky and disgusting to cap the season, it really doesn't get any kookier or more disgusting than this.