Wednesday, October 30, 2019

An Ode To Spirit Halloween!

Because what better way to commemorate Oct. 31 than a photographic essay reliving the wonder and the whimsy of a 15-minute shopping trip I took in late August? 

By: Jimbo X

I ain’t going to lie to you kids — this year, I just wasn’t feeling the Halloween spirit, so to speak.

Of course, it’s no fault of my own. I still love everything and anything All Hallows Eve-related, but holy shit, have I been retardedly busy professionally, academically and home-life-ally all autumn long. Long story short, I have been SWAMPED since early September, and I’ve had precious little time to write about much of anything, let alone give you people the huge, sprawling, needlessly in-depth, multimedia-intense articles on all of the seasonal ephemera you deserve from TIIIA. 

Alas, even though my leisure time may be at a premium these days, I couldn’t let Halloween pass without giving you some kind of season-capping spectacular, and this Oct. 31, I decided to pay homage to one of the ultimate indicators of Hallow-mirth in my neck of the woods, year-in, year-out. 

OK, so Spirit Halloween is far from being a wholly unique enterprise. Indeed, fly-by-night seasonal Halloween supply shops of the like are pretty common, but let’s cut the bullshit and just come out and say it: NOBODY has ever done here today, gone by November 4 Halloween extravagance as well or as consistently as Spirit. Indeed, that first pilgrimage to Spirit Halloween in late August is pretty much my official gauge of when “Halloween Time” starts, and I don’t rightly feel fit to stop celebrating the holiday until the banners have been yanked off the empty storefront window and all of the unsold animatronics are shipped back to HQ. At this point, Spirit Halloween is an annual autumnal rite on par with Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte and me falling asleep within the first 20 minutes of Halloween 4 no matter what time of day it’s screening on AMC — simply put, the Hallow-season just don’t feel complete without at least one trip to the local shop, and this year, Spirit most definitely did not disappoint.

I can’t really recall precisely when I visited Spirit Halloween this year. I mean, I could just easily look at the metadata on my photos and find out, but eh, I’m feeling kinda’ sleepy right now and don’t feel like it. But I want to say it was early, early September, where in my environs, the temperature was still like 90 degrees at lunchtime. Hell, it wasn’t until the past week that the temperatures dipped below 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and the midday temperature here is still a fairly balmy 70 degrees. So all that to say — and I know it’s impossible for these photos to express such — holy hell, did this store just reek of sweaty motherfuckers. By and large that’s a negative for most businesses, but since LITERALLY the first thing I saw when I walked through the double doors of the shop was a giant, startlingly lifelike facsimile of Pennywise the Clown, all of that stanky B.O. actually ADDED to the horrific ambiance and atmosphere. Aye, all that was really needed was somebody cutting a huge shart next to The Exorcist merchandise and we would’ve had a free haunted house attraction right then and there. 

Just … something I felt like you people would like to know.

And one more aside/caveat before we start rolling through this here half-heated, poorly put-together  photo essay. Me and my other of significance (who almost shrieked when she saw those cutesy-pie Winifred from Hocus Pocus dolls — RIP, the $35 I had in my wallet that afternoon) had to travel about 20 minutes out of nexus to find a Spirit Halloween, which this year, was wedged inside a stip mall parking lot where it was flanked by no less than two different kinds of all-you-can-eat Asian buffets. I’m not quite sure what the building USED to be, but it was pretty big, so I’m guessing it was likely a furniture store of some kind. And also, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if the strip mall itself didn’t have it’s own Wikipedia page, which is the kind of thing that REALLY blows your mind on a boring workday around lunchtime.

But yeah, enough asides. Let’s hop right into the photographic journey of Spirit Halloween, 2019 — which, I suppose in some ways, kinda encapsulates the spirit of Halloween, 2019, metaphorically and literally, doesn’t it?

Alright, I’ll level with you kids — here we are, 12 years down the road — and I STILL haven’t watched Trick R’ Treat. I’ve been meaning to for literally a decade now, but somehow, the shit keeps eluding me. As such, I really can’t say anything about the movie itself, but apparently, the fact that characters like Sam are even getting $200 animatronics licenses is evidence that the cult classic is really making some inroads into the pop cultural hivemind. And hey, if a relatively obscure property like this one can get the Spirit Halloween treatment, I’m still holding onto hope that they give us a super-realistic animatronic based on Angela from Sleepaway Camp or Billy from the first Silent Night, Deadly Night movie. Hell, I’ll even settle for one of that burned up janitor guy from The Burning — fuck, I might even BUY it for year-round decoration, honestly. 

Speaking of 2019 ephemera, here’s one that’s going to be total kitsch come 2029, for sure. Remember a couple of years back, when the Europeans held that one protest with a giant, inflatable baby Trump? Well, Spirit Halloween apparently decided that would make for a great inflatable Halloween costume, even though most people have totally forgotten about its source inspiration altogether by this point. Since it’s not an election year, I really can’t imagine this one being too popular, and I’m still trying to figure out why the companies who manufacture this stuff just don’t come out and SAY who it is their products are mocking. I mean, Trump’s visage isn’t trademark and neither is his last name … oh shit, nevermind.

You really have to give Spirit all the props (literally!) in the world for doing stuff like this. Effectively a mini-haunted house attraction inside the store, this spooktacular haunted aquarium doo-hickey was basically meant to sell consumers on buying this expensive ass LCD screens that mimicked zombie sharks and shit coming after you. It’s no doubt a cool effect, although I seriously doubt anybody in their right mind would ever spend the tens of thousands of dollars needed to build such a contraption within the comfort and safety of their own homes. Just the sheer ambiance of this sucker (which really did feel like you were trapped in an underwater lab, even though we were physically stuck in the foothills of metro-Atlanta) put a wide, goofy smile on my face. And also, let me get to pretend I was LL Cool J in Deep Blue Sea for a few minutes, which is something I will NEVER ever complain about.

Hey, speaking of shameless ripoffs, get a load of this fucking costume. I mean, goddamn, they didn’t even TRY to be subtle about it, and I’m honestly shocked they didn’t sew a triforce made out of, like, rectangles, or some shit on the back of it. This Nintendo-lawsuit baiting item actually had a ton of accessories included in it, and to be fair, I thought it looked just as good — if not a little classier — than the officially licensed costumes on the other side of the store. And come on, how can you not love the namesake “Woodland Warrior?” Just try and tell me that shit doesn’t sound like it would’ve made for a great Sega Master System game back in the late 1980s … that, or a REALLY underwhelming one for the Atari 7800.

You know, the fact that stuff like this Jesus costume a.) exists and b.) isn’t causing riots coast-to-coast really tells you a lot about contemporary American society. Just 30 years ago I have the feeling that any store that sold a costume of the like would’ve been picketed by the Moral Majority types like crazy, but today? Nobody even bats an eye, not even the Christians who wander into such dens of iniquity for the Satan-tempting LULZ. I mean, in the 1950s, Jesus was far and away the most revered person in America (even though he probably wasn’t a real person, but fuck, I don’t feel like getting into that right now), and if ANYBODY dressed up like Christ for Halloween they’d probably get clubbed upside the head with a cinder block or somethign. Yet here we are, in the year 2019, and mocking the (alleged) lord and savior of all mankind isn’t just considering socially permissible, it’s seemingly encouraged by American culture at large. So mocking the holiest figure in the Christian faith is A-OK, but pretending to be a race other than your own for Halloween hijinks is LITERALLY a hate crime. Which sorta brings up this interesting question: amidst all of these costumes mocking the iconography of Christianity, where exactly was Spirit’s corporately-branded Prophet Muhammad and rabbi costumes located this year?

On the subject of officially licensed product, there were definitely a lot of neat ones on display this year (there’s this one Jason Voorhees hockey jersey I’m DEFINITELY picking up if it falls below $20 on eBay.) Indeed, considering the expansive reach of late ‘80s/early ‘90s pop culture nostalgia, I suppose it isn’t too surprising to find some licensors digging DEEP for the tie-in products, such as the manufacturers of this Good Guy branded plastic hammer — you know, just like the kind Chucky used to kill that one babysitter bitch in the first Child’s Play movie. And don’t pretend that you DON’T want to put on those adjacent Edward Scissorhands, uh, scissor-hands, and have a slap fight with your best pal rocking Freddy Krueger gloves on each hand. I mean, shouldn’t the UFC be doing that for a Halloween special, anyway?

Speaking of Freddy, I was pretty surprised to see a healthy amount of Freddy vs. Jason-branded memorabilia all over the place — which is weird, considering a.) the movie came out almost 17 years ago and b.) it really doesn’t have that much of a fandom behind it. Still, who am I to tell anybody they shouldn’t spend $17.99 American to make Jack O Lantern’s with Jason Voorhees’ hockey mask on them? Although I must admit, the licensee here really missed a golden opportunity by not including a stencil of that one fat guy who got a flaming machete through his jelly rolls in the set.

Hell, why not take a gander at even MORE Jason-branded bric-a-brac? In this case, a set of light-up mongoloid head pathway markers, which have the added bonus of playing that iconic “Tchh-Tchh-Haa-Haa” music every time you walk by them. While the execution here might be a little iffy (the plastic molding, to me, anyway, looked WAY off), it’s nonetheless a general marketing strategy I can get behind. Let’s just cross our fingers that, in a few years’ time, we’ll also be able to purchase light-up pathway markers shaped like Demon from Friday the 13th Part V, who starts saying stuff about enchiladas and pizzas as soon as it detects an intruder.

And yes, there was Michael Myers memorabilia a’plenty — lest all of you Halloween enthusiasts feel left out. Again, I can’t say I was too enamored by the product itself (sorry, but I ain’t paying $9.99 for what is, effectively, a drinkable Bloody Disgusting meme) but I do nonetheless like the core concept of slasher-themed coffee mugs. I mean, who wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to sip their morning java out of a porcelain container shaped like Horace Pinker, or even that motherfucker who played Psycho Cop?

At once, this Exorcist-branded light up mini-head (read; thing you can stick in your shirt-pocket, and that’s about it) was both the most awesome and most disappointing thing I saw at Spirit Halloween this year. Of course, it’s fuckin’ awesome because it’s a portable, demon-possessed Linda Blair facsimile you can take with you anywhere you like, but sadly, these guys did not run with the concept when it came to the audio. Indeed, I pushed the button like, 20 times, and all it did was make a bunch or warbled moaning sounds, like a zombified Pez Dispenser having a particularly underwhelming orgasm. There’s no excuse for this thing NOT calling consumers “cocksuckers” and threatening users to “stick it up their asses,” and we all know it.

And lastly, I come to the only thing I could logically end this long, rambling, poorly-structured and insanely rushed cavalcade of instant seasonal ephemera — with the fuckin’ Rap Snacks inexplicably placed right next to the cash register. Folks, I’ve had almost three months to make sense out of this shit, but heaven help me, I just can’t dream up a rational explanation. It would be one thing, I suppose, if there were a buncha’ impulsive buy snacks situated at the point-of-purchase, but no, this was the only product of the sort on sale there. Of course, I’m not sure how Cardi B and Migos hawking fried, trans-fat-imbued junk food comes even remotely close to matching Spirit Halloween’s horror motif, but in a way, that just makes the ultra-random placement all the more mesmerizing and endearing. 

You know, most people might look at a bag of Fetty Wap-endorsed potato chips and say “nope, that ain’t got shit to do with Halloween,” but you know what? I think — in a really weird, totally indirect and utterly unintentional way — these things embody everything great about the Halloween season. They’re kitschy and unexpected and devoid of logic and just reek of stereotypical aesthetics, but you just can’t help but gawk at ‘em anyway, because on a purely sub-neural level, you instinctively know these things are literally edible ephemera — a sliver of the already fading present that, for a few quick bites, you can enjoy for the LOLZ, shit out three days later and resume business as usual.

And if that ain’t a perfect analogue to the import of Halloween itself on all of our lives, I don’t know what is.



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