So I’m strolling through the vaunted halls of Target with my daughter the other day. She’s two and she’ll be a fairy for Halloween this year, given her rather adorable hang up on Tinkerbell thanks to relentless Disney marketing teams. We’re looking over what is available for girls of her size and, admittedly, there’s not much. But I started to notice a disturbing trend. Bags containing costumes for 11 or 12 year old girls bore the likeness of what you see to the left there. The one that actually caught my eye was called Sassy Vampire, but sized up for a grown woman it would have, without any alteration whatsoever, been called Slutty Vampire. It was an extremely revealing outfit meant to be worn by a girl on the precipice of puberty.
I was actually made aware of this by Chris Gore (of Film Threat) whose Twitter feed last wednesday night was flooded with a tour of a costume shop and included a link to something I found to be a little more than disturbing. I figured, that’s decadent Los Angeles! It can’t happen here! How wrong I was. Apparently sexualizing girls younger and younger is just par for the fucking course.
What parent thinks that’s okay and how many of these girls am I going to see on Halloween night? I’m already dreading the glut of glittery vampires that will no doubt show up, but I’ll take Twilight fans hungry for high fructose corn syrup over an army of 11 year olds in costumes that nearly qualify as lingerie. What the fuck, people? Seriously!
Cut me a little slack. I’m running several hours late for the actual Day 12 of my Halloween Blog-A-Thon. So to make up for it, here’s the seasonal favorite, in its entirety, It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.
Back in the 80’s when I was a little kid prowling for candy on Halloween night, there was a great deal of panic in the air about sabotaged halloween candy and how biting into a candy bar or something was likely to give you a mouth full of arsenic or razor blades. They had a big to-do at the school where parents would confiscate the goods and then crowdsource the task of inspecting your haul in order to find the deadly prank that they assumed waited inside every child’s bag or bucket. Rumors of spiked candy have been circulating for decades but were you aware of this fact? There has not ever been a documented case of poisoned halloween candy? There have been murders involving children eating poisoned candy but the sad part of this story was that they often turned out to be accidental poisonings appearing to be laced candy at first but revealed to be something else in autopsy or worse, parents killing their own children. To qualify as a halloween candy poisoning case, a single source of candy must be randomly handing out laced treats but this never happens. Evidence floating around suggests that fundamentalist Christian churches have been spreading this rumor since the 50’s as a fear-mongering tactic to build opposition for a holiday which they believe to be satanic. Jesus freaks aren’t the only ones to blame, though, newspapers, radio and TV have been circulating vague warnings about this during the weeks leading up to Halloween for filler programming during news segments and in recent years, chain emails and Facebook statuses have been spreading outright lies about so-called documented cases for the hell of it.
Now, on the other hand, pins, needles and razor blades have been found in trick or treat goodies. Dating back to the 60’s, reports have surfaced, though seldom, that foreign objects have been found in kids candy and apples (back when people actually gave those out). Oddly, 1982 turned up a rash of tampered candy.
It was 1990 and I was 15 years old, binging on thrash metal during the long bus rides home from school. A friend of mine introduced me to punk rock by way of The Misfits’ album, Walk Among Us, after I asked him if he knew who they were. I had that Metallica EP, Garage Days Re Revisited and they did a couple of covers, which whet my appetite. Yet, from the opening seconds of 20 Eyes, I was immediately a Misfits fan and while my tastes in music ebb and flow on a daily basis, The Misfits remain my all time favorite band. They took an entirely unexplored genre of music for me and wrapped it around something I was already deeply obsessed with: Horror movies. Singer Glenn Danzig had a hang up on monster movies and Halloween, recording not one but two tracks about the holiday. One is a straight forward song,video below, about fucked up shit happening on this spooky day while the other was a menacing dirge that sounds a lot more like his band that followed The Misfits, Samhain, where he reads what is supposed to be a latin incantation for becoming a werewolf.
There are a lot of legends about The Misfits. If you go by Henry Rollins’ account in his memoir of touring with Black Flag, Get In The Van, The Misfits only played out on Halloween night. Rather counterproductive to any band, big or small. Another legend has them kicking their way out of coffins at Max’s Kansas City on their very first show on Halloween night, opening for Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. The truth is, though, their first show was at CBGB’s in 1977. Yet, in 1980, on Halloween night, The Misfits would play out at Club 57 in New York City with Screamin’ Jay. Nothing confirmed about coffins, though.
The video below is from the best known videotaped performance by The Misfits, from a public access show in Dearborne, Michigan in what looks like 1982 or 83 called Why Be Something You’re Not? Like what you see? Want to know more? Everything you will ever need to know about The Misfits and related bands can be found at Mark Kennedy’s exhaustive research document, Misfits Central.
In 1820, author Washington Irving published his classic short story, The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow in a collection called The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon. The short is known to many of us, adapted into animation by Disney and numerous live action films, most notably the Tim Burton flick, Sleepy Hollow. Not a bad movie. The story concerns the plight of the extremely superstitious school teacher, Ichabod Crane and his competition for the affections of Katrina Van Tassel against the thuggish Brom Bones. The local legend of the Headless Horseman chases Crane through the forest after he leaves an autumn dance (the short is never explicitly set on Halloween, but many adaptations put it there) and he is never seen again.
We, as Westerners, think of fairies as Tinkerbell or cute little winged women, but Brythonic cultures regarded them with fear and awe, believing them to be a race that existed here on Earth before we did. This iconic Headless Horseman was among their court. Also known as The Dullahan, the Horseman was an unseelie fairy (i.e. a malicious spirit) described as a headless rider on a horse with burning eyes, cradling a horrible head under its arm with a wicked smile as wide as the head.
Like the Bean Sidhe (banshee) the Dullahan was a harbinger of death that whipped its horse with a whip made from a human spine. Sometimes it was seen to be dragging a cart carrying a coffin, everything made from bone. The cart lined with skulls lit with flickering candles, the spokes of the wheels made from femurs. Where the Dullahan stopped, someone would die on that spot. It is sometimes said to call out the name of condemned and they would die there in their tracks.
Of course, according to Celtic myth, The Dullahan’s mercy can be bought with the smallest amount of gold.
I’ve been to more than a few haunted house attractions when Halloween comes near. Most have been really shitty, like the one the JC’s used to put on in Hampton, New Hampshire. Some were even worse, like the one I worked at in York, Maine. At least I got paid to scream at people on a hayride. Some were really, really good, like Terror on Church Street, which used to be on the corner of Church and Orange in Orlando, Florida. That was a high class haunt, right there. Good actors and some freaky spooks. But if you believe the urban legend, somewhere out there is a haunted house attraction so deeply frightening that no one has ever made it through.
The legend has roots somewhere in the mid-1980’s, when rumors around a dozen states in the US started to talk about a multi-level haunted house attraction that was not only exceptionally expensive to enter, but completion of each level awarded you with a partial refund until, in the end, you had recovered all of your admission. Of course, no one has ever made it to the end. Common elements of the attraction in the legend are live spiders and bugs, real cadavers, trap doors and slides to lower levels, ,etc. The kicker is that no one could ever locate this too-scary haunted house. In the wake of this legend, some attractions would bill themselves as the haunted house of legend and would add the money back clause if you made it through but would inevitably throw a kink in your progress by having a monster literally throw you out or employ some other means to prevent you from finishing. The 2005 film, Death Tunnel combines this legend with the allegedly haunted Waverly Hills Sanitorium in Louisville, Kentucky.
Of the typical icons of Halloween, nothing symbolizes the contemporary celebration of the season quite like Candy Corn. I’ll keep this one short. Candy Corn dates back to the 1880’s and was produced, originally, by the Wunderle Candy Company. The National Confectioners Assocation estimates that 20 million pounds of Candy Corn is sold annually and according to Brach’s Confections, enough Candy Corn is eaten in a year that, end to end, it would circle the Earth 4.5 times. That’s a lot of god damn candy! Such a staple of the Halloween tradition as it is, October 30th is National Candy Corn Day in America.
Want to know what’s in them? Sugar. Big surprise there, but that’s about it. Originally, crafted by hand, Candy Corn is comprised of sugar, corn syrup and honey, and mixed up into a paste. Fondant, a sort of hard sugar mix with a little bit of give (often used in the icing of high end cakes) is then added and then marshmallow to soften the entire mixture.
Just buy a bag, I don’t recommend making them yourself.
It seems appropriately Halloweeny to pay tribute to the king of illusionists, the ballsiest stunt man and the greatest escape artists that ever lived. It is also appropriate because Houdini’s last temptation of fate fell on October 31st, 1926.
Harry Houdini, born Erich Weisz in Budapest, Hungary in 1874, was a sideshow magician, initially, specializing in the same sort of hokum you find at any given eight year old’s birthday party but he worked light escapology into his act and in 1899, was advised to focus on the feats of escape and it was with this new specialty, mostly escaping from handcuffs, that he became a Vaudeville sensation and came to tour Europe. In 1908, Houdini introduced his signature escape, locked in an oversized milk can, submerged in water. He would eventually expand this to an upside down suspension escape while submerged in a glass case, escaping a strait jacket while suspended from a building and escaping the grave while buried alive. His reputation served him so well that he would eventually take his act to France and then to Hollywood where he acted in a few silents that showcased his abilities among some pretty silly suspense movie plots.
Among Houdini’s escapes, he was also known for the claim that he could withstand an abdominal punch delivered from any man and demonstrated this frequently, accepting any challenge. Of Houdini’s death it is rumored that a punch delivered by a fighter while relaxing after a show in Montreal resulted in his death, Houdini’s actual cause of death was Peritonitis as a result of a burst appendix at the age of 52. He had been tempting fate and performing in spite of a doctor’s diagnosis of appedicitis. While the incident in Montreal actually happened, and close to the date of Houdini’s death, he would have died from the burst appendix with or without the abdominal trauma.
For ten years following his death, his wife Bess held an annual seance before giving up. Since then, magicians around the world carry on the tradition in hopes of contacting Houdini.
Edit: I found this on Archive.org – a documentary recording of the final seance.
I’ll admit this one right out of the gate. I’m cheating a little with this post. Depending on where you live in the country, your community either sets children loose on October 30th or the 31st, so I feel like I’m in the clear on this one. Devil’s Night does not actually fall on Halloween. It falls on the night before Halloween. But you know what? I set the rules around here.
Halloween, though saturated in rituals of harvest festivals and panhandling for candy, is also known for epic feats of trickery and vandalism. Devil’s Night may be the ultimate expression of this. If you’ve ever wondered where the trick component of ‘trick or treat’ came from, this is it. It’s a lot more than an idle Halloween threat, recited by children scavenging the neighborhood for candy. In Detroit, Michigan, they keeps it real. Dating back to the 30’s, Detroit youth hit the streets in huge numbers, toilet papering and egging everyting in sight. But as the year progressed, the stunts became far more malicious. Beginning with the 1970’s, the Devil’s Night menu added arson and in only a few short years, the annual ritual of pain in the ass vandalism turned into epidemic levels of destructive felony. It wasn’t long before failing business owners would torch their own places on Devil’s Night and blame the streets for the fire. In the mid-80’s, the rash of arson hit a peak with more than 800 fires started in a single night. However, in the 90’s, Mayor Dennis Archer organized the streets into tens of thousands of neighborhood patrols which began a decline in Devil’s Night related crime.
Detroit wasn’t the only place in the world where Devil’s Night goes down. In Mersyside, UK, the tradition is called Mizzynight, which is short for Mischief Night, the proper name that is also used in Ireland on that night. They call it Mat Night in Canada, where people go out and steal door mats, which seems suitably Canadian to me.
Of all the Halloweeny imagery out there, nothing says ’tis the season to be spooky quite like a pumpkin with a face carved in it. The strange thing is that carved lanterns didn’t become associated with Halloween until the mid-1800’s and carved pumpkins didn’t appear didn’t begin to appear until 1837… in America. Prior to carving pumpkins, people used root vegetables like turnips.The significance of leaving Jack O’ Lanterns out is to ward off evil spirits.
The name, Jack O’ Lantern, is a reference to the same sort of swamp gas that UFO sightings are typically explained away with. Jack O’Lantern is also sometimes called Will O’ The Wisp and depending on the culture, the folklore differs. In British/Celtic circles, Jack is a badass drunk who trades his soul to the devil to pay his bar tab. When the devil comes calling for his payment, Jack tricks him by having the Devil climb a tree and then surrounds it with crosses, removing them only when the Devil agrees to break the bargain. But when someone as bad as Jack dies and is rejected from Heaven, the Devil also rejects him from Hell and forces him to walk the Earth carrying an ember of Hell to light the way.