In case you weren’t already hip to it, I’m going to let you in on a little fact that all humans and pets should be well aware of at this point in our evolutions: Halloween is the best holiday of the year. Period. Oh, and also, for those still in the dark, Oswald didn’t kill Kennedy, Adam and Eve didn’t cavort with dinosaurs, you can’t get pregnant from using the same toilet seat, and the light does indeed go off when you close the refrigerator door. But why am I telling you this on the Action Figure Insider ‘Men of Action’ blog? Well, because for me, Halloween has several significant memory triggers, and as always, they’ll come back to toys.
But for starters, let’s talk quickly about all the reasons Halloween is so damn cool: the candy, the colors, monster movies, costumes, fake fangs, fake blood, wax lips, pumpkins and pumpkin carving, kids and pets get to dress up, zombies, creepiness, scary movie marathons, tv specials (bonus points for anyone who gets what show this entry’s title comes from) and overall spookiness and things that go bump in the night. It’s also non denominational, so everyone can join in the celebrations.
I grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, a very friendly city in a beautiful state. The summer is unbelievably muggy, teeming with mosquitos so large they could swoop down and carry hamsters off with them, and the winters are a hellish grey/black ice cold that are so horrific even the witches left long ago for someplace to keep their bosoms warmer. But the fall, from about late August to late October, is just about the most beautiful in the whole country. The leaves change, the wind picks up, the clean air smells vaguely of cedar, and all you need is a decent windbreaker to keep yourself warm. And by early September, all you have on the brain is Halloween.
A lot of it has to do with Target, the Minnesota born store that was and is such a staple of my life. We probably went about twice a month when I was growing up, for all household needs and occasional treats. They used to have bakeries inside of them, called McGlynn’s, and that was where all the birthday cakes were ordered from. I remember, if I was good, I’d get one toy, and maybe a chocolate donut with sprinkles on the way out. The best time to go to Target was around Halloween, because all of the decorations and more importantly, Halloween costumes, came out. There’s something still very comforting about going into a Target, even the smell ( I know how that sounds, but believe me, it’s the same) that reminds me of home. It’s probably why I still have to go about twice a month to get my home town fix, living in Los Angeles all these years.
I see it happening earlier and earlier as I’ve gotten older. I’m sure much of this has to do with almighty sales and merchandising, but I like to think it’s because Halloween has gotten more popular. Back in the day, there were two major costume makers: Ben Cooper and Collegeville. As most visitors to AFI surely remember, they mainly came in cardboard window boxes, the plastic masks held to your head with a simple rubber band, and the outfit itself was plastic and nylon. (And for a serious blast from the past, I urge you to check out my friend Brian Helier’s great site: www.plaidstallions.com ). By October 31st, it was usually getting pretty cold in Minnesota, and I remember every year having my chosen costume’s impact lessened slightly by the fact I often had to wear a snowsuit underneath it. (Why more Midwestern kids didn’t die of frostbite due to profusely sweating underneath a painted plastic mask in 40 degree weather is still a mystery). One year I went as Darth Vader, which was very exciting. Unfortunately, I had to wear a black knit cap , my blue windbreaker with wool sweater underneath, snow pants which split the crotch of the thin fabric on the costume, snow boots, and for some reason my mother’s red wool and leather gloves. Many in the neighborhood felt the menace of the Dark Side that night, I can assure you.
All the best costumes made by Ben Cooper were the licensed ones. Did anyone really WANT the ones that said ‘Fireman’ or ‘Princess’ when they could have the ones labeled ‘He Man’ and ‘TRON’? If I was into the property or had the character as an action figure, chances are I wanted to be it for Halloween: Mr. Spock, Spider Man, Captain America, Batman, Frankenstein, Dracula, Godzilla. I didn’t get to be them all, but dammit I WANTED to. (They NEVER made a Han Solo costume, which I still call B crap on, though they did make an Indiana Jones, which I was lucky to find many years later. Doesn’t fit, though). Say what you like about the merits of pop culture status, everyone knows that if you were made into an action figure or Halloween costume, you made it. Honestly, is there anything more iconic than having kids all over the country walk around in your image?
I’ve always been into horror movies too. On local television late Friday nights was a show called ‘Horror Incorporated’. They’d show a horror double bill, and I seem to remember being introduced to the Hammer films this way, and on Sunday afternoons. It’s what led to loving ‘The Addams Family’ and ‘The Munsters’, as well as the creepiest series of all time, ‘The Twilight Zone’. Nothing was scarier than a series that didn’t have to rely on a ‘monster of the week’ to give you chills. I was thrilled when Bif Bang Pow! was able to get the license for the series, and finally bring to 3-D life some of the characters and props that have haunted so many viewers for so long. (And brother, wait’ll you see what’s coming…) I suppose ‘Dexter’ has become something of a modern monster, though one that might live next door rather than on a haunted moor or in an ancient castle. I feel like my childhood horror jones has been fixed with these licenses, and can only hope we’re bringing more goose bumps to the masses.
I also feel like Halloween is an excuse to let your inner goofball out, and I love it for that. Go on, grab a bag of gummy eyeballs and bring them into work for the gang, no one will assume you’re the ‘quiet guy who always kept to himself’ and keep their distance. Go ahead, put fake spider webs all over the outside of the house, no one will think you neglectful of your property. Bring a rubber spider home and put it on your significant other’s pillow before bedtime, believe me, they won’t hate you once they’ve calmed down and cleaned the sheets. And for god’s sake, find some monster figures (they’re out there, believe me) and put them on the mantle. The monster toys have always been feared and misunderstood, neglected when space men and super heroes were more universally embraced. As the holiday gets more popular, isn’t it time we opened the door to Frankie, Wolfie and the whole gang to come in and sit beside the fire? (Well, maybe not the fire, sorry Frankie). Forget Christmas, Halloween is the one time of the year when we can all be kids again, embrace all that’s spooky and ooky, eat sweet treats til we’re bouncing off the walls, and try on those CHiP’s shades once more and see if we can pull a Ponch. Happy Halloween, people. Now get out there and scare someone.
This one’s dedicated to Vic Mizzy, writer of ‘The Addams Family’ theme. (Snap! Snap!)