Halloween might be my favorite time of year—considering I have a pumpkin patch whose single purpose is to supply me with ample jack-o-lanterns, it’s pretty much a given. Halloween has always been the time of the year when fears come alive and are celebrated. While many find their fears in goblins, skeletons and zombies, mine are a bit different.
True terror for me on Halloween involves glitter, chevron-painted pumpkins and smiling witches and vampires. When did Halloween become cute—did I miss the memo? I’m not looking for gore; in fact, since they’ve finally stopped making the Saw franchise I think its fair to say we’re all over torture-porn. But what about the creepy Halloween I remember as a kid?
I miss the eerie feeling of a dimly lit street in the full moon, the fear of cobwebs wrapping around your face in the dark, and that ominous cackle that was often heard behind closed doors as you left with a pay dirt load of candy. Halloween used to be fun; it used to be creepy; and, it used to be cool.
So how did we get here? Why is it Halloween is now purple glittery cauldrons, pumpkin spice candy corn, smiling skeletons and enough adorable Halloween front porches on Instagram to take down a data center?
We have created the problem ourselves, that’s why—as a backlash to the realism of physical horror. It’s created just two options in the marketplace right now. So, if you don’t like cute and crafty, then I really hope you like bloody and gory. It’s either a slapdash Instagram hashtag-fest, or a bloody nonsensical mess in your front yard that’s zombie outbreak meets daycare meets hospital. Take your choice.
Here’s what I think happened.
Following the rise of torture-porn flicks such as the Saw series, the gore level of Halloween décor peaked—after all, if we were paying to sit through watching it in a theatre for two hours, why wouldn’t we be willing to invest in making it part of our Halloween landscape at home? The only problem is, it oversaturated the market, and suddenly the “creepy house nobody wants to trick-or-treat on the block” became every house on the block.
And let’s not forget about zombies. The zombie apocalypse is real—and it is part of what killed Halloween. Zombies have become such a phoned-in cultural phenomenon that you could essentially make anything a zombie and say you’re ready for Halloween. Zombie puppies, zombie baby, zombie mom, zombie grandma, zombie schoolbus—all we’re missing is zombie pumpkin spice.
So where do you go for ideas when every Halloween store is either torture, blood, and guts, or zombies and radioactive waste? You get crafty. As the Pinterest boom hit, craft fanatics began posting handmade Halloween decorations, from chevron and painted pumpkins to glittery snake wreaths and Halloween letter art. You can’t blame them; they wanted something different, and they trail blazed their own way through the Halloween marketplace.
Soon after, the resurgence of vintage Halloween and early Americana Halloween took us down the road of the artistic. This not only sent the prices of vintage Halloween postcards to well over three figures, but also saw legendary décor company Beistle re-releasing some of its original products for a new generation.
The one-two shot punch of handmade artistry and the inherent creepiness and fun of vintage Halloween created the perfect mash up—one that we featured on Food Channel in 2013 (http://www.foodchannel.com/articles/article/deathly-sweet-halloween/).
So what has happened since then? Marketing happened. Vintage and handmade Halloween exploded on the scene, especially as more people moved away from elaborate gore décor at home and began looking for Halloween experiences they could access, such as haunted houses, dinner parties, etc.
People are busy—as I write this, I still haven’t decorated for Halloween (and, yes, it’s October), I’ve just been too busy to do it this year. And that’s where a lot of people are. So, instead of investing in their own lawns, they’re looking for places that will give them a great Halloween experience. But you know what they do have time for? They have time for a quick Halloween craft that creates something simple to signify the season at home.
And this is when the marketing and innovation departments at major retailers kicked in—Halloween could be simple and cute. Halloween can be “very Pinterest-y” and “Instagram worthy.” So brands began unleashing waves of Halloween crafts and D.I.Y. projects to the masses, and an already craft-enabled American culture jumped in full swing—after all they were going to get likes, hearts, and reposts for it.
This is where Halloween walked away from mainstream gore and rolled itself lovingly in glitter and craft paint. Witch hats were no longer for kids, but instead adorned cute cupcakes; skeletons were what you dressed your dog as, not what you were afraid were buried in the yard; and, jack-o-lanterns were now pumpkins with fancy word art. The creepy side of Halloween has been all but extinguished.
Now that crafty Halloween is everywhere, it’s starting to raise some questions—what’s next? Can we again finally differentiate between creepy and gory? Can we be subtle and spooky in an age of Instagram and over-the top everything? Is it possible to recapture the feeling of mystery and mischief? Only time will tell. These questions can only be addressed by those of us who are Halloween aficionados.
In other words, we have the power to bring the mystery back to Halloween, through how we celebrate, decorate, and tell the Halloween story moving forward. This isn’t a call to arms to put down the glitter (even though it would make me extremely happy) or even a plea to stop painting your pumpkins, but rather a question: how did Halloween make you feel as a kid? Take that feeling, the mystery, and the excitement, and use that to fuel its future—not what looks good on
Make Halloween Great Again! is part of a Halloween series on The Food Channel. To see more, go here!