Itâs a scary world out there, and so it is no wonder that the popularity of the holiday formerly known as All Hallowsâ Eve has risen in recent years, ensuring continued healthy product sales of wholesale Halloween decorations, endless recordings of screams from cheap horror films, bulk seasonal candy closeouts, and all the other trappings that go with the one holiday devoted to scares and outlandish costumes. But why is a holiday devoted both to fright and fantasy so enduring?
Fantasy and horror are, if you think about it, mostly about control. Fantasy, like the Harry Potter books and Lord of the Rings, are often about largely powerful beings, sometimes with the help of seemingly less powerful creatures, working together to fight a very powerful evil. Horror is mainly about powerless, ordinary humans fleeing, and only occasionally defeating, an all but unstoppable evil force. The fun part is thatâs itâs only a story and, in real life, weâre very unlikely to have to flee brain eating zombies, vampires, or superhuman murderers, and the enduring success of horror comedies like the cult hit Shaun of the Dead play off that real world/unreal world dichotomy.
No one enjoys being actually frightened for any extended period, but from our earliest ages we love safe, short-lived, scares â a trusted friend or relative sneaking up behind us and saying âbooâ is fun because the result is actually a kind of reassurance that our terror was groundless, after all â our momentary lack of control provides the tension, and the fact that we were fine all along provides the release. Thrill rides are similar in that we willingly subject ourselves to something that appears to be extremely dangerous, while actually being much safer than crossing the street. And so, there is a reason that every classic fairy tale, and most great family films, includes an element of terror. Weâve heard rumors that theater owners used to have to spend a fair amount of money to replace a certain number of urine-soaked seats whenever screening Walt Disneyâs Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. She might have caused countless nightmares for little ones, but without the terrifying, witch-like Evil Queen, there would be no one for the once powerless heroine and her diminutive friends to triumph over.
And so, Halloween celebrates both side of the fantasy/horror equations, and what the products we buy to celebrate mirror that dichotomy. Just as horror films range from once horrifying but now enjoyably dated monster classics like the 1930âs productions of Frankenstein and Dracula, to innumerable more recent ultra-disturbing opuses produced on the cheap, so do popular costumes range from superheroes (power fantasies), to sexy nurse outfits (celebrating a different kind of power), to masks resembling political figures (depending on your opinions, a different kind of horror, perhaps), to the budding make-up wizards who try to turn our stomachs in the style of famed gore make-up genius Tom Savini.
Of course, while adults have been increasingly co-opting Halloween for their own purposes, it remains very largely a childrenâs holiday. It is therefore the more fun and cartoony bulk products and cheap items that prevail at sellers of wholesale Halloween decorations or that you see at the drug store closeout discount counter â scary/silly false teeth, coloring books, and themed bulk candy in various shapes that give little ones a sense of empowerment over their most fanciful fears. What better way to show your mastery over a monster than to eat it?