“For the last couple of years, darker is where it’s been at,” says Melissa Sprich, vice president of Halloween merchandising for Party City. For babies and toddlers, Sprich says “darker” may mean dressing as a devil this year, rather than a cheerful dinosaur. But for all other ages, many parents are seeking vampires, zombies and “the Freddies, Jasons and Chuckys” even for kids too young to see those characters on screen.
The companies that license these characters’ images determine how small the costumes can run, with some drawing the line for horror characters at sizes 6-8 or 10-12. But while “6-8” technically refers to ages 6-8, many boys wear that size at age 5.
David J. Skal, who has chronicled America’s fascination with horror since the 1990s in numerous books, including “The Monster Show,” says he’s surprised at the level of “monster-ization of children” we’re seeing this year.
He points out that for centuries, frightening masks and “scary stories have been used to pass on a kind of coming-of-age message to children that the world is not always a safe and welcoming place.” Perhaps, he says, this year parents are especially preoccupied with just how unwelcoming the world seems.
Researching his history of Halloween, “Death Makes a Holiday,” Skal spoke with people who grew up during the Great Depression, and remembered dressing up as what they called “hobos and bums.” At that time, he says, “people were very concerned that the whole social fabric was coming apart. The idea of the rise of the unwashed masses kind of has a parallel with our fascination with zombies.”
Chris Alexander, editor-in-chief of the long-running horror magazine Fangoria, says in the 1930s, characters we now see as relatively harmless like Frankenstein’s monster or Count Dracula were unsettling moviegoers just like Chucky or Michael Myers.