What the hell has happened to Halloween? What used to be a kid friendly Pagan ritual celebrated with a tickle truck, a bag of candy and a healthy dose of horror has devolved into a crass commercial cash grab handicapped by nanny statism and near complete apathy from television broadcasters.
This week it was reported that General Mills Canada will not be offering up their legendary gruesome threesome of sugary cereal lore Count Chocula, Franken Berry and Boo Berry this Halloween, citing poor sales. However it would seem that the ongoing vilification of breakfast cereals is the true culprit here, as in recent years like moth to flame they have attracted the ire of self-appointed food fascists who blame them for the explosion of childhood obesity.
Sugar has become a favourite new Jason Voorhees-esqe boogeyman to those looking to gut all the fun out of growing up, resulting in Halloween night loot shrinking to pathetic taster sizes if you are even lucky enough to get candy or sweets instead of popular new healthy alternatives like fruit and bottled water. Chocolate companies like Rowntree (before they were bought by Nestle) used to flood the airwaves in the lead up to October 31st with imaginative spots, in store contests and the raising of Halloween night expectations to an almost impossible to satisfy apex of chocolaty possibilities.
Another recent casualty of classic Halloween custom is the Unicef box. Hauling around those small orange boxes collecting change for medicine, safe water, emergency relief, education and other support to less fortunate children around the world, followed by the School competition of who could bring in the most money. What better way to encourage the importance of both charity and contest amongst young people? Unicef axed the coin collecting program in 2007, supposedly after teachers moaned about how labour intensive it was to roll them up.
Perhaps the most egregious omission from our modern Halloween ceremony is the fanfare which used to surround it on television. Stations would earmark October 31st for scary movies, horror themed episodes of shows, and allow news anchors to dress up like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Commercials for even the most inane, non-Halloweeny products would get in on the act, all leading up the main event.
A quick glance at the local Toronto TV schedules for this Wednesday, October 31st reveal a night just like any other, with almost no attempt to drum up Halloween spirit through anything remotely scary or horrific (although TLC has a Honey Boo Boo child marathon, which kind of does fit that bill). The digital channels at least try, and as always Turner Movie Classics remains a class act, but AMC is showing butchered, heavily censored prints of the slasher Halloween series, and there is little else on display except a complete lack of imagination.
Thankfully the most important part of Halloween — costuming — remains unscathed while most of the other elements that made it the second best night of the year have been neutered, homogenized, and sterilized beyond recognition. Thanks to busy-body grownups who know best, overzealous health and safety goblins and lazy programmers, Halloween just ain’t what it used to be.
A special treat from Retrontario this Halloween comes in the form of a mixed tape of of dusty vhs horror memories and gory 80s synth soul to scare the kids.
Retrontario plumbs the seedy depths of Toronto flea markets, flooded basements, thrift shops and garage sales, mining old VHS and Betamax tapes that less than often contain incredible moments of history that were accidentally recorded but somehow survived the ravages of time. You can find more amazing discoveries at www.retrontario.com.