At some point over the next two months, you’ll probably find yourself wading through the glut of online costume shops, hoping to find that rare glow-in-the-dark Predator mask that I’m pretty sure I just made up. If so, there’s a good chance you’ll land at Halloween Mart, which boasts that it was “the web’s 1st Halloween store.”
That claim is hard to prove, but I’ve uncovered some evidence in the company’s favor. In this edition of Deadsites, we’re gonna take a look at Halloween Mart’s original web store… from 1995!
When I found this, I had no idea that the company still existed. That was just the icing on the cake, because I absolutely would’ve covered this goldmine anyway. The super ancient design, with its borrowed clipart, red fonts and “deep space” background, reminds me of the internet at its glorious simplest.
For its time, the site was well-structured and very, very thorough. You have to remember, the internet of this era was busy, but it wasn’t anywhere near as busy as it is now. If you found Halloween Mart and were interested in its gory wares, it was the kind of site that might’ve eaten hours of your time. (Partly because the images would’ve taken an hour to load, but also because there weren’t two million other things diverting your attention.)
This will sound strange, but websites felt more like “books” back then. (Note the trend: By today’s standards, there is virtually nothing I write that couldn’t be summarized with a “tl; dr.”) I know it’s hard to apply this to an online store that offered little beyond photos and prices, but I think the shoe still fits. By 1995’s standards, you could totally lose yourself in here.
As I pored over the goodies, I was struck by how old Halloween costumes really encapsulate the pop culture trends of their time. Though many of these masks (or variations of them) are still being made today, others died when the characters they were based on stop being popular. It’s a trip. Looking at these masks was like paging through a scrapbook filled with things that people used to care about.
Here are some of my favorites:
For the record, had I just been a wee bit younger in ’95, there’s no way I wouldn’t have been Beavis for Halloween. Noooo way.
I think my favorite is the “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” mask, if only because it’s been a while since I’ve seen one. (I don’t know if that was an “official movie mask,” but given the price, it seems likely.)
Masks like that started appearing in 1992, when I was still young enough to be completely creeped out by them. And believe me, I was. As I recall, that mask was usually on display on the “special” rack above the register, where all of the super-hideous and mega-expensive masks were kept safely out of reach. As an eerie side effect, this meant that the scariest masks in the store all stared down at you, clearly implying that they’d eat you if they had bodies.
The biggest bolts of nostalgia came from Halloween Mart’s children’s section, which makes sense, because a comparative few children’s costumes aren’t based on their particular year’s popular characters. Though some of these costumes are still being made in one form or another (we’ll never have a Halloween without Batman), most are ABSOLUTELY extinct and SUPER UNLIKELY to ever return.
Another collage of my faves:
SO MUCH AWESOME. Where do I start?
The Goosebumps costumes are phenomenal. They make me so sad that I waited until I was too old for Goosebumps to notice it. If you appreciate nothing else about the franchise, you should at least admire its assault of quirky monsters. I don’t think you need to have read a Goosebumps book or seen the series to understand that “Mud Monster” is fantastic. (Curly is still my man, though. You can’t beat a skeleton with a pink mohawk who wears beatnik glasses. There is no “formula of three” that could possibly top that.)
The Raiden/Rayden (don’t get me started) costume is another winner. I wish we had archival footage of every kid who wore that costume, because I bet that absolutely none of them resisted the urge to use the hat like an uncooperative Frisbee.
And I’m just gonna put the word “Xena” here, because if I don’t, someone is going to ask why I didn’t mention the Xena costume. I know how people are.
…and then we move onto Halloween Mart’s “props” section. Here’s the thing with this. Back in the mid ’90s, “Halloween stores” weren’t quite the extravaganzas that they are today. I mean, I guess everyone had different experiences, but around here, “Halloween stores” dealt in costumes, and not much more than costumes. They may have carried small novelties and decorations, but major props were a rare sight. If anything, they’d have one or two, just to give the store displays some extra oomph.
Some of you have been going to Spirit stores for years, right? Think about it. Haven’t their assortments gotten better and better over time? Hell, the one I went to last week felt more like a haunted house attraction than a costume shop. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t remember it always being that way.
Very narrowly remembering the point I wanted to make, sites like Halloween Mart were often our first exposure to the crazier “top shelf” decorations. Since I grew up on whatever crappy decorations the local pharmacies chose to stock, stuff like this was a pretty wild upgrade:
The most notable prop is their “Cryptkeeper Light,” which is actually the amazing Crypt Keeper Candelabra. It’s on the short list of things I will rush to buy as soon as money is no object.
I’m also intrigued by “Dead Fred.” He doesn’t seem like a $600 item, so I’m very curious about what Fred looked like in person. Was he ten feet tall? Did they use bones from extinct animals to build him? Was that flannel shirt once worn by Kurt Cobain?
Even more expensive – but expectedly so – was the “Animated Electric Chair.” I’ve seen that exact prop in at least four different haunted house attractions up and down the Jersey coast. It was even more common than the big rubber guy who continually puked into a toxic waste barrel.
Finally, we have Halloween Mart’s “body parts” section. It’s less interesting than the previous sections, which I guess is an odd thing to say about a page filled with disembodied fingers. I’m featuring it because the idea of flanking a website header with a beheaded torso and bloody feet just seems like something that SHOULD be featured, y’know?
The best of the body parts:
The grainy photos make everything look like old video game graphics, don’t they? Where’s that kid in the Raiden costume? I think we’ve zoomed into the “Pit Bottom” from MK1.
Also, in regard to the “Bloody Chest,” my apologies if you’re reading this during lunch.
Kudos, Halloween Mart. I can’t prove that you were the internet’s first Halloween store, but if it counts for anything, I can at least prove that you sold Whoopi Goldberg masks in 1995.
(PS: If you were gone over the weekend, Dino Drac is loaded with new Halloween content. Also, you can read the previous “Deadsites” installments over here!)