Thursday, October 1, 2015

A disappointing roundup of Halloween masks based on famous people

The Point Break gang in their presidential masks. Does this arouse you in any way?

Blame it on Point Break. Without that popular 1991 thriller and its quartet of bank robbers disguised as, respectively, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Lyndon Johnson, the phenomenon of presidential Halloween masks would not be as prominent as it is today, in my opinion. The fad didn't start with Point Break, obviously, but Katherine Bigelow's film kept it going far beyond all reason. As it is, the small-but-vital industry of latex masks designed to look like rubbery, hollow-eyed likenesses of famous people is still dominated to this very day by prominent politicians: presidents, ex-presidents, presidential candidates, and even a couple of powerful governors and congressmen. I wanted to do a little article about "celebrity Halloween masks," but I kept running into the same few faces over and over. It doesn't really matter which site you're exploring. When it comes to masks based on famous people, presidents and presidential wannabes rule all. Pretty much every Chief of State from Kennedy to Obama is represented in this form. The best you can hope for is a really off-the-wall, inaccurate likeness. Take this truly awful so-called "George Bush Sr." mask, which looks to me more like Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

The thing on the left is supposed to be George Bush, Sr. The thing on the right is Flea.

Aside from anomalies like that, what will you really find if you go shopping for celebrity Halloween masks in 2015? Exactly what you'd expect: a lot of Obamas, Hillarys, and Trumps, a handful of Chris Christies and Arnold Schwarzeneggers, plus some leftover Mitt Romneys, John McCains, Sarah Palins, and even a few stray Newt Gingrinches if you really go looking. Because of his marital proximity to presumptive Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton is back in a big way as a mask this year. Among the other ex-presidents, Richard Nixon is still the most popular, of course, but there are a surprising amount of Reagan masks, too. Dubya's still up there in popularity. Bush, Sr., JFK, and Carter are less common but not unheard of, while LBJ is relatively scarce. And as for Gerald Ford masks? Sorry, Ger, but those are strictly Ebay collectibles in 2015. There are plenty of Rob Ford masks, though, in honor of the buffoonish, crack-smoking ex-mayor of Toronto. In case you're planning to do a hyper-complete Point Break remake with a nine-man robbery team, here are all the presidents from Kennedy to Bush II as Halloween masks.

American History Latex: Nine ex-presidents as Halloween masks.

That'll stick with you for a while, won't it? Yep, it's difficult to get those images out of your mind. Once seen, they cannot be unseen. You'd think that presidential Halloween masks were scary enough on their own, but there is a weird sub-trend happening in this sector of the industry: rendering the politicians as literal monsters from horror movies and TV shows, often zombies, but occasionally vampires and Frankenstein monsters, too. In case you've decided never to sleep again, here's a selection of those types of masks. In this grouping, you'll see zombie Bill Clinton, two different zombie Hillarys, a couple of zombie Obamas, vampire Obama, zombie Dubya, and my personal favorite, Reaganstein. All are available to those with valid credit cards. As Peter Sellers put it in Dr. Strangelove, "It requires only the will to do so."

These monster masks are most definitely NOT a graveyard smash.

Okay, then. There's that. But what about non-political celebrity masks? Do they exist? Eh, sort of. Back in 2010, as you no doubt remember, there was a very messy, widely-publicized power struggle going on in late night television, and this led to a mini-boom in the Halloween mask industry. Of course, the mask makers didn't have the right to use the names of the actual combatants, so a clever manufacturer called Faces by Rubies came up with generic aliases. Jay Leno was "Motor Mouth," David Letterman was "Talk Show Host," and poor Conan O'Brien was "Ex-Talk Show Host." This kind of sly gamesmanship is common in the Halloween costume industry, i.e. "We're not gonna use the real name, but you and I both know who this is supposed to be." The masks themselves were appropriately hideous and bore only a passing resemblance to the real-life comedians on whom they were modeled:

Let this image stay with you throughout the years, my darlings.

Conan O'Brien, in particular, took issue with the appearance of his wizened-looking mask. In a YouTube video uploaded shortly before the debut of his TBS talk show, the ex-Tonight/Late Night host complained: "I look like a burn victim. This is just horrible. This is the face of a 95-year-old man. This is a John McCain mask that they repurposed and slapped some Howdy Doody hair on." O'Brien revisited the mask in his own likeness in 2012, when as part of a Conan segment, he visited a costume shop and found the forlorn "Ex-Talk Show Host" mask among the store's wares. As a clerk giggled and cringed nearby, O'Brien read the description on the package: "Life-like replica of a 66-year-old man-child. Watch him desperately try to win your approval." O'Brien described this text as "very accurate" and then donned the mask himself to deliver a delusional monologue: "I'm still on the air! Why are you all laughing at me? I used to be on network!" This, in turn, led to a bizarre sequence in which the female clerk donned a Conan mask as well and the two Conans pretended to make out as "romantic" music played on the soundtrack.

Apparently, nothing in popular culture has captured the imagination of the Halloween mask industry since the Great Talk Show Wars of 2010. Well, that's not quite true. Charlie Sheen's druggy, hooker-y shenanigans in 2011 inspired a number of masks as well. But that was pretty much it. Frankly, I'm disappointed. There are at least two stores in my neighborhood with a wide variety of Halloween costumes for sale, and I visited both of them hoping to see a fresh selection of celebrity masks. You know what I found? A few politicians and pretty much nothing else. No doubt about it, the industry is in a slump. I was, however, encouraged to see that my local Party City still had a wonderfully creepy mask based on Jim Parsons' popular Sheldon Cooper character from The Big Bang Theory. Spend a good, long time staring at that eerie rubber face. Doesn't that look less like a lovable sitcom nerd and more like someone who would break into your house at night and slit your throat as you slept? Bazinga indeed.

This is supposed to be Jim Parsons, not Sam Donaldson.

P.S. I dug around a little online and found a second Sheldon Cooper mask for sale. This, I'm sure you will agree, is no improvement.

The last thing you see before you die.