Costume Drama

Hussein, Freddy Krueger, and Peggy Pom Pom

'We have an actual fangsmith here. We make custom fangs. I mean, we sell packaged fangs too, but the custom fangs are really special,' says Tony Bianchi, the proprietor of Halloween Adventure at 104 Fourth Avenue, which two weeks before the holiday is already operating at a fever pitch of anticipation. Though this is obviously high season, Bianchi says he has no trouble keeping busy the rest of the year: NYU film students need fake blood, Renaissance weddings require wands, demonstrators want masks for effigies, and then there's the mysterious if steady traffic in rubber chickens.

The first thing you notice as you come through Halloween Adventure's door is a display of patriotic costumes, a bit incongruous in the East Village if a sad sign of the times. "Can you believe they didn't make a good Statue of Liberty until last year?" Bianchi muses. " Now we're up to the gazoo in them." Asked if the store accommodates less orthodox political opinions, he points to the row of rubber faces hanging behind the cash registers. "Look— I've got Arafat, Powell, Giuliani, Cheney. I don't carry a bin Laden mask; I don't think they make them. I do have Hussein, but it's a little touchy. You know, a lot of the kids who work here—when we go through the masks they can't identify anyone. They don't even know who Putin is, which is kind of scary."

Bianchi, who wears his hair in a silvery gray braid and on this particular afternoon is sporting a skeleton cape and a Batman shirt, is finely attuned to shifting Halloween tastes. "When everyone wanted a Monica mask there wasn't one. Now there's a mask and nobody cares. It's like O.J. I got him, nobody cares." Nixon, on the other hand, is what Bianchi calls an icon. "We have a condom on his head 'cause he's a Dick." Among several Clinton variations, Bianchi is especially fond of Horny Clinton, who has a pair of horns, a phallic nose, and lipstick kisses on his cheeks.

Head games at Halloween Adventure
photo: Kate Lacey
Head games at Halloween Adventure

But not every getup requires a course in political economy. "You know, your Average Joes, they go for the nuns and prisoners—not a lot of ambition. Or they buy a cape—you can never have enough capes in stock—or sequined tails or horns." Or perhaps they visit the horror department for "your classic Freddy Krueger or Scream costume. Scream is an icon now, like Santa Claus. And then we have the severed limbs and brains and chain saws." Even innocuous-seeming costumes can harbor a dark side: "You sell them a classic Easter bunny, they make it into a killer bunny."

Bianchi fairly cackles when he shows off a favorite costume, new this year, that consists of plastic buttocks fitted with a hidden pump that unleashes a noxious brown liquid ($44.99). When an Upper East Side-ish woman cuddling a little dog almost throws up as Bianchi demonstrates this item, he turns to her and says, "You walk him, right? You gotta pick it up, right?"

Of course, most people in the store don't want a leaky tushie—they're in pursuit of somewhat less revolting attire. "Actually for Halloween, guys kinda wanna get laid," Bianchi whispers, by way of explaining why stuff like, say, the sorcerer's apprentice costume is such a hard sell. "Guys want to, like, sweep women off their feet—they want to be pirates or do Star Wars or Star Trek." Could this also be the explanation for the vast array of costumes that betray no knowledge of the last 50 years of women's history? For here are sexy nurses (but surprise—no women doctors), sexy witches, sexy French maids, and even relics like sexy flappers with Louise Brooks wigs and sexy '30s sirens who look like Jean Harlow in Dinner at Eight. For little girls, the prospects are equally retrograde: Joining the miniature brides are belly-revealing I Dream of Jeannie sarongs (for young fans of TV Land?) and lots of cheerleader getups with names like Peggy Pom Pom. A '50s poodle-skirt outfit has a Jon-Benet Ramsey look-alike on its package; a $44.99 Alice costume, consisting of an apron and underskirt, promises to make the wearer look like the object of Lewis Carroll's peculiar lust.

So maybe Halloween Adventure, with its thousands upon thousands of costumes, doesn't offer Madame Curie or Victoria Woodhall; at least it calls its feathered hat a Native American headdress. That's one up on Ricky's, which offers outfits to make you look like Brave Hawk or Little Dove, two injuns straight out of a 1950s kiddie show. On the other hand, www.rickys-nyc.com guarantees same-day delivery in Manhattan for orders received by 11 a.m., which is great if the fun and excitement of stepping on little kids' heads as you reach for a Dr. Evil costume doesn't thrill you. Now you're just a click away from an outfit for the little girl who, not content to dress like Alice or Jeannie, wants to don the effects of a Playboy bunny, or the adult who longs to be Red Hot Playa ($59.99) and wear a crushed velvet ensemble. (The Playa, alas, is one of the few black faces to grace Ricky's Halloween Store Web site.) At least two costumes are ripped from the headlines for good or ill—a milk carton that turns the wearer into a missing child and a biohazard suit.

On the other hand, if you are the sort of person who doesn't know it is Halloween until you are blindsided by an egg, there are neighborhood stores without the breadth of Halloween Adventure or Ricky's that nevertheless present quick solutions. At Kmart, you have to go to the second floor for the adult outfits. (The kids' stuff, including a miniature plaid skirt and microphone for a pint-size Britney Spears and an Iraqi invasion-ready camo suit for her brother, is more prominently displayed near the checkout lines.) Upstairs, there's a big pink tutu just begging to be worn Cockette style by a man with a beard, a hippie costume with a flowered shirt and bellbottoms not far off from what people are wearing on the street outside, and an elaborate getup called a bleeding ghost ($19.99). This consists of a Martin Margiela-ish hooded black robe, gloves, and something called an "animated ghost face bleeding mask" that comes with a heart-shaped blood pump and the assurance that "the two-layer mask allows 'blood' to flow without a mess!" (It appears to work on the same scientific principle as the poo-stained heinie.)

If even Kmart is too much for you, there's always Rite-Aid. A recent visit turned up far more candy than costumes, but there was something we hadn't seen anywhere else: a $12.99 mask shaped like an eerie smiling football that covers the wearer's entire head. If you don't mind walking around nearly blind and on the verge of suffocation, this could be your ticket to a happy Halloween.

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