Halloween Panic Catches Fire

From drugged candy to kids bursting into flame, this year’s Halloween moral panics are well underway.

Ahh, Halloween – a time of ghouls, ghosties, things that go bump in the night and hysterical moral panic about the alleged dangers involved in every aspect of the celebrations. You might think that there was an ulterior motive behind making this most pagan of nights problematic in as many ways as possible. Amongst the now-traditional fretting about Halloween costumes appropriating an ever-expanding list of forbidden cultures or somehow or other offending people – because God knows, we can’t have Halloween costumes that are in bad taste, can we? – it’s good to see some of the old panics returning, albeit in slightly rebooted form. This year, we’re seeing claims that trick-or-treaters will be slipped candy-coloured fentanyl as a spicy upcycle of the old stories about razor blades, rat poison and other unwelcome additions to the candy treats. As then, as now – there is absolutely no evidence that this is happening or, in fact, has ever happened – though as with so many moral panics, if you talk about it for long enough in a loud enough voice, then some ghoul might well get the message and turn your fantasy into reality.

The other buzzkills this week have been the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, who have decided – for reasons best known to themselves – to issue a warning about Halloween costumes bursting into flame. Not spontaneously, you understand – that would be too much to ask for. Not, this is a more prosaic bit of hand-wringing about ‘highly flammable’ outfits going up in flames, along with the wearer I assume, if they come into contact with naked flames from “candles, fires, lighters and matches“. Well, yes perhaps they will – though once again, this seems an extremely pre-emptive bit of panic based on no evidence at all. Perhaps nippers in home-made or – worse still – nastily foreign outfits that have dodged health and safety guidelines on their way to feckless cheap ‘n nasty retailers are catching fire en masse every year, though you’d think that we might have heard something about it before now if that was the case. And let’s not get into the dangers of hollowed-out pumpkins and their dodgy candle illuminations (“better to use an LED” say the MFRS, who have clearly never compared the eerie flicker of a candle with the stark lighting of an LED).

Now look, I’m not saying that we don’t need to take care at Halloween – though Bonfire Night seems a much more dubious and dangerous event in the UK – not to mention all manner of religious celebrations that often involve candle-lit processions and questionable exposures to all manner of theoretical danger. No one should be sending their kids out unescorted or not checking their piles of candy for anything inappropriate, and no one should be waving candles and the like about with gleeful abandon either. Given the likely future of life in Britain, perhaps Halloween is actually a good time to teach kids how to handle candles sensibly, in preparation for the winter power cuts. But it does feel as though this is more Halloween buzzkill at work – people saying “have fun but…” before essentially telling you not to have any fun by putting exactly the wrong kind of terror into the holiday. Just as religious figures fret about Halloween opening up a portal to Hell via the evils of fantasy witchcraft and curmudgeons mutter about the Americanisation of British culture – much better to celebrate a failed attempt to blow up Parliament by burning effigies, which comes with no fire risks at all clearly – it seems that some people just can’t let anyone have fun without complaining about it. Life is full of dangers and Halloween is no different and no worse. Just let those who enjoy it do so in peace.


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One comment

  1. I can understand about warning about flammable costumes. Claudia Winkleman’s daughter was badly burned when hers caught fire from a candle. Also, kind of related, but it took me years to find out what the deal was with the kid that turned up to the hospital with the bleeding mouth at the start of Halloween II. The copy I’d been watching for so long was a really crappy, panned and scanned, taped off Sky version and the transfer was so dark I couldn’t make out what was going on most of the time. It wasn’t until I saw the widescreen version on TV years later that I saw his apple had a razor blade in it. I hadn’t heard any of the myths about spiked fruit at the time.

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