Written by Jonathan Wojcik

October 16: Dollar Store Terrors!

   Every year, we can count on dollar stores to put out some of the same Halloween staples for the same reasonable prices; if you just need some old fashioned floppy bats, glow in the dark spiders, ghostly windsocks or styrofoam tombstones, dollar stores usually have you covered. Every so often though, you find something really new and really special down their oppressive, funny-smelling aisles. I'm fortunate to have all three of the East Coast's major "dollar" chains in the same town, so we're going to compare the coolest (relatively speaking) creeps available at each for 2012!

The Dollar Tree

   The Dollar Tree is by far America's most prolific chain of true dollar stores, selling absolutely nothing exceeding one dollar in price, the quality of which can be highly unpredictable. The first thing that jumped out at me this year was this bloody eyeball placemat, made from materials that might survive actual placemat usage for a week, tops. Still, it's a bloody eyeballs placemat, which you can't rightfully pass up for only a hundred pennies. You could at least cut it to size and use it as a sweet-ass background to a fish tank or a diorama, or do what I do, and just plain tack it to the wall, like a poster that shows nothing but cartoonish, bloody eyeballs.

   And if that wasn't enough bloody eyeball action for only a dollar, these precious little babies seem to be brand new additions to the Dollar Tree's usual line of cheap, rubber body parts. Dinosaur Dracula already sang the praises of their sculpted globs of tissue, but I like them because they're so easy to interpret as crawling, living eyeballs, slithering slug-like on their amoebic, gory underbellies. I can dream.

   Actually returning from past years, I may or may not have reviewed this ghost before, or at least intended to, but I can't seem to find any proof, and I doubt you care. Even for a dollar, this is a pretty cheaply molded hunk of plastic, and I have no idea what those awkward, unnatural looking slots are for, other than saving a few extra pennis worth of material. If it wasn't being sold as a hanging decoration, complete with a little loop on top, I'd swear it was just the lid to some ghost-shaped tupperware. I probably sound like I'm criticizing, but every single thing I just said is why seeing this thing come back year after year makes me disproportionately happy.

   The real Dollar Tree prize this year, in my honest opinion, has got to be these beautifully painted, miniature resin tombstones with purple sparkles and by far some of the cutest, most carefree skeletal ghouls I've ever seen outside an episode of Anpanman.

   Look at this skeleton. He is practically spooning that tombstone. Have you ever seen an embrace so loving, so content, so tearfully simple and sincere between a corpse and its own grave? He's returned from the dead and doesn't even want to leave. He's chilling like a cat on a hot laptop.

   Meanwhile, the fleshless snuggler's stylishly robed neighbor is quite pleased to present us with his headstone's final application of purple sparkles, and I don't know about you, but I definitely don't have the heart to critique his handiwork, no matter how sloppy it looks in comparison. He tried, damn it. It might not look as perfect as Mr. Snuggleskull's up there, but you try applying sparkles even this well without any skin, eyeballs or nerve endings!

Dollar General

   Moving on, the Dollar General has always been at once an upgrade and a downgrade from the Dollar Tree. Many items, while still cheaper than other retailers, exceed a dollar in price, which in theory should mean better materials and a broader selection, but one of the few impressive items this year was this $10 Creepy Eyes wall decoration, made from the same vacuum-molded plastic as old fashioned Halloween masks, whose bloodshot, light-up eyeballs emit a pleasantly soft, mechanized buzzing as they wave to and fro on their robotic stalks. I think what really sold me, besides the waving eyeballs, are those lovely streams of blood, both painted and sculpted into the design.

   Two other Creepy Eyes characters are available, and while I certainly appreciate a pumpkin with eyestalks and how the pirate has only a single working ocular, they'd have really had me with a rotten mummy option, or maybe a bug-eyed spider.

   At least Creepy Eyes are at the absolute cutting edge of technological advancement. They even run on those "batteries" all the foppish lads are so excited about in their hand-telegrams on their electric phonepods.

   Dollar General also offers one dollar "paper bag puppet kits," the kind of thing you can usually have more fun making by yourself for free. At least these come with a mummy option, and supply their own spooky black paper bag, though you have to provide the tape or glue yourself. Yes, for one dollar, you can get a paper bag and some pieces of cardboard with some assembly required.

   On a more impressive note, FLASHING HEAD SKULLS! They don't stay on easily, but they can light up and flash obnoxiously to make up for it. At long last, skulls for your head!

   This is also only my third or fourth day wearing glasses. I spent my whole life unaware that my vision was terrible, and now I see the world in a whole new way! They also make my balding, skeevy head a lot more tasteful overall, if not quite as tasteful as the addition of head skulls.

   Perhaps the best Dollar General deal this year are just these eyeball-covered Halloween socks. For only a buck, I can't really beat a pair of eyeball-covered Halloween socks that actually fit me, and better yet, enable the creation of grotesque eyeball-covered puppets with no additional effort!

Family Dollar

   Last but certainly not least, Family Dollar is slightly less ubiquitous on this side of the country than our other two "dollar" chains, but while the prices can climb higher - challenging the boundaries of its very "dollar store" categorization - the products, at least in this case, legitimately feel like they ought to be worth more. This twelve inch, crudely jointed carcass was only one dollar, sold as a "hanging zombie," and matches both a skeleton and mummy version they were selling last year. That's practically every known variety of human corpse for just a buck each!

   Dollar zombie's dull green-brown tinge, squinting eyelid, stapled-together skull and grody, clinging flesh demonstrate exactly the kind of shambler I wish we would see more of in the bloated zombie apocalypse genre; I don't care how flimsy the made up "science" has to be, this is what I want to see scrabbling to break through a ramshackle barricade and chow down on a handful of terrified survivors; just a filthy, noxious, half-eaten bag of gangrenous bones and scabs!

   A little steeper at $4, you at least get three of these hanging mini-reaper-heads to a bag, and I can't help but read their tattered hoods as comically stubby little ghost-bodies, which was practically worth the price in itself!

   Possibly my favorite Family Dollar item this year is this hollow, soft plastic ghost head with light up eyeballs, for only $3. They come in a variety of colors, but the translucent green is by far the most attractive, and even a little creepy with its drooping sockets and little human nose. Like the hanging zombie, these are similar to a skull item they've been selling since 2010. The Creepy Eyes from Dollar General may be larger and more elaborate, but I have to say that this is a much cooler "head with light-up eyeballs" purchase.

   Even if the green ghost head is my overall favorite item here, bargains definitely don't come better or more satisfying than this dancing, solar-powered happy skeleton for just two bucks. It wasn't long ago when a dancing, solar-powered anything would have cost ten or fifteen times that at the bare minimum, and this is certainly the first time I've seen one in a Halloween flavor. I bought one for the dashboard, the back window, and two more for inside the house, just in case they don't come back again in 2013 or any of them begin to break down. Dancing happily in the daylight is pretty much exactly the opposite of what we expect from a skeleton, and these little bastards seem pretty pleased to be defying convention. I also like the odd effect of all bones from the neck down being black, because the head already establishes that white is bone, and black is emptiness. That makes one hell of a weird anatomy on this guy if you want to overthink it, and I sure do.