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Scare up some stellar costumes

This Halloween, traditional costumes are back
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Move over J. Lo and Ben. This Halloween, a traditional cast of characters will take center stage, based on costume sales so far this season, according to several major retailers that specialize in the haunted holiday. That’s right, superhero Spiderman, cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants and everyone’s favorite wizard Harry Potter will be back (although it’s doubtful the Terminator will be). And of course, the usual host of ghosts, goblins and gory creatures will prowl the streets.

“It's not a in-your-face Halloween,” says a company representative from Spencer Gifts, a chain of 650 gift shops nationwide that sets up an additional 180 stores for Halloween. No one hero or character stands out this year, as firefighters and police officers did right after Sept. 11 or as Spiderman did after the release of the blockbuster movie in the summer of 2002, he adds.

A lackluster summer for kids’ movies also contributed to the revival of traditional themes and characters. “The Hulk” movie this past summer increased the green monster’s popularity this Halloween, says Howard Hamburger, who runs one-stop cyber shop halloweenstreet.com with his wife in Thousand Oaks, Calif. “But he’s no Spiderman,” he adds.

And when it comes to Halloween, “the good guys always win,” says Hamburger. Historically, most kids prefer good guy costumes, he explains. For example, this season, both the red and green Ninja Storm Power Rangers, almost a decade old now, are flying off the shelves. In anticipation of the release of “The Cat in the Hat” movie this Nov. 21, Cat in the Hat costumes also have inched their way to the top of the charts.

Halloween fanatics, however, will mimic the characters they saw this summer’s string of blockbuster horror movies. So don’t be surprised to see Freddy Krueger from “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and Jason Voorhees of “Friday the 13th” look a-likes, inspired by “Freddy vs. Jason,” or the people-eating monster from “Jeepers Creepers II” or even the blood-soaked creature infected with a flesh-eating disease from “Cabin Fever.” Had enough? Well, there’s more. Other movie releases scheduled for October include “House of the Dead” (Oct. 10), the remake of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (Oct. 17), “Scary Movie 3” (Oct. 24) and the re-release of “Alien” (Oct. 29.)

The king of costumes

This Halloween, rock star costumes rank low on most lists. But Elvis will make his first official appearance. It’s the first year that the official licensed costume will hit the streets, says Hamburger. In the past, Elvis impostors had to wear generic rock star duds.

Americans just may have even had enough of this year’s political masquerading. It’s doubtful that revelers will don masks of Democratic presidential contenders General Wesley Clark, Howard Dean or Senator Joseph Lieberman. It’s even less likely that masks of Senator Carol Mosley Braun or Al Sharpton will prowl the streets. It seems costume companies can’t make masks fast enough to keep up with the ever-expanding slate of candidates. Now, where is Ralph Nader when you need him?

But popular presidents from the past—as well as the incumbent—will be back to haunt us or grace our presence, depending on your political affinity. Masks of John F. Kennedy, George Bush (41), George W. Bush (43) and William Jefferson Clinton, still do well, says a company representative from buycostumes.com, one of the largest one-stop Halloween shops online. Richard Nixon is by far the most popular political mask of all time, she says. And no matter what the spirit of the country, costumes of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln always sell, she adds.

Get rover into the act

Buycostumes.com

A relatively new trend is to dress up your pet for Halloween. “You don’t realize you want stuff (pet costumes) until you know it’s available,” says buycostumes.com’s company representative, who dressed up her dog Ramone like Batman last year. The most popular pet garb this year is the princess costume, according to the one-stop shop’s top ten list. The frilly pink costume, which costs $12.99, comes complete with tutu, tiara and booties. Other hot pet costumes include “Big Daddy”—a studly counterpart to “Pretty in Pink” princess costume, superheroes Superman, Batman and Spiderman, and Disney character’s Snow White and Mickey Mouse.

Kid stuff

Buycostumes.com

Of course, there’s still nothing cuter than tots in costume. I favor Tom Arma’s basic black cat costume, even though pea pods and bumble bees are hot this year. Arma’s classic cat costume costs $34.99 at buycostumes.com. Not sure if it’s the kid or the costume, but the little tot in the picture just knocks me out. Other cuddly creatures in Arma’s collection include the funny farm cow, coat, lamb and pig. There also are a few toddler-size costumes by Valerie Tabor Smith, known for her whimsical designs. The colorful and dainty fairy costumes cost $34.99.

Each year, it seems more and more retailers set up shop in cyberspace. The heavy hitters this year include one-shop cyber shops Las Vegas, Nev.-based halloweenmart.com, halloweenstreet.com and buycostumes.com. Prices at buycostumes.com range from 23 cents for an eye patch to $49,999 for a 40-foot black hole mobile. Unlike the bat mobile this mobile, a special-order item, is guaranteed to make riders dizzy.

Kids costumes at halloweenstreet.com average $20-$25, says Hamburger. All these superstores have discount sections. But halloweenstreet.com has the best deals. Recent finds include the hippie girl and hippie boy for $16.99 each.

For the kid at heart
Some shops cater to adults, and they are not necessarily X rated. Janesville, Wis.-based hauntedplanet.com offers a range of adult costumes, priced from $32 for a leopard skin-covered caveman to theatrical-quality costumes of velvet cloaks for $122. Most costumes, however, appeal to our romantic fantasies, such as costumes of Romeo and Juliet, Lady in Distress and King Arthur.

Pasadena, Calif.-based screamteam.com stocks the best selection of prosthetics. The soft latex professional masks have become popular in recent years. Applying the masks is time-consuming and tedious but the results are spectacular. Take a look at this year’s selection and the gallery of Halloween past. Who knew a clown could be so scary? Each mask costs $49.95. The screamteam.com also sells a comprehensive make-up kit for $29.95.

Anymask.com has the most unusual selection of masks I’ve seen online and off. Right now, the Olney, Md.-cyber shop holds about 450 masks, ranging from a hand-held feather butterfly mask for $12.50 to a decorative ceramic mask from Mexico, priced at $799.

Biggest sellers for Halloween are the political and celebrity masks, says Alan Roecklein, anymask.com president. John F. Kennedy, George Bush (41) and George W. Bush (43) are already sold out. But it’s not too late to be Arafat, Fidel Castro or Jesse Jackson. The results of an official poll, taken by anymask.com, show if Senator Hillary Clinton were running for the Democratic nomination; she’d take the lead with 38 percent of the votes. Howard Dean follows with 16 percent of the vote, Senator Joseph Lieberman with 11 percent and Senator John Kerry with 9 percent.

Roecklein also says if there’s a celebrity mask out there, anymask.com sells it. This year, Michael Myers is “hands-down” the most popular but there are no masks of J. Lo or Ben. “They don’t make them,” he says and adds celebrity masks depend on staying power. Apparently J. Lo and Ben have not been in the limelight long enough. “If Arnold wins (the California governor’s race), they’ll make a mask of him,” predicts Roecklein.

Teri Goldberg is MSNBC.com’s shopping writer. Write to her at personalshopper@msnbc.com