Tainted Treats: The Halloween Legend That Will Not Die

Back in the old days, Hollywood Gothique occasionally had time to shift its attention from Los Angeles horror and fantasy events to generic Halloween news. Two topics seemed to roll around like clockwork every year, both of them fear-based: one was young girls being lulled into wearing inappropriately sexy costumes; the other was fear of tainted treats, typically apples containing sharp objects, which we covered in 2004 and in 2008.

We generally don't spend time on that sort of coverage these days, but we're making an exception because, while updating the 2008 article (note to self: never embed a photo from another source, because it will disappear), we came across this 2018 article, which shows that interest in the topic continues decades later, even though the story has been repeatedly debunked as a myth by Snopes and other outlets. The Dallas News reported on a scare that gripped the city in 1982: in the wake of the poisoned Tylenol found on store shelves, that September, parents and local officials took various steps to protect children, such as discouraging or trick-or-treating or having candy x-rayed in hospital radiology rooms.

Typical for its genre, the article focuses on concerns and rumors without citing much actual evidence to justify those concerns. Citing no details that would aid confirmation, the article reports:

While there were no reported poisonings, Halloween 1982 in Dallas wasn't without incident. A northeast Dallas mother reported slicing open an candy bar and finding a needle inside. Citizens from Oak Cliff and Pleasant Grove reported similar discoveries.

This sounds scary, but these incidents conform to the pattern described by Snopes: when objects are reported in Halloween treats, typically they are discovered by someone searching for them, not by someone biting into an apple or a candy bar, and on the rare occasion when someone has been injured by a tainted object in a candy bar or an apple, serious injury requiring hospital treatment has not resulted.  In fact, these incidents often appear to have been perpetrated by the "victim" in order to get attention from parents. As Snopes explains with a quote from Jack Santino's Halloween and Other Festivals of Death and Life:

 As Best and Horiuchi (authors of the Razor Blade) note, more than 75 percent of reported cases involved no injury, and detailed followups in 1972 and 1982 concluded that virtually all the reports were hoaxes concocted by the children or parents. Thus this legend type seems to have grown out of a tradition of ostensive hoaxes relying on an understood oral tradition, rather than on any core of authenticated incidents.

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.

%d bloggers like this: