Halloween! Just the name conjures up visions of… repeats of US sitcoms in May, and… something about pumpkins… I think Charlie Brown‘s in there somewhere… no, I’ve got nothing.
Though there are unconfirmed reports of Australian children trick-or-treating in the outer suburbs, Halloween remains one of those strange American customs – like bright orange cheese, or trying to shoot the President. It’s never had any cultural traction in this country, which is a pity, because I can’t helping thinking the nation would be improved by adults wearing fancy dress with impunity. It doesn’t help that Halloween falls so close to Melbourne Cup – perhaps it would catch on if small children dressed as Phar Lap.
Our foreign correspondent Daniel Cardone recently returned from the US with Halloween candy in tow. In Outland Institute tradition we gathered a panel to test this spooky delicacy.
Doctor Scab’s Monster Lab is a bag of “creepy chocolaty flavored [sic] body parts”. It’s what the Easter Bunny would bring if the Easter Bunny had seen too many Saw movies. It’s a cavalcade of severed fingers, toes, ears and lips, plus “fudge filled eyes”, wrapped in gruesomely-detailed foil. Palmer, the manufacturer, has a Quality Pledge on the pack where they state “For over 50 years, Palmer has been a national brand making candy for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter and Halloween… If you are not satisfied please let us know and we will make it right.” Two things here to note here – Palmer makes special occasion candy, but nothing you’d eat everyday – for reasons that would soon become abundantly clear. Secondly, the phrase “we will make it right” sounds quite ominous when you’re looking at a bag of edible body parts.
It’s a surprisingly hefty bag, weighing in at 737 grams. You’d assume that’s a direct translation of a more rational imperial measurement, but neither 1 & 5/8ths of a pound or 26 ounces seem that logical either…
And so – to the tasting! Today’s panel consists of: gourmand Angela Costanzo, arts-writer Anne-Marie Peard; the Evil Doctor Chris; Destination Moon‘s Damaris Baker & David Ashton; lady writer Narrelle Harris, jetsetter/heiress Daniel Cardone; aspiring catamite Andrew Milnes; special statistical commentator Naomi Le Get; and myself.
While the panel were impressed by the packaging – the severed ears even had hair and blood stains on them! – expectations weren’t high for this product:“It’s not going to be good, is it?” “What do you expect from something called Doctor Scab’s?” “There’s not enough parts to make a monster – you’d need an expansion pack.” “That’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen, and I’m going to put it in my mouth.”
Most started with the eyes, although the peanut-butter filled lips were considered more successful:“What’s in the ear?” “Double crisp.” “The lips are slightly better.” “The toes are better than the eyes – don’t go for the eyes.”
It all came back to the chocolate, though:“It’s not nice – it’s slightly gritty.” “It’s like the bad Tim Tams.” “It’s bad chocolate.” “It’s like really bad chocolate crackles – there’s an aftertaste coming… oh, more tea! More tea! Oh, what the fuck is that? Did a rat die in the vat or something?” “For the love of god, more tea!!!!” “It could be worse – oh, it is, it’s worse now.” “Exactly the flavour and texture of margarine.” “Maybe it’s the partly hydrogenated vegetable oil.”
It was at this point we made the discovery that Doctor Scab’s Monster Lab isn’t actually chocolate – it’s “chocolaty flavoured”. Yes, this product doesn’t have enough cocoa butter to be legally called “chocolate”. At the end of the test there was still plenty left in the bag, so we’ll be keeping them near the doors of The Outland Institute to give to small children. They certainly won’t be coming back.
I asked the panel had they seen any evidence of Halloween being celebrated in Australia?“Every second year a few kids show up…” “We didn’t have any lollies so our house got egged – have we ever hidden from kids?” “We got a catalogue in the mail that mentioned Halloween – it wasn’t a big store, it was somethink like Clint’s Crazy Bargains.” “I had a Buffy party last year.” “Did you all turn into what you dressed up as?” “We didn’t dress up.” “…Oh.”
In conclusion, would the panel recommend the product?“The chocolate is an afterthought to the packaging.” “They promised a horror-filled experience and they delivered on it.” “I feel I should apologise for bringing that into the country.”