HALLOWEEN BESTIARY 2023:
In 2020, I shared a "wish list" of creatures I'd love to see in yearly Halloween decor, beginning with one I truly couldn't believe was so rare: scary mushrooms.
The following year, what should suddenly rear their cute little heads but multiple varieties of scary mushroom figurines, precisely as I had described. Another year later, even more varieties were spotted, and now in 2023, it appears they're here to stay!
...Did I do that? The website you're currently reading is, it would seem, one of the only places on the internet where someone still seriously reviews so many seasonal doo-dads or offers so many aesthetic opinions on the industry, which I've now been doing for at least twenty consecutive years, so, your comments may very well be something these companies turn to when they're wondering just what the people want, and in this case, what you wanted was fungus. Naturally!
Now that creepy mushrooms are OFFICIAL Halloween Mascots...what are they, and what do we call them? I'm nominating "deathcap" for a suitably broad and generic name, but the "lore" comes a lot easier; fungi already come pre-loaded with all the spookery you could want. Deathcaps would obviously be terribly poisonous, whether it's psychotropic mind-warping poisonous or just plain kill-you poisonous. Fairies and goblins would closely associate with them, and it goes without saying that many varieties would be "zombifiers," able to parasitize either living or dead bodies to create an assortment of fungally infested fiends.
...But what kind of twist can we add that's a little more original, while still just "generic" enough to feel like more or less believable Halloween mythos?
Fungi are almost exclusively decomposers, linking them even closer to the processes of death than most plant or animal life. Even the parasitic and pathogenic fungi usually feed the same way as any others but rotting organic matter, breaking it down at the microscopic level into basic nutrients.
The majority of fungi also tend to have very particular tastes. Some grow exclusively in just one variety of wood at only one specific stage in its decay. Some grow only on just one variety of wood after it's been singed just enough by wildfire. Some grow parasitically on only a single insect species. Some even grow only on another type of fungus, or even on slime mold!
Clearly, supernatural mushrooms are what you get when something supernatural starts to rot, altering the natural fungal spores or mycelia they come into contact with. The specific taxonomy of both the fungus and the deceased spook would have to make a difference, which means there could be millions of possible combinations. What happens to Pseudocolus fusiformis, the Squid Stinkhorn, when it sprouts up from the grave of a defeated vampire vs Clathrus ruber, the Lattice Stinkhorn? How might the development of Amanita muscaria differ under exposure to the putrid body fluids of a roadkill hobgoblin vs. a regular nonhobgoblin? These distinctions could mean the difference between a parasitic psychotropic deathcap with an all-seeing eye and a predatory neurotoxic deathcap with razor-toothed jaws!
This angle kind of spirals completely out of control, in a great way, when it comes to those "zombifying" varieties. Mushroom zombies are their own distinct cliche by now, mostly brough to us by video games and tabletop RPG's, but just what sort of mushroom zombies result from a pathogenic mutant morel tainted by the remains of a werewolf? What about a parasitic earthstar grown on a diet of composted Strixoid? And what if the infested host is another kind of monster?!
Even when we stick to the most obvious, well established behaviors of both real and fantastical mushrooms, the can of worms we open is almost atrociously gargantuan. Lucky for us, atrociously gargantuan is precisely how we all prefer our worms around here. Canned OR uncanned, FOOLS!!!!!!!!!