Jackson, 'Barakula' masks are US Halloween favorites

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Here's a way to frighten the neighbors on Halloween: wear a mask looking like convicted multi-billion-dollar swindler Bernard Madoff, a vampire-president "Barakula," or the late Michael Jackson.

Rubber masks of the trio are among the most popular purchases by Americans eager to shake off the economic doldrums and go trick-or-treating on October 31, costume sellers say.

While this ancient Celtic pagan rite, originally held to celebrate the dead and the end of the harvest season, is primarily a children's event, it also gives adults an excuse to dress up like their favorite ghoul and behave like kids.

Halloween is "a recession antidote," said Jim Moore, marketing director of Costumesupercenter.com, a website specializing in costume sales.

"It's a day of escapism -- you can still dress up, be someone else and have fun for 50 dollars or less," said Diane Lake, co-owner of the Economy Party Supplies and Costumes in the suburbs of the US capital.

Topical politically inspired masks are often hot items, as are the latest pop-culture inspired procession of zombies and vampires.

This year items related to the "King of Pop," Jackson, who died in June, are top sellers. Jackson loved Halloween, and revolutionized music videos with his 1983 clip "Thriller," in which corpses rise from their graves and dance to a catchy tune.

Copies of the red leather jacket Jackson wore in the "Thriller" video sell well, and compete with replicas of the studded black outfit Jackson wore on the cover of his 1987 album "Bad."

Brad Butler, CEO of Halloween Express, said his company received a late hot seller: "Barakula," a ghoulish version of President Barack Obama's face with bugged-out eyes, Vulcan-style ears and knife-sharp fangs.

"It's a mask that came late, but is going to over-sell all the others," Butler predicted. He said buyers snapped up his stock of 3,000 masks, and he has put in a rush order for another 6,000.

"It's the first time I see a presidential mask that takes it to the next level," Butler said, adding that they are more popular than the Bill Clinton masks from the 1990s.

Other political rubber masks include Obama's wife Michelle, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and former Hollywood action star and California Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger.

This year's crop of zombie and vampire masks includes costumes inspired by the hit "Twilight" fantasy-romance vampire series.

Others bear the likeness of Wall Street swindler Madoff, who is serving a 150-year prison sentence for his scams.

While market studies predict scary Halloween sales due to the economic recession, online vendors and stores in the Washington area remain upbeat.

According to National Retail Federation, Halloween accessory sales are forecast to be down 18 percent to 4.75 billion dollars compared to 2008, while the average costume budget has jumped to 66 dollars, up 10 dollars.

"That's what they say, but so far we're a little bit ahead of last year," said Lake.

Butler said that a good portion of his market is under the age of 30 and doesn't care as much about cost. "They want to have fun," he said.

Sales were also strong at Costumesupercenter.com, Moore said.

"We are up year over year, business is up," said Moore. "Halloween is a fun holiday that doesn't cost a lot."