Halloween has always been associated with a grand collection of frightful characters, from werewolves to vampires, ghouls to goblins. Every Halloween that passes raises once more the age-old question: which monster is the spookiest of them all? Is it the mummy? The zombie? The computer science major? There’s a great myriad of creatures to consider, but I don’t get paid enough to think about all of them. Instead, let’s examine the two most important ones: skeletons and ghosts.
Skeletons and ghosts have been at war since time immemorial. As is common knowledge, everyone either becomes a skeleton or a ghost after death. Outside of the Great Skeleton–Ghost War, the two have also been competing for economic success in consumerist America. Each Halloween, the skeletons try to sell more costumes and decorations than the ghosts. Both sides have been wildly successful, as nearly all Halloween decorations consist of skeletons or ghosts. Like cats and dogs, they are mortal enemies. Which side will come out on top in the end?
The success of skeletons and ghosts in our market economy is owed to both of their large “spooky factors.” When decorating for Halloween, consumers value spooky things. Since skeletons and ghosts are generally thought to be pretty spooky, their products sell very well. What is it that makes skeletons and ghosts so spooky, and how can we argue that one is spookier than the other?
First, we must come to a consensus on what exactly we mean by “spooky.” This word is commonly used interchangeably with words like “scary” or “horrifying,” but in the context of Halloween, there is some nuance.
Scary things exist on a kind of spectrum, from spooky to horrifying. All of these things are scary, sure, but there’re shades of meaning. Something is spooky if it is scary, but also somewhat light-hearted and amusing. On the other hand, horrifying things are scary but also instill extreme feelings of anger or disgust.
People tend to have a preference for either spooky or horrifying things on Halloween. Those in the pro-horrifying camp like realistic, gory decorations and costumes that can turn stomachs. They also probably enjoy horror movies. Meanwhile, the average spooky enjoyer wants to be startled but in a sillier, less intense way. Instead of having their blood curdled, they just want a good laugh.
Under these criteria, it should be abundantly clear that skeletons are spookier than ghosts. Skeletons certainly give people a little fright now and then, but in modern-day culture, they are depicted more as goofy little guys than frightening monsters. They’re scary but in a cute sort of way.
The success that skeletons have had in the internet meme industry is also likely due to their humorous spookiness. In this way, skeletons are completely at odds with ghosts.
Ghosts are scary, but they’re not nearly as silly as skeletons are. They have neither the funny sounds nor the daring escapades of skeletons. “Spooky scary ghosts” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Ghosts are bland. They’re lifeless, and without bodies. It’s hard to relate to them.
Skeletons have character, and this complexity — scariness and silliness — makes them perfect for the Halloween season. That’s what Halloween is all about, after all: being a little spooky, being a little silly, and having a fun time.
~ Pat Mallory `26