7 Reasons Why “Hopping Down the Bunny Trail” is the Single Awesomest (and Likely Only) Easter Horror Story You’ll Ever Find
1. It takes place in a halcyon age when parents could let their kids go off on Easter egg hunts in haunted houses by themselves and not get busted by Child Services.
DC’s Unexpected was one of those post-Code horror anthology titles that didn’t show much in the way of actual horror, mostly stories of vengeful supernatural entities with the occasional faux-EC twist ending for some shock value. In issue #202 (09/80), writer Michael Uslan and artist Tenny Henson presented “Hopping Down the Bunny Trail,” a five-page story that starts off with parents wishing their kids good luck as they head off on a supposedly town-sponsored Easter egg hunt in a reputedly haunted house. Just take a moment to enjoy that set-up; long before the phrase “helicopter parenting” ever existed, nobody saw anything wrong with a story in which young children were encouraged to wander parentless through a forest and a stranger’s house, with one parent telling her three young ones to not forget their chocolate bunny snacks and “come home by 4 o’clock.” Unsupervised for a whole afternoon and propelled by a sugar rush? What could possibly go wrong?
2. Three entire panels are spent discussing a love of chocolate and preference for eating the chocolate bunnies headfirst.
“As the children near the old Krieger place, the clouds darken and the air grows heavy with an oncoming spring storm…” Our three children — Marvin, Sally and Stanley, as if it matters — make their way up the path to the spooky-looking house, discussing their fondness of chocolate bunnies along the way. “I love these chocolate Easter bunnies,” says Marvin. “Me, too,” Sally replies. “Mmmm! I always bite the heads off first. What about you?” Marvin continues. “Me too!” says Sally — though why her brother’s chocolate bunny eating preferences should be news to her is anyone’s guess. In themselves, these three panels establish absolutely nothing but the childrens’ love of chocolate and their preference for eating the heads of chocolate bunnies first — not exactly scintillating stuff, but fans of the horror-comic genre will have no trouble picking up on what’s about to go down.
3. The children do not run in terror when met by an extremely lifelike, adult-sized Easter Bunny.
Once they arrive at the house, the children meet other greedy little tykes hunting for eggs… and the Easter Bunny himself. Actually, they just assume it’s “old man Snyder” in a costume, since he always plays Santa at Christmastime every year. Given what we learn later in the story (“it won’t come off! It’s real!”), old man Snyder either has a reputation for wearing really convincing holiday costumes, or these kids are somehow unable to tell the difference between a grown-up in a bunny suit and an actual adult-sized bunny messing with them (hint: if his mouth moves when he talks, it’s not a costume).
4. The kids end up “alone in blackness”… in the middle of the afternoon. Of course.
Inside the mansion, we’re told “the air is coated with dust” and the furniture “draped in spindly cobwebs” — two dead giveaways this is probably not the ideal place for Easter egg hunting. But the children venture forth, propelled by visions of getting… well, confections that can be purchased in bulk at any candy, grocery or dollar store in the land (and discounted after Easter Sunday, even), now that I think about it, but let’s just roll with it for now. Suddenly, the three children find themselves in total darkness (even though it’s the middle of the afternoon and there are windows all around them) and alone (even though there were dozens of kids in the house with them just moments before). Sufficiently spooked, the trio finally decide to exit the house via the only doorway they can see — and end up falling through a trapdoor instead.
5. And really, what red-blooded young girl doesn’t know the smell and feel of a good vat of hot tar?
Their fall through the darkness ends with a “PLUD,” as they sink “lower and lower in the dark ooze” contained in a giant vat. “Help! We’re stuck in this tar! We’ll never get out!” Sally cries. “That ain’t tar, Sally,” Marvin says. “Taste it! It’s chocolate.” But before they can indulge too much in that unhygienic treat, the giant Easter Bunny reappears to welcome them to his “chocolate vat” — and the kids think it’s all part of the party fun! Yes! What great fun, dropping through a trapdoor and getting coated in an edible substance that must be near boiling to stay in liquid form! Whee!
6. The Easter Bunny, like, really holds a grudge, man.
“For years, you children have been biting into chocolate Easter bunnies! Well, turnabout is fair play! I can’t control my ‘thirst’ for revenge anymore!” So… the Easter Bunny takes it personally when foodstuffs molded into his image are consumed? The truly bizarre thing about this “shock” ending is the children aren’t really guilty of anything — they don’t even tear their chocolate bunnies’s heads off in a malicious manner, or cackle about how they wish their snacks were the real Easter bunny instead. No, they’re just normal kids who like chocolate and are about to meet their deaths in an “ironic” twist ending that… well, isn’t. Perhaps we’re supposed to believe that a piece of the Easter Bunny’s “soul” is in every chocolate bunny, and so he feels justified in hurting those children in the same way he’s been writhing in agony for centuries? If that’s true, then what horrors can we expect from the legions of consumed marshmallow peeps, goldfish crackers, bearpaw cookies and gingerbread men? Should we assume every grocery store’s snack aisle is a massive pre-teen bloodbath waiting to happen?
7. Innocent children dunked in chocolate and eaten headfirst. In a Code-approved comic. In 1980, fer the luvva Pete.
“Sally and Stanley strain to see what’s happening, but… [“Noooo!”]… all they can see is the object that dropped from Marvin’s pocket — his chocolate Easter bunny with the head bitten off!” So not only do we get to see the terrifying moments before a child’s decapitation and ingestion by a vengeful holiday archetype, we are also reminded his two younger siblings are witnessing the horrifying tableau and waiting their turn to meet a similar fate. AND NO ONE AT THE COMICS CODE AUTHORITY SEEMED TO HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THAT. Call me crazy, but “ensuring that toddlers aren’t decapitated and consumed onscreen by vengeful holiday archetypes” ought to be the kind of thing the Authority should be right on top of. Not so much, apparently. Happy Easter, everyone! And be sure to enjoy all your treats…