Thursday, October 26, 2023

David Copperfield and the Psycho Shower Scene (1985)

Magic may not immediately come to mind when one thinks of Halloween, but it's not much of a stretch. Consider that during the spiritualism fad of the early 1900s, magicians' tricks were usually behind the ghostly manifestations that awed seance participants. The Search for Houdini, a TV special that aired on October 31, 1987, made the connection to Halloween obvious, though the seance staged that night was a dud.

There have been other magic-related Halloween shows, including multiple editions of Magical, Musical Halloween that aired in the early 80s.

In a previous post I commented that, as a child, I associated Toys 'R Us with magic tricks. The store had a significant selection of both individual tricks and complete magic sets. I received a few from there, including Hat Full of Magic, the Magic World of Blackstone Beginners Magic Set, and my first set—Fisher Price Magic Show.

(On my old Fisher Price set, pictured below, notice that I added a skull Halloween sticker along with labels reading "Houdini" and "David Copperfield.")

My interest in magic spanned most of my elementary school years and even into junior high. And much of that interest came from watching David Copperfield's TV specials that aired each spring. One in particular stands out.

Aired in March 1985, the seventh edition of The Magic of David Copperfield included a tribute to Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 classic Psycho. Featuring guest star Angie Dickinson, the vignette recreated the "shower scene" from that famous film, but included a disappearance as well as a surprise ending.

As if to put you in a Halloween mood, this segment begins with an excerpt from Michael Jackson's hit song "Thriller." Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

October 2023 Update

Greetings, Halloween enthusiasts.

In an effort to keep this blog useful, I have checked my old posts for any video links that went inactive during the past year. Although I couldn't find new links for all of the missing videos, I was able to update most of them. When a full TV episode wasn't available, I tried to find at least an excerpt of the program.

In the past I've been pretty unresponsive to posted comments. I will try to do better at that, just as I've made recent efforts to post new content each October after a long hiatus. I should add that this blog isn't monetized.

Thank you so much for visiting The Ghosts of Halloweens Past. I hope the blog continues to enhance your holiday enjoyment!

The Halloween Aisle

We didn't have a Spirit Halloween store near us when I was a kid.

At Halloween time, we had a few other options. We didn't have Walmart, but we had K-Mart. Then there was our local mall. There the Hallmark store usually had, in addition to its holiday greeting cards, a section of Halloween costumes and items close to the front of the store. I vaguely remember picking up a free Halloween costume catalog from Sears in the mid-1980s, though I don't recall ever buying anything Halloween-related there. Another mall staple, Spencer's Gifts, sold Halloween masks years before the company bought out the Spirit Halloween chain in 1999.

Although I remember Toys 'R Us primarily for its selection of magic tricks and kits—such as the Magic World of Blackstone Beginner's Magic Set—the store carried enough Halloween merchandise to publish its own annual costume catalog. And because I watched reruns of That's Incredible during the 80s, I also associated the store with the haunted Toys 'R Us in Sunnyvale, California.

For costumes, candy, decorations, and other Halloween paraphernalia, I mainly depended on the holiday aisle of our nearest drugstore, Sav-on Drugs. The selection was limited, though I didn't think so at the time. It was where I went when I needed a pot of green makeup, a cassette tape of sound effects, or a bag of candy corn.

One cassette tape that I'm pretty sure I bought at Sav-on was titled "Horror Sounds of the Night." I used the tape as the soundtrack for numerous homemade radio shows and videos over the years, including my own "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" movie. My tape copy was defective, as much of it had a screechy sound that was obviously not intentional. Here is someone else's good transfer of the tape on YouTube:

Another fun find from the mid-1980s was the Create-A-Face Complete Makeup Kit, which included six colors of makeup paint, a tube of vampire blood, glow-in-the-dark monster fangs, "icky teeth," an eyepatch, face adhesive, various "special effect pieces" like bullet holes and a stitched wound, and a waxy "blend" that supposedly helped hide the edge of the effect pieces (it didn't). Though the kit looks pretty underwhelming in hindsight, it seemed like the stuff of professionals when I was a kid.

There are no more Sav-on Drug stores as I remember them (most became CVS Pharmacies). So yesterday I stopped by the Halloween aisle at my local Walgreens to buy some candy to give out (in one week!) and to see what other things they had on the pegboard racks.

The costume selection was a bit sad. Space was severely limited by the Christmas merchandise, already taking up half the aisle. And there were no audio offerings. Unfortunately, the days of sound effects albums and cheesy cover versions of "Monster Mash" on CDs are long gone.

There were, however, glow sticks, several packages of grease and cream makeup, fake fangs, and tubes of vampire blood—all similar to the kinds sold when I was a kid. These would do just fine for any kid planning a homemade monster movie.

At the very least, there was a decent selection of candy. And this store had some pretty good discounts. (After all the markdowns I came away with several bags for $15.) For some things, you can still depend on the Halloween aisle.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Halloween 1989

Halloween, 1989. The holiday was on a Tuesday that year, as it is this year. It was surely one of my most awkward Halloweens.

I was in eighth grade. Tim Burton's first Batman movie was the biggest blockbuster that summer, and was still my favorite movie when autumn rolled around. By October, I had decided to be the Joker for Halloween. Around the middle of the month, I dressed as the character for a youth group costume party at church.

Although I don't remember where I bought the face makeup, it was probably at the local Sav-on Drugs. It was pretty cheap stuff as I recall, because the white paint dried out quickly and was thoroughly cracked by the end of the night. Of course, I painted my mouth into a wide red grin a la Jack Nicholson, and sprayed my head with green hairspray. (Using hairspray was nothing out of the ordinary for me back then!) For the costume, I wore black jeans along with a button-up shirt that had a small checked or plaid pattern colored with purple and/or green—the closest thing in my closet to a Jokeresque outfit.

That night, my younger sister went out trick-or-treating with her friends. My older brother was at home, hoping to watch Night of the Living Dead on television—probably on the popular show Night Flight—but Mom didn't approve of the subject matter. After a long workday, Dad was probably resting on the couch between trips to the front door to hand out treat bags.

We had put up several cardboard decorations inside and out, from the "HAPPY HALLOWEEN" sign on a closet door to the smiling paper pumpkin hung outside the front door. We had a carved pumpkin lit up on the front porch outside, but also a pumpkin inside the foyer on which my brother drew the face of Mad Magazine mascot Alfred E. Neuman.

Just outside our side door into the garage, I set up a large ghost figure I'd constructed a couple weeks earlier. The head was a basketball covered in black electrical tape and fitted with a long blond wig. The body was a simple wooden contraption covered with a white sheet. I vaguely recall it having at least one moveable arm. I somehow thought that this figure would be visible to trick-or-treaters on the sidewalk near our house. But since only the head was visible from outside the fence, I doubt anyone saw it but me.

Mom drove me around the neighborhood in our Dodge Caravan so that I could trick-or-treat. Wanting to document the trip, I took along our large camcorder and made a few shots out the passenger window. Street lamps and objects in the car's headlights occasionally light up the shadowy video, though it remains pretty dark throughout. However, I captured a fairly good shot of the front of one neighborhood home, with its warm jack-o-lantern faces, yellow porch light, and softly glowing windows.

By the time we returned home, an episode of Matlock was playing on TV. My sister had come home as well, and we sat by the fireplace in the living room.

As an eighth grader, it was one of the last times I trick-or-treated for myself. I enjoyed the holiday in my own introverted way, though it was a far cry from the excitement of earlier times, such as Halloween 1982 when I dressed as the Incredible Hulk. But now I experience the excitement of Halloween in a different way—as a father. As the leaves pile up and the nights grow chilly, I anticipate walking my sons along the streets of our neighborhood and up to those warmly-lit front porches. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Leftover Candy

Halloween 2023 swiftly approaches. Yet at our house, evidence of last year's candy collection remains.

As my eldest son grows older and his trick-or-treating stamina increases, he inevitably brings home a fuller bucket of candy every year. While he enjoys sweets, it doesn't take much candy to satisfy his craving for it. Like his dear old dad did as a child, he prefers "making it last" instead of gobbling it all up in the weeks before Thanksgiving. For him, making it last means occasionally taking out a piece or two at dessert time, unless there's something better in the house—like ice cream or Mom's delicious cookies.

The result is that his bucket never goes empty. Whatever candy he gets on Christmas and Easter gets piled on top of the Halloween loot. So there in the corner of the pantry, the Halloween bucket sits for most of the year with the leftover candy zipped into baggies to discourage ants.

This means that for the next two weeks I can have all of it I want, since it will otherwise be thrown out before Halloween night. I doubt my son will protest against me eating one of his year-old Fun Size Snickers.

Friday, October 28, 2022

School Costume Parade and Halloween Party (1989)

Halloween festivities, as I remember them, were never quite as joyous when the holiday fell on a school night.

Friday night was the best night for trick-or-treating, of course, because you got the holiday plus a full weekend afterward. Saturday night ran a close second. I remember being in sixth grade and talking with a friend on the school playground a day or two before Halloween, which in 1987 was on a Saturday. I joked to my friend that I might eat so much candy on Halloween night that I'd be too sick to go to church the next morning. We both laughed about it, but when the time came I didn't end up gorging myself on candy.

This year Halloween is on Monday. While the rest of the week will undoubtedly be a letdown, most young students will be thrilled that much of the schoolwork they'd normally be doing that day will get pushed to Tuesday. Instead of students trudging into school wearing the glum expressions typical of Monday mornings, a host of superheroes, ghouls, cowboys, princesses, and unidentifiable creatures will light up the hallways with exuberance. Teachers will line them up for costume parades, and treat them to cookies, candies, and other sugary delights.

My sister shared with me a fabulous video from Video Dotti's YouTube channel. It's a home movie shot at Sandburg Elementary School in Centennial, Colorado, on October 31, 1989. I've rarely seen such a glorious parade of costumes.
Most of the 1980s favorites are there, often multiple times: The Noid, Freddy Krueger (or sometimes just a Freddy glove randomly included on another character), the Karate Kid, Jason from Friday the 13th, Pee-Wee Herman, Ghostbusters, Batman, and more. My favorite may be the floppy E.T. costume seen a couple minutes into the video.
It doesn't take long to notice how much looser the times were, considering the types of costumes and accessories that were acceptable then. The camouflage-clad, rifle-toting Frankenstein wouldn't fly nowadays. Nor would the disfigured, scythe-wielding ghoul.
I'm guessing at least half of the costumes shown in the video would now be prohibited due to weapons, gore, full-face masks, and costumes that restrict movement. From a quick search online for school Halloween costume guidelines, I learned that some schools now even limit the amount of face paint that students can apply. 

Another thing evident in the video is the teachers back then knew how to make the holidays fun. Check out this classic classroom decor, particularly its Halloween-themed bulletin board.
Teachers also knew how to party, especially if "party" meant supplying plenty of sugar in the form of candy apples, cookies for decorating, gummy worms, other individually-wrapped candies, and a smoking cauldron of Halloween punch. Oh, to be a school kid at Halloween!

Monday, October 10, 2022

Treat Bags

When I was young, filling treat bags was an important part of Halloween preparations. Our house sat at the closed end of a suburban cul-de-sac, and typically several dozen trick-or-treaters stopped there each year. To make candy distribution easier, Mom got in the habit of buying treat bags and filling them on the dining room table a day or two before Halloween, making sure to distribute the various candies equally. When she ran out of the fancy treat bags, she used plain brown paper ones and put stickers on them.
In my younger years I was mostly focused on assembling my costume and satiating my lust for sugar, and paid little attention to the treat bags except for not wanting Mom to give away all the good candy. Now I can very much appreciate the care she took in preparing treats for the children who would come to our door. And I think back fondly to how the small foyer in our house looked on Halloween night, with a basket of bags positioned next to the front door, additional bags set under a nearby table lamp, and a few festive knickknacks on display.

Because my most recent memories of trick-or-treating were as an adolescent who was old enough to do so without his parents, I don't have many clear memories of Mom and Dad accompanying my siblings and me around the neighborhood. But I suspect that for at least some of those years, Mom took us trick-or-treating while Dad stayed home and handed out the candy.

There is an impalpable comfort in knowing that Dad is back at home, probably on the couch watching a holiday program (or, more likely, the evening news), waiting for knocks at the door to beckon him to the treat basket. 

Frame grabs, top to bottom: