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Featured Article

Halloween Hallelujah!

Some kids live for presents under the tree on a cool, Christmas morning, others prefer the hunt for Easter eggs as Spring begins and of course the Jr. Pyros of the world can’t get enough of the explosive destruction that is fully sanctioned by the 4th of July. But for the sugar junkies and amateur cosplayers like yours truly, it’s all about thrills and chills of Halloween night. Though trick or treating becomes a frowned upon activity in your later years, it is about the greatest institution in the history of mankind for the children of the world on October 31st and makes for some of childhood’s most exciting memories. The full moon looks to be rising and the Jack O’ Lanterns have been lit, so let’s get this spooky shindig on the road!

As a young boy the joys of the season always crept in long before I ever got near any Sweet Tarts or Smarties. The promise of candy to come was usually heralded by the appearance of commercials for the Pumpkin Kutter during afternoon viewings of Plastic Man on Fox-11. You remember this safety knife, with its molded pumpkin handle and rounded blade incapable of slicing anything but pumpkin flesh. Once I saw those kids happily stabbing away at their gourds, I knew it was time to start thinking about costumes.

Though there were always the generic choices like Clown, Army Guy, Knight or your choice of animal, I was much more inclined to portray my favorite characters from film and television. Though my Mom sewed some great costumes for me in later years, the lure of the store bought costume was often too great to resist. This is evidenced by my first outing in 1985 dressed as everybody’s favorite Muppet Jedi, Yoda. It may not have been as elaborate a costume as that kid from E.T. that goes walking by in one scene, but I don’t know of many pre-school kids obsessing over movie accuracy.

Yep, that’s actually me under that pokey, plastic mask holding my orange sack and flashlight in preparation for the candy harvest. You’ll also notice the green, vinyl(?) jumpsuit featuring an image of “the wrinkled one” that serves only to remind the 3-year-old me that I look nothing like the character I am supposed to represent. But I suppose that instant recognition leads to greater appreciation from the candy-givers and gets the sweet stuff in your bag that much sooner, so no harm done. If you look carefully, you’ll see the Jack O’ Lantern with black, Sharpie “mascara” where we traced his eye holes before maiming him with the Pumpkin Kutter that year.

Now kids always plan to keep their Halloween Haul to themselves, but the journey to filling your candy bucket is always much more fun with a friend. This particular night I was out with my buddy Scott from daycare. You’ll note that Scott went for the Garfield costume and was very committed as I had already removed my Yoda wear to get down to business. Just look at that demented grin on my face, the sugar had obviously taken effect by this point. But that’s also the look of glee from being up way past my bedtime.

To me the opportunity to be outside at night was a huge part of the Halloween mystique. Think about it, as a child you are told to come inside when the street lights come on and that inevitably means a bath and going to bed-BAH! But for one glorious night you actually wait UNTIL the sun goes down before you go outside and shake your neighbors down for a fun-sized Snickers. Seeing my neighborhood lit by mysterious moonlight as packs of 3 foot ghosts and goblins roamed the streets was a moment to treasure. But once our sacks were so full we couldn’t carry them anymore, it was time to return home and count our candy like Scrooge McDuck counted his gold coins.

Clad in a sweater worthy of Mr. Rogers, I waved good-bye to Scott as my little fingers began to sort through the crinkly, colored packaging of my favorite candy. As you can see there’s a Milky Way, couple of packs of M&M’s, a Baby Ruth, possibly a roll of Life Savers and a single Reese’s peanut butter cup. Of all the chocolate available to me on this night, for some reason this unidentified lollipop was my drug of choice. A vague sense memory tells me that it was peach flavored and by the look on my face it was mine all mine!

In years to come there was some fun to be had during the daylight hours as well, especially when my classmates and I got to show off our costumes at the elementary school Halloween parade. Taking place just on the cusp of over-protective parenting, in these days you could still come to school dressed as a homicidal maniac and get away with it. So you’d see several Freddy Krueger’s or Jason’s marching along with their implements of death next to Minnie Mouse and Raggedy Anne. The one costume you didn’t see a lot in these days were super heroes, so I aimed to change that.

Though Spider-Man has always been my favorite, I guess Superman patterns were easier to come by, so when I was 7 I got to march as the Man of Steel. The odd thing is, there is no photographic evidence of my Mom’s handiwork, which is a shame. But this is the exact pattern she used and that’s the awesome spandex outfit I wore as I wandered the streets for Halloween 1989. A homemade costume that looks this good is a major boost for a kid’s Halloween ego. You knew with absolute certainty that you had way more cred than the kid who raided his Dad’s hamper and smudged grease on his face to look like a Hobo.

Speaking of which, what happened to all the Hobo costumes that seemed to be a go-to Halloween costume from the 30’s through the 80’s? It’s like after 50 years kids wised-up and decided that looking like a drunk, homeless person is kind of downer. Or maybe they can’t resist the fact that today’s store-bought costumes have muscles built into them, lousy spoiled kids (grumble-grumble). Hobo’s aside, my Superman costume was fantastic and made its way into my year-round dress-up activities until the day I took scissors to it in an attempt to create a t-shirt, that wound up turning it into a questionable mid-riff.

While we’re on the topic of homemade costumes, I can’t neglect to mention the year I partnered up with my friend Christina to tour her neighborhood as Beauty and The Beast. I used to hang out with Christina’s family quite a bit and we would lip-synch to the entire Step By Step album from the New Kids On The Block. But by 1991 the New Kids were now the Old Kids and with the Disney Renaissance in full swing, it was totally passable to dress as cinematic cartoon characters. Although I had flown solo as Pinnocchio when I was 6, the time seemed right for a team-up. Or maybe it’s that I had a little crush on this beauty in particular.

Now Chrissy’s outfit was wonderfully crafted by her mom with the perfect satiny, shiny material and all the accessories to match. As for me, well I basically looked like the main character from the Lil’ Critter books in a Tina Turner wig. That being said, I did get to wear a prosthetic lion nose that I thought was pretty cool. It was like having movie make-up applied to my face, so I felt like I had transformed into The Beast. That Halloween was also my first experience with carrying a pillow case around as my candy receptacle. I had never been around such ambitious trick or treaters as Chrissy and her siblings, so it hadn't even occurred to me that one could accumulate that much candy in one night. I filled about half the case, but still that was way more candy than I knew what to do with.

As I turned 12 and prepared to enter Junior High, I knew that my glory days of candy hunting were over and so I decided to go out in style. Though largely ignored at the time of its release in 1994, The Shadow starring Alec Baldwin is one of my favorite films. So for Halloween 1995 I decided that rather than go a for a crowd pleaser costume, I would go for 100% passion.

Borrowing a black trench coat from my older brother, a red piece of fabric from my Mom and finishing it off with a black fedora, I was ready to roll as the dark crusader for justice. I had worked for hours on my maniacal laughter and catch phrases like, “the weed of crime bears bitter fruit”, but most people just looked at me in bewilderment. “Wait, are you that guy from that French poster?” “What? NO! I’m The Shadow.” “Who?” But it really didn’t matter, I knew I looked awesome and in the words of Ol’ Blue Eyes, I did it my waaaaaaaayyyy!

So Halloween was never quite the same after the mid-90’s, but I still love the season more than any other. Creepy things are fun, candy makes it sweeter and any time I see somebody playing make-believe with the use of a costume the world just seems a little more fun. Well, Happy Haunting all you Retro-Ghouls!
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Hoju Koolander Posted on Jan 02, 2015 at 05:07 PM

@NLogan I also ate french fries while listening to The Shadow, but not fancy homemmade style, that's sounds great. I had to settle for McDonald's while sitting in my Dad's car listening to the broadcasts over the radio. Although I did eventually buy a set of cassettes that showcased 2 episodes from each actor to play The Shadow over the years.

NLogan Posted on Oct 07, 2014 at 09:15 PM

When I was a kid sometimes we would go over to my uncle's house. He would make homemade french fries in a frier. Nice and greasy hot. He had these leather cases and inside were hundreds of cassette tapes. We turned off most of the lights and sat on the couch eating fries while we listened to the original radio productions of the Shadow! I still remember the sound of that laugh echoing in the dark.

NLogan Posted on Sep 17, 2014 at 01:39 AM

"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!"

NLogan Posted on Sep 16, 2014 at 12:03 AM

Hoju Koolander I love the personal pictures. To me that is what Halloween is all about. Can't beat the nostalgia level of some of those old Ben Cooper and Collegeville costumes. As you know my brother was also Yoda back in the day. Long live cellophane windowed boxes, rubber bands that broke on your sweaty face mask, and vinyl smocks... well the memories of them anyways.

Vaporman87 Posted on Sep 11, 2014 at 03:07 PM

The story of the Ben Cooper company is an interesting one: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/culturebox/2013/10/ben_cooper_costumes_how_the_popular_plastic_outfits_reinvented_halloween.html

Fulton4V Posted on Sep 11, 2014 at 02:49 PM

I had many of the old Ben Cooper costumes growing up and remember most the Hulk and Scooby doo ones I had. They were all just random pictures of the characters on the vinyl suit and then a mask with the face of the character but they were really cool to me. I liked those old costumes.

Vaporman87 Posted on Sep 11, 2014 at 12:54 AM

The thing about those old masks was that they were sooo uncomfortable, and you were dripping sweat inside them. It was like a sauna for your face shaped like Yoda.

Hoju Koolander Posted on Sep 10, 2014 at 09:33 PM

Guess I should have gotten on board sooner and maybe I could have earned back a bit of my childhood by writing about it. Ah well, I probably couldn't get my son to keep that mask on his face anyway.

Vaporman87 Posted on Sep 10, 2014 at 07:54 PM

Okay, for starters... I find it awesome that the Yoda costume you are wearing in the article is almost the same as the vintage Yoda costume given away as part of last year's Halloween Article Contest. Ask Ben (Benjanime) to send you a photo of it. LOL

There's is no doubt about the sheer joy you're experiencing in these photos. You were a die-hard trick-or-treating fanatic through and through.

My personal costume choices were similarly varied. Sometimes I was out as one of the usual boxed, mask and vinyl bodysuit characters, but other times I would just buy a really creepy, decked out mask and couple that with some backwoods garb, like a puffy flannel jacket, ripped jeans, and boots. You just never knew what my choice would be that year.

My final trick-or-treat outing was not even in my own neighborhood, but that of my friend, who was taking his little brother trick-or-treating. It felt bittersweet, but appropriate then. Now, it's just bittersweet.

Then you have kids... and nobody cares that you are dressing up WITH them and eating THEIR candy. Because... you're the parent. Yeah. Actually, that night, you're a kid in a parent's body. Plain and simple. :)

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