My Top 10 Favorite Halloween Stuff of the 60s & 70s
Having grown up in the mid-1960s and early 1970s, Halloween seemed distinctly different than it does now. First, it was much more carefree and simplistic. Now days Mom and Dad have to follow you from street to street in the mini-van or even accompany you to the door of the neighbor’s house to insure that no creepy pedophile nabs you, locks the door, and whisks you away to the basement. Either that, or you simply do Trunk or Treat at the local church parking lot or do the candy thing, store-to-store, at some safe outlet mall. When I was a kid, we’d don our costumes, grab our T&T bags, and plunge headlong into the darkness, while our folks stayed behind to pass out treats to equally adventurous young’uns. And there was no day-glow orange, glow-sticks, or flashlights to distinguish us from the darkness. We were creatures of the night! We didn’t want anyone to see us until we appeared at the glass of the storm door and heralded our arrival with a hearty “Trick r’ Treat!”
Also, kids these days don’t seem to give Halloween a second thought until a day or two before the grand event. When I was a kid, we planned weeks… maybe months – ahead; indulging, scheming, soaking it all in in. Anticipating the coming of dusk on All-Hallows Eve and the delightfully spooky festivities that night would bring. In celebration of those bygone days of childhoods past, I present to you my Top 10 Halloween Stuff of the 60s and 70s
Back when I was a kid, we didn’t have seven-foot blow-ups in the yard, synthetic spiderwebs, or zombie arms sprouting out of the autumn leaves (although that would have been cool!). Halloween decorations were much simpler. Of course, there was the traditional jack-o-lantern to sit on the front porch. As for other decorations to embellish your “haunted house” you would usually go to your local Woolworth’s or five-and-dime store and get cardboard decorations to hang in your windows or on your walls. Witches, black cats, leering pumpkins, bats… the theme was pretty much set in stone (and there was the occasional Devil every now and then). But it was what graced your front door, to welcome hordes of trick-or-treaters, that mattered most. For our family it was the “Life-Sized Articulated Glow-in-the-Dark Skeleton”. To tell the truth, it wasn’t exactly “life-sized”. It was usually only five feet tall… but if it had been anatomically scaled to my mother, who was four foot, eleven and a half, then it would have been right on the money. The Glow Skeleton came in two different hues; bone yellow and ghoulish fluorescent green (my personal preference). My brother and I would usually pressure Dad into buying two skeletons; one for the front door and one for our bedroom door. Incidentally, my love of the Glow Skeleton later inspired me to write my Halloween short story, Mister Glow-Bones in my collection of Halloween stories and essays, Mister Glow-Bones & Other Halloween Tales.
Halloween Costumes in a Box
When you were a little kid in the 60s and 70s, more than likely the folks would buy you the tried-and-true Halloween Costume in a Box. This consisted of a hard-shell mask (with retaining elastic string) and a silk-screened jumpsuit of flame-retardant polyester. These costumes came in colorful boxes with a window in the front, usually with the hollow-eyed masks staring creepily at you from the other side. You could be anyone wanted to be; cartoon characters, astronauts, superheroes, ballerinas, or your favorite monsters, be they generic (witches, ghosts, black cats) or of the Universal kind (Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolfman, the Creature). The majority of them were released by Ben Cooper, Inc., an American corporation based in Brooklyn, NY which manufactured Halloween costumes from the late 1930s to the late 1980s. I remember my favorite Costume in a Box at age 6 was Batman. The funny thing was, because of the wild success of the Batman TV series, the stores were selling Caped Crusader costumes to Batman-crazy boys months in advance. So, mine was well worn by the time Halloween rolled around (and to emulate Adam West – and to breathe a little easier – I had Mom cut away the lower half of the mask with her sewing scissors, leaving only the upper cowl to cover my youthful face.
If you grew up in the 60s and 70s, more than likely you listened to 78 rpm vinyl albums or 45 rpm singles on a little portable record player or your Dad’s grown-up stereo in the living room. Our source of musical entertainment was the latter – a Sears Silvertone Console Stereo of Spanish design with burgundy-walled speakers on each side. Customarily, Dad played Merle Haggard, George Jones, or Buck Owens (as a child I remember lying in my bunkbed and hearing Johnny Cash walk the line on the opposite side of the bedroom wall). But around Halloween, Dad let us listen to our Halloween albums. Some were old classic radio show broadcasts like The Shadow or Orson Welles’ The War of the Worlds, while others were spooky sound effects and goofy monster-themed songs like The Monster Mash and Purple People Eater. Our personal favorite was Disney’s The Haunted Mansion album (sporting the fold-out dust jacket with the full-color story booklet stapled inside). I recall me, my brother, and my cousins lying in pitch darkness on the shag carpeting of the living room floor, giggling and shivering to the story of two children trapped within the mansion inhabited by 999 Happy Haunts (incidentally, one of the kids was voiced by a pre-teen Ronnie Howard).
When I was a kid, we didn’t have DVDs or digital streaming like Netflix or Hulu. If you wanted to watch a monster movie – outside of going to the movie theater – you had two ways of doing it. You either stayed up late and watched the local creature feature (in the area I grew up in it was Sir Cecil Creepe on Nashville’s Channel 4) or you begged your folks to buy you a cheap 8mm or Super 8 movie projector. I indulged in both, but buying your own little slices of horror cinema and manually threading them through the spools from reel to reel made it feel like big deal to a kid of nine or ten. You pretty much had two ways to watch them; the small reels (3 and a half minutes) and big reels (15 minutes). Never mind that they were only snippets of the best scenes and had no sound whatsoever, they were just fun to own and watch. When we wanted our monster fix, we’d throw a blanket over the bedroom window and watch Godzilla stomp Tokyo or Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolfman battle it out on the bedroom wall.
Rubber Monster Masks
When you reached your preteen years, you normally wanted to ditch the Costumes in a Box and enter the big leagues. And that meant over-the-head rubber monster masks. There was just something about slipping the gaudy, gruesome second skins over your youthful head and breathing in that heady odor of latex rubber that told you that you had entered a higher realm of Halloween indulgence. Yes, you couldn’t half see through the off-kilter eyeholes and you sweated like a sinner in church after only a few minutes, but to wear the leering visage of a hairy werewolf or a rotting zombie gave you a thrill that the children’s hard-shell masks never could. Most of us hardcore monster enthusiasts yearned to own the big daddy of all horror disguises; the Don Post latex monster masks. We would gawk at that full-page advertisement in the back of Famous Monsters magazine and dream of owning a full-head mask of the Creature of the Black Lagoon or the Wolfman or Mr. Hyde. And, of course, if we ever managed to get the face masks, we would have to have the matching hands as well. Sadly, very few of us ever reached that level of monster mask ownership. At $39.99 per mask, it was a bit steep for a twelve-year-old’s piddling allowance.
When I was around ten or eleven, I started collecting comics. I always had a thing for Batman and the Flash and, when I got into Marvel, the Hulk and Spiderman was my favs. But from the beginning, I always bought the horror comics. I reckon it was my natural inclination toward the weird and macabre that drew me to comic books like DC’s House of Mystery, The Unexpected, and Swamp Thing, as well as Marvel’s Werewolf by Night, Tomb of Dracula, and Man Thing. I was too young to have enjoyed the ultra-bizarre (and “gasp” potentially immoral) tales of the EC Comics of the 50s, but, in a strange way, I still did. While my mom was pregnant with me in 1959, she came across a large stack of EC comics in the dusty attic of a house she was renting (while my Dad was serving in Korea and Germany). Throughout her pregnancy, she read horrifying tales of decaying corpses and flesh-eating monsters from such comics as Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror; feeding me a steady diet of tantalizing terror as I floated in the darkness of the womb. You may say that had nothing to do with my inherent love of horror, but I beg to differ.
Aurora Monster Models
One of my favorite hobbies (around Halloween or otherwise) was assembling and painting Aurora monster models. It was always fun to head to the toy section of Sears (we bought everything at Sears back then), find your favorite monster in a box, then head back home and start bringing that plastic kit to life with airplane glue and those little glass jars of Testors model paint. I started my model-building in the early 70s, around the time Aurora released their glow-in-the dark line. I was always a stickler for detail, so I never used the glow heads or hands for the actual models, saving them for those little midget monsters you could build with the surplus parts you had left over. My favorites of the Aurora models were the Creature, King Kong, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (although the latter was of a much smaller scale than the others, along with the Witch). Aurora also put out Monster Scenes, which you could use to build your own mad scientist lab and torture chamber, featuring Dr. Deadly, the Frankenstein Monster, the Victim, and the scantily clad Vampirella.
Glow Fangs, Vampire Blood, & Scar Stuff
Eventually, there would come the Halloween when you wanted to do some experimentation with your costume for that year. With me it was Count Dracula (I read the novel while in middle school and was completely obsessed with it!). Mirroring the dread Count (pun intended!) required some improvisation that a mere rubber mask couldn’t pull off. So, I sojourned to the local Walgreens and acquired the traditional pair of glow-in-the-dark vampire fangs, as well as a tube of Vampire Blood and, for good measure, a tiny jar of Scar Stuff. Vampire Blood and Scar Stuff came out in the early 70s and, although they produced authentic appearing trickles of blood from the corners of your mouth and ghoulish scars and abrasions, they were a Mom’s nightmare around the Halloween season. It was nearly impossible to get Vampire Blood out of clothing and Scar Stuff (which basically had the consistency of flesh-colored snot) contained enough grease to stain clothes and furniture upholstery equally well. I didn’t have a proper Dracula cape for my Halloween ensemble, but my Dad have an old black overcoat that worked quite nicely. I also wore my Sunday go-to-church shirt and tie to give my Count a little class, although my clip-on did bear a weirdly-colored burgundy & olive green paisley pattern in the 1970s mod style of that period.
My #1 source for a solid monster fix was undoubtedly Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, edited by Forrest J. Ackerman (or simply “Uncle Forry” to us creature-loving kids). Uncle Forry possessed a tremendous love and appreciation for horror and science fiction cinema; one that extended from the silent era of The Phantom of the Opera and Metropolis, through the 30s, 40s, and 50s heyday of the Universal Monster movies, and on into the 60s and 70s era of the Hammer horror films, the Planet of the Apes phenomena , and even Star Wars. I had the pleasure of actually meeting Uncle Forry at the first World Horror Convention (he was hanging out in the monster model room with none other than Robert “Psycho” Bloch) and found my childhood hero to be both congenial and humble. Other Warren Publishing magazines like Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella where on the newsstands for the taking, but unfortunately my Mom prohibited me from partaking of them, claiming that they were much too “adult” compared to my monthly purchase of the latest Famous Monsters.
And last – but certainly not least – there was the candy! The decorations, costumes, and activities may have embellished All Hallows Eve, but the hunting and procuring of sugary delights was always the main objective. Whether we took a brown grocery bag Mom brought home from Kroger’s or A&P, or the seasonal Brach’s Candy trick-or-treat bags given away at the big candy counter at – you guessed it – Sears, it was a requirement to have a sturdy-enough receptacle to haul at least five pounds of candy home in. Some kids toted those plastic pumpkins around, but they filled up quickly and, by the time you’d done two or three streets, it was like toting a heavy, orange bowling ball around. When you got home, you would slip into your pajamas and dump that night’s Halloween haul onto the kitchen table or the living room carpet and begin the sorting process. Miniature candy bars went into one pile (Snickers, Baby Ruth, Almond Joys, Reeces’ cups, etc), suckers and hard candy into another, and the novelty items in a third (Razzles, Bottle Caps, and the now politically incorrect candy cigarettes and bubble gum cigars). Oh, and there was always a fourth pile of odd and questionable treats that Mom had to inspect before giving the okay or tossing them in the trash; things like popcorn balls, apples, religious tracts, and even little tubes of toothpaste and tooth brushes. Every now and then, we would be delighted to find some pennies, dimes, or quarters in our bags; tossed there by some unprepared homeowner who had either run out of candy early or completely forgotten it was Halloween in the first place. But, sadly, those monetary treats were few and far between.
So, there you have it: Ol’ Ron’s top Halloween things of the 1960s and 70s. These days I enjoy Halloween and trick-or-treating through my own kids, but I still cherish those fun, carefree days of preparing for and indulging in the most ghoulish holiday of the year.
Born and bred in Tennessee, Ronald Kelly is an author of Southern-fried horror fiction with fifteen novels, eight short story collections, and a Grammy-nominated audio collection to his credit. Influenced by such writers as Stephen King, Robert McCammon, Joe R. Lansdale, and Manly Wade Wellman, Kelly sets his tales of rural darkness in the hills and hollows of his native state. His published works include Undertaker’s Moon, Fear, Blood Kin, Hell Hollow, The Dark’Un, Hindsight, Restless Shadows, After the Burn, Timber Gray, Mr. Glow-Bones & Other Halloween Tales, Dark Dixie, Midnight Grinding & Other Twilight Terrors, The Sick Stuff, More Sick Stuff, and The Buzzard Zone. He lives in a backwoods hollow in Brush Creek, Tennessee with his wife and young’uns.
It was a legend in Fear County… a hideous, flesh-eating creature – part snake, part earthbound demon – that feasted on the blood of innocent children in the cold black heart of the Tennessee backwoods.
But ten-year-old Jeb Sweeny knows the horrible stories are true. His best friend Mandy just up and disappeared. He also knows that no one has ever had the courage to go after the monster and put an end to its raging, bestial hunger. Until now.
But Evil is well guarded. And for young Jeb Sweeny, who is about to cross over into the forbidden land of Fear County and the lair of the unknown, passage through the gates of Hell comes with a terrible price. Everlasting… FEAR!
Halloween is more than a holiday; more than a fun time of candy and costumes for the young. It is inoculated into our very being at an early age and there it remains. As we grow old, it grows dormant… but it is still there. For the lucky ones, such as us, it emerges every year, like a reanimated corpse digging its way out of graveyard earth to shamble across our souls. And we rejoice… oh, if we are the fortunate ones, we most certainly rejoice.
So turn these pages and celebrate our heritage. Blow the dust off the rubber mask in the attic and hang the glow-in-the-dark skeleton upon the door. Light the hollowed head of the butchered pumpkin and string the faux cobweb from every corner and eave.
It’s Halloween once again. Shed your adult skin with serpentine glee and walk the blustery, October streets of long years past. And, most of all, watch out for misplaced steps in the darkness and the things that lurk, unseen, in the shadows in-between.
Stories included in this collection:
Pins & Needles
Mister Mack & the Monster Mobile
The Halloween Train
The Candy in the Ditch Gang
Halloweens: Past & Present
Monsters in a Box
When the buzzards took flight, Levi Hobbs knew his family’s only hope of survival was to escape. They were coming, the Biters, the dead, risen as zombies, infested by parasites and transformed into shambling, ravenous monsters. As the family flees their home in the Smoky Mountains, they head eastward to the Carolinas in search of refuge. As the buzzards on their trail grow thicker, the Zone widens, and the Biters become hungrier and more hostile. The Hobbs family realizes there is only one place left to go, one place to make a final stand… and time is running out.
As the residents of Old Hickory, as well as the local police, begin to fall victim to an unknown evil, four individuals—the town nerd, a high school jock, a widowed gunsith, and a mysterious transient from a distant shore—find themselves facing what could possibly be a hellish lycanthrope from ancient Ireland… the legendary Arget Bethir… the Silver Beast.