As a little kid in the 1980s, I only remember wearing two different costumes. I dressed up every year (or at least every year I remember from 1986 to 1989), but I always alternated between being either (1) a skeleton or (2) a jack-o’lantern. Now when I describe these as “costumes,” I admit to using the term somewhat liberally, for they were basically black and orange pajamas from K-Mart that had either glow-in-the-dark bones or smiling pumpkin faces drawn on them. About the most inventive thing I ever remember doing was wearing a green, grassy-looking wig while wearing the jack-o’lantern outfit. My point in explaining all of this is to say that I can’t remember which of these “costumes” I was actually wearing on Samhain 1988, but I can at least tell you it was one or the other. (The first time I broke this pattern was in 1990, when my family and I had moved to Eagan, Minnesota and I decided to be a ghost.)
We were still living in Norristown, Pennsylvania in 1988, and I remember going to a Halloween party at my mother’s Brethren church that year. I don’t remember hearing anything about Jesus, but this wasn’t one of those Protestant “anti-Halloween” harvest parties that have become so annoyingly popular since the 1990s. No sir; this was as proper a spookshow as a little hellion like me could hope for. There were kids in costumes, games, and little plastic jack-o’lanterns for trick-or-treating. There was also the whole Unicef thing, where you collected money for charity in those little orange-and-white boxes. This party must have happened earlier in the day, for I remember the sun being up while we were there.
At some point in the day, I remember being at home and watching Doctor Who on PBS with my Dad. It was the episode called “The Horror of Fang Rock,” in which the fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) battles a slimy green alien at a spooky lighthouse. I remember being really scared by the sight of that gooey monstrosity crawling up the lighthouse steps. When night fell, my family and I went trick-or-treating, and one of our neighbors actually invited us into his house for some candy and apple cider. The house was decorated with all kinds of Halloween kitsch, and the man’s family was watching E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) in their living room. E.T. is one of the first films I ever remember seeing, but I guess I didn’t realize until that moment that it actually takes place on Halloween. Ever since then, E.T. has been one of my favorite flicks to watch at this time of year.
On the way back home, my folks and I noticed that the neighbors who lived right next to us had set up a truly frightening display in their house. You had to go right up to their house and peek through the windows to see it. All the lights were off, save for a few blacklights. The light from these reflected ghoulishly off the surface of something that resembled one of the Zuul dogs from Ghostbusters (1984). To this day, I still don’t know just what the hell that thing was, but I remember thinking it could come to life at any moment and attack us. What’s more, I can’t imagine why anyone would set up a display so that it draws people to look through their windows while they’re not home. It didn’t occur to me back then, but in retrospect, something about encouraging people to trespass on your property like that really creeps me out.
That, and Zuul always scared me as a kid!
Since it’s the earliest Samhain I can remember, I have a mad nostalgic love for all of the Halloween-appropriate films and TV shows that were released in 1988, including Beetlejuice, Halloween 4, Killer Klowns From Outer Space, Lady in White, Night of the Demons, Pumpkinhead, Scarecrows, and War of the Worlds: The Series. Aside from the War of the Worlds show (which I might review at some point), I didn’t get to see most of these things until I was a teenager in the 1990s. But they still make me think of being a kid in the late 1980s, and I’ll be damned if Samhain 1988 wasn’t one of the most memorable parts of my childhood.