Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, so this October Horror Delve will play host to a month-long celebration! Some of the treats we’ll be offering include Horror Delve’s Second Annual Halloween Story Reading List, an article looking at Super Heroes and Haunted Houses and a series of guest posts answering our question, “What was your favorite Halloween Costume?”
Our first guest to answer the call is Barry Jacobs, the illustrious scribe of the excellent website bmj2k.com. I particularly enjoy his Hollywood Russell stories, his peeks into the history of New York, and his the tales of his childhood friend Marvin are always hilarious. Without further ado, here’s Barry Jacob’s answer to our question:
“What was your favorite Halloween Costume?”
Thinking back on the Halloweens of my youth, there is no particular costume that stands out. I’ve been Darth Vader and I’ve been a werewolf. I’ve been Batman and I’ve been Frankenstein. But all those costumes, and many more, all had one thing in common. They were all Ben Cooper costumes.
Ben Cooper was a brand, not someone I dressed up as. More than the chill in the air, more than the falling leaves, I knew when Halloween was coming when the candy store down the block stocked up on Ben Cooper Halloween costumes. And there was no mistaking a Ben Cooper Halloween costume.
Kids today are used to buying their costumes either off a rack, hanging from a plastic hanger like a normal shirt or sweater, or they’re used to buying costumes stuffed in large plastic bags. When I was young, Ben Cooper costumes came in boxes about the size of a Carvel cake box, with a clear window so that you could see the mask inside. My local store would have these boxes stacked floor to ceiling in whatever nook or cranny they could find. This was in the days of the comic book spinner rack and Pac-man games, of buying matchbox cars in cardboard boxes from a display and Slush Puppies in stripped cups from behind the counter. These were the days when the candy store down the block wasn’t just a candy store, it was the place where a kid with a dollar in his pocket could get read all the comics in the spinner and play Dig Dug, twice. And with the extra 50 cents he’d get a Hershey bar for the walk home.
The boxes, at least in my mind, are iconic. Oh, they were nothing special, no particular art, nothing that made them stand out. In fact, they were kind of cheesy. Just the logo, that strangely written BEN COOPER in a circle printed on the side of the box, that’s what brings back the nostalgia. I can still see all the different characters, all the different trick or treat possibilities, stacked floor to ceiling in the store down the block. They’re right there in my mind’s eye.
But if the boxes were plain to average, at best, the costumes were nothing short of bizarre. The typical Ben Cooper costume was made out of fairly thin plastic. Take the Frankenstein costume, for example. That was pretty typical of the Ben Cooper design. It was a one-piece jumpsuit. You pulled it on over your pants (these were much, much too thin to wear by themselves) and then tied up the top in the back. The mask was your usual gaudy plastic thing with a string in the back to keep it on your head. It was made out of rigid plastic that would easily crack and cut you if you weren’t careful. And if you wore glasses like me, it was a 50/50 chance you could get them to stay on over the mask, and there was no way to wear them under the mask. But none of this is what made Ben Cooper costumes bizarre. It was the graphics.
Getting back to my Frankenstein costume, it wasn’t too far off the mark. A pair of pants, a jacket, and a shirt were painted onto the plastic jumpsuit. But the pants were red, the jacket had white trim like some sort of prom tuxedo, and the shirt was red and black stripped. And the suit’s buttons looked screws or rivets. Still, combined with the pretty good mask (it was more or less the old Universal Jack Pierce design) it was obviously, screamingly, Frankenstein. And just in case someone didn’t get it, the front of the costume had Frankenstein’s face with the word “Frankenstein” printed right across the chest.
That really ruined the effect, if you asked me, and even little seven year-old me knew it back then.
The Batman costume was worse. This one came with a plastic cape you tied around your neck, but it was so heavily creased from being folded in the box that it never really billowed out behind you. Plus it was too short to properly billow. The rest of the costume was all grey, without the blue underwear on top. This predated DC adopting that look by several decades. The utility belt was pre-printed on the suit, and the bat-logo was of course present, but again, leave it to Ben Cooper to add their own style of strangeness. While this suit was in every way a Batman suit, whoever designed it felt the need to write BATMAN inside the chest emblem. And worse, the mask had the same emblem with BATMAN written inside printed on the forehead.
The costumes were kitschy, the masks were dangerous, the boxes were bulky and I loved them. Ben Cooper seemed to have every license there was, from superheroes to Star Trek to the Dukes of Hazzard, and between me and my brother we must have had them all since they were cheap enough that we could talk our parents into buying us two. Or if we played our cards right, we’d manage to get Mom to buy us one or two and trick Dad into buying us a couple before he knew Mom had already gotten us some.
Halloween is my favorite holiday. I love monsters, I love horror, I love the chill in the air, the dark, and I even love watching Linus sit in the most sincere pumpkin patch, just waiting for the Great Pumpkin to arise and bring him presents. But I also love Halloween because it brings back all the great memories of my childhood.
Last year I dressed up in a couple of home-made costumes. One of them was the Riddler, complete with question-mark cane and green shirt. And although you couldn’t see it, the shirt had Frank Gorshin’s face and the word RIDDLER right across the front. At least it did in my mind.
Barry is a writer at a Company he is not at liberty at name. Something of a pop culture junkie, Halloween is the one time of year he can go out in public wearing a cape without people staring at him. When he has spare time, he blogs about whatever strikes him at bmj2k.com. Sometimes it is even good. You can find a spooky story, The Legend of the Headless Taxi Driver, right here: http://bmj2k.com/2012/08/30/the-legend-of-the-headless-taxi-driver/