Monday, October 31, 2016

Psychobabble’s 10 Tips for the Perfect Retro-Halloween

In a confusing, modern world in which everyone wanders around aimlessly in their virtual reality helmets while playing Pokemon pogs on their telephones and listening to auto-tuned teenagers sing about their vaginas, Psychobabble offers Halloween as an oasis of retro sensibilities. Not politically retro. That would be gross. I just mean Halloweenally retro. Take off the helmet. Put down the phone. Turn off that singer who is still a teenager and consider listening to one who was a teenager fifty years ago (may I suggest The Crystals’ and their “Frankenstein Twist”?). It’s time to buckle down and allow the waves of nostalgia in.

There are few things more old-fashioned than the notion that the vale between the natural world and the spirit world will lift up and a host of ghosts will sneak under it and start partying on our turf every October 31st.. That’s some silly shit. So it would be highly inappropriate to celebrate such an old-fashioned holiday in a new-fashioned way. Here are Psychobabble’s ten tips for recreating the perfect retro Halloween experience.

1. Hang Beistly decorations.

Halloween is not an icy pool. You don’t just leap into it on October 31st and leap right back out again. It is a warm bath. You sink into it slowly and lounge, preferably for an entire month. Part of that involves decorating your home. Many people spend all of their energy hanging ghouls and skeletons all over the outside of their homes, which is all fine and good for showing your neighbors how festive you are, but you should never neglect the inside either, since you probably spend more time indoors than out on the lawn. Whether you’re decorating inside or out, you cannot have a truly retro Halloween without some Beistle decorations. You know them. They’re those grinning cats and jack-o-lanterns, wrinkly witches, and dancing skeletons rendered in shades of orange, black, yellow, and green on die-cut cardboard. These designs have been in use since the Beistle Company began in 1900 and were particularly ubiquitous in the seventies and early eighties. Few visuals will instantly conjure those old-timey Halloween feelings than Beistle decorations, though you are also welcome to hang up some of those toxic melted plastic popcorn decorations depicting ghosts, witches, and cats. They’re retro too. Expensive animatronic serial killers and giant inflatable Adam Sandler vampires from Hotel Transylvania are not.

2. Send mail using actual paper and actual mail boxes.

Emails and instagrams did not exist in retro times. We went to the dime store, where everything actually cost a dime, bought a box of cards made out on non-electronic paper, used devices called “pens” to write something like “Have a spooooktacular Halloween” inside them, walked to an actual mailbox, and mailed them to our actual aunts and uncles. This is something you will now do to help spread the retro-Halloween vibes like a little werewolf missionary. Your cards will not feature the images of trademarked characters. They will not reference Facebook. They will be vintage through and through, sporting painted pictures of witches and jack-o-lanterns and harvest moons and inform the recipient of sentiments like “When the owl and witch together are seen, there’s mischief brewing on Halloween.” If you’re feeling saucy, you may also send out black and white pin-ups of models dressed in fetching witch’s hats and knee-baring witch’s gowns. These models should have all died of old age many years ago.

3. Watch TV for children.

Over the course of October, TV networks used to air a succession of seasonal cartoon programs intended for children. Perhaps they still do that. I don’t know. My TV no longer has rabbit ears or a cable box. I’m a retro-hypocrite who only uses Blu-rays and an Apple-TV. Sue me. The good thing about this aspect of modern times is that you can ensure that Halloween still becomes Grinch night and Linus Van Pelt still waits for the Great Pumpkin on your TV every year even if CBS doesn’t. You may have some initial reluctance or even embarrassment about spending your adult time watching TV programs intended for children. You’ll have to power through that. It will be worth it when those child-like feelings return, plunging you into the Halloween spirit completely. Having children of your own and watching these programs with them will also help you get over any reluctance or embarrassment. If you do not have children of your own, you will not be able to use them in time for this Halloween, but there’s plenty of time to make some for next Halloween. Get cracking.

4. Watch movies for 90-year-old adults.

There aren’t enough quality retro Halloween cartoons to fill all 31 nights of October. Don’t worry. You can supplement with creepy movies intended for creepy adults. Hold on. Don’t pop that Freddy Krueger tape into the VCR just yet, Chainsaw. That’s not what I mean by a movie intended for adults. I’m talking about movies most kids today would find crushingly boring or even laughable but scared the knickers off of people who were kids eighty years ago but are now quite a bit older. These movies are in black and white. They star Bela Lugosi, Boris, Karloff, Elsa Lanchester, and Lon Chaney, Jr. They are purer distillations of the Halloween spirit than any John Carpenter movie, even that one called Halloween. As the Universal Company likes to remind us every year, these movies are Halloween. I don’t usually agree with giant corporations, but I’ll make an exception in this case.

5. Visit a haunted house.

Every neighborhood worth its salt has a haunted house come October. If yours does not, move to a new one. Be sure to choose a neighborhood with a haunted house that requires you to crawl through old refrigerator boxes splattered with red paint and hung with cotton cobwebs while nine-years reach through holes in them to grab at you. Cassettes of creaking doors, cackling, and baying wolves must blare from the eight-track player in the garage. There must not be anything actually scary, like an adult swinging a kitchen knife in your face or Evangelicals using horror tropes to illustrate why abortion is “evil,” but you must convince yourself that all of this hooey is scary nonetheless. It will help you further adopt the childlike attitude necessary for complete retro-Halloween immersion and prepare you for the following steps on this list.

6. Choose a costume… a Ben Cooper costume.

OK, so now you’ve spent the better part of a month getting wrapped up in that old Halloween spirit. The big day is now approaching. That means it’s time to select a costume, because a big part of the holiday is making a total ass out of yourself by dressing in outfits that would most definitely get you thrown out of church on any other day. Your costume must be chosen with great care and great respect for this unique time of year. Remember, Halloween is a holiday of ghouls and ghosts. Dressing up as a baseball player or a doctor who is not mad is not just inappropriate…it is sacrilegious. The word “sexy” should not be part of your costume’s title even if it is “sexy witch” or “sexy Frankenstein.” Costumes should not make you attractive. They should make you look stupid. You cannot go wrong with one of those old Ben Cooper costumes made of cheap vinyl that comes with a plastic mask that never fails to impair your vision and collect condensation from your mouth until it ends up smelling like a used pair of Hanes briefs. Recommended varieties include Caspar the Friendly Ghost, the Green Goblin, Phantom of the Opera, Jaws, unsexy witch, and unsexy Frankenstein. Don’t worry: Ben Cooper makes costumes in adult sizes.

7. Go Trick-or-Treating… and I mean you.

So you’ve squeezed into those vinyl coveralls and snapped on that plastic mask. Now what? You know what. You’re going to march your ass out onto the street, go door-to-door, and demand candy be placed in your burlap sack or plastic jack-o-lantern-shaped bucket. I don’t give a shit how old you are. This year, you’re a trick-or-treater. I never said that achieving the perfect retro-Halloween experience would be easy. 

8. Bob for apples and fondle spaghetti.

When your neighbors stop answering their doors (which, depending on your age, may happen sooner than you think), the festivities have not ended. You have now earned yourself a little costume party. And before you begin wringing your hands together, fantasizing about all of the double-strength zombies you’re going to drink and all of the sexy witches and sexy Frankensteins you’re going to make out with, think again. That stuff is not very retro. No, you are going to be bobbing for apples and playing that game where everyone shuts their eyes and pretends that bowls of cold spaghetti and grapes are the hair and eyeballs of unsexy witches. Afterward, you may do a spooky version of the hokey pokey if you want, but this cannot devolve into a sex orgy. Roman times are actually too retro for our purposes.

9. Read Schwartz.

After the party has reached its frenzied climax of apple biting and grape touching, it is time to alter the mood, because there is one essential Halloween element we have neglected thus far. Halloween is scary. The best way to make your Halloween scary…and I mean really to dim the lights and pull that dusty volume of Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark off the shelf. All of your guests will sit in rapt terror as you beg to know “Where is my to-o-o-o-o-e?” or sing “The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out” in your spookiest voice. They will really release their bowels when you show them Stephen Gammell’s traumatizing illustrations, so be sure to lay down plenty of tarps first.

10. Eat all of your candy.

Well, you have done an excellent job, my little Halloweener. You have followed every tip on this list and recreated the perfect retro-Halloween. If all has gone right, you should now feel about eight-years old. So do what all quality eight-year olds do on Halloween night. Eat all of your candy. All of it. All of the Charleston Chews and Zagnuts and candy cigarettes and Fun-Size Special Darks and Blow Pops and Almond Joys and Starbursts and Jujubes and Smarties and little plastic-wrapped satchels of candy corn. Then vomit to your heart’s content. You’ve earned it.

Happy Halloween.
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