Halloween, like the Muppets it seems, is another casualty of the war on children. It’s not a “hot” war of course, just an assault of a thousand cuts that eventually takes things away from children that used to be their domain. Halloween was like that when I was in full trick-or-treating mode and for that moment in time I am thankful.
Now Halloween is a billion dollar industry where the “adults” have taken over and made it not-so-innocent. Granted, there were plenty of not-so-innocent types when I was trick-or-treating and not-so-innocent types 70 years before I was trick-or-treating. But though we may have been tempted by a roll of toilet paper or some other form of mayhem, for the most part, we were pretty tame and the “spirit” of the night was something that was tied in to our faith.
No “Harvest Festival” for us. When we were kids we wanted full throttle Halloween and although the spirit world was a major factor, it was not the full throttle devotion to evil and things usually associated with the number 666, as things are today.
Having the next day off as a holy day of obligation was one of our first proofs we were part of the one true faith as we would watch the public school kids trudge off to school on Nov. 1 while we basked in our ecclesiastically confirmed freedom.
Times have changed. My children, who aren’t children anymore, never trick-or-treated without adult supervision. Maybe we were over-protective but as I watch nightly news, I’m thinking probably not.
Maybe our parents were too lax when it came to our untethered approach to the age-old custom of trick-or-treating. In reality we only thought we were fully autonomous, as there were several conditions placed on our permission to run the streets at night — we had to stick with older brothers or sisters, we had to make our first stops at our grandparent’s house and then make mandatory knocks on both parish rectory and convent doors.
I remember not soon after the school year began — in September like it was supposed to — I would start thinking about what I wanted to be for Halloween. I would scour encyclopedias and history books for something unique.
We never really went deep into the occult during Halloween. Not for any specific holy reason, we just loved trying to make costumes from scraps of material that would transform us into Roman centurions, Civil War generals, kings or movie-inspired monster.
The freedom to roam the streets with a bunch of other kids with the same agenda was intoxicating. Of course, all freedom has its limits and besides our required familiar and parish stops we adhered to, there were certain busy streets that were not be crossed. And of course, we didn’t have to be told to steer clear of Junior Baptist’s house because he was the bully of the block who smoked cigarettes and talked back to adults, so a wide berth from that domicile of pain was sound advice.
Another part of Halloween was the “Early Show.” This was a local television afternoon movie that would come on right about the time you got home from school and every Halloween it would show a monster movie to help us get in the mood.
This was the first time I saw “The Wolfman,” starring Lon Chaney Jr. What a perfect Halloween movie today. In my humble opinion all other werewolf movies pale in comparison.
No matter how sophisticated computer-generated technology has become, you cannot capture the same humanity, tragedy and creepiness from the 1940 Universal Pictures original. It took me years after my first viewing of this movie to work up the nerve to actually watch the Lon Chaney character transform into a wolfman. I used to have to cover my eyes with a cushion from the couch.
It’s in black and white so even if the movie did show blood, you wouldn’t notice it much. Yet it can still hold your attention as kind of a perfect storm of a movie that can still put a good scare into kids while allowing adults to enjoy as well.
The 1940s-era craft and care that went into the story continues to weather modern scrutiny. Allowances must be made for the acting style of the day, but if you can find a modern equal to the great character actor, Claude Rains, send your letters to The Tidings.
I’ve never been an Abbott and Costello fan — give me Laurel and Hardy any day — but I have to admit one of my all-time favorite “guilty” pleasures has been “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.”
It is funny, not in the sophisticated way, and it is kind of spooky with Bela Lugosi hovering between menace and self-parody. It was also a staple of the Halloween television treats we enjoyed as kids.
So even as today’s kids have to share the Halloween stage with too many adults, thanks to modern technology, classic horror and monster movies are only a Netflix queue away. I would guess a vast swath of kids today have no idea these movies exist, so as everything old is new again, why not resurrect your own Halloween tradition and spend a little quality time with the Wolfman.