What makes something creepy? YouTube user Vsauce cogently explains that creepiness arises from uncertainty over whether or not something is a threat. It is never straightforwardly frightening; rather, it is unsettling because it straddles the border between safety and danger. Humans have difficulty handling vagueness and ambiguity.
This is a natural topic to discuss in relation to the upcoming Halloween holiday. Halloween is about uncertainty. Very brief history: The Christians Christianized a Roman holiday of the dead called Lemuria, which occurred in mid-May. They christened it All Saints’ Day. Then they realised there was another nasty pagan death holiday over in Ireland called Samhain (SOW-in) which occurred on 1 November, and they moved the Christianised holiday Lemuria forward six months to 1 November to co-opt the Irish holiday. That day became the new All Saints’ Day. Hence Halloween, or All Hallows’ Eve. For pagans, there lay uncertainty over the intentions of the dead, and it was deemed wise to propitiate them, often by dressing up to imitate them and offering them food.
So, Halloween was never really about running around trick-or-treating dressed up as Superman; it was about exploring the strange world of spirits, be they good, bad, or mercenary—we never know for sure. (In fact, trick-or-treating isn’t even a hundred years old.) Well, I think Halloween celebrants have appropriately reflected this cognitive dissonance toward the dead in the form of some very disturbing masks and costumes. Below are some of the most unsettling vintage photographs and stills of humans mimicking the dead or otherworldly creatures. Importantly, they are utterly lacking in any modern-day commercialism or skimpy ‘sexiness’.
Take the following portrait, for instance:
What a drear and dour portrait. The expressionless face and slightly smug grin creeps me out. I can’t tell quite what she is thinking. Is she going to hex me, or ask me to go bobbing for apples (which, creepily enough, actually stems from a pagan divination ritual)?
But that one only scratches the surface. Consider some of the more clown-like masks and costumes, as in this image:
Holy shit. Look at the one in the bottom middle. Is that Michael Myers from Halloween in drag? I can’t tell what she’s thinking. Some of them are scowling, but others are smiling. Others yet are just characterless black masses. Um, I’ll pass on this party. (Or will I?)
It gets even creepier when you put children in masks. Look at these little creeps:
Oh my God. These creeps outdo everyone at the local cosplay convention in terms of effect. It just goes to show you don’t have to spend a thousand dollars on a costume to look like the spawn of Satan. Just dig it out of your grandmother’s closet.
You know how they say clowns are creepy? Well, not as creepy as these gorgeous creatures:
Look at the creep on the bottom right with the triangle balloon head. Is he dressed for a German S&M porn film? Why don’t we do this anymore? Old-timey Halloween was way creepier than modern-day Halloween.
But, still, children in masks are creepier:
I seriously feel concerned for that little kid in the foreground with the hat turned askew. Look at that fucked-up Uncle Sam behind him and the creepy rodent thing in the Boy George hat to his right with the garden tool in his hand.
But these little creeps, they are truly disturbing:
In 1985 when I was in Grade One our class watched an old film about Norwegian troll folklore. There were music trolls, graveyard trolls, and bedroom trolls. The bedroom troll lived under your bed and would reach up and grab your hand, trying to pull you under. The actor playing the bedroom troll had this matted fur covering his arm. Some of the others wore prosthetic skin masks. Ever since then, I have been unable to sleep with my hand dangling over the edge of the bed. These creeps remind me of that.
Look at these shady creeps:
This isn’t creepy because of the masks they’re wearing, but because they’re a bunch of brown rabbits surrounding a little white rabbit like they’re about to pounce, and they have these fucked-up grins on their faces. Especially the white one. And those ears are unnatural-looking.
Still, the masks are the creepiest, in my opinion:
Masks like these look like they’re half-melted; they resemble the face of a terribly deformed burn victim. The ratty mime costumes don’t help to allay my—fear?—no, uncertainty.
More little creeps from the suburbs:
I personally think these kids look creepier than Michael Myers or Jason. But again, they’re not exactly scary—their masks have ambiguous half-smiles, which makes them even more disturbing.
The younger they get, the creepier they get:
I call this one China Doll Black Face KKK Bloated Child Corpse Mash-Up, because that is exactly what it looks like to me.
The little creep below is one of the most disturbing of all:
Not only is she creepy because she looks like one of those trolls in the classroom film I watched, but she is creepy because she is alone, like some solitary hunter, about to run at me with a hatchet concealed beneath her cowl.
But this, oh, this is the creepiest image of all:
This is actually a still from the Vsauce video I mentioned above about why things are creepy. I don’t even know what these little creeps are supposed to be, let alone what they are thinking underneath their fucked-up masks. That is the unsettling part.
So, those are the images of the creepiest vintage Halloween costumes I could find. I really think Vsauce is spot-on in his observations—the creepiest things are those which straddle the border between our sense of safety and our sense of danger, those which toy with our need for certainty. And none of these costumes is in the least cute or sexy. They aren’t princesses or fairies (unless you mean fairy in the sense of the Aos Sí [Ees Shee], the capricious spirits of ancient Irish folklore). Maybe we can stop with this trend of marketing sexy French maid costumes to women and revive the custom of disturbing people’s minds.