The Creepiest Vintage Halloween Costumes

29 10 2013

Halloween 1910What 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:

Halloween - Vintage Witch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes XI

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:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes IX

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes II

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes VI

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:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes III

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:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes V

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:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes

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:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes VII

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:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes X

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:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes VIII

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:

Halloween - Creepy Vintage Masks Costumes XII

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 [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.





Austra

18 01 2012

I think I may have discovered my new favourite band. That is hard for me to say, since Erasure have occupied the most prominent setting in my crown of musical gems since 1995. That may soon change. Their competitor is Austra, a synthpop/darkwave/indie electronica band from Toronto who just released their debut album, Feel It Break, last year. (Yes, I know, as usual I am late to the game.) However I am not yet ready to give the number one position to Austra, simply because Erasure have produced fourteen studio albums, and I have only heard one by Austra, but if they keep up the amazing work, they very well could earn that place. Besides, a tie between the two bands isn’t entirely out of the question.

OK, so you want to know what the hype is all about, don’t you? It’s about their coherent, well-developed style, their professional-sounding technical wizardry, their eerily fun dance sensibility, lead singer Katie Stelmanis’s chillingly pure, cold voice, their artistically spooky themes, their rich harmonies, their otherworldly melodies. All of these in combination produce a lush, full, satisfying sonic experience. Listening to their debut album, Feel It Break, one imagines opening up a book of occult lore and exploring the hidden mysteries within. I would liken them to a cross between Florence and the Machine, Siouxsie Sioux and the Banshees, and Karin Dreijer of The Knife and Fever Ray. But at least as creepy as Karin Dreijer. Finally, an album that sounds weirdly Scandinavian without getting mired in slow, dissonant, undanceable experimentalism. It’s musically exploratory, thematically fascinating, and fun to dance to.

Check out the video for their single Spellwork, taken from the debut album. In my opinion is encapsulates the overall deliciously spooky theme of the work:

This song gives me goosebumps. One thing that stands out is the strong verse-chorus structure characteristic of pop songs—but it’s all done in such a beautifully strange and ethereal way that it doesn’t sound commercial or formulaic. Stelmanis’s eerily quavering vocals are spot-on, the melody soars like some dark-winged bird over bare tree branches, and those rich harmonies complete the vocal arrangements. And those layers upon layers of tinkling synthesisers just sweep you away into a glittering fairy world of yore. I can’t get enough of the cryptic occult references, either. Lots of Youtube commenters have said that the video is “weird”, but it’s supposed to be. The song is about pagan rituals (or so I think), so obviously the video reflects that. It’s so enticing because it’s so arcane.

Then there is the light, bright, beautiful synthpop gem Lose It. This is probably as pure, pretty, and pristine as synthpop can get, and Austra have distilled the essence of the genre in this song, and yet we haven’t quite heard synthpop done in such a fresh, clever way before. At least I don’t think so. Just have a listen:

Isn’t that just delightful? It makes me pee my pants. And it makes me pregnant. With twins. The most remarkable thing about this song, I think, is the perfect harmony between Stelmanis and the background singers in the chorus. Together, they create this plaintive, crystal-clear, birdlike song of hope and sorrow. It almost sounds like Enya in a strange way, but a cool, synthpoppy Enya. Delish.

OK, on to our last video. Showing their ability to master a range of synthpop sub-genres, Austra reveal their goth goth side in this video for their single Beat and the Pulse, and boy is it sexy. Be forewarned: I don’t do censorship, so this video is not safe for work! (That means it’s NSFW):

So what did ya think?? In my opinion, This is the difference between pornography and erotica. The models are portrayed in a seductive, tasteful manner, and they exude a mysterious power. It’s not crass and exploitative; it’s subtle and stylish. Besides, listen to the pulsating bassline that suddenly creeps into your ears when the beat kicks in. And, again, that rich texture of harmonies fills out the song and sends chills down one’s spine. This is dark, sinister synthpop at its finest.

Speaking of weird Scandinavian-sounding dance music, compare Austra to Karin Dreijer when Dreijer accepted the award for best dance artist on behalf of her band Fever Ray at this Swedish music awards ceremony:

Kooky! And fabulous. Now that we’ve established that both Austra and Fever Ray are cool, creative bands with a statement to make, it’s time to ask the question: which one is weirder? All that matters is that they are weird, and there’s a rhyme and reason to it, even if the typical Beyonce-glamoured American can’t see past his milquetoast Top 40 music collection. Consider this Youtube commenter’s post about the above Fever Ray video: “Its unfortunate most people cannot understand the statement of the absurdity of award shows, come up, make a stupid speech and say thank you within 20 seconds and walk off stage for the next commercial, absolutely meaningless. If viewers can only see the surface level and think ‘Man that lady is weird, whats with the face?’, they need to start digging deeper past the surface [sic]”. So true. So, so true. I cannot improve upon that observation, except to say that the average American isn’t into the musical creativity of artists like Fever Ray and Austra, because they’re only exposed to the commercially successful acts.

Anyway, I haven’t written about a cool band in a while, so when I discovered Austra I just knew I had to say something about them and spread the word. I entreat you to do the same. Spread the word. As you would your seed. No, just kidding. Sort of. I can’t wait to hear their next album! I’m thinking of writing about new releases by a few other bands who make me want to diddle myself, like Glass Candy and Chromatics, so keep visiting this blog. (Oh, and I’m posting another instalment of the fabulous lady-comic Julie Gentron and the Lady League very soon, so look for that too.) So go out and buy Austra’s debut album Feel It Break—make sure it’s the deluxe version—and support one of Canada’s most talented and interesting musical products of recent times. (The album was released by Domino or Paper Bag—can’t remember which—and it’s on iTunes, of course.)





Christians vs. Witches: the Atheists Arrive

3 07 2011

Previously, we discussed how the armies of Republican Christian politician Sarah Palin and pagan high-priestess Laurie Cabot were bearing down on one another. After an initial onslaught, they decided to withdraw and hold a match between the choicest champions of either side. Palin was not impressed with “losing” her champion to the side of the witches, and called on her forces to resume the onslaught against Cabot’s pagan forces. It is the ultimate duke-out. Thus, we continue.

Palin assumed the form of a huge and matted grizzly bear, wielding a Bible in one paw and a shotgun in the other. Cabot assumed the form of a flying cat-woman with a sleek, black body and batlike wings, wielding a staff in one paw—the staff, made of yew, was etched in an ancient Ogham incantation and glowed white—and a ball of blazing blue fire in the other. Palin levelled her gun on her shoulder, aimed at the flying witch-demon, and fired, but the shot was deflected partly by Palin’s own poor marksmanship and partly by the ball of fire, which shot from Cabot’s fist and burnt Palin’s paw, sending the shotgun a-flying.

“You’ll never best me, you Satan-worshipper!” cried Palin, rubbing her burnt paw.

“Satan?” asked Cabot, quizically. “I don’t worship Satan,  because I don’t believe in him. How can I worship something I don’t believe in?”

“Oh, he’s real enough!” cried Palin. “And he’s seducing you with his pretty words! He is the ultimate sleuth!” She was reading a page in her Bible when she said this. “Ever read C.S. Lewis?”

“Actually”, responded Cabot, “I think evil is the work of man, not some demon scapegoat. Satan is just an excuse humans use when they don’t want to take responsibility for their own actions. Humans cause evil, so humans should correct it. All evil comes from humanity, and it is the obligation of humanity to correct this error, not foist it conveniently on to some other force. It’s all about personal responsibility.”

“Lord in heaven above”, pleaded Palin, scanning a page in her Bible, which boasted a pastel-coloured, floral-print book-jacket edged with lace, “smite mine evil enemy as you would have an innocent babe of Canaan for being the child of a tribe occupying the land that your chosen people sought to conquer!” With those words, a stream of blood shot forth from the book and knocked Cabot to the ground—well, not quite to the ground, but she crashed into the Christ Church Cathedral spire. From the mass of crumbling roof she rose upright to meet her nemesis.

“You may abide in such a bloodthirsty lord”, spoke Cabot in a ringing baritone, “but I cannot!” With that, she pointed her staff at Palin, spoke a series of strange and mystical words, and shot a ray of pure light at her enemy, blasting her through a rooftop in the city-centre below. Her enemy struggled to her feet and found herself inside an Oxfam shop, asking, “What curious thing is this?”

“It is a shop where one selflessly donates to the poor and needy by buying things, such as books”,  cried the shopkeeper, a surprisingly spry old matron, “you know, those things one reads—without feeling the need to invoke capitalism or the myth of trickle-down economics in order to protect one’s wealth! Not that you would know what that means, you daft old chattering voicebox”, she snapped, pushing the bear-woman out the door and slamming it shut in her face.

“Curious indeed!” pondered Palin pawfully. “I never thought of that.”

“Chief-witches”, cried Cabot, “let us gather at the site of your fallen foe!” With that, Cabot and her chief battle-witches descended through the spires and steep roofs till they reached the cobble-stone street in a cluster before the pitiful Palin, who pawed vainly at the doorstep of the Oxfam shop. “Here”, said Cabot, “we must consider our next course of action while the armies battle above, given her”—and here she pointed at the bear-woman—“temporary disadvantage.”

“Well, we can’t just kill her”, said Doreen Virtue in a sweet voice. “At the very least, we have to judge her, but we have little time to spare at the present moment. Let us incarcerate her for the time being.”

“Ugh, such minor tasks use up my power”, sighed Cabot, considering both the army above and her fallen foe below. She could not await any further assaults, nor the re-ascent of Palin, either. She waved her staff in the air above, and the crystal atop the staff glowed with a beam of bright, opalescent, blue-white light. When this had acquired a sufficient luminosity, she pointed the crystal at the she-bear and blasted her with a cold ray of light, freezing her where she lay in a giant heap of ice. This task accomplished, she returned her glace to the enemy’s host above. They had metamorphosed into a bevvy of flying, braying moose-women. Startled by this spectacle, she raised her staff in the air once more, this time holding it horizontally with both hands, and recited a mysterious, arcane incantation. There was a brief pause.

“Witches, assume panther mode!” she bellowed. With that, a purple mass of light burst forth from her, weaved through the spikey Oxford skyline, and showered her soldiers above, transforming them into a throng of giant black cat-beasts.

“We still haven’t enough numbers!” yelled evolutionary psychologist Nigel Barber from the side.

“Nigel Barber?”, mused Doreen Virtue with a soft but quizzical expression. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

“Oh, I don’t know”, he responded dully. “I guess I kind of like you guys!”

“Great!”, she said. “We’ll need all the help we can get. General Cabot, perhaps we can summon some friendly non-pagan forces with our psychic abilities!” she beamed, bloated with the soul of Michele Bachmann inside her.

“We are already here!” squawked Richard Dawkins, landing on a perch above in the form of a giant pteradactyl. “I have brought my forces to assist you, lady, as I see a need to protect humanity from the forces of evil.” Behind him hovered philosopher Daniel Dennet and evolutionary psychologist Susan Blackmore, in their normal human forms, as well as a number of other hardcore classical materialists.

“The atheists!” rejoiced Cabot. “I never thought you’d have come to my aid, given our differences on spirituality, the afterlife, and the mind-brain relationship. Your reputation for being cold, mean, stubborn, and blindly egotistical does precede you. Obviously it is not entirely deserved!”

Stay tuned to find out how the witch-friendly atheists fare against the Christians, and how the atheists are able to cope. Also, stay tuned to find out how the Christians and witches begin to employ their greatest assets against one another. The battle is peaking, and we need some serious forces to ensure that it is as tumultuous as possible. Expect the oddest things to transpire.