Halloween Safety (1977) dir. Unknown
But here’s the scariest monster of all… This little witch doesn’t know it, but she’s taking some frightening chances of being hurt. Maybe badly hurt.
This is the second-best scary-season film from industrial/educational titan Centron. First place by a wide margin belongs to its one and only feature, 1962’s Carnival of Souls. While Souls is the scarier of the two, “Halloween Safety” is far more representative of the prolific company’s output. It’s a near-certainty that some of Centron’s titles – possibly Health: Your Posture or What About Juvenile Delinquency? – were required viewing for your grandparents.
First off, I think the anonymous* Centron director here deserves credit for beating John Carpenter to the “child POV through Halloween mask” shot by a full year.
Ah, the halcyon days when kids in public domain outfits would risk traffic and poisoning for sweet, sweet candy. Now these children would be hustled to the nearest mall or shopping district to display their choice of Disney or Warner Brothers property in exchange for corn syrup and some GAP coupons for parents hovering on high-alert. This shift is fine by me because it keeps these kids off my lawn.
The proper ratio of protection against the unlikely vs. sensible caution against the possible is an annual Halloween debate that certainly predates this film. We don’t live surrounded by unknown woods where VVitches might lurk. There are no blank spots on our maps where monsters might hide. Our boogeymen are driven by carelessness and random cruelty because we know these things exist in the world and we fear there’s nothing we can do about it. So in the same way young kids are guaranteed to contend with the notion of ghosts each year at Halloween, so too do parents retell spooky stories about a world gone mad and the need for extra safety measures. The film’s tips don’t do much for ghostbusting but instead address deeper and deeper levels of fear.
Level 1: I Will Keep My Child Safe
Hemming the skirt is solid advice. Trimming down the broom and blunting the sword is also good, though I will admit there are a few toys in my house I’d like to alter with a handsaw for reasons other than safety (no, talking Elsa, you let it go). Pointing to “no broom” as the best option is a killjoy move, but understandable in comparison to the flimsy cardboard facsimile option, doomed to spend the evening draped over an exasperated parent’s arm.
Making children more visible to motorists after dark is another good idea, though I would suggest that there’s some middle ground between Wicked Witch of the West and Pint-Sized Klansman. Lose the skirt, the broom, the color black and the mask and we’ve now got a costume exhaustively guarded against known and avoidable threats. Our bright little witch is thrilled.
…for all we know there’s an open manhole out there with our child’s name on it and no amount of reflective tape is going to stop them from falling in. Level 1 is the parent’s defense against our first scary truth: I can’t protect my child.
Level 2: Society Will Keep My Child Safe
“In many places the police set the hours for when you trick or treat” sounds suspiciously like double-speak for “Observe the curfew.” Not sure why kowtowing to martial law is encouraged in this video. Maybe I’ve been spoiled under laissez-fare local governments that decline to regulate the candy soliciting activities of its children.** Or maybe film advisor Richard C. Clement saw some shit go down during his stint as police chief in Tom’s River, New Jersey and now recommends putting the hammer down preemptively.
The film also tells us not to participate in practical jokes that cause damage and could cost your parents money (I agree with this). Instead, humor should be limited to rote recitations of puns that visibly irritate adults, even ones paid to appear chipper for six seconds in a public safety video (I wholeheartedly disagree with this). In accordance with our “The Best Broom is No Broom” standard, I say just curtail any shenanigans during the government-allotted candy procurement time lest one fall afoul of good humor or personal property protection laws.
And maybe, just maybe, an adult can come along, the film suggests off-handedly. If there’s one around. Maybe Dad can be pried away from Three’s Company long enough to participate. It’s harder to bike E.T. into the middle of the forest this way, but it’s also harder to get kidnapped.
…even if we observe the proper procedures for avoiding trouble and harming others, there’s no guarantee others around us will be similarly restrained. Second scary truth: authorities can’t protect my child.
Level 3: Proper Caution is a Defense Against Evil
Even though sharp objects inserted in candy are virtually non-existent*** and random candy poisonings are literally non-existent, our film insists you ritually dissect all candy and (if you live in an area with sociopathic dentists) fresh fruit. Make sure you eat a good dinner ahead of time, so your empty stomach doesn’t put your life on the line. Maybe you can meet your neighbors and earn their trust during the other 364 days of the year, but tonight it’s everyone for themselves. Better to dump our candy in the trash and wait until they finish building that mall downtown.
…the news demonstrates that terrible things happen to innocent people all the time and the only remotely possible way to not become somebody’s random victim is sequester yourself in an underground bunker and even that puts a lot of faith in whoever’s delivering the groceries. The ultimate scary truth: noone and nothing is ever completely safe.
Happy Halloween, everyone!
* Letterboxd lists Souls director Herk Harvey as the director here, which might be the case, but at this point Centron seems to operate with an uncredited stable of directors that included Harvey and others.
** Actually I grew up in Omaha where in 1991 the mayor famously moved Halloween by four days due to a blizzard. So arguably Halloween only happened at all if the fascists running my municipality gave their blessing.
*** There may be a reason the film’s adviser is a New Jersey area police chief. Apparently the state was ground-zero for candy tampering rumors in the late 60s. In 1968 the state passed a law with mandatory prison sentences for tampering with apples in response to a large number of reports of razor blades in Halloween apples, most of which were determined to be hoaxes. It was another era’s version of a scary clown sighting that continues to haunt our Halloweens today.