Remembrance of Trick-or-Treatings Past: Halloween in a Box

Writer/director Rob Caprilozzi’s documentary Halloween in a Box is filled with wonders for viewers of a certain age and a lasting fondness for autumnal merriment. Anyone who can recall once picking out one of the titular costume kits (complete with rubber-banded plastic masks and colorful vinyl smocks) at the local five-and-dime store and decking out on October 31st will slip quite easily into this film.

The documentary traces the rise (and falling fortunes of) the three giants in the boxed-costume industry: Ben Cooper, Inc, Collegeville, and Halco. Extensive interviews with the owners of, and employees within, these companies provide copious insight into the business end of the trick-or-treating enterprise. Looking back over several decades of ventures (mainly, the quest to secure licenses for character likenesses), the film forms a veritable tour of 20th Century pop culture. Halloween in a Box is perhaps most enlightening when it notes how the annual effort of fantasy role-playing was affected by various historical realities (e.g., the post-World War II lifting of the sugar ration, the rise of the automobile in the 1950’s, the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963). Covering the paranoia spawned by the Tylenol scare of the early 80’s, the documentary shows how the costuming competitors came together and endeavored to save the holiday by publishing an important booklet entitled 13 Great Ways to Celebrate Halloween.

To no surprise, Caprilozzi includes countless stills and home-video clips of children in the holiday gear of yesteryear (my one complaint is that these segments of the documentary are all scored by the same wearying piece of instrumental music; not since Creature form the Black Lagoon has a riff been so overused). I was delighted to catch glimpse of the Mork outfit that marked my own foray into boxed-costume territory as a pre-teen (the subject of one of the offerings in my collection Autumn Lauds: Poems for the Halloween Season). Brimmingly nostalgic and equally informative, Halloween in a Box is a real treat of the nonfictional kind this holiday-viewing season.

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