10 Amazingly Bad Retro Halloween Costumes: What Exactly Was Wrong With Your Parents?
With their unintentionally terrifying masks and bizarre plastic coverall-style suits, the Halloween costumes produced by Ben Cooper, Inc. have become downright iconic in American pop culture through sheer awfulness. From the ’50s to the ’80s, they were a staple of Halloweens across the country and are still valued as vintage collectibles, despite the fact that they are — and this is putting it nicely — hilariously awful. With Halloween just around the corner, we’re still feeling a little nostalgic for those mind-bogglingly terrible costumes of days gone by. That’s why today, I’ve picked out 10 Amazingly Bad Retro Halloween Costumes from the archives at the Wonderful Wonderblog!
First up, one of this year’s most popular costumes, Captain America:
To be honest, this one actually isn’t that bad. If nothing else, they managed to hit pretty close to the way Captain America is supposed to look, and while they couldn’t resist adding the name to the plastic smock, they at least gave it a relatively nifty stylzed banner instead of just straight up slapping a gigantic picture of cap himself on there. So far, so good.
But then you get to the mask. The only way I can think of to describe this thing is “horrifyingly lumpy,” but I’ll say this for it: It definitely lives up to the traditional idea of Halloween masks being there to scare off evil spirits. Now if only he didn’t look so sad about everything.
Another popular offering from this year, Thor, is pretty much in the same boat:
Say what you will about the quality of the costumes, but you have to admit that the people responsible for making the actual masks had an amazing gift for capturing emotion. Unfortunately, that emotion tended to land somewhere between mild discomfort and soul-crushing ennui. Thor here is right there in the middle with a pretty perfect expression of being uncertain as to whether or not he’ll be able to make it to the bathroom.
Or maybe he’s just trying to fake enthusiasm for the costume itself, which is so far from how Thor was supposed to look that they had to have done it purpose. There’s even a picture right there on the chest to show off how awesome they were at going in the opposite direction. What really sells it, though, is the fact that Thor has his name — not even his logo, just his name — written on the front of his helmet.
You know, as a backup, in case you missed the one on the chest. We criticize, but Ben Cooper was all about helping kids avoid those awkard “and who are you supposed to be?” conversations.
Next up, we have another one of this year’s box office stars, Green Lantern…
…and there is nothing about this costume that isn’t absolutely terrible.
For starters, we have what I’m going to go ahead and guess is a drawing made by someone who traced Gil Kane’s art with a crayon, which makes it look like Hal Jordan is crawling out of a child’s torso like a Kuato with a magic ring, and also the child has Hal Jordan’s head. I’ll be honest with you, guys, I haven’t read a whole lot of Green Lantern, but I am reasonably sure that’s not what it’s about.
That black cat on the box, though, is a pretty sweet bit of art.
Sticking with the cinematic theme, we move onto the most lovable whistle factory in the whole Star Wars franchise, R2-D2:
Before you judge this one too harshly, consider that it was made for toddlers. Because that’s what you want to do with a two year old: Wrap him up in something that looks like it’s probably more flammable than an actual bucket of gasoline, and then cover his face in whatever fume-spewing chrome paint they had at down at the costume refinery. Just sayin’, I can see the standards they had for appearance, and it doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence that “not spontaneously bursting into flames it rubbed against a sidewalk” was high on their list of concerns.
Anyway, enough speculation. What really confuses me about this costume is that the mask is roughly — very roughly — R2-D2-shaped, and since it’s the only part of the costume that even makes an attempt at looking like what it’s supposed to be, you’re basically just wearing a costume on your head. Your face is R2-D2, floating over a picture of himself, somehow levitating a bag of candy down the block.
That said, if the next inevitable round of special editions replaced all the droids and Chewbaccas with dudes in these costumes, I would buy a copy for every person I know.
Moving down the small string, we have Isis:
Considering how miserably they treated the Star Wars characters, it’s pretty astonishing that Isis, a relatively minor TV character who would go on to appear in DC Comics, managed to land a costume that’s pretty decent. In Ben Cooper terms, I mean; this thing definitely still looks like a tablecloth from Wendy’s than the toga it’s supposed to be, but it’s at least sort of close.
The only big bit of weirdness here is the glowing red Isis that appears to burst forth from the costume’s womb, which…. Man, I don’t even know about the ’70s anymore. Was it all just Alien and Ziggy Stardust back then? Because that is what this costume is telling me.
Probably best to move on to The Green Hornet…
…and I have to say: Well done, Ben Cooper! This one actually looks a lot less like a mysteriously masked janitor than I expected. The detail on the “suit jacket” is pulled off pretty nicely, the mask actually looks like a human being and not some misshapen thing lurching out of the dead city of Rl’yeh, and even the mandatory logo on the chest is a lot less obtrusive than usual. Throw a bathrobe on top of this thing to represent the Green Hornet’s coat, and you’ve actually got something pretty decent!
You know, maybe I’ve been a little too hard on these costumes. They were made to be cheap, after all, and a few bad ones are bound to slip through. Maybe this one is where it all turns around!
Surely this level of quality will continue with Spock!
Yeah. Looks like I was right about these things after all.
Of all the flaws with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Spock dressing like a dystopian future breakdancer with a pink halo emerging from his junk was not one of them.
Let’s move on to She-Hulk:
Shulkie here is the only mask I’ve seen from the old Ben Cooper costumes that actually uses hair — or whatever that stuff is — rather than just making it out of plastic. It strokes me as pretty odd that She-Hulk of all characters is where they’d make the attempt, but it’s pretty clear from looking at this one why they didn’t stick with it. And the fact that they mixed it in with hair that’s drawn onto her forehead doesn’t really help matters either.
Next up, Mr. Fantastic:
This…This isn’t really bad, so much as it’s just chock full of some weird choices. For starters, there’s the mask, which for some reason beyond all comprehension gave Reed Richards a silver domino mask that looks more than anything else like Stephen Colbert at Mardi Gras.
The weirdest part, though, and the thing that actually freaks me right the hell out, are the legs. I’m not even sure why you’d print legs on a costume in the first place, let alone legs that were drawn to be both oddly skinny and too small for the boots they have them going into. Why are they so emaciated? Why did they go out of their way to draw attention to that fact? Seriously, those aren’t Mr. Fantastic’s legs, they’re Judge Death’s, and I am legitimately creeped out right now.
Finally, we have another costume that you might actually see show up on your doorstep this year: Captain America’s old foe, The Red Skull:
I have to admit, I’ve got some mixed feelings on this one, and not just because the mask is actually pretty awesome. On the one hand, this costume has the same problem that every Ben Cooper has, in that the Red Skull didn’t usually walk around in a bright yellow t-shirt with a picture of himself on it. But on the other hand, what, do I actually want to see an eight year-old in a historically accurate Nazi uniform? No. No I do not.
Although, now that I’m thinking of it, even an inaccurate Red Skull costume is still dressing up as a Nazi, and that raises an entirely different set of questions about just who was out there buying this thing for their kids. No wonder the Peanuts gang stuck to sheets with eye-holes.
So thank you, Ben Cooper Incorporated, for thirty years of making us wonder just what the hell Halloween was all about, anyway.