Home Commentary Masks and Malachi: Why 1980s Halloween Was Traumatically Terrific

Masks and Malachi: Why 1980s Halloween Was Traumatically Terrific

Dana Hof's Great-Grandmother dressed as a witch for Halloween in the late 70s/early 80s.

There are two groups of people who know who Malachi is: teenagers from 1984 and every therapist I’ve ever had. 


I’ll never forget it for as long as I live. I was sound asleep on the couch and my teenage cousins  rented “Children of the Corn.” I have no memory of the next 10 years of my childhood due to the trauma I suffered from waking up and convincing myself that a silhouette of a butcher knife was backlit by the green numbers on the VCR player. 

Anything in my life goes wrong…Malachi, Isaac, and Children of the Corn are responsible. It’s science. 

Spooky Season was very traumatizing in the 80s. We didn’t have cool AI-generated special effects and real-life scenarios. Instead, we relied on changing the DNA structure of our grandchildren by creating a psychiatric black hole that left us with generalized anxiety disorder and an unhealthy fear of basements. 

The scarier the better. 

This current generation would probably watch our scary movies and yawn, but y’all don’t know the grip Michael Myers, Jack Torrance, Carrie White, and Carol Anne Freeling had on us. 

After we were done binging on things straight out of the DSM, we’d go through a Heaven N Hell house and lay awake for 15 consecutive nights considering our eternal fate. Kirk Cameron is gone and I’m still here. It’s fine, we’re fine, I’m fine.

I developed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and stranger danger paranoia. But don’t mind me. 

For two Halloweens I dressed as a “hobo” complete with a red bandana on a stick and three years as a witch. Professional makeup videos to make your 10-year-old appear to have the actual scales of mermaid skin? No sis. Toxic green face makeup smeared on with your fingers, some Wet ’N Wild black eyeliner for accents, and a used witches hat with a Sugar Daddy peeled off the rim from last year.

If you were fancy and had access to the Marts (Magic, K, or Wal) you might get a suffocating plastic mask adhered to your face with a nice, snappy piece of elastic to stretch across your cheekbones, leaving an indention. Don’t worry, your oxygen sats will drop to 87% and your Hershey’s will be laced with cocaine and razorblades, but you’ll look like He-Man or the Princess of Power! Happy Halloween!

Swoosh-swoosh-swoosh into the night you and your imprinted yellow trash bag go! No parents needed! Just race around in the dark with little Timmy from next door.

The author in her sweatastic, suffocating, and ever so authentic Minnie Mouse costume circa 1981.

Avoid anyone with a switchblade and come home when people start turning the lights out! Fresh popcorn balls at the blue house with the lady who smells like Pine-Sol! Yum. (Insert side eye)

We Gen Xers were pretty sure everyone had a switchblade in their pocket. 

I had one for sure. It was as cool as I was – you flicked it out and bam…a hair comb. It came in handy if there was ever a situation for imitating Ponyboy Curtis. This never happened to me in my life, but I had my handy switchblade comb just in case. And then, if you were being followed, you could expose the switchblade and whisper to your friends, “What? It could be a real switchblade. They don’t know it’s a comb.” Sure, Stacie…of course they don’t.

Anyway, back to my Halloween trauma.

It’s funny that after all of that, I would love the holiday so much now. The Internet armchair psychologists would probably say I have a trauma bond with Halloween. But what I really have a bond with is fun, connection, and some really great memories. 

These days, trauma doesn’t come from made-up things – our world is full of things scarier than Poltergeist. As much as it may feel weird to celebrate and carry on while surrounded by loss, grief, and exhaustion, it may be the best thing for us. The fatigue of controversy on the tail of a pandemic has taken its toll on us all. And we seem to cope by going inward, losing ourselves in mind-numbing doom scrolling and cynicism.

When I see my young kids doing something really simple and getting a big kick out of it, I love to exclaim, “It doesn’t take much!” Of course, it’s said in kind of a sarcastic way, but the same is true for us. 

It really doesn’t take much. 

Fun holidays don’t remove pain, heartache, or suffering and sometimes it can feel wrong to enjoy something so frivolous, with more important things happening in the world. 

But holidays and traditions are important. Relieving stress and connecting with others is essential to our health. Taking a break for fun allows our bodies to rest and inspires creativity. The rest gives us enough margin for hope and positivity and creativity fuels our optimism and excitement for the future.

I’ve linked over 100 creative costume ideas to get you started here.

So dress up all the way or throw on a funny hat, laugh, enjoy some treats, visit with your neighbors, and keep your traditions going.

For a night or two, it’s time we had some fun again.

And just maybe the weight of the world will be a little lighter when you have to pick it up again.