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18 Terrifying Old Costumes You Can't Unsee

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Costumes were scarier back in the day. They just were. Back before Halloween was sexy, before it was owned by Disney, back before everyone realized you’ll still get candy no matter how little effort you put into your costume. Here are 18 costume ideas, each offering its own bit of advice on how to add some horrible to your Halloween.

1. Never Underestimate the Terror of a Filthy, Gleeful Smile.

He puts the laughter in manslaughter.

2. Clowns Are Scarier without Rainbow Wigs.

“My head handle is prettier than your head handle.”

3. When seeking to inspire terror, quantity is quality.

“Might I call your attention to the center ring, where our Circus of the Damned performers are currently gathering to eat your souls!”

4. Ladies, put some effort into those “sexy” costumes. They can be terrifying.

“Helloooooo! My eyes are up h-… oh, nevermind. You’re good.”

5. Your costume need not be elaborate, as long as you include a giant rat accessory.

I like to think the rat is nuzzling her, not sinking its gnarled teeth into her still beating heart. But really it should be doing neither.

6. There is nothing so innocence-shattering as homemade versions of copyrighted characters.

Mickey hates to see Minnie go, but he loves to watch her walk away, in these costumes from 1931.

7. A ruffly collar and cute whisker are the only differences between a cute little kitty cat and a demon hobgoblin.

The original Grumpy Cat, from 1924, would like to talk to you about these boxes of raisins you’ve been handing out.

8. Twins are always scary. So anywhere you go from there is a guaranteed horror.

“Hey sailor, have you ever had two nightmares at the same time?”

9. Blunt objects for wielding are the perfect addition to a minimalist costume.

Vintage.es

What Death lacks in stature he makes up for in determination.

10. Sometimes depressing people is more effective than just scaring them.

Long before “Sexy” Owl and “Sexy” Pumpkin, there was…the earnest creativity brought forth by heart-rending poverty.

11. Don’t be afraid to explore other cultures' nightmares for costume inspiration.

They won’t get off the porch. I bet you wish you’d installed that newfangled telephone now.

12. Wheels may be added to the beds of sick children. Just so you know.

Before there was Make-A-Wish, there was Scream-A-Prayer—at least for the kids visiting this clown hospital in 1924.

13. Wear the head of an actual dead animal. You win.

Enjoy your breakfast? Good. Now Mr. Truffles would like a word with you.

14. If done correctly, affection can be creepier than violence.

I never realized how not horrifying the 1939 movie versions of the Tin Man and Scarecrow were, at least when compared to their 1902 counterparts.

15. Sometimes it’s ok to just sit back and let the paper-mache do the terrorizing for you.

“Little Halloween People.” I offer no jokes here. Only prayers.

16. Let your costume tell a story. One that involves meat hooks and butcher knives.

“The Author in Fancy Dress as a Side of Bacon.”

17. Try and capture unique emotions on your mask. Tenacity. Curiosity. Reverence. Cramps.

They clawed their way out of the pits of hell, the least you can do is give ‘em a Snickers bar. Besides, it’s not like you have a choice.

18. It's those guys from the tire commercials.

Well I don’t know about you, but I suddenly want to buy tires. Certainly not run, run far and hard until the very air is like daggers in my lungs. Nope. Just some tires, please!

Photos found on Pinterest unless otherwise noted.

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10 Regional Twists on Trick-or-Treating
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Walk around any given American neighborhood on the night of October 31, and you’ll likely hear choruses of "trick-or-treat" chiming through the area. The sing-songy phrase is synonymous with Halloween in some parts of the world, but it's not the only way kids get sweets from their neighbors this time of year. From the Philippines to the American Midwest, here are some regional door-to-door traditions you may not have heard of.

1. PANGANGALULUWA // THE PHILIPPINES

Rice cakes wrapped in leaves.
Suman

The earliest form of trick-or-treating on Halloween can be traced back to Europe in the Middle Ages. Kids would don costumes and go door-to-door offering prayers for dead relatives in exchange for snacks called "soul cakes." When the cake was eaten, tradition held that a soul was ferried from purgatory into heaven. Souling has disappeared from Ireland and the UK, but a version of it lives on halfway across the world in the Philippines. During All Saints Day on November 1, Filipino children taking part in Pangangaluluwa will visit local houses and sing hymns for alms. The songs often relate to souls in purgatory, and carolers will play the part of the souls by asking for prayers. Kids are sometimes given rice cakes called suman, a callback to the soul cakes from centuries past.

2. PÃO-POR-DEUS // PORTUGAL

Raw dough.
iStock

Instead of trick-or-treating, kids in Portugal go door-to-door saying pão-por-deus ("bread for god") in exchange for goodies on All Saints Day. Some homeowners give out money or candy, while others offer actual baked goods.

3. HALLOWEEN APPLES // WESTERN CANADA

Kids trick-or-treating.
iStock

If they're not calling out "trick-or-treat" on their neighbors’ doorsteps on Halloween night, you may hear children in western Canada saying "Halloween apples!" The phrase is left over from a time when apples were a common Halloween treat and giving out loose items on the holiday wasn't considered taboo.

4. ST. MARTIN'S DAY // THE NETHERLANDS

The Dutch wait several days after Halloween to do their own take on trick-or-treating. On the night of November 11, St. Martin's Day, children in the Netherlands take to the streets with their homemade lanterns in hand. These lanterns were traditionally carved from beets or turnips, but today they’re most commonly made from paper. And the kids who partake don’t get away with shouting a few words at each home they visit—they’re expected to sing songs to receive their sugary rewards.

5. A PENNY FOR THE GUY // THE UK

Guy Fawkes Night celebration.

Peter Trimming, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

Guy Fawkes Night is seen by some as the English Protestants’ answer to the Catholic holidays associated with Halloween, so it makes sense that it has its own spin on trick-or-treating. November 5 marks the day of Guy Fawkes’s failed assassination attempt on King James as part of the Gunpowder Plot. To celebrate the occasion, children will tour the neighborhood asking for "a penny for the guy." Sometimes they’ll carry pictures of the would-be-assassin which are burned in the bonfires lit later at night.

6. TRICKS FOR TREATS // ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI

Kids knocking on a door in costume.
iStock

If kids in the St. Louis area hope to go home with a full bag of candy on Halloween, they must be willing to tickle some funny bones. Saying "tricks-for-treats" followed by a joke replaces the classic trick-or-treat mantra in this Midwestern city. There’s no criteria for the quality or the subject of the joke, but spooky material (What’s a skeleton’s favorite instrument? The trombone!) earns brownie points.

7. ME DA PARA MI CALAVERITA // MEXICO

Sugar skulls with decoration.
iStock

While Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is completely separate from Halloween, the two holidays share a few things in common. Mexicans celebrate the day by dressing up, eating sweet treats, and in some parts of the country, going house-to-house. Children knocking on doors will say "me da para mi calaverita" or "give me money for my little skull," a reference to the decorated sugar skulls sold in markets at this time of year.

8. HALLOWEEN! // QUEBEC, CANADA

Kids dressed up for Halloween.
iStock

Trick-or-treaters like to keep things simple in the Canadian province of Quebec. In place of the alliterative exclamation, they shout “Halloween!” at each home they visit. Adults local to the area might remember saying "la charité s’il-vous-plaît "(French for “charity, please”) when going door-to-door on Halloween, but this saying has largely fallen out of fashion.

9. SWEET OR SOUR // GERMANY

Little girl trick-or-treating.
iStock

Halloween is only just beginning to gain popularity in Germany. Where it is celebrated, the holiday looks a lot like it does in America, but Germans have managed to inject some local character into their version of trick-or-treat. In exchange for candy, kids sometimes sing out "süß oder saures"—or "sweet and sour" in English.

10. TRIQUI, TRIQUI HALLOWEEN // COLOMBIA

Kids dressed up for Halloween.
Rubí Flórez, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Kids in Colombia anticipate dressing up and prowling the streets on Halloween just as much as kids do in the States. There are a few significant variations on the annual tradition: Instead of visiting private residencies, they're more likely to ask for candy from store owners and the security guards of apartment buildings. And instead of saying trick-or-treat, they recite this Spanish rhyme:

Triqui triqui Halloween
Quiero dulces para mí
Si no hay dulces para mí
Se le crece la naríz

In short, it means that if the grownups don't give the kids the candy they're asking for, their noses will grow. Tricky, tricky indeed

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10 Regional Twists on Trick-or-Treating
Original image
iStock

Walk around any given American neighborhood on the night of October 31, and you’ll likely hear choruses of "trick-or-treat" chiming through the area. The sing-songy phrase is synonymous with Halloween in some parts of the world, but it's not the only way kids get sweets from their neighbors this time of year. From the Philippines to the American Midwest, here are some regional door-to-door traditions you may not have heard of.

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