The Bootleg Files: Halloween Safety

BOOTLEG FILES 611: “Halloween Safety” (1977 educational film).

LAST SEEN: A copy can be found on several online video sites.


REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: It fell through the cracks.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Unlikely as a standalone work.

It’s a little easy to dump on the old-time educational films. These works were shot on shoestring budgets and aimed at school children in a less sophisticated era, so the financial and intellectual poverty of these productions immediately disqualifies them from being taken seriously as cinematic art.

But not all educational films deserve to be treated with scorn. A 1977 effort called “Halloween Safety” has a weird charm about it, offering a generous serving of sincerity with a dash of unusual (but well-intended) advice.

The film’s opening credits calls immediate attention to unusual professional credentials: the adviser on the film is credited as Richard C. Clement, the chief of police in Tom’s River, New Jersey, and the past president of the International Association of Police Chiefs. This notable law enforcement professional is the only behind-the-camera individual to receive on-screen attribution – and, sadly, Chief Clement never gets a chance to make his acting debut here.

Instead, we find ourselves with a group of children who are dressed up for their annual trick-or-treat odyssey on Halloween night. The film focuses on one girl who is wearing a plastic witch’s mask and a witch’s costume, complete with a broom. The narrator, a woman with a firm matronly voice, warns the viewer that the girl is “taking some frightening chances of getting hurt” because of the problems related to her costume, adding that her get-up is “very, very dangerous.”

What’s so bad about the costume that it rates two “verys” instead of just one? For starters, the witch mask has tiny eye holes, which the narrator insists makes it difficult for the girl to see through. The camera cuts to quick POV shot from the girl’s perspective – she can see straight ahead, but her peripheral vision is blocked and the full scope of the surroundings can only be absorbed by repeated head turning. The POV shot then shows an unexpected car barreling at the child, but thankfully there is no impact. The girl’s mask also prevents her from glancing down, resulting in her falling off a curb and spilling all of her candy into the street. Then, a second car comes along and nearly runs over the girl. Too bad Chief Clement or one of his officers isn’t out directing traffic that night.

Then, the black garment and hat worn by the girl is faulted by the narrator because it does not stand out in the dark street, thus making the girl an easy target for a car. The girl makes it across the street and falls again, due to the length of the witch’s robe and the cumbersome broom she is carrying. “It seems that she’s collecting more bumps and bruises than candy tonight,” the narrator observes with slight condescension. The angry girl then kicks her broom and pulls off her mask with the same level of fury that Herbert Lom displayed when he unmasked himself at the conclusion of the 1962 “Phantom of the Opera.”

From here, “Halloween Safety” shows the viewer the smart way to prepare for October 31. We’re in the girl’s home and her mother, who is wearing the Dorothy Hamill-style hairdo that half of the white women in the mid-70s sported. Mom pulls out some safety pins to shorten the witch’s garment, then sticks the broom in a vice to shorten it with a saw. (Looks like Mom is a Bob Vila fan!) The narrator suggests a cardboard broom as being safer before adding that no broom was truly needed.

The narrator then recommends changing the costume’s color from black to white, with red reflective tape wrapped across the girl’s upper torso like a St. Andrew’s cross. The mask’s eye holes are widened, but Mom is unhappy and allows the girl to paint her face with make-up. The girl then joins her costumed friends in the living room, where everyone is gorging on Halloween candy.

The rest of the film offers pointers on how to behave when trick-or-treating, with tips about staying in one’s neighborhood and avoiding homes where you don’t know the residents. Apparently, the trick aspect of trick-or-treat needs to be considered, as the kids in this film are pressed by their candy philanthropists to tell jokes before getting their goodies. (“Where does Dracula keep his money? In a blood bank!”) The narrator also reminds the viewers that there are some weirdos out there, so all Halloween candy should be inspected thoroughly before consumed.

“Halloween Safety” was produced by Centron Educational Films, an operation out of Lawrence, Kansas, that churned out dozens of non-theatrical shorts distributed to schools across the country. Most of their films have zero name recognition, but they have great titles: “Bananas: Gold From the Tropics,” “Cindy Goes to a Party,” “How Plants Reproduce” and “The Low Countries: Very Much Alive” are some of their offerings.

One individual at the company, a principal director named Herk Harvey, gained B-movie immortality by creating the 1962 feature “Carnival of Souls” during a three-week sabbatical from his educational film output. It is not certain if Harvey played any role in the creation of “Halloween Safety.”

“Halloween Safety” was a popular title in the Centron canon, and in 1985 the company did a “second edition” remake that covered the dangers in carving pumpkins and dressing like a robot. That film offered an animated talking jack-o’-lantern as the narrator rather than a smarty-pants off-screen lady.

To date, this film has never been released in any commercial home entertainment format. “Halloween Safety” is copyright protected, but unauthorized postings can be found on YouTube, Vimeo and – which is a treat for those interested in vintage educational films, but a crummy trick on the film’s current copyright owners.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

Listen to “The Online Movie Show with Phil Hall” on SoundCloud, with new episodes every Monday.