This is going to be one of the shorter Halloween Countdown entries, but make no mistake, today’s subject means as much to me as anything else I’ve covered.
From 1988, it’s the famous/infamous Chamber of Horrors cassette, which I’m sure will be immediately recognizable to a fair chunk of you. “Halloween sound effect tapes” were October mainstays at card stores and bric-a-brac shops, but this specific one REALLY got around.
Since a relative few used the tapes for any on-the-nose purpose, I can’t accurately claim that they were “necessities” of their era. Still, we all had them. Even if you didn’t have this one, I’m sure you had one like it. And if you were anything like me, you devised some pretty strange uses for it.
By and large, tapes like these included one long string of — for lack of a better term — Halloween garbage. Music mixed with howls mixed with creeping door sound effects. Flapping bat wings, ominous moans and rattling chains. Things like that.
There were two primary purposes for them. One, you could throw it on as background noise at a Halloween party. Two, you could blast it from your porch to give the decorations on your front lawn a boost of audible spookiness. (Just by looking at this tape, so many memories of cardboard graveyards come flooding back.)
I bought this cassette a while back, confident that it was the same one I grew up with, but not positive. As soon as I listened to the first five seconds, I knew I had the right tape.
I’ve uploaded the tape in its entirety; you can listen to it above.
Opening with some Thriller-esque music, the tape is a horrific hodgepodge of EVERYTHING. Every cheesy Halloween sound effect you can think of is in there. There are animals, ghouls, screams and maniacal laughs. There’s also plenty of music, ranging from “appropriate” to “why is this on my Halloween tape?”
But there’s one element in particular that I’ve never forgotten: The creepy guy who says “HAPPY HALLOWEEN” at random intervals, and with various inflections. Holy cow, that guy!
I was weird about music as a kid. Even if I liked certain pop artists, buying or even asking for their albums made me feel incredibly awkward. I’d say I don’t know why, but even as adults, we’re quick to judge people based on what kind of music they listen to. Surely there have been times when you’ve determined the entire value of someone based solely on their favorite band. It’s stupid, but we’re human. Since the first CD I can remember buying was the Star Wars soundtrack, you can understand my youthful hesitance to enter that arena.
Because of that, Chamber of Horrors was one of the few tapes I owned, and for some reason, the one I was most comfortable playing on a device that other people could hear. And not just during Halloween, either. All year long, my poor family would suffer through it. I played it like it was real, regular music. At bedtime, this ridiculous mash of spooky sounds became my white noise.
So how did tapes like these come into our lives? Well, I don’t think it was always premeditated. It just worked out that every card store and pharmacy had them, and as kids during the Halloween season, those were the premiere places to get our candy, get our costumes and just get our general Halloween fix. I guess we bought them (we made our parents buy them) because we already had enough fun-sized Snickers and cheap plastic hockey masks.
We also bought them because the art was incredible. Whether on the package or directly on the cassette sticker, we wanted them as much for how they looked as for how they were promised to sound. The art had the same sensibilities of a carnival dark ride: Quick, colorful, exaggerated, and somehow disturbing.
But the best thing about them? They inspired us to get creative and do more Halloween things. I mean, you had a tape with a bunch of cackling witches and dying dogs on it. You had to use it for something Halloweeny, right? Suddenly, and all because of those tapes, our collective interest in costume parties and outdoor decor hit a fever pitch.
Maybe some of you were even inspired to create your own little haunted attractions? Hey, in the classic Roseanne episode where the Conners do just that, you’ll recall that a similar cassette provided by Jackie was the driving force. (I formerly believed that Jackie’s tape was the one I had, but no, it was definitely this one.)
My fondest memory of this cassette is the ridiculous Halloween talk show my friend and I recorded with my parents’ ancient, clunky video camera. I don’t remember many specifics beyond us sitting against my white bedroom wall and modeling rubber masks, but I’ll never forget the loooong portion where we played this entire tape and just sat there making stupid faces. It increased our running time to episode length, sure, but even we couldn’t sit through the thing when playing it back.
(Note: There were many versions of these tapes, and even more than one version of this specific cassette. Another had The Haunting on Side A, a ghost story narrated by someone who I’m guessing did a shaky Vincent Price impression.)
In a quiet way, this tape was as important an ingredient to my personal Halloween “soup” as virtually anything else I can think of. You have to remember, in 2014, Halloween is always at our fingertips. If you want it, you just go online and it’s there, in every form, constantly. Back then, this wasn’t the case — not even during the heat of the season. You could wait for the Charlie Brown special and you could map out your costume, but for the most part, getting your doses of Halloween goodness happened at schedules beyond your control.
Well, not with this tape, and others like it! With these, we could have Halloween fun anytime. Even if all we were doing was playing Nintendo and eating deliciously fry-like Wise Deli potato chips, this tape turned it into a Halloween event. Didn’t matter if it happened in September, October or mid fucking July.