Make a cup of coffee, fire up the 56k modem and settle in for another edition of Halloween on the Ancient Internet. If you missed the first edition, I dove into the depths of the Internet Archive to rescue little slices of Halloween goodness from the late ‘90s and early 2000s.
This time, we’re visiting the ghosts of Robert Stack, Hollywood Video and Spyro the Dragon.
Al Gore: The Pumpkin Stencil?
The Pumpkin Masters company — makers of all manner of carving and decorating kits — is alive and well, and it’s neat how their current website feels like a natural evolution of this 2000 version.
That was an election year, of course, and Pumpkin Masters grabbed headlines by offering free stencils based on then-candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush. If you can figure out how to print them at proper sizes, here’s Al and here’s George. In pumpkin stencil form, they look like maps of fictional lands from Game of Thrones.
A Very Hershey’s Halloween!
In October of 2000, Hershey’s went all-in on Halloween, constructing a separate site filled with everything from spooky screensavers to trick-or-treat safety tips. Simple as it seems, this was really something at the time.
I plucked out a few of my favorite bits, starting with that section for Hershey’s Playstation Tip Cards. Kids could trade proofs-of-purchase for gorgeous castle-shaped folders, stuffed with what were essentially Playstation phone cards. Then they’d call in for free tips on, I dunno, MediEvil II or whatever.
My favorite part of the site listed all of that year’s Halloween-themed Hershey’s candies. Most of it has since been discontinued, at least in fun-sized form. (Pour one out for Reese’s Bites, which were tiny chocolate orbs filled with peanut butter. They were excellent with ice cream, especially if your goal was to gain 20 pounds in 5 minutes.)
I’m struck by how “1990s” all of those packages look, though I suppose it makes sense given that the 2000s were only ten months old. I don’t know how to describe the aesthetic other than “less Target, more pharmacy-up-the-street.”
If you think this doesn’t look “snazzy” enough to have been Unsolved Mysteries’ official site, remember that the screenshot is from *1996*, when having any web presence at all was ahead of the curve.
We tend to think of Unsolved Mysteries as an ‘80s show, but the original version actually lasted through 2002. In 1996, Robert Stack delegated some of the hosting duties to Keely Shaye Smith, who mostly tacked updates onto segments Stack had already filmed years prior.
In April of ‘96, the show was in its eighth season. Though it was starting to feel less like “classic” Unsolved Mysteries by then, that season did include a few gems. (For instance, the eighth season featured the chupacabra, which according to Unsolved Mysteries looked like the lovechild of Donatello and Kamen Rider.)
The website was more informational than in-your-face, and especially by ‘96 standards was a great resource for cases that deserved attention. Everyone’s a detective on today’s internet, but back then, this page would’ve had the only search matches for tons of those cases.
Yahoo Halloween Greetings!
Man, Yahoo used to be such a force. It was the default homepage for many folks who were only just beginning to “log on,” but even people who lived on the internet — like me — used it for something or another.
Yahoo Greetings were huge at the time. They were e-cards before we even had a name for them. In October of 2001, Yahoo built a special section for their Halloween-themed greetings, featuring all sorts of low-fi clipart. Halloween didn’t feel like Halloween until Grandma mailed you a breakdancing skeleton that somehow made her “think of you.”
It’s another example of how the internet made Halloween bigger than it’d ever been before. Suddenly there were so many new “Halloween things” to do, and more resources than we could ever hope to peruse. I’m luckily (and also very unluckily) old enough to appreciate that.
Hollywood Video’s Halloween Deal!
I’m so charmed by this! In October of 2000, Hollywood Video’s “Scary Special” let you create the perfect Halloween experience for just $9.99. You’d get two video rentals, two bags of popcorn and your choice of soda and candy. (Their example used Pepsi and Sour Patch Kids, both in now-antiquated packaging.)
It sounds like no big deal, but this would’ve been all the encouragement I needed to stage my own little Halloween movie night. Back then, it wasn’t like I had much else to do on October 31st, anyway. Probably woulda rented Scary Movie and Final Destination, and swapped that Pepsi for the diet version so I could feel less bad about eating two bags of popcorn by myself.
These days I own multiple devices that can each summon hundreds of horror movies with the push of a button. Hell, last night I threw on Child’s Play 3, simply because I was able to do that by literally moving one arm six inches to the left. All that said, I’ll forever miss browsing video stores and playing games of chance with the box art. Wasn’t that the fun part, anyway?
Thanks for reading. Another edition of Halloween on the Ancient Internet is coming soon!