Ol’ Bug Eyes Is Back
By Jonathan Crimmins
Years ago, my “big brother” and I used to host a Halloween party for the Big Brothers Association. In addition to selecting all of the horror movies, supplying the bulk of the decorations and coming up with various activities for the children to do, I also made sure to have some comedy sketches I could perform to keep people entertained whenever a tape was rewinding in the VCR. Oh yes, this was well before DVDs had become the format of choice. One year, I came up with doing a performance involving a mad scientist transforming in the style of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I had a lab coat, “secret chemicals” (vinegar and baking soda) and even faux lab equipment. The only thing I needed was a monster mask.
When I had performed a similar routine at a neighborhood haunted house, I had used a simple cardboard ogre mask that had been punched out of a book. However, I thought that would be too childish this time around. Although many of the attendees would be young, they wouldn’t be that young. Well, that, and the fact that I had long since lost both the mask and the book it came from. I wanted a rubber mask; something that I could quickly pull over my head while I was under the table pretending to transform. As long as the timing was right and the tablecloth stayed in place, it would be perfect. Sadly, I didn’t have many masks of my own at the time. Pretending to be Mr. Hyde while wearing a Frankenstein’s monster mask would have looked stupid. The only solution would be for me to buy a new mask.
Since money was especially tight back then, my options were very limited. Especially since the party would take place well before Halloween, which would prevent me from partaking in any after Halloween clearance sales. My search for a new mask had led me through many stores that October, but my journey ended at the then-new local Family Dollar. Although they offered several masks for price that fit my low budget, most of the masks wouldn’t suit my purposes. Then I saw it! It was a monster that was both vaguely humanoid and canine, with an upturned nose and a snarling mouth full of sharp (rubber) teeth. Its piercing green eyes bulged out of their sockets, while the rest of the face was mostly yellow with some brown highlights. Rather than being held in place with an elastic string of some sort, there was a black cloth hood. Sure, the bulging eyes looked comical and both the eye and mouth slits were obvious, but I figured that was probably for the best since I was performing for a crowd that would largely consist of children. I wanted to surprise them, not terrify them.
The big day had finally arrived and the party was in full swing. Movies were watched, pizza was devoured and much fun was had by all. But while the previous film in the schedule was rewinding, it soon became clear that both adults and children alike had grown bored chatting or doing arts and crafts during the breaks. It was time. I came out dressed in full mad scientist gear and wordlessly started setting up all of my equipment on a table. After everything was in place, I turned around and dramatically addressed the audience about a new scientific discovery I was going to share with them. I went through my spiel even while mixing the vinegar and baking soda, holding the beaker high so that all could see it bubble and foam. Then I pretended to take a sip. I acted normal at first, setting down the beaker and started to continue my little lecture, but then I pretended to choke. Clutching at my throat, I threw myself under the table and made various gasping and choking noises, even going so far as to kick the tablecloth to imply a violent struggle. Then…silence. What the audience didn’t know was that I had hidden a mask under my bulky sweatshirt while they were busy watching the movie. Sliding it on (after removing my “nerd glasses,” of course) and rolling back out, I popped up from behind the table and growled. Then I announced the next movie in a raspy voice and things continued from there. It admittedly wasn’t much, but it killed a few minutes and didn’t seem to bore anyone. Come to think of it, it also foreshadowed the other mad scientist comedy sketches that I performed in later years. All in all, I’d call it a success.
I didn’t make much use of the mask after that. While its cheap, ridiculous look was fine for the sketch, it didn’t fit in with the realistic look I prefer in my Halloween displays. So it stayed on a shelf in my closet for a few years, stuffed with old clothes to help keep its shape. I once pulled it out to use as a model for my attempt to draw a spooky portrait, but my drawing skills leave much to be desired and the project was dropped. I later got the idea to use it as a pneumatic pop-up behind a fake tombstone on Halloween. After all, it was cheap enough so that I wouldn’t be too annoyed if it was damaged or stolen. But I didn’t have the necessary skills (or parts) for such a project and the idea was abandoned.
I had largely forgotten the mask until I signed up for a trip to Salem, Massachusetts as a college freshman. Hearing that attending one or more haunted attractions was on the agenda, I knew what I had to do. Needing a mask that could theoretically take some punishment from being hidden throughout the day, I opted to use the bug-eyed mask again. This time around, I opted to wrap it in a windbreaker and carry both in a plastic shopping bag. If anyone asked, I explained that I wanted a jacket in case it got cold later and didn’t feel like wearing it now. Besides acting as cover for my mask, donning the windbreaker would allow me to be less recognizable than I would if I had simply leapt out at them in a mask and the exact same clothes everyone would see me wearing throughout the trip. So all I had to do was wait for an opportunity to pull my prank. In the meantime, I struck up some conversations during the bus ride there and generally enjoyed myself as we all saw the sights and ate out. When it started getting dark, I casually suggested that we should try visiting one of Salem’s numerous haunted houses after dinner. The group agreed that the idea sounded fun and we were on our way.
As it turns out, going to a haunted house in a large group isn’t an ideal situation if you’re a haunt enthusiast. If you’re not at the front, you’re going to miss the vast majority of the scares. Thankfully, I managed to work my way to the front. Not only could I actually enjoy what was going on, but now I could scout out an opportunity to break away from the group. After a few more scares, it became clear that we were coming towards the end of the haunt. I quickly took the opportunity to slip away from the rest of my fellow tourists while everyone was disoriented by the flashing lights and fog in the room we were in. After a quick trip through a dark hallway, I found myself back outside. After getting the okay from one of the employees keeping watch for anyone trying to sneak in through the back, I quickly donned my disguise. I even went as far as to stash the plastic bag in my back pocket after I managed to secure hiding place. It didn’t have to wait long for the rest of the group to come pouring out of the haunted house. That’s when I made my move. While surprised by the hooded figure jumping out at them and yelling “Boo,” they weren’t scared at all. Oh well. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, given my choice of goofy mask and brightly colored windbreaker. Looking back, I should have bought one of those skintight nylon masks or “invisible ghoul”masks and a cheap black poncho instead. That way, I could have kept both hidden in my pocket and looked scarier. However, what really surprised them was how I immediately ripped off my mask and quipped, “Took you guys long enough.” They honestly thought I was just another employee until I had revealed myself. We all had a good laugh over that. But not as good as the laugh we had when someone asked “Wait, you had that mask the whole time?” And wouldn’t you know it, the weather actually got chilly enough to make me glad I had brought along the windbreaker!