Horror Writers Association Blog

“Cheap Plastic Costumes and My Imagination” By Damian Serbu


As a professionally trained historian come horror writer, I recently reflected on my childhood and what created the writer inside of me. I concluded that some of the imagination that inspired that writer stemmed from my Halloween experiences as a child. So many horror fans loved Halloween growing up, and I was no exception. I thrilled at finding my costume, putting it on that night, and transforming myself into another being, thrusting myself into another reality, with the trick-or-treating as almost an afterthought.

Except, instead of having the time and means to create a fantastical costume and generate a look that transported me to these mysterious and terrifying realms, my reality meant a quick trip to the store, grab something cheap and fast, and get going! I fantasize that many horror enthusiasts spent time crafting the perfect recreation of a villain or monster, then creeping around town to scare everyone. Not my sister and me. Mom and dad both worked, and time was limited, which meant too few hours for costume design and elaborate planning for the kids, too. There was not time to go to the store and gather the goods and make up. Money, too, was often in tight supply. The budget hardly allowed for a lot of props and items to dye, destroy, and blend into a costume just for one night of the year. So what did we do?

We got in the car, usually within a couple days of Halloween to be sure the best costumes were already gone, raced to K-Mart, and ran to the aisle with all the cheap plastic costumes. Picking through what remained, my sister and I never complained or thought twice about the lateness of our costume choosing or the financial reality of it. We just thrilled at the moment. This meant that one year – when I got one of the last Chewbacca costumes! – Becky had to go as Darth Vader instead of Princess Leia because that’s all that was left! Another time, I somehow ended up as Woody Woodpecker. I remember these costumes well: a cheap, plastic molded mask that covered the front of your face with an elastic strap that pinched into the back of your head; a plastic onesie costume that you pulled over your clothes, with a picture of the main character on the front and some color on the legs. Nothing fancy or scary or intimidating. Just quick and easy.

Anyway, what on earth do these quickly bought and inexpensive costumes of my childhood have to do with my writing? Because the description above comes from my adult understanding of the matter. It came from Becky and me reflecting on it now, and teasing my mom about it. We still laugh a lot about the time she had to go as Darth Vader, because it’s not like she was a huge Darth Vader fan, or even that into “Star Wars”! The cheapness and hurried nature exist now, in memory, but not so much then – at least not as the primary thought.

Instead, I also remember the excitement of transforming myself. That simple mask did the trick as much as something elaborate that would have taken days upon days to create. That night long ago, I was Chewbacca. I ran around the neighborhood in a galaxy far, far away. I flew a spaceship. In all of those costumes, my mind transported me to a completely different realm – I could soar away to a fantasy land, to confront a monster, to morph into a cartoon character, or to personify the beast itself. I took what I had at my disposal and made it into something different altogether.

In fact, looking back, rather than any lament about the state of my costumes or reality of our lives and what it meant for Halloween, I think it helped create the writer in me. From the very beginning of my love for Halloween and the spooky, and even before my costumes took on a darker tone, those cheap, plastic, quickly bought costumes from the last that remained inspired the fantasy worlds in my mind. They generated the imagination inside of me that burst forth no matter the mask on my face. Over time, once I got to high school and had time to design something more frightening and then got to help build and run the high school haunted house, that imagination came even more into fruition. And when I finally sat down to begin my writing career, why – I already could fly to a different dominion in a matter of seconds. The world around me changed instantly to a vampire’s castle or a witch’s lair. After all, from a very young age, my Halloween costume demanded that creativity of me.

TODAY’S GIVEAWAY: Damian Serbu is giving away one free e-copy of The Vampire’s Protégé! Comment below or email membership@horror.org with the subject HH Contest Entry for a chance to win.

Bio: Damian Serbu lives in the Chicago area with his husband and two dogs, Akasha and Chewbacca. The dogs control his life, tell him what to write, and threaten to eat him in the middle of the night if he disobeys. He previously authored several novels now out of print, and is excited to reignite his writing with Ninestar Press!  The Vampire’s Protégé is now available! www.DamianSerbu.com

Buy on Amazon:

The Vampire’s Protégé 

The Vampire’s Protégé: A sinister vampire offers Charon a choice he can’t refuse: play a deadly game of winner takes all, losers die. Charon relishes the competition and molds himself into a sexy vampire who defies vampire law, relishes his power, and embraces the role of villain. He also loves surrounding himself with hot young men. But what happens when an alluring vampire stalks him and threatens to turn him into the Vampire Council unless he helps with a seemingly impossible task? Will Charon risk his perfectly narcissistic life on this challenge? Does he have any other choice?

3 comments on ““Cheap Plastic Costumes and My Imagination” By Damian Serbu

  1. I love this story. Aw I think of so many kids whose hearts are alit for Halloween. The poor things. I can relate to that feeling of magic as a kid. I remember because I experienced it myself. Great story

  2. It’s been a long time since I’ve thought of those cheap plastic costumes. My brother and I were a Snoopy and Woodstock duo one year.

    Good post!

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