October 31, 2017

HALLOWEEN TAPE REVIEW #31: The Hallmark Halloween Tapes

Hallmark put out four different Halloween cassettes between 1986 and '89 during the peak of the Halloween cassette trend. The tapes were part of their annual Halloween promotions. For example, if you spent five dollars, you could get a tape for $1.95 (Which really wasn't less than most Halloween cassettes at the time.) The first three releases share a great deal of content (see specifics below) while the '89 release was an all new recording. I have many questions about these tapes, and perhaps the answers rest deep in the Hallmark archives, but for now I'll happily rely on pure speculation.

Title: The Haunting Sounds of Halloween
Manufacturer: Hallmark
Year: 1986
Also popular from Hallmark that year: Black cat and witch Merry Miniatures

Total Runtime: around 60 Min
Repeats on both sides: Yes
Stories: No
Music: Cinematic music, some synth, and some pipe organ music
Narration: No 
Distinct Audio: "Aren't you a little big to be trick or treating?" and other lines of dialogue 
Review: Hallmark has always presented a grandma-friendly version of Halloween that complimented the discount store blood and disfigured monster masks. It often found its way onto teachers' desks and store clerk smocks, and I always welcomed the sight of it. Naturally, their Halloween cassettes follow the same whimsical aesthetic.

Rather than a harrowing soundscape, the Hallmark effects come at you methodically, and with a bit too much dead air in between each noise for my taste. The mood stays tongue-in-cheek as a handful of actors speak comical lines. Most are written to work with a trick or treat porch scenario like: "My, what an ugly costume." and, "Didn't the other kids tell you not to come here?" The effects in between are death-free; instead they focus on things like door hinges and cats.

The Haunting Sounds of Halloween is the rarest of the four Hallmark releases. It was seemingly replaced the same year it came out with The Sounds of Halloween (see below). The assortment of sound effects are almost identical and presented in the same order. The difference is that Haunting Sounds repeatedly plays John Williams' theme to the 1979 version of "Dracula." There's also a synth track that I can't identify (and neither can the Shazam app) which doesn't necessarily sound scary. It reminds me of the beginning of an '80s movie. My sense of wild speculation tells me that the tape was pulled and replaced due to a lack of legal clearance on the music. (The credits only list Paul Whitehead after Music Production.) Was it supposed to be placeholder music, or was this intentional thievery, or just a misunderstanding? The answer to all of those questions is "yes."

Legal or not, The Haunting Sounds of Halloween is well produced and creates an amusing, spooky atmosphere without traumatizing youngsters.
Rating: 4 of 5


Title: The Sounds of Halloween
Manufacturer: Hallmark
Year: 1986
Total Runtime: 37 Min 
Repeats on both sides: No
Stories: No
Music: "Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor," and a bunch of Halloween friendly pop covers. 
Narration: No 
Distinct Audio: See previous review
Review: As mentioned above, the sound effects side of this recording is virtually the same as The Haunting Sounds of Halloween, but without the music (except for good ol' "Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor.") There are also added flourishes to existing sounds (like reverb) and a few added extras, like a monster roar after some dialogue, as well as some general shuffling around. Unfortunately, the edits take a significant bite out of the runtime.

In what may be an effort to make up for this loss, side two is now full of  Halloween party staples: "Ghostbusters," "Monster Mash," "Thriller," "Purple People Eater" and another dose of  Bach. This was probably convenient in the mixtape era, but the downside is that the cover songs are a hollow shell of the original recordings. But that can be entertaining in its own way. The Vincent Price stand-in is delightfully droll, and completely loses track of the rhythm. They made the wise decision not to use a Michael Jackson impersonator, and opted for a female vocalist instead.  Paul Whitehead is once again the music producer so it's nice to know he didn't lose his job after the first album.

Sounds of Halloween suffered a loss after the previous release, but there's some new fun to be had. It's kind of a yin yang situation.
Rating: 3 of 5

Here's the closet that I can find to streaming audio...


Title: Howl-o-ween Sounds
Manufacturer: Hallmark
Year: 1987
Also popular from Hallmark that year: Lapel Pins
Total Runtime: 45 Min
Repeats on both sides: Yes 
Stories: No 
Music: "Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor"
Narration: No 
Distinct Audio: See previous releases 
Review: Howl-o-ween Sounds is easily the worst of the bunch because it includes the neutered effects of The Haunting Sounds of Halloween repeated on both sides. So there's no music at all except of course "Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor " which is a basic human right at this point.

They released it a second time with a different cover, possibly to fill their Halloween tape void in 1988.


Howl-o-ween Sounds wouldn't be so bad if we didn't know what we were missing—but we do.

Rating: 2 of 5

Title: Spooky Sounds
Manufacturer: Hallmark
Year: 1989
Also popular from Hallmark that year: Woodland Merry Miniatures

Total Runtime: 60 Min 
Repeats on both sides: No 
Stories: No 
Music: Incidental music and a collection of spooky pop tracks 
Narration: No 
Distinct Audio: New wacky dialogue 
Review: Three years after their foray into Halloween audio Hallmark must have realized that they had gotten all the mileage they could from The Sounds of Halloween. In 1989 they put together an all new album that follows their well established format of non-threatening sounds paired with kooky dialogue. Some of it is featured in this entertaining video...

They also went back to the half effects/half music model and filled side two with a set of newly recorded cover tunes that include: "The Munsters," "Monster Mash," "The Addams Family," "Ghostbusters," "Twilight Zone," "Dark Shadows," and an original called "Haunting Melody."

With a fresh new tape under their belt they also released a fresh new promotion...

Spooky Sounds is a strong effort that proves that experience, and an ability to learn from one's mistakes can lead to new heights.
Rating: 4 of 5



siys said...

Thank you for the 31 Halloween Tape Reviews. The was quite special and I looked forward to every post. Happy Halloween! Stevo In Yr Stereo of Nightmare City Halloween

Kirk D. said...

Thank you for reading them Siys, and for all of the Halloween recording information that you have unleashed on the web! Here's to a great year in between Halloweens!

Anonymous said...


I can't believe how much stuff you collect. I always enjoy your posts. Puts me right back into childhood.