Halloween Spookiness Special: Day One

  • 10/29/2007 11:17:00 pm
  • By Mark Gibbings-Jones

There are a number of approaches used to influence people in public information films aimed at The Kids. You might take a sort of jokey, friendly approach (cf. "Charley Says", featuring special guest mewling by Kenny Everett), or you might prefer a personality-led tack (cf. Rolf inviting everyone down to the swimming pool with a jolly wave of his foot). The most interesting approach, even if it's the one most likely to give Richard bloody Bacon an excuse to pop up on a clip show to talk about it, is to try and scare the living bejeebus out of The Kids instead.

In the first part of an enthralling (disclaimer: may not be enthralling) two-part series, we're going to look at a PIF from each side of the Atlantic, and try and decide which effort is the most truly unsettling. Proper unsettling. Half-a-notch below Threads unsettling. Brr.

First up, a look at how youthful former colonials were terrified into talking care of their bicycles.

We first happened across this short film early one Sunday morning a few months ago, lurking in the darkest reaches of Sumo.tv's early morning schedule. As with much of Sumo's output, it's also available (in varying formats up to broadcast quality level) at archive.org, and it's genuinely something you need to watch at least once. For those who fancy dipping into it, it's also on YouTube.

Aaargh! Scary kids on bikes!

The plot? A group of children, all wearing inexplicably terrifying ape masks and curly tails, ride their bicycles to the park for a nice 1960s all-American picnic, with one unlucky child the designated carrier of everyone else's lunch bags. Of course, it's not just the sight of what would make a serviceable promo video for The Knife that's the alarming part. Heck, no.

As the film progresses to the sound of jaunty pre-ironic library music, the attention is focused on differing spooky ape-children. For example, first we hear about Rooty "Toot" Jasperson, who has the newest bike of all the monkeychums. Determined to cement his alpha male status, he races ahead of the pack. Voiceover Man states that he's a real "go getter", but notes that if you're so very determined to lead the pack, there are several things you don't have time for. Such as, those silly hand signals bicyclists must make when turning.

Aaargh! Aaargh!

Yes. Always make signals. (And aaargh!)

In order to rest his weary arms, he skips one signal as he turns left. Just one. And he is duly thudded into the tarmac by a car.

Try to not do this on your bike, kids.

Now, how best to convey the gravity of this situation to impressionable youngsters already in a permanent state of semi-panic over the twin threats of nuclear annihilation and international socialism? A comedy 'prang' sound effect, and a jaunty 'whoops' animation? Yes.


As the camera focuses eerily on the picnic bag that its owner won't be needing any more, Voiceover Man pipes up. "At this point, Rooty "Toot" Jasperson left the party." Thanks, Voiceover Man.

The crew of chums are mostly picked off in a similar manner, their callous disregard for basic bicycle behavioural protocol seeing them dispatched in various manners, including but not limited to: being flattened by a steamroller; falling down an open manhole; or smashing their simian face into an oncoming vehicle. Each one followed by a quick shot of their picnic bag, a quip from Voiceover Man, a cut back to the remaining chums, and a return to the jaunty library music.

It carries on like this for some fifteen minutes, with only one child meeting his unfortunate end in a non-fatal manner, mainly because he'd had his bike nicked. At the end, only one solitary tyke makes it to the picnic spot, thanks to his dutiful adherence to the Bicycle Laws Of His United States. As such, instead of mourning his deceased pals, he scoffs all their picnics instead. Hey, there's a Red Menace out there, it wasn't a time for sentimentality.

Quite strangely, on the Sumo showings of the clip, after each mishap the action cuts to monochrome footage of a scary laughing clown - and not 'ironic' scary, proper actual scary, but in the clip we've downloaded from archive.org there's just blackness and no laughter. We're finding it strange, because we haven't noticed Sumo re-editing any of the other archive material they broadcast, and it's not as if One Got Fat needs any tinkering with - it's disturbing enough already. But anyway, the whole affair is one that we can scarcely believe was shown to small child-people in 60's America, but, as the testimonies on archive.org site confirm, it blimmin' well was. We give it a Scary PIF Rating of NINE OUT OF TEN.

Aaargh! Aaargh! Aaargh! Aaargh! Aaargh! Aaargh!

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