Revisiting Hallowe’en with the New Addams Family (1977)

As a self-respecting goth chick, I would be remiss if I didn’t go forth and sing the praises of The Addams Family, both the original cartoons by Charles Addams, and the classic TV sitcom that ran from 1964 to 1966. Morticia Addams in particular was one of my very early style icons, and Lurch was probably one of my first crushes (yes, I was a weird kid).

In 1977, I was five years old, and although The Addams Family had been off the air since before I was born, it ran endlessly in syndication, so when I found out that NBC was going to do a nearly feature-length Halloween special with almost all of the original cast, and in color, no less, I was totally on board.

Now, I don’t remember much about watching the special in 1977, but as I was scrolling through the Halloween offerings on Tubi in October of 2022, forty-five years later, I stumbled across the formerly rare special streaming for free, and I figured I would give it a rewatch to see if I could recall anything about it. Plus I thought it would put me in the spirit for the upcoming holiday, while also allowing me to spend time with some of the most beloved characters from my childhood.

And while that aspect of the special is really cool—it’s always nice to see Carolyn Jones, John Astin, Ted Cassidy, and Jackie Coogan all together, even though they all looked ever-so-slightly older than I was used to seeing them—I think the rest of the special was a little bit of a wasted opportunity, as it seems the network really cheaped out: shooting the thing on video, partly recycling a plotline from the first season of the original series, and not bothering to use the iconic original theme music or keep with some of the characters’ continuity (such as Cousin Itt’s voice not sounding the same as it did in the series, for example).

Directed by Dennis Steinmetz—who did some episodes of Land of the Lost as well as a whole bunch of soap operas—and written by George Tibbles, best known for co-writing the Woody Woodpecker theme song and penning some episodes of My Three Sons, Leave It To Beaver, One Day at a Time, and The Betty White Show, Halloween with the New Addams Family was a convoluted tale involving a Halloween party, Gomez’s jealousy over his amorous brother, and a plot about a gang of criminals attempting to infiltrate the Addams’s home in order to find a safe that presumably contained a fortune.

Almost everyone from the original series reprised their roles here, except for Blossom Rock as Grandmama—she was sick during filming and died not long after the special aired—and famed Wicked Witch of the West Margaret Hamilton as Mother Frump. The replacements for the two roles were Jane Rose (from the 70s sitcom Phyllis) and Elvia Allman (from The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction; she was also the voice of Walt Disney’s Clarabelle Cow), respectively.

Obviously, Wednesday (Lisa Loring) and Pugsley (Ken Weatherwax) have grown up, but I guess because the show needed to have two grimly cute little kids, there are also Junior versions of both characters, played by Jennifer Surprenant (as Wednesday Junior) and Ken Marquis (as Pugsley Junior). It’s not entirely clear why this was necessary, as the younger kids don’t do much of anything, other than act as essentially pawns in the subplot about Gomez fearing that his place in the family is being usurped by his brother Pancho, who is played by Henry Darrow (who starred as Trooper Hancock in the excellent 1986 horror thriller The Hitcher).

Anyway, at the beginning of the story, we learn that Gomez has been summoned to Tombstone, Arizona for a lodge convention, at which he hopes he’s going to be promoted from First Degree Snake to Grand Exalted Serpent (or something). There’s a recurring joke about Morticia constantly getting the title wrong, calling him a “first class snake,” which was only sort of funny the first time around and becomes less so each time the gag is reiterated. One of the main problems with the special, I think, is that there are lots of running gags like this, none of which were all that amusing to start with. That’s a fault of the writer, though; the cast is clearly doing their best with the material they were given.

One joke I did find funny was the hugely massive deal Gomez was making about going away on his trip and being gone for the big Halloween celebration: he has a car full of luggage, he’s saying goodbye to Morticia as if he’s not going to see her for years; he really hams it up. And then when he’s asked when he’ll be back, he casually says, “About six tomorrow.” This gag is actually successfully extended to a scene showing Gomez in his hotel room in Arizona, which he’s already festooned with framed photos of Morticia and a life-size cardboard cut-out of her.

So one of the reasons Gomez is having such a meltdown about going out of town is that his aforementioned brother Pancho is staying with the family, and he’s as “hot-blooded” as Gomez is; he also used to date Morticia, and is clearly still carrying a torch for her. She allows him to fawn over her a bit, but shuts him down when he starts getting too fresh, citing the Addams code. Gomez is still real insecure, though, especially after he hears Pancho telling Wednesday Jr. and Pugsley Jr. the legend about Cousin Shy, the good spirit of Halloween who carves pumpkins you leave out for him and leaves gifts around your trimmed Halloween scarecrow. Gomez figures it’s a father’s job to tell the kids that story, not an uncle’s.

Incidentally, I actually really like the idea of doing a trimmed scarecrow like a Christmas tree; does anybody do this? I know Halloween trees are a thing now and maybe that’s better, but I just thought the whole concept of putting the pumpkin head on top of the scarecrow like a Christmas star or angel was adorable.

So while all of this is going on, each character is doing their own thing: Grandmama is helping prepare the hors d’oeuvres for the party; Mother Frump is trying out some flying potions, with varying degrees of success; Lurch has a big net and is itching to catch a pterodactyl. The grown kids have come home from college; Wednesday has been studying music and plays the piccolo, while Pugsley has been in Nairobi learning to be a witch doctor (in a bit which is ever so slightly racist). There’s another funny gag later on, when both Wednesdays and Pugsleys dress up in Halloween “costumes” which just have them looking like regular people, and Morticia is totally horrified (as was I, frankly). She also laments that Pugsley Senior mentioned wanting to get a tan, and that Wednesday Senior wanted a Kawasaki (to which Pancho says the Addams’ clan has always been accepting of mixed marriages, which again, is ever so slightly racist).

Meanwhile, as all of the party preparations and shenanigans are going on, there’s a group of crooks stashed away in some command center somewhere; they’ve clearly installed spy cameras in the Addams’ house somehow, because they’re monitoring what’s going on there. Evidently they’ve got a plan to talk their way in and find a safe that they’ve heard is on the premises, though they don’t know exactly where.

The first attempt at incursion is done by Mikey (Vito Scotti), who pretends to be a tax assessor and is given the run of the place. But if you’ve seen any episodes of The Addams Family at all, you’ll know that whenever a so-called “normal” person enters the Addams’ domain, they freak out at every little thing, much to the Addams’ confusion. This was actually always one of my favorite aspects of the show (and the cartoon that inspired it), because it seemed very ahead of its time, showing the “weird” Addams family as the normal, loving people who just never understood these odd folks who couldn’t get behind disembodied hands in boxes, getting stretched on a rack for relaxation, or cutting the buds off the roses and just keeping the thorny stems.

Mikey’s eyes bug out at Lurch, then he just gets more and more manic as he makes his way around the house, seeing the female Thing (named Ladyfingers) stirring the soup in the kitchen, getting hugged (read: strangled) by Louis the killer plant, being asked to help Fester extract his wisdom tooth with pliers, and getting mauled by Kitty Kat the lion. Mikey flees the house in terror, with the Addamses commenting on what a weird guy he was.

When Mikey returns to headquarters and quit the heist, the remaining crooks—Bones Lafferty (played by Parley Baer) and Louie the Lord (played by Patrick Campbell)—have to resort to plan B, which entails dressing up in costume and going to the Addams’ party, posing as distant relatives. Bones is a pirate, Louie is Bo Peep, and the pair also take along a couple of Speedo-wearing bodybuilders for some reason, as well as a couple who look exactly like Gomez and Morticia. In case you didn’t notice, this 74-minute special has a BUNCH of unnecessary characters and plot tendrils, and really would have benefited from being streamlined some. There is a funny bit where Lurch becomes smitten with the guy dressed as Bo Peep and forcefully dances with him all evening while the terrified crook struggles to escape, but most of the ensuing party and attempted heist go about as you’d expect, with lots of misidentifications, misunderstandings, and even Gomez contemplating suicide at one point (yes, really). But everything works out all right in the end: the criminals are caught, Gomez and Pancho bury the hatchet, and the whole family gathers around the Halloween scarecrow to open presents and sing a Halloween carol called “A Merry, Shh, Creepy Hallowe’en” while the invisible Cousin Shy parts some cobwebs.

Although I deeply adore all these characters and was happy to see them (almost) all together again, I wish the network would have splashed out for a more quality production, because The Addams Family deserved better, especially considering they were given a 90-minute timeslot. The jokes were hit or miss, mostly miss, and were repeated too many times; you could also tell that some scenes were padded out to meet the longer runtime. The special effects were also really lacking; some of the effects on the original 60s show looked better. And though it was kind of neat to see the Addamses in color, I think I would have preferred this to be in black and white; in color, everything just looked too plain and humdrum, instead of fabulous and gothic. A lot of it was shot in the daytime, too, which didn’t really contribute to a creepy Halloween mood. I did love Lurch’s trademark groans and head shakes whenever a normal person was acting an ass, and Gomez and Morticia were cute as buttons as usual, but on the whole, this special was just…not that special. It was a bit overstuffed and seemed rushed, as though the network just threw it together real quick to see if there was any interest in rebooting the series perhaps. It was a shame, because this should have been epic, but as it was, I only got a few chuckles out of it and a warm fuzzy nostalgic feeling at seeing some of my childhood idols once again.

Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. *snap, snap*

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