The entire off-beat cast of the original “Addams Family” -the international hit television series- is reunited for a long-awaited encore: John Astin as Gomez; Carolyn Jone as Morticia; Jackie Coogan as Uncle Fester; Ted Cassidy as Lurch, the butler; and Henry Darrow as Pancho, Gomez’s amorous brother.
eyelights: the return of most of the original cast.
eyesores: its half-hearted performances. its weak direction. its lackluster production values. its boring jokes.
“So get a witches shawl on,
A broomstick you can crawl on.
We’re gonna pay a call on
The Addams Family.”
Interesting fact: The original cast of ‘The Addams Family‘ reunited in 1977 for a feature-length television special. That’s right! John Astin, Carolyn Jones, Jackie Coogan, Ted Cassidy and even Lisa Loring and Ken Weatherwax returned in the parts that made them famous.
Less interesting fact: that reunion spawned ‘Halloween with the New Addams Family’.
The film finds the Addamses preparing for their annual Hallowe’en celebration, which revolves around the gathering of their extended family. Meanwhile, a trio of criminals are intent on infiltrating the party, break into their safe and rob them of their wealth.
It’s a simple enough plot, and it could work in the context of a standard-length episode, but, sadly, ‘Halloween with the New Addams Family’ is 74 minutes long. This means a lot of padding with nostalgic renewals, a bevy of inefficient gags and ridiculous melodrama.
The biggest plot element is the arrival of Pancho Addams, Gomez’s (here-to-fore unseen) brother, who looks and acts exactly like him, has wooed Morticia in the past and remains smitten with her. This puts Gomez off, especially since he’s leaving for a lodge meeting.
Gomez is jealous, worried about what will happen in his absence…
Though similar devices were used from the midway point of the original show, I was always skeptical of it: Gomez and Morticia are so enamoured with one another that there’s no real reason for them to be jealous. In fact, in earlier episodes they were secure, unshakable.
That Pancho is basically a pale imitation of Gomez doesn’t help this half-baked plot element: Morticia would never give him the time of day. And Henry Darrow has none of the charm and vivacity of John Astin; he’s boring – he goes through the motions but he’s not convincing.
Mind you, in all honesty, the same can be said for most of the cast: the overall performances are pretty weak here; it looks as though they’re performing bottom barrel theatre for the back row. Even Astin lacks that zany, zestful energy that made his Gomez so endearing.
Almost all of the characters are slightly off:
- Gomez isn’t as carefree and bon vivant as he normally is; he lacks that Groucho Marx-like spark. Instead of taking everything in stride, not worrying about anything, instead he’s angsty and even considers suicide when the situation gets grim.
- Morticia lets Pancho run a bit wild, whereas she would normally discreetly put him in his place. She also isn’t nearly as lovey-dovey or playful as she normally is with Gomez: where’s the dancing, the fencing, the desire, the subtle sensuality?
- Wednesday is merely a bystander, playing the piccolo during the party but otherwise doing nothing. It’s probably better that way, as Lisa Loring stinks it up when she has a few lines. She’s mighty cute, however. Wow.
- Pugsley is even less present. Aside for seeing his arrival, dressed as an African Witch Doctor (he’d been studying medicine on the Dark Continent), he’s buried in the background, playing the bongos. Seriously.
- Lurch is a bit less reserved than you’d expect, which is annoying. He’s a big disappointment, partly because of Ted Cassidy’s take on the creepy butler: he doesn’t even groan or scrunch hats off of guests’ heads correctly.
- Grandmama is played by Jane Rose, a completely different actress, and she was made to look like (and approaches the character) as though she were a real witch. Sadly, she lacks the comic qualities of Blossom Rock.
- Fester is the only one who’s pretty much spot on, though he doesn’t do any of his crazier antics like driving a motorcycle around the house (no doubt because Jackie Coogan was of a certain age). He’s by far the best of the lot here.
Even the music is lackluster. Though Vic Mizzy returned to score the special, he rearranged the show’s familiar tunes in corny ways. Gone is the sparkle of even the theme song, which is now instrumental and played on a crummy synthesizer, a shadow of its former self.
The sets add to the feeling that this was done half-heartedly. Aside for the criminals’ base of operation, which is a small closed office with bleeping reel-to-reel computers in it, the only other set is the Addams mansion, which for some reason is completely different.
This new house has a slightly more modern flair, losing a bit of its dilapidated haunted house quality. It even has fire blasting out from three outlets at the front. Inside, the decor is somewhat similar to the original show’s except that it’s not nearly as quirky.
The greenhouse, where Morticia feeds Cleopatra, her beloved African Strangler, is missing. So the special’s bargain basement plastic plant is posted wherever it’s convenient. And the playroom, a staple of the original show, is barely seen and doesn’t impress.
What really doesn’t help is that the special was shot in colour, stripping away the spooky quality that the stark black and white contributed. Everything in the show is too real now. And really fake-looking – which is probably not helped by being shot on cheap video.
Ultimately, though, all of this could have been ignored if the jokes and gags were funny. But they’re not. The script was written by George Tibble, who worked on family fare like like ‘Leave it to Beaver’, ‘Dennis the Menace’ and ‘The Munsters‘. Yes, ‘The Munsters’.
This is not sharp stuff. Gone is the edge that made the original show so appealing; it has no teeth. It depends on the actors to deliver the laughs, but even they seem uninspired by the repetitive, tired material; they can’t sell it one bit. Everything simply wilts.
The whole thing culminates in a Hallowe’en party that finds the criminals infiltrating the Addams household as long-lost family and trying to substitute Gomez and Morticia while they find and rob the safe. There’s no reason to substitute them, but a gag’s a gag.
Desperate times calls for desperate gags, I guess – like dressing a criminal in drag only to be wooed by an oblivious Lurch.
It’s a terrible, extended sequence that finds people fake-dancing to music that doesn’t suit the situation nor the dialogues (Morticia refers to the band that’s playing even though it’s a synth). It tries to be zany but lacks the momentum or the heart to make it work.
Well, the same can be said for the whole affair.
What ‘The Addams Family’ did best was to make offbeat characters relatable and endearing. Here they’re goofy at best. They’re faded icons, that favourite shirt that’s been through the dryer too many times and comes out discoloured and frumpy. It’s just not the same.
Though ‘Halloween with the New Addams Family’ was intended as a pilot for a new series, it was never picked up; no further episodes were shot. This would be the last time that the world was to see (most of) the original cast together as the kooky, ooky, spooky family.
What a sad way to go.
Date of viewing: October 4, 2017