As you've already seen this week, television specials make up a great deal of the Halloween programming for children and families out there...many of them from yesteryear. The 1970s and 1980s were some of the most prolific decades for making these specials and also where some of the most memorable shorts and specials come from (not discounting anything from earlier decades of course). Some of my absolute favorites were the specials that were shown on The Disney Channel in the 1980s, because these were the ones I grew up on watching every year...and two of these I want to discuss today. The first is a live-action special that focuses on classic monsters and Halloween traditions to imagine a world where Halloween might not exist and the second is a clip-show by Disney that showcases some of their scariest moments in their animation while also offering up some new items as a treat. So lets all become kids again and watch The Halloween That Almost Wasn't and A Disney Halloween.
The Halloween That Almost Wasn't (aka The Night Dracula Saved the World) begins on the night before Halloween as Igor is preparing for the return of his master, Dracula. Dracula awakens and surprised Igor, who is watching television coverage on rumors that Halloween might be canceled. Dracula, enraged by this, calls an emergency meeting of all the other famous monsters including: Warren the Werewolf, The Mummy, Frankenstein Monster, Zabaar the Zombie, and The Witch. He demands to know who began the rumors and berates them on becoming more comic than frightening. He also says that every single one of them can be replaced if need be. The Witch then defiantly steps forward and admits to having started the rumors and to wanting to retire. Apparently she hates being a witch because no one likes her the same way they like the other monsters...and she holds all the cards because without her annual flight across the moon, Halloween does not occur. Dracula has no choice but to give in to her demands (which include her face on t-shirts and advertising material as well as a nightly disco dance among others) or to give up Halloween. He and the other monsters then endeavor to force the Witch to do her job.
This special has a lot of comedy in it and much of that is a credit to its stars, Judd Hirsch as Dracula, Mariette Hartley as the Witch, and Henry Gibson as Igor. These three leads drive the film and its core and keep us engaged, because they all seem to enjoy the fact that they are hamming it up as famous monsters. The sass of The Witch and the arrogance of Dracula juxtaposed against each other are wonderful components that keep the film moving, with gentle Henry Gibson trying his best to act as peacemaker but also as a loyal servant to Dracula. This movie always made me giggle as a child due to these three and their interaction. The effects and scenery are a little low rent, but the actors and the story told help to elevate them above their technical limitations. This is a wonderful film for children and might be a little pandering for adults, but you might forgive it for the three leads and their performances.
In A Disney Halloween we don't see a story being told for a half-hour but rather we get a compilation of clips and other material from two other Halloween programs made by Disney, Disney's Greatest Villains and Disney's Halloween Treat along with newly animated material to create a 90 minute feature that celebrates the holiday, showcases Disney's best and scariest villans, and even shows us a few lesser known shorts featuring familiar Disney characters. I always loved watching this special because it was 90 minutes and therefore more than just a taste of something, and also I loved getting to see all my favorite evil characters and spooky scenes. "A Night on Bald Mountain" is packaged next to a scene of Madame Mimm, "The Old Mill" thrills along side "Donald and the Gorilla", and many others. My personal favorite is the finale which features the 1952 short "Trick or Treat" where Donald Duck faces off against his nephews and a Witch he has offended on Halloween night. Of course, other famous moments are shown here too...such as "Lonesome Ghosts" and "Pluto's Judgment Day"...and that makes this such a treat to watch. It is wonderful for children to watch because it alternates between spooky and whimsical and it also will entertain adults who remember these classic shorts from their youth. This is another full length film that makes a perfect repast for post 'trick-or-treat' family time. Either way, you can't go wrong with these programs.