Long after Abbott and Costello met Frankenstein and eight years before we learned the ultimate truth that the wolfman did indeed have nards, live-action theatrical gatherings of our beloved undead monsters were far and in between. Up until we hit the twenty-first century that is. Nestled in the middle of those two great films lies a little diddy that aired specifically as an ABC Halloween Special Presentation on October 28, 1979: The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t.
And with so many people questioning what Halloween will or won’t be this year, I feel like now is no better time to revisit the nostalgic classic.
Hot off of the hit primetime show Taxi, Judd Hirsh plays his form of Dracula, (which totally serves as a pre-curser to Adam Sandler’s Hotel Transylvania take) and self-proclaimed “King of the Monsters”. We start the program off in Dracula’s castle the night before Halloween where a news break on Drac’s boob tube informs himself and Igor (played by Henry Gibson- Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, the voice of Wilber- Charlotte’s Web) that Halloween is in danger of being canceled; and that Dracula is behind this travesty.
This totally pisses him off.
With malicious rumors swirling, Drac calls upon the rest of the world’s top-notch monsters for a meeting of the minds. Well actually, to shame them as he tells them they are no longer scary due to them exploiting themselves. Such as Frankenstein (played by John Schuck who also played Herman Munster in the 80s’ revival) letting a so-called movie influence him to tap dance.
Gee I wonder which one, haha!
The werewolf (Jack Riley-The Bob Newhart Show), Zaabar the Zombie (Josip Elic- One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), and the Mummy (Robert Fitch) fair no better with Hirsh Drac as he pretty much lays right into them for being shit monsters. Then, the almighty Halloween witch (played by Mariette Hartly) shows up late, gives Dracula a pointed boot in the ass (vocally), and admits she is the one who started the vicious rumor as she is dead-tired of being a witch. Tired of being called ugly and taking orders from Dracula. As a woman, I can totally relate to this. She puts her witches’ boot down and demands certain actions be taken, such as becoming leader of the monster world, or she refuses to ride over the Halloween moon that night; in which refusing to do so, would therefore cancel Halloween officially.
Well, Drac obviously thinks she’s gone too far and poo poos on her demands; leaving the witch no choice but to flee to her castle while Drac and the other monsters hatch a plan to get her to do her Halloween duties.
And that’s where I’ll stop for those of you who have never experienced this little Halloween national treasure. While both light-hearted and humorous, The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t has a pretty serious undertone hidden behind this Primetime holiday special. Our side characters, a young pair of siblings who at the same time see the same newscast as our monster protagonists, help bring the story full circle with a very special 80s-esque message. You know, the kind that sort of brings a tear to your eye, moral to the story, type malarkey that you almost NEVER see anymore. And it’s a very special message directed toward young girls in particular- one that up until pretty recently, the Disney Princess movies usually failed at.
THAT PEOPLE LOVE YOU FOR EXACTLY WHO YOU ARE.
Should I say it louder for the people in the back?
And honestly, that’s such a beautiful thing. Which for me, makes this special in particular, one of the tip-top best Halloween Special Presentations of the twentieth century. Not to mention the non-sensical disco dance at the end where Dracula is channeling his inner Tony Manero. Look I know we were at the peak end of the disco craze in the late 70s’, but this is just weirdly out of place. You know what tho? I’m on board with it because that’s part of the marvelous phenomena that make these specials so unique and nostalgically fuzzy.
While The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t eventually made its way to the Disney Trick or Treat Halloween block from 1983-1996; and then to VHS retitled as The Night Dracula Saved The World, it never got a much-deserved DVD release. Or hell, in this case, a special Blu-Ray is much deserved for this gem. I’m looking at you Arrow Video and Shout Factory. The ball is in your court.
In the meantime, thank disgustingly vile candy corns for the glorious Youtube. Happy Halloween nostalgia nuggets!
Fruits of the loins from the late ’70s, ’80s or early ’90s, can probably remember that sweet, repetitive October television and all its glory with the magic of Halloween specials that only aired once a year. While yes, television still continues the trend of annual Halloween traditions with certain programs to look forward to such as The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror,The Great Pumpkin, and the beloved repetitive viewings of Hocus Pocus with, of course, the occasional Primetime sitcom that runs its yearly Halloween episode. However, the issue I have in the modern age of the boob tube is that most of the holiday programming, that many of us looked forward to so fondly has fallen into obscurity in regards to annual airings. There is no rhyme or reason why they have become so obsolete in the world of primetime, and I’m going to be quite frank here- I’m a little pissed off about it. The era of streaming I’m sure has a bit to do with thine predicament. But nevertheless, in so many words- it kinda blows.
During my early writing years, I had compiled a similar list that has since been swallowed by time and ugly Internets. So I’m here to remedy the situation, update the fucker, and daydream of the glory days that revolved around a disco-dancing vampire and Gilda Radner as a bumbling animated witch.
And OK… my own as well.
10. The Midnight Hour (1985)
Originally premiering as a TV movie on ABC in 1985, The Midnight Hour follows four friends who unwittingly awaken one of their dead ancestors, who just happens to be a witch hellbent on bringing back the dead. With a ’50s cheerleader ghost by their side, it’s up to the group of kids to return things to normal. The Midnight Hour was briefly released on VHS in 1999 and then on DVD in 2000. However, it has long since been out of print and is among a treasured rare films to have in your possession and highly valued among collectors. So start searching your parent’s garage, or hit up your local yard sales. If you find this gem, I suggest you snatch it up! But in the meantime, here’s a pretty clear copy on YouTube.
9. Halloween Is Grinch Night (1977)
According to Suessfandom.com, Halloween Is Grinch Night is actually a prequel to How The Grinch Stole Christmas. And how this has fallen into Halloween special obscurity is about as understandable as pubic hair. This grinchy tale premiered on ABC in 1977, played for a few years, and fell to the wayside. Halloween is Grinch Night takes place one evening when a ‘sour-sweet wind’ blows through Whoville and warns the Whos’ that the Grinch is coming down from Mt.Crumpit to celebrate the much-feared “Grinch Night.” One boy, named Euchariah, is swept away by the wind and comes face to face with the Grinch himself. Now Euchariah must stall the Grinch until the wind dies down, even if he has to face the horrors in the Paraphernalia Wagon. Yeah, you read that right. Paraphernalia Wagon.
Fantastic stuff folks.
8. Mr. Boogedy
Originally broadcast as part of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, Mr. Boogedy (and later sequel) was a staple of Disney’s rotated Halloween programming for a number of years up until the mid-’90s. This long-forgotten classic follows a novelty salesman and his family of pranksters that have moved to a town called Lucifer Falls- rad. And 0f course their new humble abode is haunted by a three-hundred-year-old ghost by the name of Mr. Boogedy, known in life as William Hanover before he sold his soul to the devil. With stars such as Richard Masur (Adult Stan inIT), a young Kristy Swanson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), David Faustino ( Bud from Married With Children) and the legendary John Astin (Gomez Addams), I gotta give Disney a thumbs up for this one. While this one is not available fully for free on the Youtubes, you can absolutely rent this for the reasonable price of $2.99 at Amazon!
7. The Worst Witch (1986)
The Worst Witch is a cult fan favorite among many and in my opinion, any film where Tim Curry sings is a delight and a privilege and we should be goddamn grateful this film exists. This Halloween necessity first aired on HBO and the Disney Channel in 1986 for the Halloween season and continued into around the late 90s. The bewitching tale about, duh, a witch academy (move over J.K Rawlings) centers around Mildred Hubble, the school’s “worst witch” her misadventures within, and a scheming plot that threatens the school. Because every great empowerment story needs a touch of drama, right? And with all the Halloween splendor aside, that is exactly why I adore everything about The Worst Witch. The message of self-love and acceptance behind all the dazzling of Tim Curry magnificently banging on tambourines is a lesson that should always be taught to our children. Based on the 1974 children’s book by Jill Murphy, The Worst Witch stars Diana Rigg, a young Fairuza Balk, the fabulous Charlotte Rae, and Tim Curry as the Grand Wizard. If you got the bones to break out of your wallet, you can get a copy here from Amazon.
6. Witch’s Night Out (1978)
Witch’s Night Out premiered in 1978 on NBC. And AGAIN, aired on the Disney channel in the ’80s through the late ’90s. This personal favorite of mine follows this ridiculous witch ( Gilda Radner) who feels unloved and forgotten. Upon hearing the wishes of two children, Small and Tender, who want nothing more than to scare the jerkoff adults on Halloween, the witch accompanies the pair of Halloweenies and their babysitter (Bazooey) to a Halloween party. Where Miss Witch transorms them into a werewolf, a ghost and Frankenstein’s Monster. Well, the kids get their wish and scare the crap out of the town resulting in a mob them through the night. Also featuring the voice of Catherine O’ Hara as Malicious, Witch’s Night Out is a fun take me back for kids and adults alike. Also, you gotta love that catchy intro.
5. Vincent Price: Once Upon A Midnight Scary (1979)
My only question is, why the hell wasn’t there more of these?! I mean the master of horror himself hosting his own Halloween special. It’s a national treasure really. It sort of reminds me of one of those really cheesy but awesome after school specials. But again. VINCENT PRICE. So it makes up for the rest. Originally broadcast on CBS in 1979, Price introduces three different spooky stories based on children’s books in his own creepy yet flamboyant way that every Vincent fan knows him for: The Ghost Belonged To Me by Richard Peck (1976), The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (1820), and The House With a Clock In Its Walls by John Bellairs (1973). It was released on VHS, but chances of a DVD release are slim to none. A shame really.
4. The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t (1979)
Also entitled The Night That Dracula Saved The World, this gem of a tv short aired regularly on The Disney Channel until the late 90s. Notice the trend here?! Time to write a strong-worded letter to that Robert Iger fellow. This remarkable short centers around Dracula (Judd Hirsh) and his monsters trying to stop the Halloween witch, bitter from not getting top-billing in the monster world, from destroying Halloween forever. This is one of my all-time personal favorites because of all the great monster elements it has to offer. Along with a nice little history of Halloween, it really keeps you entertained with humorous jokes and gags. Also, clearly Adam Sandler took some Hotel Transelyvania notes from the impeccable Hirsh. Although it was released on VHS, it never made it to DVD. I believe I may start a petition for this one. Complete with a monster disco attached.
3. Casper’s Halloween Special
I fondly remember this little diddy being one of my favorites to watch during the Trick or Treat countdown towards the annual sugar coma. Also, I’m being upfront with you guys here and HAD COMPLETELY FORGOTTEN about this treasured retro gem myself until I sat and thought about what I was going to put into this list. As a lover of Wendy the Witch- I’m a little ashamed about this, (even though she has nothing to do with this Halloween special whatsoever but hey, she is connected to the Casper fellow). However, it just goes to show how these nostalgic bits of childhood can fall into obscurity. Especially with the stresses of having to adult- and stuff.
Anyways, enough rambling.
“Casper’s Halloween Special” first debuted on All Hallow’s Eve 1979 during NBC’s Halloween hour and serves as a classic Casper tale of the friendly ghost doing what he does best- you know, being friendly and shit. Casper’s fellow dead dudes, Hairy Scary, Screech Ghost, and Winifred Witch are obviously excited about spooktacular Halloween shenanigans they have planned that involve scaring the ever-loving crap out of trick or treaters and invite Casper to partake. But, of course, he declines and decides to take the opportunity to join the living in trick-or-treat fun. You know, denial and stuff are strong Casper. Regardless, after hitting a few bumps in the road to candy, Casper falls upon a group of orphans who see him for who he REALLY is, and invites him to hang for the night. However, the other ghosts see all this and are hell-bent on ruining the night for them.
2. Raggedy Ann and Andy in “The Pumpkin Who Couldn’t Smile”
Released in the same year as the above Casper special, the stitched iconic duo got their very own CBS Halloween 30-minute block on Halloween night with “The Pumpkin Who Couldn’t Smile”. Later, the Chuck Jones written special aired on Disney (of course) in Halloween syndication alongside many of these treasure troves listed here. We begin with an intro of a deserted pumpkin stand at Halloween dusk where one lone pumpkin is need of some serious Prozac. All of his buddies have been picked by the children while the Eeyore of Jack-O-Lanterns remains alone and in danger of becoming pig compost the following day. Across town, the Raggadies along with their pup are severely annoyed by the next-door Halloween Scrooge Aunt Agatha; who is giving her poor nephew a hard time about the glorious holiday. So, of course, they do their due diligence in wanting to cheer the kid up with the idea of surprising him a Halloween pumpkin. Well, you might guess where this going and, SPOILER ALERT, the pumpkin smiles.
1. Garfield’s Halloween Adventure
And here we are. In my opinion, the Holy Grail of Halloween specials; from 1985- “Garfield’s Halloween Adventure”! From the catchy tunes that relentlessly get stuck in my head contained within this national treasure, to the aesthetic ambiance of a true ’80s Halloween experience makes it a classic that will NEVER go out of style. Fully equipped with trick or treating in an endless pursuit of candy, ghost pirates, and a creepy 110-year-old man, this 30-minute piece of Halloween Heaven sets the tone for what is to become the scariest night ever for the lasagna lover and his pal, Odie. I remember being a child watching this over and over on a recorded from TV VHS tape, that the scenes with the ghost pirates were actually a bit frightening. But that also illuminates why I watched “Garfield’s Halloween Adventure“many times as a kid and returned to it on a regular basis as an adult.
Well, there you have it. Nightmare Nostalgia’s most memorable and personal favorite Halloween specials! Now gather your spawns around the computer and give them a taste of why ’70s and ’80s Halloween TV was simply spooktacular. And while you’re at it, comment below with your personal favorite! I’d love to hear from you!!