Retro Review: The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t, AKA The Night Dracula Saved the World (1979)
It’s Straight-to-Television Halloween month on the retro review, and I’m going to follow the last week’s Tim Curry jab with a Judd Hirsch straight cross of hilarious: The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t, or as it was known on VHS, The Night Dracula Saved the World. It’s my birthday this weekend, so let’s look at a movie that came out the year I was born. At least two awesome things came out that year, three if you factor in being a twin.
Despite running for 11 straight years as a Halloween feature on the Disney Channel, this movie has become a rarity. If there were an endangered species list of movies, this movie would not be next to the Pandas. Because Pandas suck, and this movie would whip their monochromatic asses up and down the field. But it would be on the list. Somewhere cool, like next to Siberian Tigers or Chupacabras or something. Released on VHS but never on DVD, this elusive animal can still be found on the internet in clips, but pixelated you-tube videos don’t do this movie justice. A new generation deserves to enjoy this film. Maybe we can petition Disney to finally release a restored version, if they’re not too busy fucking up the Star Wars movies and cramming Pirates of the Caribbean sequels down our throats. Thanks a lot Johnny Depp.
One Last Ride
On the eve before Halloween, Dracula (played by Judd Hirsch, who I may have to explain to the younger audience members used to be one of the funniest people on television before becoming the perennial supportive Yiddish father in movie action pieces like Independence Day and Numb3rs) learns that Halloween is in danger of being cancelled. Shocked, he invokes a council at this castle with all of the major movie monsters from around the globe: The Wolf Man (now a shaving razor spokesperson), Frankenstein’s Monster (now a tap dancing star, in a nod to Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein), The Mummy monster, and the Zombie King.
Each has sold out, becoming beloved icons instead of fearful monsters, and Dracula assumes this has caused Halloween to become cancelled, so he orders them all to return to terrorizing the populace. The final, and most important monster, the Witch (Marriette Hartley, beautiful and supremely funny under all the make-up) balks, and reveals that she herself has caused the catastrophe, as she no longer wishes to be feared and hated, and instead wants to be normal and respected. She presents Dracula with a list of demands
and threatens to shut down the U.S. government if not met, er, I mean, threatens to end Halloween if they are not met. Dracula balks, and chases the Witch, who escapes on her broom, but sunrise and a locked crypt door nearly cook his bacon.
With the aid of the other monsters and his faithful manservant, Igor (Henry Gibson, The Blues Brothers, Kentucky Fried Movie), Dracula storms the Witch’s castle, and tries unsuccessfully to force her to ride her broom across the moon, because Halloween cannot begin without her doing so. Some very funny hair-brained attempts are made to draw her out, yet in the end, the fate of Halloween lies in the hands of a little girl, who dressed as a witch, seeks to reassure her adult counterpart that children indeed love her just the way she is.
For the Children
Light and campy, yet packed with real comedic talent, The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t was critically successful, winning an Emmy for Children’s Programming, and nominated for several others. It’s a shame that this gem has fallen through the cracks, not only because it contains great comedic moments and asides to many classic monster movies, but because it celebrates a more carefree take on Halloween, celebrating children and the primal fun of putting on the persona’s of our deepest fears…and it ends at a discotheque, with Hirsch and Hartley parodying the iconic dance sequence from Saturday Night Fever. Ahh, disco movies, that’s a horror story for another time…