The Halloween season is upon us and so this time we are going to forego the actual mission of this column (that of obscure, unaired and unloved pilots) and we are going to look at a couple of the great Halloween Specials from years gone by. There are plenty of horror themed pilots I could examine and I will get to them eventually but for now… it’s Halloween so lets dive right into that.
I have a great connection to the Halloween season. I love this time of year. The smells, the dropping temps and the general tone of it all makes me feel so amazing.
To me Halloween is the only real holiday… all other holidays are simple excuses why I don’t get mail. Halloween is special and part of that is the great Halloween Specials that used to litter the airwaves in that 10th month of the calendar year. They don’t do this much any more and that’s a shame. The ones I am going to spotlight here are mostly forgotten or merely remembered for being kitsch and goofy and truth be told many of them are… but they are also married to my memories and my nostalgia so…
Lets start with 2 amazing ones (they go together) that set a perfect tone. The 1984 and 1986 Elvira MTV Halloween Specials.
In 1981 Elvira burst onto the scene (I was so tempted to say Busted onto the scene but good taste prevented it) with her Movie Macabre show. Breaking syndication records around the country after it went across the entire USA it was inevitable that Elvira would become the unofficial queen of Halloween. Just as inevitable was that she would show up on MTV.
At this point in 1984 MTV was still very much breaking the rules of television and they did so again with Elvira at the helm.
Elvira was given a 6 hour programming block on Halloween night 1984 to show all the spooky music videos there were interspersed with her usual shenanigans. Not just that but the middle 2 hours of this was a showing of Night of the Living Dead (with a special, shot for MTV, intro by George Romero) which Elvira would pop up into now and then.
Unless you were alive at the time you don’t understand just how awesome this was.
This was followed up in 1986 (not sure what happened with there being no 1985 special) with MTV giving Elvira a 4 hour block of videos.
She had more original skits (many of them pretty risque for 80’s TV standards) and more cool spooky videos. This time instead of being on her Movie Macabre set Elvira was in Salem, Massachusetts to celebrate Halloween. Gave a great mood to the entire thing.
I hate that no one does this kind of thing any longer.
Along the music video special lines in 1984 Vincent Price hosted a syndicated 1 hour special titled Halloween Thriller where he showcased similar spooky videos along with his affable and pointed introductions.
When is Vincent Price showing music videos not classy as hell?
Price also performed some magic tricks. I just love Vincent Price.
Halloween 3D is a real oddity to the point it doesn’t even have an IMDB listing.
Okay, in the mid/late 80’s 3D was making a comeback (short lived as it was) with Elvira hosting a nationwide TV screening of Return of the Creature, a national screening of The Mask in 3D and this idiosyncratic little footnote.
John Astin and Los Angels reporter Chuck Henry co-hosted an LA only TV special all in 3D.
This is the old red and blue 3D by the way so it’s headache inducing to see today.
They would show you clips from classic 3D movies and even the host segments were shown like this (which makes a harsh and blunt transition when the commercials pop in).
Next up is one of the oddest and yet most unique Halloween special I remember. Halloween Monster Bash. How to describe this…
Starring Rhonda Shear (USA UP! All Night), comedian Bobby Kelton, S.D. Nemeth (the “I’d buy that for a dollar” guy from Robocop), Bobby Picket (Monster Mash) and John Astin again. Another syndication made special released in 1991 this was filled with skits (some funny, some painfully unfunny), redubbed clips of old movies (again, some funny, some painfully unfunny) and a self aware attitude that I personally found endearing.
Ever want to hear S.D. Nemeth do a white guy rap version of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven? Here you can. Rhonda Shear making fun of Bela Lugosi’s acting is a nice highlight.
Again no IMDB link despite the talent involved (noticing a pattern here).
We can’t leave out the (in)famous The Paul Lynde Halloween Special.
Paul Lynde may not be that familiar to the audiences of today but in the late 60’s and 70’s he was a staple of television from his role Uncle Arthur on Bewitched to being a perennial guest on Hollywood Squares.
Well in 1976 someone at ABC got the bright idea to give him a Halloween show all to himself and wow… just wow.
I almost can’t even put this thing into words. It’s so gaudy and ostentatious that it screams 1976!!!!!, with no regard for good taste.
Besides Lynde the special also has such high profile guests as The Osmonds, Tim Conway, Roz Kelly, Billy Barty, Florence Henderson and Betty White all playing in a variety of unfunny and tedious sketches. What really makes this special stand out other than it’s shear tackiness is the musical performances by a relatively unknown band called KISS.
Yes, this is the first national introduction to KISS, right here in this ridiculously stuck in time hour.
The one I really want to showcase here though is The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t. Sometimes released as The Night Dracula Saved the World strangely enough.
Ostensibly a children’s program The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t is far smarter and more clever than it’s outward appearances may radiate. Written with a sly wit and some very astute subversions of horror cliches, The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t is made for adults as much as kids.
The plot is that monsters are no longer scary and they are selling out (a particular bit I liked was the Wolfman shilling for a razor company) so Dracula gathers all of the classic monsters at this castle to form a plan to retake Halloween and make it scary again. Problem is that The Witch doesn’t want to be Dracula’s pawn any longer and is going to quit if all monsters are not given equal status (seems old fangface is kind of a egomaniac).
In the end Halloween is saved, the monsters see their place in pop culture and they disco dance (it was 1979 after all).
Shown in 1979 and then repeated every year for nearly a decade this great special has since fallen into obscurity.
Judd Hirsch looks to be having a ball playing Dracula and Mariette Hartley steals the show as The Witch. Henry Gibson is a fun Igor and John Schuck is Frankenstein’s Monster years before he would be Herman Munster. The great and underrated Jack Riley is over the top as The Wolfman.
I miss these kinds of Halloween treats.