[Paul Counelis checks in with a new installment of Monster Kid Corner.]
Every year around the middle of August or so, when the craft stores and candle makers are putting out their early Halloween goodies despite the dissenting cries of whiny, Christmas-lovin’ Tweeters everywhere, that autumn whisper sends its first chilly hint of what’s to come. It’s there in the earlier nights and the subtle hue change of the leaves; just a small breath whispered on the late summer wind…I’m coming.
At my house, that means dreaming of those fall nights spent outside listening to scary movie themes and readying our October displays for that perfect spooky mood. Inevitably, we wind up eating candied and caramel apples and watching horror-oriented shows, and depending on how early the youngest child falls asleep, we have to find some family programming that won’t scare the little one TOO much, but won’t be a chore for the rest of us to sit through.
The most fun Halloween movies and episodes are the ones that are easily re-visited for their ability to deliver the Halloween spirit. The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t certainly isn’t the most challenging or hardcore horror telefilm, but there’s a definite nostalgia that will probably be present for children of the ’70s and ’80s, even if you haven’t seen it before.
The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t, inexplicably renamed The Night Dracula Saved the World for VHS release, was originally intended to become one of those annual specials that resurface every year during holiday seasons, much like the heavyweight The Grinch Who Stole Christmas or any number of Rankin-Bass specials we see every winter. As such, it’s honestly not in the same realm quality wise.
But horror and Halloween fans are more apt to like something just because it’s strange and unique; we tend to find a beauty, as it were, in things that many people would sneer at. That’s not to say that The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t doesn’t have its own virtues and appeal; as a spooky, entry-level charmer, it’s perfect for a horror fan to watch with a small child.
The movie was released in October of 1979, and there is an undeniable ’70s influence throughout, from the casting of the actors (Taxi’s Judd Hirsch as Dracula?) to the nods to the commercially prevalent music of the era, disco. Depending on your point of view, those influences could either be charming or grating. For a child, it won’t matter either way, and they’ll likely just enjoy seeing all the monsters summoned to Dracula’s castle for a huge monster pow wow.
The plot is simple. On a Transylvanian newscast, Dracula is blamed for what might be the demise of Halloween. In turn, he points the finger at ALL the monsters, who have gotten so complacent with their status as monsters (the Wolfman has been doing ads for razors) that they have ceased to be scary. So Drac invites the whole lot of them (Frankenstein’s Monster, a zombie, Wolfman, the Mummy, a witch) to his spooky crib with the goal being to make them scary again so Halloween can continue on its dark, happy path.
The witch (Mariette Hartley – more odd casting) is the one who started the rumor of Halloween’s demise, mostly because she doesn’t feel like celebrating the holiday anymore. For some unexplainable reason, Halloween cannot continue unless the witch flies over the moon. A group of trick-or-treaters restore her Halloween spirit and confidence, and the only thing left is for Drac to live up to a ridiculous (and charmingly dated – again, depending on your POV) promise he made to her: disco dance in his Transylvanian home.
The Emmy-winning short telefilm was directed by Bruce Bilson, a longtime television veteran. Character actor John Schuck, one of those “Hey, I’ve seen that guy in other stuff” types, played the very Herman Munster-y Frankenstein Monster in The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t, and reunited with Bilson a few years later to portray Herman in the somewhat less charmingly dated The Munsters Today.
Like a lot of other forgotten mini-gems from that era, The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t has never gotten a DVD release. It’s not too hard to track down a VHS copy if you want to check it out for yourself. At the very least, it’s a Halloweenish, pleasantly innocuous intro for younger children into our favorite genre and an odd, smile-inducing jaunt for a more seasoned horror fan.
Paul Counelis is the author of Kendall Kingsley and the Secret of the Scarecrow, which is available for purchase here. He writes about horror for a number of publications and websites, including suite101. His latest book, 25 Underrated Horror Films (and The Exorcist), is available here.