A Sci-Fi Honey ‘Happy Hexmas’ Double Feature Review by Katie

The Addams Family (1991) & Addams Family Values (1993)

The most wonderful time of the year is upon us, and all of us here at the Horror Honeys are taking the time to reflect on favorite Halloween traditions past and present.  This Sci-Fi Honey loves to watch all kinds of horror all year long, from A to Z (Aliens to Zombies, of course), but there’s a special lineup reserved for Halloween evening that is devoted in my household to “family frights.”  I’ve long ago made the transition from being the one who trick-or-treats to the one who distributes said delicious and devious delights, but something about this night still brings out the whimsically wicked kid in me. 

Decorating and dressing up for the amusement of the doorbell-ringing revelers, I always make sure to have plenty of candy in my bowl and some monstrously merry – but kiddie friendly – fare on my tv screen.  From Casper to Beetlejuice and Hocus Pocus, no family fright goes unwatched in the candy-distributing hours from dusk until moonrise on All Hallows’ Eve.  During this most magical of nights, I always make time to visit with one of my favorite families of horror: the creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky, altogether ooky Addams family.

In 1991, I was seven years old; having never seen the 1960s TV show and not a reader of The New Yorker at that age, in which Charles Addams’ one-panel comics originally featured, Barry Sonnenfeld’s 1991 film was my first exposure to this Goth-eclectic bunch.  It’s entirely possible that I get even more enjoyment out of watching these films as an adult than when I was a child, but as a seven-year-old Wednesday Addams wannabe, I felt as though I’d finally found the family I’d always wanted to be a part of.  And what’s not to love?  Parents whose passion burns for each other just as much as the day they met; siblings who always make time to play (even if butcher knives, a guillotine, and electric chair are involved); a close-knit extended family, including a kooky uncle and grandmamma; your very own devoted servant, and a mansion built atop a centuries-old graveyard… HEAVEN.

Co-written by frequent Tim Burton collaborator Caroline Thompson, the first Addams Family film centers primarily on the character of Uncle Fester, who has re-joined the Addams clan after spending decades living under the thumb of a brainwashing mother-type figure, played by Elizabeth Wilson.  As he acclimates himself to their curious lifestyle, we see this twisted take on the nuclear family played out through their domestic relationships: Gomez, the patriarch, and his morbid bride Morticia, who have a penchant for tango and some hinted-at S&M (it’s a kid’s movie!); Wednesday, the eldest Addams child, who delights in attempting to maim and/or kill her dimwitted younger brother Pugsley; and the peripheral characters making up the rest of the Addams crew, including a witchy grandmamma, a Frankenstein-like butler, a highly dexterous disembodied hand called Thing, and the perennially shaggy Cousin Itt.  The film was generally well-received by critics and was a financial success, which all but guaranteed a sequel.  More than that, however, these characters became an instantly recognizable brand, brought to vivid life by the costumes and sets they inhabited, as well as the phenomenal actors that embodied them.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it forever: The Addams Family is the most perfectly cast film ever made.  The late Raúl Juliá is a revelation in the Gomez Addams role, dramatically rolling his “R’s”, engaging in spirited dance and swordplay, and romancing Morticia with utter abandon.  Anjelica Huston, too, is spot-on as Morticia: sinister yet seductive, impeccably costumed with the right amount of gloom and glam.  Christina Ricci all but became Goth royalty after this performance, and she’s worked steadily in the horror genre since then, from Sleepy Hollow to Cursed to this year’s Lizzie Borden Took an Ax.  Christopher Lloyd was one of the biggest movie stars in the late 80’s/early 90’s, which might explain why not only the first film but also the second centers largely on a conflict involving the Uncle Fester character.

Fortunately, the entire cast of the original film returned for the sequel, 1993’s Addams Family Values.  Uncle Fester is yet again reeled in by a money-grubbing ball-buster of a woman (this time played by Joan Cusack), and the family must work together to break her spell and reunite Fester with his rightful place in the Addams home.  It’s my contention that the A-plots of both films are not as funny, exciting or classic as the B-plots; the best scenes in both films actually have to do with the children – in The Addams Family, it’s the scene where the kids perform a blood-spattered play, and similarly, in Addams Family Values it’s the classic Thanksgiving play scene.  Anything involving either the dynamics of the Addams siblings or the relationship between Gomez and Morticia is pure gold – anything to do with Fester, unfortunately, can come off as just a cheap comedic gag.  The A-plot of Addams Family Values, however, works better than the first film, largely because of a manically tour-de-force performance by Joan Cusack as the black widow preying on Fester’s ability to think only with his libido (eww).  Joan is an absolute riot to watch in this film, and her presence is the reason Values edges out its predecessor as the better of the two.

Every Halloween I look forward to having this family grace my TV screen, and even as I get older I still get enjoyment out of so much of what these films have to offer – especially the naughtier jokes I didn’t get when I was younger.  Had there been a third film with the original cast I would’ve been inclined to watch it; sadly, Raúl Juliá passed away shortly after the second film came out, and the potential for a third was relegated to a direct-to-video release with Tim Curry and Daryl Hannah in the lead roles.  Without the original cast, the magic of the first two films just cannot be recaptured, and even now watching re-runs of the 1960’s sitcom, it feels all wrong.  The Addams Family and Addams Family Values are a double feature worth revisiting this Halloween season, whether you haven’t seen it since you were a kid or want to experience it now with a child of your own – it’s never too early to instill the love of horror in your little monsters!

Sci-Fi Honey Rating:  The Addams Family – 4/5 finger snaps
Addams Family Values 5/5 finger snaps

…and now you have the theme song in your head.  You’re welcome. *snap snap*