Everyone has vague remembrances of holiday favorites that they watched when they were kids. There are still several Christmas or Easter specials I still can’t quite recall, little Rankin and Bass wonders that with every passing year seem to be more and more forgotten. But the good ole stop motion wasn’t the only thing that kids could find on their favorite days of the year. Nearly every cartoon or family show had their own special to draw in the kiddies, some even making a yearly ritual of it.
My favorite specials were always the Halloween ones. It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is of course the gold standard, but we all have our other favorites. And for me, it was Great Pumpkin, Garfield’s Halloween Adventure (Please read here for that trauma,) and The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t.
“That Almost Wasn’t?” What horror! What Shock! No Halloween? Forget that noise. If I don’t get Halloween, then it’s all over. But that is the premise to scare any candy-loving child: what if no one believed anymore and Halloween stopped existing? They’ve threatened Santa at Christmas, they’ve threatened the Easter Bunny. But Halloween? What is life without All Hallow’s Eve?
Also titled The Night Dracula Saved The World, The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t premiered in 1979 from Disney, and was often paired with Disney’s Halloween Treat during October until both were retired in 1990. The plot centered around Dracula, played by Judd Hirsch, as he banded all the iconic horror monsters of our time to convince the Witch (Mariette Hartley,) to fly over the moon. Just like Santa on December 25, if she is not seen flying through the night sky on All Hallow’s Eve, then there are no tricks or treats for anyone, anywhere. The original bat-man must band together the most powerful allies he has: The Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s Monster and Igor, The Mummy, and Zabaar the Zombie, who with two faithful children go on a quest to help the Witch care about Halloween again and not ruin the magic for everyone out there.
In the end, Dracula and the Witch settle on an agreement regarding her demands, (which include a Saturday Night Fever-esque disco party as a fitting finale for the night) and buoyed with the love and belief of the children October 31 is saved just in the nick of time. The special won an Emmy Award for “Outstanding Individual Achievement – Children’s Program” and was nominated for three others that same year. The special also starred John Schuck as the Frankenstein Monster, Henry Gibson as Igor, and Jack Riley as the Wolf Man.
This twist on the classic theme of believing and supporting our fantastical characters was a definite stand-out in my development into the warped young woman I have come to be. Most specials, for anything in the year, usually consisted of Peanut characters, cartoons and stop motion. And as iconic and wonderful as all that is, it does make a live-action show stand out. Add in the perfect blend of fun for kids, and just enough of a nod to its current popular culture for adults, (i.e. Frankenstein being inspired by a movie to tap dance, a la Young Frankenstein,) it became a staple in our home. Thisis getting worn ragged on the Betamax player and a definite nostalgia-kicker, I would love to have this on my shelf next to my She-Ra Christmas Special and Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealer, but unfortunately it was only ever released on VHS. But thanks to the modern age you can check the show out on YouTube, where you can watch in full.
If you are a fan of monsters saving the day, or just a fan of vintage fare, this is a certainly a gem. Although a little dated it’s still a good time, and for those in the mood for a little step back into their childhood as they carve those pumpkins it is some fresh blood to a spooky Halloween night.