PLEASE NOTE: The movies reviewed in From Here to Obscurity have either never been given an official VHS or DVD release, have been released on VHS but are long out of print and very hard to find, or are readily available in some form but have generally gone unnoticed by most of the general public.
Originally entitled The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t but given a very limited release on VHS in the late 80’s under the misleading title it’s primarily known as now, The Night Dracula Saved The World, this 23-minute live action short premiered on the ABC Network back in 1979 as an attempt to create a genuine holiday standard for Halloween. Whereas “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman” continue to be annual television traditions for Christmas, The Night Dracula Saved The World has pretty much faded into obscurity.
I must admit that I saw this special the night it originally aired, a wee lad at the time, and, frankly, it really didn’t excite me back then either. However, the memory of seeing this special has stayed with me all these years later, almost certainly due to something that happens at the very end. We’ll get to that shortly.
The first thing one needs to know about this special is that the casting of Dracula is either one of the most inspired or insipid there’s ever been for the character. Judd Hirsch as Count Dracula? I know this is only a children’s special and “Taxi” was a big hit on ABC at the time, but Judd Hirsch as Dracula? And yet there he is dressed like Bela Lugosi’s Dracula but with an extra layer of white foundation on his face and talking in an accent that makes him sound like a Hasidic Transylvanian. You keep waiting for him to go, “I vant to suck your blood. Oy vey!”
The Night Dracula Saved The World opens with a Transylvanian TV news report about how Count Dracula has ordered all of the world’s monsters to his castle for a summit the night before Halloween. The anchor speculates this may have something to do with a rumor floating about regarding the potential end of Halloween.
This leads to the living room of a remarkably American looking and sounding Transylvanian family, where the parents give their son and daughter a history lesson on Halloween’s true origins that seems designed to try and ease the concerns of more conservative families watching at home, pointing out the holiday’s less paganistic beginnings.
Back at Dracula’s castle, a low rent Igor who serves as Dracula’s butler, greets the various monsters as they arrive. First is Warren the Werewolf from Budapest. He looks like what I envision Frasier Crane would look like if he were to transform in the classic Universal Studios wolfman. Next from Bulvaria is the Frankenstein Creature, played by John Schuck in Herman Munster-like fashion. This must have proved prophetic because a decade later Schuck was cast as Herman Munster in short-lived sitcom “The Munsters Today.” This is followed by the arrival of Zabaar, the Zombie from Haiti, the whitest Haitian there’s ever been. I still can’t decide if he looks more like Brain Guy from “Mystery Science Theater 3000″ or the Rancor monster wrangler from Return of the Jedi. Whichever, he just walks straight past Igor with his arms forward as if he were sleepwalking. And then from Egypt enters a Mummy that looks to have been wrapped in really thick toilet paper. The last to arrive is the Witch, played by Mariette Hartley in full Wicked Witch of the West make-up. Igor introduces the Witch in a Michael Buffer-like fashion as “the flying queen of Halloween,” but she just shoves him aside because she’s in a really cranky mood. Dracula makes his entrance in bat form, although I’m not sure why he has to make an entrance since it is his castle, but then if he didn’t we wouldn’t be treated to a tired joke with him splattering against the window that Igor forgot to open.
Dracula proceeds to browbeat the monsters, complaining they exploited their monsterhood so much that people are laughing at them instead of being terrified. He’s particularly mad at the Wolfman for doing a razorblade commercial and Frankenstein for taking up tap dancing after seeing the movie Young Frankenstein. Dracula commands them all to be their old scary selves for Halloween tomorrow night or else he’ll have them replaced.
When the Witch refuses it’s revealed that she’s behind the rumors regarding the end of Halloween. Apparently there’s some sort of Halloween bylaw stating that the holiday cannot be unless the Witch flies on her broom across the moonlit sky on Halloween night. She angrily declares that she’s tired of being a witch, all the ugly stereotypes that come along with being one, and fed up with the lack of respect she receives from the likes of Dracula. She threatens to quit unless Dracula agrees to her list of demands: her picture replaces his on all Transylvanian souvenir t-shirts, that he publicly apologizes for bullying the other monsters, and that she be given equal authority with him for control of the monster world.
Needless to say, Dracula does not agree and the Witch announces that she’s quitting and Halloween will be no more. A (allegedly) comical chase scene using sped up footage and characters going in one door and out another, the kind of sequence you’d see on “Benny Hill” or “Banana Splits”, ensues. The Witch eventually flies off on her broom and Dracula has to give up the chase because the sun begins coming up. Bat splat window gag – take two.
Halloween night. As Transylvanian TV reports that Halloween may be cancelled unless the witch can be convinced to fly on her broom across the moon that night and those two children watch sad-eyed, Dracula leads the monsters to the Witch’s castle where he wants to hypnotize her. The plan fails when the Witch uses her magic powers to cause three Musketeers in a painting on the wall to spring to life and scare off the monsters just long enough for her to escape to her upstairs bedroom. She’s unable to simply fly off away again because Dracula has confiscated her broom.
So now the remainder of the special boils down to Dracula trying to figure out how he’s going to coax her out of the room. While they plot on one side of the door, the witch listens on the other side and comes up with ways to thwart their attempts to get into the room. After several comically inept failures, Dracula is left with no alternative but to give into her demands. Turns out she has one last demand: she wants him to take her disco dancing every night. See, the Witch really is scarier than Dracula.
Yet even after agreeing to sully himself with the scourge upon mankind known as disco, the Witch still refuses because “nobody loves a witch.” Just in the nick of time, those two adorable kids appear from out of nowhere to plead their case for why she should save Halloween, finally getting her to open the door so she can see them in their adorable Halloween costumes. She asks the young girl in full witch regalia why she chose that costume and the tyke tells her that she’s loves witches and loves the Witch just the way she is. Oh, I bet Dr. James Dobson loves this special all right.
The witch undergoes the same metamorphosis that the Grinch did at the end of his tale and agrees to fly in front of the moon. Before doing so, she orders Dracula to have a disco party in full swing in time for her return. Dracula recoils in horror at this concept just as any normal person would. In the end, the witch flies on her broom across the moonlit sky in an effect sequence worthy of an episode of Reading Rainbow, Halloween is saved, the children are happy, the monsters celebrate, and Dracula does indeed have an impromptu disco party at his castle waiting for her when she returns.
I told you there was a reason why I was never able to forget this special. It’s all because of this last scene, the disco ball in Dracula’s castle that looks like the Village People set up shop in the Addams Family’s living room. The witch returns and magically transforms herself into Mariette Hartley in her real-life attractive blonde form and Dracula throws off his cape to reveal he’s dressed in full Saturday Night Fever mode. Everyone boogies and my subconscious is forever scarred. Judd Hirsch dressed up as disco Dracula is a sight simply to horrifying for a children’s special. It’s too horrifying for adults, too.
Yeah, I can see why this never became a holiday standard. I don’t think I had even begun kindergarten when I first saw it and even then I had enough sense to know that disco sucks. The Night Dracula Saved The World is fairly harmless fluff that’s mildly amusing at best. Its heart is in the right place but it’s just too bland for a holiday fable, especially a holiday based around ghosts and goblins. It’s too talky, doesn’t have much by way of action or hijinks, is neither whimsical or comical enough, and I’m not even sure why they bothered to include the other monsters since Dracula, the Witch, and Igor are the only ones that ever get to much of anything. The others only get a few lines here except for the Mummy and the Zombie; they just get to stand there silently.
I wasn’t overly impressed with this special as a kid and as an adult watching it again for the first time in well over twenty years; I’m still underwhelmed. Perhaps had it clocked in at an hour it might have been able to develop the story better and give the other monsters something to do; as it is, The Night Dracula Saved The World or The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t is just innocuous kiddy fare that’s already badly dated thanks to the hideous disco finale.
Oh well. At least we still have “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”
2 out of 5
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