I LOVE Halloween specials. I mean, we're talking run-back-into-a-burning-building-to-rescue-rare-VHS-tapes-kind of love here. You want to talk nostalgia? All it takes is one viewing of It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and I am instantly five years old again, ready to don my own poorly devised ghost costume and go trick-or-treating until the last porch light is shut off. I think this is one area where Halloween has a clear advantage over Christmas. Christmas specials, while also nostalgic and frequently awesome, are more limited by plot conventions. Name one yuletide TV special that doesn't feature a grump trying to ignore the holiday, then undergo an emotional transformation and shed a few tears of happiness. Or the one where the lovable group of misfits heroically save the celebration from being canceled at the last minute. Christmas specials are fun and pretty, but also rather predictable. Halloween specials are in a class of their own. The supernatural air of the proceedings means that basically anything goes, so these specials are typically more imaginative and more visually interesting than anything you'll see in December. Not to mention funnier.
|"But mom, I can't sleep yet! A new one just came on!"|
Compiling a complete or even adequate list of Halloween specials would take forever, and there's awesome people with their own awesome websites who are already hard at work on such a task. So I'm going to focus here on one particular special, one that features all the best things about Halloween, is riotously funny, and just incredible to look at. Still, odds are good that you've never even heard of it. I'm talking about the 1970s classic Witch's Night Out.
|Original artwork by http://4gottenlore.deviantart.com/|
The plot is fairly simple. A group of adults need a space for their boring adult Halloween party, and the creepy old house on the hill seems like a perfect location. They don't seem to know that there's a witch (voiced wonderfully by the late Gilda Radner) living there. Ousted from her home by the proceedings, she happens upon two young children named Small and Tender, who are upset that their costumes aren't frightening anyone. Along with their friendly babysitter Bazooey, the witch transforms them into real, actual monsters, and they all decide that the party needs some excitement. Things get a bit messy from there.
Ironically, this was a sequel to a Christmas special titled The Gift of Winter which I have not seen. Witch's Night Out aired once on NBC in 1978, then on The Disney Channel annually from 1983 until about 1997 or so. The voice work is a treat, the animation is unique, and the jokes are just great. The names provide for easy characterizing: Rotten, Malicious, Small, Tender. The music is very charming and the titular witch is just a blast. The kids and their babysitter, in monster form, are also really cool to see, and you can tell that a lot of love was poured into this.
So why aren't we watching this every year right alongside Charlie Brown and Garfield? I wish I knew. This special is truly something else, a magical thing that gets better with age. You've got loads of iconic Halloween fixtures -monsters, ghosts, witches, spooky houses, trick-or-treating. You've got a fun and unusual production design that looks like nothing else I've ever seen. And you've got a legitimately funny script. So where is it? No clue. It was released on VHS way back in 1995, and I paid $40 on ebay for a VHS rip that cuts off the last 20 seconds of the credits. Worth it. But man alive, a proper DVD release would be wonderful. It's not like the property owners aren't paying attention either. If someone manages to get the full special online, it usually has a day or two tops before the copyright police get it taken down. If they can see we want it, especially after the money that DVD releases of classic made-for-TV horror have been making, why won't they give it to us?
Witch's Night Out is a gem in the TV special world. If you have the opportunity to watch it, don't hesitate. You may not get another chance.