Saturday, October 27, 2012

Halloween Holocaust: The Addams Family (Barry Sonnenfeld, 1991)

Like Coppola's Dracula, which we looked at yesterday, this big screen outing for Charles Addams' famous family is another early 90's big budget genre film that is worth seeing for both its grand gothic visuals and, perhaps more importantly, the generosity of spirit it exudes. Whilst not really a horror film in the traditional sense, it's arguably an ideal movie to introduce the kiddywinks to the weird and wonderful world of the macabre.  

It occurred to me when re-watching the film recently that the plot is roughly in the vein of 'slobs against the snobs' movies such as Animal House and Caddyshack, but with fun-loving goths against crooked con artists. The audience surrogate character, who is pulled between these two polarised worlds is Gordon Craven (a near unrecognisable Christopher Lloyd, who gives a fantastic, physical performance and looks surprisingly even creepier with hair than without), who is pushed by his tyrannical mother (Elizabeth Wilson) and the Addams' family lawyer Tully Alford (Dan Hedaya) - who is deeply in debt to this dubious pair - into impersonating the Addams' long lost Uncle Fester, in order to gain access to the riches stashed away in the family vault. He's initially perplexed - and no doubt a little bit terrified - by the creepy, kooky bunch, and only hangs around to find the promised loot. Before long though, the off-kilter charm of the family has him thoroughly disarmed, and feeling more at home than he ever was as his mama's lap dog. However, as old family ties still run deep, the matriarch still manages to maintain an emotional hold over him, later compelling him to betray his recently met relations and give up his newly found domestic bliss.    

As you've no doubt gathered from the above synopsis, the film is basically about the importance of family over the self-centered acquisition of money and material wealth. Thankfully though, these themes are so lightly embedded into the story that it never feels like you're being bashed over the head by subtext; nonetheless, it's nice to know the movie has some meat on its bones, so to speak.

The contributions of all involved - both in front of and behind the camera - are consummate and committed, with excellent performances all round from the likes of the late Raul Julia (who plays Gomez with infectious, head-to-toe gusto), a strangely alluring Anjelica Huston, and a young Christina Ricci, who plays Wednesday with an appropriate mix of poker faced deadly seriousness and diabolical glee (see the scene where she electrocutes her brother Pugsley for evidence of the latter). Barry Sonnenfeld, who was, prior to this picture a DP for the Coen brothers, working on the likes of Blood Simple and Raising Arizona, turns in a confident directorial debut here. He also apparently completed the film's cinematography when the first two people employed for the job left, one owing to other work commitments and the other due to sudden illness. I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention the sumptuous score by Marc Shaiman, which recycles the famous theme from the TV series and also features many memorable cues of its own.

In a way, the brief pre-credit sequence - taken from one of Charles Addams' original cartoons - sums up another reason why this movie rocks. It shows a bunch of jolly Christmas carolers imploring us to "deck the halls" and all that jazz, before craning upwards to show the eponymous family tipping a cauldron of burning something-or-other onto these assembled purveyors of holiday cheer; and it screams out to me one basic message: "Death to Christmas! And long live Halloween!"  

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