Are you looking for a harrowing supernatural thriller to watch this Halloween night? Look elsewhere. Are you hunting a heartwarming tale about a loving family that never fails to support one another? Then you should know that both The Addams Family and Addams Family Values are available to watch on Hulu.
I volunteered to watch these movies, which I hadn’t seen in roughly 20 years despite the fact that they are increasingly beloved on social media, as potentially easy Halloween content. What I found instead, much to my surprise, was a balm for my frazzled soul. My very own version of the Hallmark Channel, or ABC Family. These movies depict an intergenerational family unit that is downright aspirational, and their story will leave you with a much-needed feeling of immense goodwill.
The Addamses are my Waltons.
There’s no reason the movies should have been so good. The initial franchise grew out of a series of New Yorker cartoons by Charles Addams, which were adapted into an ABC television show in 1964. It only ran for two years but grew into a cult phenomenon, and eventually gave birth to these two movies, released in 1991 and 1993. They testify to the fact that the best reboot of a childhood touchstone is one where all the adults involved appear to be having the time of their lives; see also the recent live-action Beauty and the Beast.
The Addams Family opens with an oddly compelling version of Gomez Addams, played by Raul Julia, and a luminously goth Morticia Addams, perfectly portrayed by Anjelica Huston. Christina Ricci is a deadpan Wednesday. But we have yet to meet brother Fester Addams, played by Christopher Lloyd, looking very different from his Back to the Future character with his graveyard makeup job and what appears to be an inflatable pool float for a body. The movie is the story of his reunion with his long-lost family; he’s had amnesia for years and has been under the sway of a wicked woman claiming to be his mother, who uses him as a heavy for her scams. He thinks he is merely posing as Fester, but finds himself inexorably drawn into the bosom of his family. He has found his place, tucking Wednesday and her headless doll into bed and helping her and Pugsley create bloody special effects for their talent show performances.
You could put this in the dictionary to illustrate the term “supportive”:
If The Addams Family is good, though, Addams Family Values is nothing short of incredible. Again, the drama revolves around Fester. Joan Cusack arrives a nanny to the newly arrived third Addams child—Pubert, a robust but pasty creature with a Gomez-style ‘stache. But in fact she is the Black Widow, a notorious scammer and serial killer who seduces rich men, kills them, and takes their fortune. (The Addams have some enormous family fortune that, like so much else about them, is never explained.) Cusack plays this role to the hilt, vamping around, dumping her boobs into Fester’s lap as though they were a bucket of ripe apples. Because she is evil, she sends Wednesday and Pugsley off to an expensive, exclusive summer camp populated largely by the worst sort of WASP and run by Christine Baranski and Peter MacNicol, a pair of frighteningly upbeat camp counselors who seem much more likely to bite the heads off bats than any of the Addamses.
In addition to her wonderfully cartoonish villainy, Debbie’s outfits are fantastic.
Her style is played effectively off that of Huston’s stunning Morticia, culminating in this fantastic exchange.
Naturally Fester is disappointed to learn the truth about his wife, but he quickly recovers, because he is immediately, warmly embraced back into the family that fought to rescue him all along.
The emotional center of this family is, of course, Morticia, played as a radiant beauty by Anjelica Huston. She and Gomez are the type of parents so utterly in love with each other that it’s embarrassing at 14 and inspiring at 35. She is a serene rock, the counterpoint to her easily riled husband. When her older children are struggling with the addition of young Pubert, she understands but also firmly diffuses their antics. Look at this fondly stern portrait of motherhood:
She needs additional childcare because, “I’m just like any modern woman, trying to have it all. A loving husband, a family. It’s just that I wish I had more time to seek out the dark forces and join their hellish crusade. That’s all.” In The Addams Family, when Wednesday’s teacher is attempting to express concern about her daughter, Morticia learns that another girl identified newscaster Jane Pauley as her personal hero and asks with genuinely warm, maternal concern for this troubled child: “Have you spoken to her parents?”
When Pubert’s growth is so disrupted by the unhappily divided state of his family life that he turns into—horrors!—a curly haired, rosy-cheeked angel, she is practically a Hot Topic pieta, all grave, dignified mourning. But in this state he loves The Cat in the Hat, despite the fact that, to her disgust, everybody lives, and so she sits down in the nursery that’s been redecorated to suit his terrible state to read it to him.
And also, her fantastic eye makeup is perpetually lit gently by spotlight.
The Addamses aren’t countercultural—their spookiness isn’t a posture in reaction to the outside world. They’re just like this. They exist in a pocket social universe where everything makes perfect sense to them, a quality that has always been intrinsic to the franchise. In an essay at Hazlitt comparing the Addams family to that other great 1960s TV phenomenon, the Munsters, Anna Fitzpatrick writes:
In the first episode of the Addams Family, a truant officer visits the family to enroll the children in school. This was a common formula for the show, especially in its first season: someone from the “regular world,” like a politician or neighbour, would pay a visit to the Addams’ home only to be shocked by their way of doing things. (The show repeated a lot of gags, and no matter how many times Morticia cut the head off flowers or Lurch said “You rang?” in his baritone, the laugh track roared along.) Wednesday and Pugsley are sent to school, only to come home horrified by the stories they are forced to read in which a knight in shining armor kills a “poor, defenseless, dragon.”
The Addamses are relentlessly odd. They celebrate Halloween like Christmas, and Christmas by routing carolers with hot oil. Their yard is a cemetery full of their own dearly departed relatives. Their cousin is an animate wig, and there’s a disembodied hand seamlessly integrated into their domestic sphere. Nothing makes them happier than spiderwebs and gloom, except they’d sigh contentedly over their exquisite misery rather than joy. But then, doesn’t every family has its own inexplicable customs? One family’s beloved Thanksgiving tradition is another’s dorky nightmare; one family’s rude but hilarious inside joke is another’s tasteless vulgarity.
Perhaps Tolstoy was right: Happy families are all alike, in that to the rest of the world—even members of other, equally happy families—they’re all their own version of the Addams Family.