About Christmas TV History

Monday, October 31, 2016

Addams Family Christmas (1965)

For Halloween this year, I thought I'd re-visit the classic 60s TV series The Addams Family, but I want to go down on record as saying that this series is good to watch year round. I wrote about the 1965 episode "Christmas with the Addams Family" quite a few years ago but I thought I'd expand the discussion and add more photos. This family may be creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky--but the Addams Family knows how to do Christmas. Is this classic Christmas episode an important part of your annual viewing?

What does Wednesday and Pugsley want for Christmas? Wednesday wishes for a new Marie Antoinette doll to play with her guillotine, and Pugsley wishes for a bow & arrow set to shoot apples off Uncle Fester's head! How adorable.

In "Christmas with the Addams Family," Morticia and Gomez are enjoying a Christmas gift they've just received in the mail when their children Pugsley and Wednesday ask if Santa Claus is going to come to the house. Morticia and Gomez assure their children that Santa is most definitely coming--when Pugsley reveals that a neighbor told him that Santa doesn't exist. The parents confirm to their children that Santa does indeed exist, reminding them how this neighbor has been wrong before.

Morticia decorates the traditional Addams family Christmas tree. Notice it has no needles.

Later Morticia and Gomez explain to Uncle Fester about the children's concerns for Santa's existence. Afraid Puglsey and Wednesday's hearts may be broken if something delays Santa, the adults agree to provide back-up--just in case Santa can't make it tonight. Uncle Fester is recruited to wear a Santa costume to help keep the children's spirits up.

The children stoke the fire to give Santa "a warm welcome."

What no one knows is that Uncle Fester is stuck in the chimney!?

Several hours into Christmas Eve, Santa Claus still hasn't made an appearance. Gomez and Morticia worry about Fester--where could he be? The children are growing concerned that Santa isn't coming and the family tries to console them. Desperate to keep the children's belief in Santa alive, each of them individually sets out to get a Santa suit.

Meanwhile, Morticia plucks the shamisen and sings "Deck the Halls" while Lurch plays along on the harpsichord and Thing accompanies with sleigh bells.

Gomez Claus.

First, Gomez taps on the upstairs window where the children are. They let Santa in the house and he gives them exactly what they wished for: a Marie Antoinette doll and a bow & arrow. The children are happy to meet Santa Claus! He dashes out the window only for there to be a knock at the door--it's another Santa. The children notice this one resembles and sounds like Grandmama. She also gives them a Marie Antoinette doll and a bow & arrow, expresses her holiday greetings, and then leaves the children.

Grandmama Claus.

Lurch Claus.

Wanting to see if Santa has left anything else under the Christmas tree, Pugsley and Wednesday go downstairs to the living room. There they encounter another Santa who lovingly gives them another doll and bow & arrow set, and scurries away. With their arms full of toys, the children remark about how they recognize this Santa too. Wednesday explains how she so easily recognizes Lurch through his Santa Claus suit: "I could tell by his smile." Despite the obvious deceptions, Wednesday and Pugsley agree to play along with the adults' game.

Cousin Itt Claus.

Morticia Claus too!

Next, they are confronted by Cousin Itt dressed as Santa who also gifts them a doll and bow & arrow, followed by their mother offering them another doll and bow & arrow. With their arms full of dolls and bows & arrows, the Santas gather together and the children acknowledge how lucky they are to have such a wonderful family. With that, Uncle Fester finally drops down the chimney--the living room now has six Santa Clauses!!

Unaware of what each other was doing, it takes a second for the adults to catch up and recognize each other.

The family hears a commotion by the Christmas tree....

Each of the Santas didn't know the others were planning on visiting Pugsley and Wednesday but they're happy that Fester has finally arrived. Suddenly, there's a commotion behind them and their attention is drawn to the family Christmas tree.

I wonder who gets the bike?

In the blink of an eye, the real Santa Claus has come and left them more Christmas presents under the tree! There was no need to provide back-up for Santa after all. In the end, Fester says he returned several of the bow & arrow sets to exchange for a chemistry set for the children. Viewers see the plaster fall from the ceiling on Fester, Morticia, and Gomez after Pugsley makes his own gun powder.

"We Wish You a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!"

But this episode offers one more treat. The whole family gathers together to sing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," breaking the fourth wall to offer their holiday greetings to TV viewers. The Addamses might be "altogether ooky"--but they've got the right Christmas spirit.

What's your favorite 60s TV family Christmas episode? Feel free to share it in the comments below.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Home for the Holidays (1972)

This post is part of the Terror TV Blogathon going on this weekend, hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. You can click here to read the other fabulous entries. Merry Halloween!

The subtitle for this movie should read: "And you thought YOUR family was trouble for Christmas!"

For this holiday weekend blogathon, I want to share about the 1972 made-for-TV movie Home for the Holidays. The ABC Movie of the Week was an Aaron Spelling/Leonard Goldberg Production. It is was directed by John Llewellyn Moxey. Home for the Holidays fits in perfectly as a Halloween/Christmas cross-over. Although the story is set at Christmas, the characters are suspicious, paranoid, off-balance, and driven mad. The creepy movie feels like an old-fashioned, American gothic horror tale with a doomed family mansion, constant storms and rain showers, shadows, secrets and whispers, deceptions, and even murders. Despite the over-used and now meaningless title, you'll never mistake it for a Christmas TV movie airing on the Hallmark Channel!

Even though the movie is strong and certainly one of a kind, I fear Home for the Holidays is overlooked because of its rarity. It was released on VHS in the 1980s but there isn't an official DVD release, that I know of. If you want to dig around on the internet, your efforts will be rewarded.

Four sisters left to right: Christine (Sally Field), Jo (Jill Haworth), Freddie (Jessica Walter), and Alex (Eleanor Parker).

The story begins with the four Morgan sisters returning home for Christmas. That sounds like a happy family reunion, right? Quickly it unfolds that these sisters feel forced to return to the family home they all fled nine years ago. The oldest sister Alex has united her sisters after receiving a note from their father that says, "My wife is slowly poisoning me to death." The wife he refers to is actually their step-mother Elizabeth--the woman he was having an affair with when his first wife/their biological mother killed herself. The sisters blame their father for their mother's suicide and let's just say they don't like Elizabeth.

The step-mother Elizabeth is played by Julie Harris.

Visiting the family home is a painful experience for the sisters because of the shame and guilt they feel about their mother's suicide. They also have no lost love for their father and his second wife. But viewers see Elizabeth welcome the four sisters into her home even though she knows they resent her and don't like her. What an awkward Christmas reunion.

Their invalid father thinks he's being poisoned by his wife. He makes sure to announce that his estate is being handed down to his daughters in his latest will.

Alex's motivation is expressed efficiently to her sisters, "We may not care if he [Father] lives or dies but we can't let that woman get away with murder. Again." Whether she's speaking about their mother's death or Elizabeth's first husband's mysterious death (for the record, the grand jury decided to pass on prosecuting her), the sisters have reasons to be suspicious and concerned.

Why did their father ask them to come? He wants them to KILL Elizabeth. Oh dear.

The four Morgan sisters have paid a price for their father's past. The oldest Alex is the responsible one, burdened by looking after her younger sisters. Jo is the bitter, cynical sister that has stopped caring about her father's well-being. Freddie struggles with alcohol and drug addiction, numbing herself from the pain of her mother's suicide. And, the youngest is naive Christine--a graduate student--who struggles with relationships with men. After their father reveals that he's written a new will passing down his money and estate to his daughters, he asks them to kill Elizabeth for him. Not your typical Christmas TV movie, is it?

Christmas in the Morgan home is filled with shadows and darkness.

So far, these plot revelations are sort of beside the point. The film's strengths are the mood and tone. There's a severe rainstorm happening outside and many of the family conversations (and confrontations) are highlighted by lightning flashes and thunder. Despite the family hatred, resentment, and strife, the Morgans are gathered at Christmas time--there's a beautifully decorated Christmas tree at the bottom of the open spiral staircase in the home, and Elizabeth prepares an extravagant turkey dinner with all the trimmings for the Christmas Eve dinner. The disjunction between the warmth of the holiday and the family members' feelings for each other serves the tone. The story is off-balance and dark. It feels unpredictable--like anything can happen.

Freddie had been drinking--was her death accidental?

If possible, the story grows darker. Jo is fed up with her father's paranoid ramblings. She couldn't care less about him dying and she's not going to kill Elizabeth, so she decides to leave. In the garage before Jo can drive away, a woman in a yellow rain slicker uses a pitchfork to permanently stop her from leaving. Next, Freddie is found dead in her bathtub. Alex, Christine, and Elizabeth don't know if it was suicide, accidental drowning, or murder. (But viewers know that the drowning was assisted by a woman wearing gloves from the kitchen sink). No one knows if they should be suspicious of each other or not.

The phone is dead--now what?

Too bad the phone is dead from the rain storm and they can't call the local sheriff. The road has washed away in the storm so they feel trapped in the home. Accusations are made--Christine thinks Freddie was suicidal but Alex accuses Elizabeth of poisoning Freddie's drinks. Christine feels helpless and decides to brave the rainstorm to walk a mile through the woods to a neighbor's home.

Christine heads out into the rain. There's no snow in this Christmas story.

Watch out! Someone in the yellow rain slicker and the pitchfork follows her into the woods. Christine escapes her pursuer and backtracks through the woods. She hides herself in the garage and discovers her sister Jo's body! Even though the nearest town is 10 miles away (and the road may be washed out), Christine takes to the road to look for help--and safety.

"Come back, Christine!" Elizabeth isn't stupid--she knows they think she's horrible and dangerous. But she has a reasonable explanation for each accusation they throw at her.

Christine finds her sister Jo never left after all.

I don't want to reveal too much more. However, the killer's identity and motivation when revealed proves to be a satisfying ending. Each time I watch this movie, I like it more and more. They don't make Christmas TV movies like this anymore.

The father Benjamin Morgan is played by Walter Brennan.

Another strength of this movie is its outstanding cast. Oscar-winner Walter Brennan plays the father Benjamin Morgan. I've seen Brennan in more westerns than I can name, and he played the cantankerous grandpa Amos McCoy on the 60s sitcom The Real McCoys too. It's easy to see him play the paranoid father that is estranged from his daughters. Another shining star is Julie Harris as the step-mother Elizabeth. I always think of the movie East of Eden (her co-star was James Dean) when I think of Harris but in fact, she earned praise for many roles throughout her long career.

Sister Alex is played by Eleanor Parker.

Sister Freddie is played by Jessica Walter who has also enjoyed a long career. You may recognize her for playing the mother Lucille Bluth in the more recent TV comedy Arrested Development. Oldest sister Alex is played by Eleanor Parker--I remember her most fondly as the Baroness in the movie The Sound of Music. And, the youngest sister Christine is played by Oscar-winner Sally Field. In 1972 when this movie was made, Field was already beyond her TV roles as Gidget and The Flying Nun but she hadn't yet made the movies Sybil, Smokey & the Bandit, and Norma Rae--all unforgettable roles.

Don't wait to long if you'd like to watch it--this video will probably disappear soon. Make sure to comment if you're a fan of this movie like I am. And please, check out the other essays in the Terror TV blogathon.

Merry Halloween!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Tales from the Crypt Christmas (1989)

Did you ever watch the horror anthology series Tales from the Crypt on HBO?
Last week, I discussed the 1972 horror movie Tales from the Crypt and its first segment which takes place at Christmas. Click here to see that post again. The original source material that inspired the movie segment was adapted again in 1989 for an episode of the HBO horror series Tales from the Crypt. The TV episode, also entitled "And All Through the House," is slightly longer than the 1972 movie version and includes more action. Have you seen either filmed versions before? Have you read the original 1954 horror comic? You're in for a treat.

HBO's Tales from the Crypt's Crypt Keeper dresses as Santa Claus to introduce this holiday episode.

Not everyone is happy this Christmas.

The episode begins with an ideal Christmas setting. We see an inviting living room, a roaring fire in the fireplace, snow gently falling outside, a beautifully decorated Christmas tree surrounded by gifts, and Nat King Cole's "A Christmas Song" playing on the radio nearby. But the tone quickly changes. Without an explanation, the wife strikes and kills her husband with a fireplace poker!

We learn that the murder was planned and she's now a wealthy woman.

The noise startles her young daughter out of bed and Carrie calls for her mother from the top of the stairs, asking if Santa has arrived yet. Hiding her misdeed, the woman sends Carrie back to bed until morning. Next, she checks on her husband's life insurance policy and she makes a phone call to her boyfriend. Viewers are quickly caught up to speed. The story's tension begins to grow.

The wife methodically cleans up and removes the body from the home.

The woman sets out to carefully clean up the blood and remove the body from the living room. As cheerful, festive carols play on the radio, we watch the wife's purposeful,  cover-up of her dark crime. After opening the front door and dragging the body outside, we hear a public service announcement on the radio. A criminally insane murderer dressed in a Santa suit has escaped from a nearby mental hospital. People are warned to lock their windows and doors until he is caught by the police. Too bad she didn't hear the warning!

Is there someone out there?

While she's in the yard, about to use an ax to chop up her husband (to more easily dispose of and hide the corpse), she's attacked by a madman in a Santa suit! She runs back inside the house and telephones the police. Before completing the call, we can read on her face that she has a problem. If the police arrive, they'll discover how she murdered her husband--so she hangs up the phone. Meanwhile, the deranged Santa is outside the house, running from window to window, looking for a way in. The tension continues to build in this wicked story.

Will this be the end for the murdering wife?

Just when you think you can't take it anymore, the murderous Santa breaks through a glass window and grabs the wife. In the struggle she's able to reach for the ax and hit him over the head. The madman falls back into the snow in the yard unconscious. The phone rings and the wife answers--it's the police warning her about a criminally insane Santa Claus roaming the neighborhood! (She was outside and didn't hear the radio broadcast that we heard). The police say they are on their way to her neighborhood where they're going door-to-door to search for the dangerous man. Now she knows she has 20 minutes. Taking advantage of an opportunity, she begins rehearsing her story about how the murderous Santa Claus came to her home and KILLED HER HUSBAND! Poor girl, what a victim.

Uh-oh. Santa is missing!

She looks out the window again at the Santa Claus lying in the snow and she decides to more properly frame him for her husband's murder. She goes outside with the ax and uhm....repeatedly applies it to the corpse...to make it look like he was killed with an ax. Then she goes inside and makes a 9-1-1 phone call reporting her husband's murder by the deranged Santa Claus. Glancing out the window again, she sees that Santa Claus is no longer on the ground in the snow!

Santa is climbing a ladder to enter the house through Carrie's bedroom window.

To protect herself, she races upstairs to find a gun hidden in a closet. Looking outside from an upstairs window, she sees the scary Santa has spotted a window ajar on the second floor. He's placing a ladder against the house to climb up and enter through her daughter's bedroom window.  Scrambling to escape the closet, the woman runs through the house looking to protect her daughter.

Santa says "Naughty or nice?"

From the top of the stairs, she can see her daughter by the front entrance. Carrie says, "See Mommy. I told you Santa would come!" The little girl is so proud because Santa didn't have to climb down the chimney--she let him in the front door! Don't worry, readers. Santa doesn't look like he's going to hurt Carrie. In the final shot, he only seems interested in the murderous wife.

This episode's story is wonderfully efficient and the tension is just right. The episode's director is Robert Zemeckis--a master at his craft who went on to win an Academy Award for Best Director for the film Forrest Gump. Christmas entertainment fans know that he directed both Polar Express and Disney's Christmas Carol as well.

Whether you prefer the 1972 movie version or the 1989 TV adaptation of "And All Through the House," this thrilling and scary Christmas story makes a fun night of entertainment during Halloween too.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Thank You Readers! I'm at One Million Page Views

I know, I know--everyone is excited for Halloween but I'm celebrating something else this week. I'm excited to announce that this website and its blog have received over ONE MILLION page views as of yesterday. I feel proud of reaching this milestone. And, I want to take this opportunity to thank all my readers for joining me in the accomplishment.

The last six years have been an exhilarating journey of writing, publishing, and discovery.  I've been fortunate to meet a few of my readers, made some new friends, and gained lots of experiences that have exceeded my expectations. 

It all started with researching and writing the book Tis the Season TV: The Encyclopedia of Christmas-themed Episodes, Specials, and Made-for-TV Movies.  Since then, I've been able to put together three more books on Christmas entertainment: The Christmas TV Companion, Merry Musical Christmas Vol. 1, and the Triple Dog Dare. The last title is a book that was just released last week--and I'm excited to see readers' reactions to it. All my books are available for purchase through the publisher 1701 Press.

Please indulge me while I share a list of reviews/discussions I wrote on individual Christmas programs. These essays aren't the most popular ones, the most significantly historical programs, or even my favorite Christmas programs--but rather, essays I'm most proud of writing. I think I expressed something in each of the following seven discussions that articulated some point well. And, I think it can be said that these seven could only have been written by me.

The 1969 episode "The Voice of Christmas" of The Brady Bunch (from May 2015)

5 Movies on an Island (from May 2016)

The 1965 episode "Too Many Christmas Trees" of The Avengers (from December 2015)

 The 1967 episode "Humbug Not to Be Spoken Here" from Bewitched (from December 2013)

The 1964 animated special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (from November 2014)

Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory from 1966 (from December 2014)

1987's A Child's Christmas in Wales (from December 2013)

Do you have a favorite review/discussion I've written on this website not already listed above? Share your title below in the comments.

Thank you for joining me on this journey. I couldn't have done it without you. Now, where's the remote? I need to get back to watching TV.

Thank you for buying my books and thank you for reading the blog. Want to help an author keep writing? Please consider writing a book review at Amazon Goodreads, or wherever you learn about books. Reviews help spread the word to others about what to read. Thank you!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Tales from the Crypt (1972)

The discussion that follows is about the 1972 British movie and not the HBO TV series. More on that later.
During the month of October, when everyone is anticipating Halloween, I like to take a second look at horror stories with a Christmas connection. There are quite a few frightening movies set at Christmas time--even Charles Dickens' most popular story A Christmas Carol includes the visit of four ghosts!

The lesson here: Don't get separated from your tour group!

One classic that I turn to again and again is the Amicus Productions portmanteau Tales from the Crypt, directed by Freddie Francis in 1972. I wrote about this movie on the website many years ago, but I thought I'd expand the discussion and include photos. Tales from the Crypt is a British film made up of five individual stories adapted from horror stories in comic magazines. The five stories are strung together by a narrative about a crypt keeper addressing five tourists separated from their group while visiting the catacombs beneath a cemetery. The crypt keeper introduces each of the five stories as a warning to each of the tourists.

Recognize the crypt keeper? That's Sir Ralph Richardson.

Of interest here is the first of the five segments. It is entitled "And All Through the House." The story first appeared in the horror comic The Vault of Horror, issue #35, first published in 1954. A woman named Joanne murders her husband on Christmas Eve in order to collect his life insurance money. Joanne is played by actor Joan Collins--she clearly knows how to play a cold, calculating character!

Startled by noises downstairs, Joanne tucks her daughter Carol--who is eager for Santa to arrive--back in bed to keep the child from her murderous deed.

As Joanne cleans up the mess and the blood, she hears a warning on the radio about a homicidal maniac who has escaped from a nearby hospital for the criminally insane. Local residents are warned that the killer may be dressed in a Santa suit.

Who would kill someone on a white rug? You're never going to get away with it, Joanne!

He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake.

As she continues to clean that white rug, Joanne hears a knock at the door. Someone is trying to get in! Joanne peeks out the window--it's the man in a Santa suit mentioned on the radio! Joanne runs to her telephone to call the police but she stops herself--her husband's dead body is on the floor in front of her. She doesn't want the police to come and discover what she's done. She frantically runs around the first floor closing the curtains and locking the window shutters. She wants to keep the homicidal maniac out.

He knows if you've been bad or good.

Joanne dumps her husband’s body down the basement steps, making his death look like an accidental fall. She tries to do this as quietly as possible so as not to disturb her sleeping daughter upstairs. After carefully cleaning up the murder scene and staging the bottom of the basement stairs, Joanne finally finishes her hard work. She glances one more time to her daughter's bedroom door--but it's open! Joanne calls out, looking for her daughter.

Carol can barely contain her excitement to see Santa Claus.

Joanne finds her daughter Carol in the entryway. "Guess who's here?" the child asks. The innocent young girl is so excited to see Santa Claus, she's let him in the front door.

It looks like the murderer Joanne isn't going to live long enough to cash in her husband's life insurance policy.

Young Carol is played by Chloe Franks, who also plays Katy in the creepy 1972 movie Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? which takes place at Christmas. Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? also includes Ralph Richardson.

As I mentioned before, "And All Through the House" is just the first of five segments within the 1972 movie. I think this is my favorite of the five but I also enjoy the third segment entitled "Wish You Were Here" which references the popular turn-of-the-twentieth-century short story "The Monkey's Paw." Note: only the first of the five stories in the movie takes place at Christmas time.

Remember the TV anthology series?

TV fans may recognize that the story "And All Through the House" was adapted once again in 1989 for the HBO TV series Tales from the Crypt. Click here to read my discussion of that.

Merry Halloween!