With all the craze there is these days with the new Netflix series Wednesday (2022 – present), it should come as no surprise that the early 1990s movies on which, I suppose, they are based are on the same streaming service. Actually, to do it complete justice, one needs to look to the original show, The Addams Family (1964-1966). It is amazing how a sitcom with such a brief run can have the kind lasting impact it has had, but then again, whoever said that Hollywood is creative? I am not sure what to account for the modern interest in an old, black and white broadcast. If I were to speculate, which I do liberally anyway, I would say that it has something to do with an uptick in a societal fixation on Halloween. It is my least favorite holiday because we have forgotten its true purpose and turned it into a spectacle for adults to act a dang fool, and kids to just be creepy. All hallowed’s eve, folks, the day before All Saint’s Day, and one of the holiest days for the Catholic Church, is what it is meant to be a preparation for. Look, I am not trying to suck all the fun out of the day. I just want to pump the breaks on some of the things we see in The Addams Family (1991).
The opening scene of The Addams Family obliquely speaks to this notion. A group of Christmas carolers are outside of the Addams mansion and their family servant, Lurch (Carel Struycken), prepares to dump a boiling cauldron on them. They do not greet all their visitors in this manner. One who is able to come through the doors with some semblance of a normal welcome is their lawyer, Tully Alford (Dan Hedaya). Okay, the welcome is normal by Addams’ standards. He is there to collect their monthly expenses from their patriarch, Gomez Addams (Raul Julia). It is evident that Tully is trying to sucker Gomez out of his vast fortune, but his efforts go unnoticed by the bombastic Gomez, who cares more about fencing than finances. During this particular visit, though, Tully notices a picture of Gomez’s long-lost brother, Fester Addams (Christopher Lloyd). It is timely, too, since when he returns to his office he is confronted by Abigail Craven (Elizabeth Wilson). She is a con woman in league with Tully. When the attorney once more comes back without finding the rumored vault where Gomez keeps his treasure, she commands her insanely strong son Gordon (Christopher Lloyd) to physically threaten Tully. Seeing Gordon makes Tully realize that the bulky fellow is a dead ringer for Uncle Fester. Hence, later that night, Tully and his wife Margaret (Dana Ivey) are invited to the Addams’ annual séance where they attempt to talk to their beloved Fester, whom they believe dead. In the middle of it, they get three knocks at the door and behold, there is Fester before them in the flesh. Gomez warmly welcomes in the man he believes to be his brother. Gordon, initially, is not sure how he is going to get to his target. Everything becomes clearer the next day when Gomez voluntarily takes the impostor down to the vaults. Along the way, however, there are several things that begin to give Gordon away as not being who he says he is. This is when Abigail enters, posing as German psychologist Dr. Pinder-Schloss. She manages to convince Gomez and his wife, Morticia (Anjelica Huston), that Fester’s issues are some kind of made-up condition called “displacement.” Thus, Gordon is able to continue to try to get at the family riches. What begins to make Gordon act more like the real Fester is the two Addams children, Pugsley (Jimmy Workman) and Wednesday (Christina Ricci). There is something about the way the siblings attempt to murder one another that strikes a chord with Fester, and he begins to bond with the family. Things come to a head at the party Gomez puts on to welcome Fester back, an event attended by the entire extended family. When Fester does not come down immediately, Wednesday is sent to retrieve him. She enters his room to find Gordon and Abigail plotting to crack the vault. Wednesday is noticed, but escapes into the family graveyard. Her absence is not noticed for the rest of the party. Also attending the soiree are Margaret and Tully. It is especially fruitful for Tully as he learns that it is Fester who is legally in control of the Addams’ estate. As such, he hurriedly draws up paperwork to have Gomez and his family barred from the house. Gomez takes this poorly, but the rest go about their lives as only bizarre people like them can do. For Morticia, this means going to Fester and trying to reason with him. Instead, she is brought into the house and tortured for the correct passage to the vault. Luckily, this assault is witnessed by Thing (Christopher Hart), who, er, gives a helping hand by alerting Gomez to Morticia’s danger. This seems to bring Gomez out of his blue funk, and soon he is bursting through the window to confront Abigail and Tully. The one he does not have to tangle with is Fester. Having grown disenchanted with his supposed mother, he uses one of the Addams’ enchanted books to get rid of the two crooks. That tome, incidentally, is about a hurricane. When opened, it produces all the effects of such a storm, including the lightning. Fester gets a face full of it, which seems to bring back his memory. With everything restored to, ahem, normal, we close with the family getting ready for Halloween and Morticia knitting baby clothes.
It is interesting to think about the target audience of a film like The Addams Family. I believe I may have seen this in the theater when it came out, but have seen it since. It has a PG-13 rating, but what does mean? I would have been eleven when it premiered, but I was able to watch it at that time. Technically, “PG” is supposed to warn adults, specifically, that parental guidance is “suggested.” With the “13” kicker, does that mean kids between fourteen and adult are mature enough for the material contained therein? Is there a difference between somebody who is thirteen and somebody who is fourteen developmentally speaking? That is essentially what we are talking about, right: maturity? Technically, in the Catholic Church you reach adulthood when you are Confirmed. This takes place usually about the age of fourteen. However, fun fact: I was not Confirmed until I was twenty-five, but that is another story. Regardless, I can confidently say that I was more emotionally grown-up then than I was twenty-five versus fourteen. That latter age is on the cusp of some important things. Life starts throwing many lessons at you. A film like this one is aimed at a younger generation, while at the same time adding some pretty adult themes into the mix. I am not sure this is necessary. Then again, as I mentioned in the introduction, creepiness and other mature themes seem to work in concert these days.
There are some funny moments in The Addams Family, though not enough for me to give it a full recommendation. In the meantime, I will remain puzzled by our society’s fixation on the macabre. As a grown-up, I can look back to a simpler time when I did not have to worry about what my nieces were getting into each October 31st.
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