THE ADDAMS FAMILY begins with Christmas carolers at the door of the Addams' estate. High over the caroler's heads, the family looks down upon them.
Merry Mishaps occur. Every hardcore Chas. Addams fan knows this scene from a particular comic one pane.
It would seem an impossible task. Please all the folks who remembered and loved the old THE ADDAMS FAMILY television show.
They were a small but significant audience, who were still keeping the syndicated series alive. Yet they were as mysterious and spooky as THE ADDAMS FAMILY themselves (no one knew if they were as ooky). But since this was in the days prior to the Internet, and there weren't people like me on message boards, ready to trash the flick if it displeased us, Orion and Paramount thought it was worth the risk: Make a movie about THE ADDAMS FAMILY without a single member of the original cast. Star Trek had a much larger audience, and they wouldn't dare try such a plot!
To helm the project, studio bosses got Barry Sonnenfeld (ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES, MEN IN BLACK [all]) to direct. He had been knocking around the fringes of Hollywood for a while, being a cinematographer for the Indies like the Cohen brothers and, later on, power players like Danny DeVito, Penny Marshall, and Rob Reiner. For a writer, they got Danny Elfman's ex, Caroline Thompson (EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS). Danny was tight with Tim Burton: Caroline, likewise. Plus she was gothic and had good ideas. Her partner in crime was Larry Wilson (BEETLEJUICE). Another Tim Burton alumni, he also directed and wrote for HBO's popular series, TALES FROM THE CRYPT.
Could a bunch of experienced newbies pull it off?
Even a fan as hardcore for the TV series as me could not help but be delighted by Raul Julia's boisterous and cackling Gomez; Anjelica Houston's quite and subtle Morticia; Christopher Lloyd's confused and tragic Uncle Fester; they all found a way to break through the barriers of expectations and present a new Addams that was as lovable and disturbing as the first.
Raul Julia (THE EYES OF LAURA MARS, THE MORNING AFTER, FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND, ADDAM FAMILY VALUES) played Gomez Addams in the same spirit as John Astin without copying the original actor. All the elements from cartoonist Charles Addams "Homebodies" were there and Raul added that extra zest, like Astin, that made Gomez jump from the screen. With larger movie sets, Julia attacked his role, flying around whole rooms in dance, anger, passion, and mainly exuberance.
Anjelica Houston (ADDAM FAMILY VALUES, KAENA), in her tight black Morticia dress, was forced into subtlety as the alluring anchor that Gomez finds impossible to resist. Wherever Morticia goes, Gomez must follow: his heart, his passion, his desire, his fiery gypsy blood cannot have it any other way (even though, much to his surprise, Gomez doesn't have any gypsy blood)! It is Morticia who must be the voice of reason in the family. Understand, however, that "reason" to an Addams is not quite the definition that you or I may know. Allowing your children to play around with a live and lethal electric chair "just this once", is not every Mother's idea of reason.
And what of the children? Christina Ricci (ADDAM FAMILY VALUES, SLEEPY HOLLOW) as Wednesday Addams, cut her young teeth on Horror, becoming the first true actor/celebrity for the goth set (not that they needed or cared if they had one, but it was cool all the same). Wednesday captivates the viewer as well as her intended victims with an arch of the eyebrow, or a silent glare of stern reproach. Christina made sure that Wednesday was clearly Morticia's daughter.
Though Jimmy Workman (ADDAM FAMILY VALUES) had plenty of opportunity to shine as well, he didn't. His time onscreen is mostly spent as fodder for Wednesday's machinations.
When we first meet The Addams, Gomez is just starting his day. Things have not gone well for Gomez. Many years ago, he and his brother, Fester, got into an awful fight that made the elder Addams run away, never to be seen again. Gomez cannot get over his guilt and the more time that passes, the worse his longing for Fester gets. As Morticia says,
"Gomez, last night - you were unhinged! You were like some desperate, howling demon! You frightened me! ... Do it again."
Help for Gomez comes in the form of two suspicious characters, the twitchy family attorney, Tully (Dan Hedaya: ALIEN: RESURRECTION, THE SHAFT, MULHOLLAND DR.), who against his will, introduces Gomez to one Dr. Great Pinder-Schloss, a psychiatrist who has done the impossible. She has found Fester Addams.
Suddenly there is cause for great celebration in the Addams household. There is life, merriment, sadistic attacks on neighbors, and yet, all is not well. There is much that brother Fester has forgot and it feeds Gomez' finely tuned paranoia that perhaps he's being played for a fool by someone, somewhere.
Gomez feelings are twistedly accurate, for this fraud of a Fester is in reality, Gordon Craven! Son of Abigail Craven: who presents herself as the psychiatrist, Pinder-Schloss. It is nothing less than foulery afoot as Tully and the Cravens try to get their hands on the Addams family fortune.
There is just one fly, one minor fly to everyone's plans and dreams.
Gordon Craven finds that he is treated much better by his marks, the Addams, than he ever was by his own Mother, Abigail. The Addams household and family is everything he ever wanted: Fun! Excitement! Acceptance! But if the Addams ever found out who he really was, Gordon would lose it all. What's more, his Mother suspects that Gordon is becoming a little too fond of the Addams family. The innocently evil Gordon, who has nothing, stands to lose everything.
Christopher Lloyd usually tackles acting the John Wayne way: whatever role he's playing, he's playing as Christopher Lloyd, which is nearly always the excitable, educated burnout. For this film, Lloyd had to throw out his tropes and start anew, investing Fester with a leery longing that was both tragic and confused. Gordon/Fester doesn't know much, he hardly knows anything. And he certainly can't figure out how to balance the wild warmth of an Addams household with the strict coldness of his Mother, both competing for his attentions and his participation.
It's a twisted pickle of a plot and laugh out loud funny as well.
Crazed and cornball, creepy and kooky, THE ADDAMS FAMILY gets 4 Shriek Girls.
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