Every decade has its ups and downs when it comes to cinema, no matter the genre. Horror fans love to loft on high the output of the ‘30s & ‘40s, the ‘70s & ‘80s, and the more recent decades. More often than not, however, the 1990s are labeled as the worst decade for the genre. Not only that, but ‘90s horror tends to be written off as a whole, beyond a handful of undisputed classics. The purpose of Exhumed & Exonerated: The ‘90s Horror Project, is to refute those accusations by highlighting numerous gems from the decade. Stone cold classics will be tackled in this column from time to time, but its main purpose will be to seek out lesser-known and/or less-loved titles that I think deserve more attention and respect from fans. Let the mayhem begin!
The Addams Family
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld
Screenplay by Caroline Thompson & Larry Wilson
Produced by Scott Rudin & Bonnie Arnold
Starring Raul Julia, Angelica Huston, Christopher Lloyd, Christina Ricci, Jimmy Workman, Elizabeth Wilson, Dan Hedaya, Dana Ivey, Carel Struycken, Christopher Hart, and Judith Malina
Released on November 22, 1991
Fester Addams has been missing for a long time. His brother, family patriarch Gomez Addams (Raul Julia), feels responsible for Fester’s departure and laments the decades that have passed without him. Each year on the anniversary of his disappearance, the titular family holds séance and pleads for his return. On the 25th anniversary of his disappearance, however, they finally receive an answer. A man (Christopher Lloyd) fitting Fester’s description knocks on the door of their mansion, with a shady psychiatrist named (Elizabeth Wilson) and the Addams’ lecherous lawyer Tully Alford (Dan Hedaya) in tow.
According to them, Fester was lost in the Bermuda Triangle and now has amnesia. Is this man really Fester? The family appears split on the matter. Gomez and son Pugsley (Jimmy Workman) immediately take him at his word. Morticia (Angelica Huston) has her suspicions. Daughter Wednesday (Christina Ricci) outright considers him an imposter. As for Granny (Judith Malina), Lurch (Carel Struycken), and It (Christopher Hart’s hand)? Well, they seem too busy worrying about other things to weigh in on the situation.
Initially we as an audience know from the outset that Christopher Lloyd’s Fester is really a dimwitted con artist named Gordon Craven. In league with his mother, Abigail Craven (Wilson), and Mr. Alford, the lot of them aim to swindle the Addams’ out of the immense family fortune. As the film goes on, however, you no longer become sure if Gordon is really Gordon, if Gordon is really Fester, or if Gordon has simply decided to become Fester for real. This is only but a part of the beauty of this film, which easily ranks among the best comic (and TV)-to-film adaptations ever produced.
The look of the film is spot-on. Dark and spooky enough to evoke the characters’ horrific pastimes and ideals, but still bright enough to bring across the property’s trademark satirical wit. It has crackerjack pacing, with each joke, gag, or sly remark landing like a magically wielding hammer atop a perfectly primed nail. Even the side remarks, many of which go unnoticed upon the first viewing or two, are perfectly timed. The script is, simply put, wonderful. Hailing from the writers of Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and The Nightmare Before Christmas, it’s no wonder. The film carries a definite Tim Burton vibe at times. This is something that then-first time director Barry Sonnenfeld seemed to lean into to a degree, both here and on a few of his other projects that followed (such as Men in Black).
Writing isn’t everything, as even the best material can be undone by a mediocre or bad performance. No worries with The Addams Family on that front, however. Virtually every role is perfectly cast to the point where I find it hard to imagine much anyone else in these parts, at least within the timeframe it was produced. Raul Julia is practically beaming with love for his role as the boisterous Gomez, for whom every day is a new dark delight. Angelica Huston matches him every step of the way as the more contained, but no less passionate, Morticia. I could watch these two interact for hours on end.
Christina Ricci’s Wednesday Addams might be the best of the film’s triumvirate of MVPs, however. There’s a reason the character has become a meme machine in recent years. Ricci’s turn in the role is just as iconic as Julia’s and Huston’s performances. All three are roles for the ages.
Christopher Lloyd is great as always, excelling here in what amounts to a dual role. Struycken, Malina, and Workman have less to work with as Granny, Lurch, and Puglsey, but they fill out their parts well nonetheless. On the villainous side of the coin, Hedaya and Wilson both dish out deliciously vile antagonists, whose comeuppance is very much earned and rooted for.
More than anything, it’s the humor that stands out for me after all of these years. Whether it’s a sight gag like the Addams’ pouring a boiling pot of tar onto Christmas carolers at the beginning (you can see the tar on the stoop throughout the film after) or Wednesday’s continuous attempts to kill her brother or Gomez continuing to call Sally Jessy Raphael about where he can find those brainwashing voodoo doctors that she’s doing a show about, the film is absolutely hysterical from start to finish. It’s the kind of humor that most (if not all) horror fans should be able to have a blast with.
I liked the film a lot upon release 25 years ago, but I absolutely love it now. Hell, the sequel, 1993’s Addams Family Values (which I’ll cover eventually), is just as good! I don’t know if the creations of Charles Addams will ever be revived again on the big or small screen anytime soon. There was talk of an animated film awhile back, but that seems to have died out. If it ever is adapted again, the legacy of both the original series and this film (and its sequel) has certainly set the bar high.
To those who haven’t seen it in a while (or at all), The Addams Family might not seem like traditional horror fodder beyond surface looks. Trust me when I say that it absolutely fits the bill as a horror comedy. It is not only one of the best genre outings of the ‘90s, but also one of my all-time favorite horror comedies. Both this film and Values are on Netflix, so if you’re curious to finally see them or revisit them, there’s no better time than now.
Up Next: The Ugly (1997)