Ho-hoooo-hooowdy folkses! It's the spooky season here at Million Monkey Towers, and we're all but overrun with ghosts, ghouls, goblins, and, perhaps most alarmingly, gophers, who have been raiding our extensive vegetable gardens since spring and have now forced their way inside the building to bed themselves down for the winter. We've tried every humane option we could find to protect our crops and drive them away, but the crafty little buggers have thwarted us at every turn...and it's only gotten worse since they unionized.

In addition to free room and board they're now formally demanding the bulk of our pumpkin yield as a tribute, lest they chew up our wires, scratch apart our wallpaper and shit on our imported King Louis XVI upholstery.

It's either a Halloween nightmare or a modern art installation.

Knowing how squeamish and easily frightened gophers are, however, we came up with an ostensibly foolproof plan we hoped would rid us of our furry interlopers once and for all. We decided to welcome them into the complex with open arms, offer them plates of beets, cucumbers and plum tomatoes, lead them all down into Nate's old subterranean home theater/man cave, then ambush them with Italian-made cannibal movies until they scattered and fled the premises in terror, hopefully never to return.

Unfortunately, a particularly crafty gopher named Bucktooth Norman snuck in ahead of us and turned on the parental controls, so all we could show them were old, crappy, half-forgotten Halloween TV specials.

They say when life gives you lemons you should make lemonade. Well, when life gives you pumpkins you have to turn 90% of them over to a bunch of extortionate rodents per the legally binding contract they've just forced you to sign. Still, it's not a complete loss. At least we got this eerie trio of Halloween reviews out of the deal.

The Halloween That Almost Wasn't (1979)

Our first offering today is a one-off ABC Special that first aired on October 28th, 1979. It seems like the sort of thing I should have seen at the time, being as I was nine years old, loved Halloween, and there were only six other TV channels available, but even after watching it for this review I have no memory of ever having seen it before.

According to my magic keypad clicky-box, it also aired annually on the Disney Channel from 1983-96 under its VHS release title "The Night Dracula Saved the World," but I've never had the Disney Channel because it's an insidious menace I would never voluntarily allow in my home.

The plot is simple: Kid-friendly versions of classic Hollywood monsters go toe-to-toe with a sassy witch who wants to shut down everyone's favorite day of dressing up and begging door-to-door for free sweets. Now that I think of it, kid friendly versions of classic Hollywood monsters were a pretty big thing in the 1970's.

From Count Chocula and the Monster Cereal gang tempting your breakfast tastebuds, to The Groovy Ghoulies (1970-71) yukking it up on Saturday morning TV, to the various villains of Scooby Doo, Where Are You? (1969-78), to a big hot mess of incredibly cheesy TV variety show skits, monsters were never so reductively exploited for the family market. It was harmlessly crappy stuff for the most part, but at the time I liked it just as much as every other dumb 70's kid.

Our tepid tale begins at Dracula's castle in Transylvania (actually the Lyndhurst Mansion, a National Historic Register site in Tarrytown, NY), where his hunchback manservant Igor is sitting in the parlor, munching popcorn and watching hastily produced mock-ups of old-timey horror movies on his old-timey TV.

Dracula steps in just in time for a special news bulletin, wherein we learn that the famous vampire has ordered all the other Halloween monsters to his castle for an emergency pow-wow, hoping to put to bed some recently-circulating rumors that Halloween is about to disappear forever.

Dracula is played by Judd Hirsh, whom you might remember as Alex Reiger on "Taxi" (1978-83) and as Jeff Goldblum's crusty grandpa in both Independence Day (1996) and Independence Day: Resurgence (2016). He plays the role as a corny, third-rate, Borscht-Belt Bela Lugosi, so if you like your vampires parve, kosher and unleavened, he's the perfect Dracula for you!

"I never drink wine...unless it's Manishewitz!"

Also watching the news bulletin is a natty nuclear family somewhere in the greater Transylvania metro area. A Mom and Dad help a Boy and Girl get their costumes and make-up on, and the kids express their troubling concerns that if these rumors are true they'll never be able to trick-or-treat again.

The scene has the stilted tone and flat line readings of a vintage educational film, with the parents waxing didactic on how the various traditions of All Hallows' Eve morphed over time into the Halloween holiday we know today.

"They were filthy pagans."

"But we're clean pagans."

The newscaster does one of those Trumpian "many people are saying" routines, suggesting that Dracula himself may be behind the rumors. It's a slanderous assertion which sends the bloodsucker into an apoplectic rage.

He snappishly sends Igor off to welcome the soon-to-be arriving monsters, insisting he should "make them uncomfortable" until it's time for his big entrance.

Arrive the Monsters do, and there are some familiar faces among them. First up is a worry wart Wolfman, who seems to be suffering from some anxiety-inducing misbalance of his essential humors. In fact, he's so worked up about the upcoming monster meeting that Igor has to talk him down from a howling panic attack.


Next up is the Frankenstein Monster, played by John Schuck, whom you might remember as Painless the dentist from M*A*S*H (1970) or the Klingon ambassador who declared "There shall be no peace as long as Kirk lives!" in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986). He was also Herman on The Munsters Today (1988-91), but the less said about that shitshow the better.

Frankenstein Monster!

Then we get "Zabar the Zombie," and "The Mummy" neither of whom speak a lick of dialogue or serve a narrative purpose beyond adding two more heads to the paltry assortment that comprise "all the Halloween monsters."



Finally "The Flying Queen of Halloween" arrives, in the person of a foul-tempered Witch with a broom in her hand and a chip on her shoulder. She blows past Igor complaining a blue streak about having been awoken from her beauty sleep and full of righteous indignation at having been summoned to Drac's castle like a common peasant.

Rhymes with Witch!

The Witch is played by Mariette Hartley, one of those actors who you know you know, but you don't know how you know you know, because you don't know what the hell you've seen them in.

Dracula makes his entrance by flying in from the outside as a bat, but Igor forgets to open the window and he ends up with his face smooshed up against the glass.

I'm told they call it "comedy."

Despite this indignity he goes straight into an "I am the king of the monsters" spiel with a puffed-up tirade about how the others have all exploited their fame to the point that people are no longer afraid of them. The Wolfman, we learn, has disgraced himself by shaving his face and hands for a razor blade commercial, Frankenstein Monster has given up terror in favor of tap dancing, and the others have...well, we never get around to what the others have done because we only have twenty-three minutes of Special available to us and eight and half of them are already irretrievably lost.

Dracula fails to mention his own gig shilling breakfast cereal.

The point of all this deeply un-funny yackety-yak is that Dracula wants them all to go back to being their most terrifying selves pronto, lest he go all Celebrity Apprentice and replace them all.

He particularly browbeats the bitchy Witch, without whose midnight ride across the moon the following evening's Halloween festivities cannot officially begin. Any questions?

"Yes...why were those kids getting dressed up for trick or treat if Halloween isn't until the day after tomorrow?"

Actually, that's my question. The Witch's question is how soon can she be replaced, because she's tired of Dracula's shit and needs a goddamn vacation. She's fed up with even being a witch, with always being called ugly, with being feared, unwanted and unloved. Most of all she's fed up with playing second fiddle to a corny, third-rate, Borsht-Belt Bela Lugosi.

In short, she quits!

"What are you, meshuggah?"

Dracula tries to mansplain to her that she can't quit because she's needed to kick off the holiday. She responds that yes, dumbass, she's well aware of the extortionate power she holds over you in that regard, so if he wants there to be a Halloween this year he's going to have to pony up and agree to a few demands.

Aside from wanting equal status with Dracula himself as head honcho Monster, the Witch demands that her image replace his on all the official souvenir t-shirts and posters of Transylvania. She also wants a public apology for his being such a condescending shnuk and a promise that he'll take her disco dancing every night.

Dracula haughtily refuses, and the Witch takes her broom and skips out on him. There's a little bit of peurile, double-speed slapstick as the rest of the monsters chase her around the halls of Lyndhurst, but inevitably she escapes the place and soars off to her own castle, taking the fate of Halloween with her. Dracula turns himself into a bat and tries to chase her down, but she reminds him that it's almost dawn, and if he doesn't get back to his coffin pronto there'll be nothing left of him but a little shmutz and a farshtunken aroma. He has no choice but to schlep back home. Unfortunately, Igor also forgot to leave the tomb door open, so he once again gets his pudgy, undead punim smooshed in.

Oi veh, iz mir! Not this farkakte gag again!

So just to clarify, if it's just now dawn and tomorrow is Halloween, then it was already well after midnight when those kids were getting dressed to trick or treat, and if Halloween doesn't officially start until the Witch flies across the moon at midnight tonight, then we're still something like a day and a half out from actual trick or treat. Dumbasses.

Pee break!

Now where were we? Ah, yes, the sun had just come up and Drac had been forced into his coffin for the day, but when we return to our program it's dark again, and the despondent Monster gang are huddled together in front of the TV watching another breaking news alert, wherein the Anchor reports gravely--and redundantly--that unless the Witch can be found and persuaded to fly across the moon it will be the end of Halloween.

Guess who else is watching?

These assholes again.

We also learn that the very livelihoods of the Monsters are in peril, since without Halloween they'll be rendered obsolete, and all those sweet product endorsements will dry up like piss on a pavement.

As the Monsters bemoan the bleak, existential horror of their prospective future finances, Drac appears and barks at them to suck it up and quit whining. He orders them to follow him to the Witch's castle, where they will stealthily enter, then capture the witch and force her into compliance using his hypnotic powers of persuasion. When they arrive, they peep through a window to find their green-faced nemesis alone, preening before a mirror, vulnerable and unguarded against their nefarious designs. They scurry around to the front door and sneak inside.

Lucky she left it unlocked for them.

The plan seems to go perfectly. They burst in on her unawares and Dracula's minions hold her fast as he unleashes the full fury of his mesmeric charm. Just when he thinks he has her in his power, however, she cackles and turns her head towards a life-sized painting of her "ancestors." A dastardly wave of her withered claw brings them to life, and suddenly the Monsters have a fight on their hands.

Apparently her "ancestors" were The Three Musketeers.

Frank, Wolfie, Zombo and Toilet Paper Man all flee the scene in terror, leaving Drac and Igor cornered behind the deadly epees of the Witch's protectors. She makes her escape up a flight of stairs and locks herself behind a heavy wooden door, and the trio of swordsmen suddenly disappear.

In the heat of the battle she forgot her broom, and Igor makes a big deal out of having grabbed it, speaking as if this great good fortune has assured them their victory. Whatever significance this little coup might have been intented to have seems to have been filtered out in the development process, because the pilfering of the broom is never again referenced and has no impact on the resolution of the plot.

Now we get a couple of fruitless, tedious attempts by Drac and his hang-dog crew to get into the room in which the Witch has barricaded herself. First, Dracula turns himself into a teeny tiny bat and squeezes himself under the door, but as soon as he scurries into the room the Witch gives him a brutal beat-down with an umbrella handle, forcing his retreat to the hallway with a bent nose and a bruised ego.

She uses an umbrella because it's raining pain.

Next Igor looks through the keyhole and sees that there's a window across from the door, so Dracula sends him out onto a ledge to creep around to it. Instead of simply opening the window and walking in, he uses a grappling hook and a rope that's suddenly appeared out of nowhere and swings inside, swashing his buckles like Douglas Fairbanks, but the Witch simply opens the door to the hallway and Igor flies right out, bowling the entire monkey crew of Monsters over and down the stairs.

That's at least a spare.

It's almost midnight now and Dracula realizes he has no choice but to agree to the Witch's demands. She repeats them one by one, painfully extracting his assent to each...then just says fuck it and changes her mind altogether. She decides she doesn't want to be a witch anymore after all, and she isn't going to make her magic ride across the moon ever again because when it comes down to brass tacks and broomsticks "nobody loves a witch."

As Drac silently shits his Transylvanian pantaloons, knowing both his jig and his holiday gravy train are well and truly up, the rest of the Monsters hear the tapping of footsteps on the stairs behind them. We cut back to the Witch, ranting and raving that she's finally made up her mind for good, and this time she double-dog pinky swears that she'll never fly across the fucking moon ever again.

Suddenly she hears the sweet, plaintive voice of a child, begging her to reconsider. At first, she thinks it's Dracula again, disguising his voice to fool her, but then she peers though the keyhole. Guess who she sees?

These assholes again.

The Witch unlatches the door, steps into the hallway and sees that the little Girl is dressed up to look just like her! The kid explains that this is her all-time favorite costume, that the Witch is her hero, and that, gosh darnit, she and her brother and all of the other kids in the whole wide world just love that crazy old Halloween Witch exactly the way she is!

A helpless slave to her toxic need for validation, the Witch now has a complete change of heart, again, and impulsively promises to perform her Halloween flyover duty in perpetuity so that all the children of the world can have their Halloween.

She still holds Dracula to his word, of course, and insists that their new paradigm of co-equal leadership and friendly detente must begin that very night, beginning with a disco dancing party at his castle immediately following her ride past the moon.

And so mote it be.

I have it on very good authority that The Halloween That Almost Wasn't received four Emmy nominations, winning one for "Outstanding Achievement: Children's Program."

Let's all just take a moment to let that sink in.

The End.

Ultraman Tiga: Halloween Night (1996)

I'd love to be able to say that the first special filled me with the comforting, Autumnal glow of a jack-o-lantern's flickering candle, but in reality the experience was more like the chalky-pasty, candle-wax aftertaste of outdated candy corn. Let's jump ahead 17 years and 6,888 miles and see if mid-90's Japan can provide something better.

Since its debut in 1966, Ultraman has spawned over forty separate television series, eighteen TV specials, a dozen TV miniseries and forty-seven theatrically released films. Add in a bunch of videogames, comic books, manga, tie-in toys and merchandise and you've got yourself a bona fide cultural phenomenon.

We've previously covered a mid-70's Ultraman Christmas episode as Day Four of our Twelve Days of Shitmas celebration for 2020, and you might remember how much I enjoyed revisiting what had been a beloved part of my childhood. I can't say I'm anything close to an Ultraman expert or aficionado. In fact I've seen just a tiny fraction of what the overall franchise has to offer, but what little of it was available through US television syndication in the 1970's was amongst my very favorite programs when I was a kid, so you can imagine how excited my six year-old inner child was when he found out we were doing another Ultraman for Halloween this year.

This doesn't look like much, but it makes my tiny heart flutter.

The premise of Ultraman is simple and ingeniously, almost infinitely repeatable: A powerful alien from the Ultra race visits Earth at the beginning of each series and forms a symbiotic bond with a human being who is part of, or who will shortly become part of, an Earth defense force team who monitors the planet for monstrous and extraterrestrial threats. Each Ultra-human hybrid guy has a little transforming device that allows him to become Ultraman whenever some kaiju asshole needs a whuppin'. Apply, rinse, repeat and you've got yourself a beloved and sturdy tokusatsu institution that's withstood the dual tests of time and changing tastes for fifty-six years.

We open at Earth defense headquarters where the Boss Lady is monitoring a magnetic anomaly outside a small town in rural Japan. Thinking it might portend something sinister, she sends her crack team of operatives to investigate. The gang heads towards the door, all eager to please in their snazzy white uniforms, but Boss Lady calls them back and reminds them it's Halloween. Kids are going to be out celebrating with elevated sugar levels and scary costumes, so they all ought to dress up, too, so as not to panic the locals in case the alleged threat turns out to be some harmless natural phenomenon.

"Just say you're a Nascar pit crew!"

The gang choose a variety of stereotypical Halloween guises, including a vampire, a wolfman, a Frankenstein monster and a sexy cat lady with fuzzy little ears, while the Ultra hybrid guy Daigo is dressed as a pumpkin-headed Pierrot with a purple cape and a thousand mile stare.

Fearless defender of Earth.

Daigo has a blast running around with the trick-or-treating kids and trolling for candy, but Cat Lady Rena thinks he should be more serious and stick to the mission. He explains away his childish behavior by saying he's just getting in tight with the locals in case they need information from them later, but when he spots a Witch up the street with a cart full of big swirly lollipops, he throws his pretext and his dignity gleefully to the wind and scurries off to try to nab one for himself.

"This fearless defender of Earth wants a fucking lollipop!"

The Witch offers a queer litany about the lollipops being a "special reward" for "young dreamers" who "dream many dreams." When Daigo asks fora lollipop, however, she sharply barks at him that they're onlyfor children, and grown-up, pumpkin-headed perverts need not apply.

He pulls off his mask in disappointment and suddenly notices something quietly alarming in a huge shop window a few yards away. In its reflection he can see the kids, the cart, and himself standing off to one side, but he can't see the Witch. He looks more closely and realizes that although she's right in front of him she's casting no reflection at all!

"Da fuq you looking at?"

The Witch notices that he's noticed her peculiar reflective deficiency, so she packs up shop and cheeses it, with Daigo in hot pursuit.

Meanwhile one of the kids has managed to get a second lollipop and offers it to Rena. Despite her having sneered at Daigo's lust for sweets just moments before, she happily accepts it and immediately begins slurping it down like it's the only thing she's had in her mouth since breakfast.

Sexy Asian Cat Lady licking a lollipop. You're welcome, Nate.

Daigo follows the cackling Witch down an underpass and away from town, where she stealthily disappears into an empty field. He stares out over a fence into the darkness for a moment then turns away in frustration. When he turns back he he's shocked to find a creepy old house has suddenly appeared just a few hundred yards beyond the fence.

We're only about five minutes in, but I'm already fully invested. I love how they've woven traditional Halloween tropes, characters and images into the story and given us just enough to draw us in but not enough to start making sense of what's going on. It's well crafted stuff, and it's nice to see Ultraman maintaining a high level of quality across multiple decades.

Japan rarely disappoints me.

Daigo sneaks into the haunted house with his silver bop gun at the ready. As he enters each room the derisive laughter of the Witch can be heard echoing from some distant chamber, and it quickly becomes apparent that he's being led into some sort of trap. Still, he pressed on, hoping his wits and his weapon will see him through.

Eventually, he reaches a door, which opens in front of him to reveal a featureless wall of blinding white light. He walks through it and finds himself in an eerily empty outdoor park with a sparse playground. At first it seems he's alone amongst the rusty play equipment, but then he spots three children in jester caps, sitring on the ground with their backs to him. He calls out tot hem, and they turn to reveal three starched-white, expressionless faces!

"Please, sir! May we have an iron supplement?"

A gargantuan shadow spreads across him from behind, and Daigo turns to see an enormous gaping vagina-faced monster! It stares down at him and the vagina maw spits out a blustering beam of blue light, which knocks his gun from his hand and renders him senseless.

"Feel the power of my shimmering yeast!"

Vampire, Wolfman and Frankenstein Earth Defender Guys have meanwhile used the readings on a Star Trek tricorder-like, scanny thing to find the epicenter of the magnetic anomaly. We join them at the edge of the now-empty field reporting back to headquarters about it. Once Boss Lady signs off with them her Number Two steps over with some fresh and possibly pertinent data of his own. It seems that each Halloween for the past few years, a single town or village somewhere in the world has suffered a mass disappearance of children.

Boss Lady calls Rena to make sure the trick or treating children she's watching are okay. Rena answers that they're all fine and everything is normal, but when she in turn tries to reach Diago to check-in with him she gets back static.

Suddenly he steps up silently behind her in his costume and mask. She turns and jumps, startled, and dresses him down for leaving her there alone for like, forever and for never responding to all her calls and texts and shit.

"I got sexy with this lollipop for you, but you weren't even here to see it!"

We soon discover that this was not the real Daigo, however, as we now cut to him waking up, clad only in his undershirt and boxer shorts, trapped inside a transparent capsule in the middle of a mirrored room with a yellow door and spinning dance club lights.

Tokusatsu Studio 54.

Across the room another jester-capped kid rides a hobby horse smiling and nodding in a hypnotic daze. Daigo's eyes drift from the child to a table a few feet away, and he groans in frustration to see his gun and his Ultra transformer device, both hopelessly out of reach.

The Witch now enters through the yellow door and ambles over to the child. She lifts her mask to just below the nose, and at a gesture from from claw a wavering stream of multicolored light travels from the child's ear directly into her mouth. When the transfer is complete the kid has turned completely white, and has the same vacant expression as the three children in the park.

In some cultures it's considered a delicacy.

Daigo, horrified, demands to know what the hell just happened, and the Witch explains that she's just "sucked out" the child's dreams. Another wave of her emaciated hand and the kid disappears to "the dream graveyard" with the others.

The Witch drinks a glass of brandy to wash down her meal and shuffles towards the door, explaining that she has no interest in thr dreams of adults as they give her a stomach ache. She exits, leaving Daigo behind in his Perspex prison, which immediately starts filling up with gas. He struggles mightily, pulling at the seams and pounding on the glass, but all to no avail.

Back in the town the kids who ate the lollipops start rising up from their beds and sleepwalking across town and toward the field.

It's like a grade school production of The Warriors (1979).

At Earth Defense headquarters Rena has also risen from her bed, and is wandering the hallways in nothing but her underwear.

Not that I'm complaining.

Her coworkers manage to wake her and she tells them about the old Witch and her lollipops. She also mentions that Daigo had gone after the Witch, but later came back empty-handed and strangely silent, returning to the base with her without uttering a word. When one of the crew go to his room to find him, there's nothing there but his costume.

Just as they realize Daigo is missing Number Two detects a new, and powerful distortion at the source of the magnetic anomaly, and this time it looks like a black hole or a portal to another dimension!

Back at the field a weird mist spreads over the ground, making it look like murky water. Out from the middle of it rises a giant jack-o-lantern, waiting to swallow up the somnambulist children who are even now climbing through a gap in the fence towards it. They slowly walk single file into the pumpkin's maw as the Witch urges them on, shouting for them to "ride this pumpkin to the world of dreams!"

It's both spooky and spoopy!

The Earth defense gang shows up now and starts herding the remaining children away from the pumpkin. One of them gives the Witch a blast with his bop gun and the whole thing starts sinking back into the ground.

Inside Studio 54, Daigo is still struggling against the gas, but the sudden reversal of the pumpkin has caused some turbulence and his prison pops open. He crawls half-conscious towards his Ultra activator and just barely manages to get it in his hand.

Next thing you know Ultraman Tiga himself is rising up out of the field, holding the pumpkin above his head.

"I mean, if you're not too busy."

The Witch flies out of the mouth of the jack-o-lantern, lands on a hill and transforms herself into her true form, the Vagina Kaiju that kicked Daigo's ass in the Dream Graveyard.

I've seen my fair share of vaginas, but I've never seen one glow in the dark.

Now we get to the pinnacle point of every Ultraman episode, the no-holds-barred kaiju smackdown. The two titans kick and punch and wrassle and grapple, clouds of dust are kicked up, fake trees are knocked over, and just when it seems that Ultraman has the upper hand, Vagina Mouth does him dirty. She starts disappearing and reappearing, sneaking up from behind and repeatedly beating him off...his feet. To make matters worse, she starts replicating herself, and soon Ultraman is completely surrounded by a gaggle of hostile, taunting Vaginas.

To be honest, I can think of worse ways to die.

Ultraman's little blue chest light starts glowing red, meaning his power reserves are depleting and he'd better find a way to pound these Vaginas hard and fast real soon or he'll be totally spent well before they've finished with him. He huddles down to gather his strength, then releases a burst of energy that hits them so hard all but the original Vagina disappear. As she lies there dazed in the afterglow of the impact, Ultraman uses the last of his strength to pick her up by her legs and throw her in the air, where one last ejaculation of his mascline energy blasts her into oblivion.

A satisfying climax.

When the Vagina beast is destroyed the pumpkin disappears, and all the stolen dreams fall back into the heads of the bewildered children. The sun rises on a glorious new day, with the kids returned to their homes and Daigo reunited with his friends, secure in the knowledge that it will now be safe forever more for children to dream.

No, it's exploitation of cheap labor you're thinking of. Easy mistake.

Earlier this year a brand new, big-budget Ultraman reboot film called Shin Ultraman was released in Japan and became the second highest grossing domestically made film of the year there. We've heard no word so far if there will be theatrical release in the US, but if it happens, I may just have to get off my pasty, white, middle-aged ass and give my pasty white inner child a nostalgic treat. Ultraman may not quite have the same magic it had when I was six, or rather I may not be quite as susceptible to that magic, but it still stirs that vital sense of wonder I've worked so hard not to lose as I've gotten older. Like Doctor Who, Shaun the Sheep and perhaps even Halloween itself, Ultraman is a comforting reminder to me that the best part of being an adult is knowing when it's okay be a kid again.

The End.

A Pumpkin Full of Nonsense (1985)

If our previous special was like getting home with your trick or treat goodies and finding a king-sized snickers bar, this final offering is like finding a single, individually wrapped circus peanut that had been lying in somebody's junk drawer since the 1950's. It's an insipid, lazy and hastily produced product tie-in for a junior-version spinoff of a beloved board game. Sounds promising, no?

The plot is simple, but also so risibly stupid I don't want to spoil it for you by summarizing it here. It's best to let it creep over you slowly like a swarm of ticks and let its gob-smacking absurdity bite your ass naturally and in its own sweet time.

The complete title is The Adventures of The Scrabble People in A Pumpkin Full of Nonsense, which is not only a mouthful and a half, but also a grammatically flawed run-on sentence badly in need of an edit and a colon. That's rather ironic, too, because both the product the special is shilling and the story it tells are explicitly designed to promote literacy.

Everybody knows the crossword puzzle board game Scrabble, or at least its look-alike online cousin Words with Friends. Point-valued letter tiles are doled out to players who take turns forming words on a strategically designed game board, with various spaces double or tripling the value of the letters or the entire words. It's a clever and cut-throat, take-no-prisoners tradition in many families, and has spawned venerable leagues and tournaments both here in the US and internationally.

Created by an architect named Alfred Mosher Butts (hehe...he said "butts") in 1938, and based on his own previous game called Lexico, the first proper version we'd recognize as Scrabble was called Criss-Cross.

The OG crossword game.

A businessman named James Brunot bought the rights in 1948 and retooled it into the game as we know it today. As demand had become too great for his small company to keep up, Brunot sold manufacturing rights to a larger company called Sechlow and Righter in 1952, and the by the following year nearly four million sets had been sold.

Vintage set, ca. 1953.

Having previously acquired the full rights in 1971, Sechlow and Righter later sought to expand the footprint of the property, and in 1984 they debuted both a Scrabble daytime game show, hosted by Chuck Woolery, and the first Scrabble People products designed explicitly for children.

Are they having fun yet?

Ultimately the Scrabble People line was not the huge success they'd been hoping for, but S & R still pushed it hard, releasing a board game, a card game, several "building playsets," at least one LP-length audio adventure and the not-so-special TV special we'll all be suffering through today.

We open in a poorly drawn pumpkin patch, where our poorly drawn hero Mr. Scrabble has gone pumpkin picking with a poorly drawn girl named Teri and a poorly drawn boy named Tad. The exact relationship shared by Mr. Scrabble and these children is never made clear. He's plainly not their father, as they always address him as "Mr. Scrabble," so perhaps he's a family friend, a masculine au pair or just some weird guy who shows up at people's houses and borrows their kids to talk about literacy and have adventures.

The nearest we get to an explanation is when he offers them a prize for finding the biggest pumpkin. This prize turns out to be "going to a Halloween party with your friend and servant, Mr. Scrabble." So...friend and servant, I guess. Got it.

As Teri rightly points out, it's a really lame and pointless prize, as they were already planning on going to the party together anyway.

It's been less than a minute and we're already accumulating disappointments.

First Teri finds a big pumpkin, then Tad finds an even bigger pumpkin, then Mr. Scrabble starts poking around in the dirt and finds a pumpkin so unnaturally gargantuan that they've all been standing directly on top of it the entire time they've been in the patch.

That thing'd make a lot of fucking pies.

Mr. Scrabble (and I die just a little every time I have to type his name, btw) thinks they should head back to town and tell somebody what they've found, insisting that scientists will want to know about it, but before they can get their shit together to leave Teri finds a soft spot in the rind and starts stamping at it with her foot. Next thing she knows a big section of it collapses and she falls inside!

Mr. Scrabble and Tad climb down the stringy pumpkin innards to find Teri a little dazed but otherwise unharmed at the bottom of the hollow squash. Just as they're about to start climbing back out Tad notices something weird: there's a big hole in one side of the pumpkin and in the distance beyond they can see a medieval castle and rustic village!

"It's only a model."

Naturally they can't help themselves but to explore a little, so they light out for the mysterious kingdom that somehow has a sky and clouds and sunlight despite being located deep underground. When they reach the town, they find it populated by miserable-looking folks with backwards letters on their shirts.

Looks like they've been playing the Scrabble People game.

They notice the signs on all the shops and buildings are scrambled or missing letters. There's a sign that reads "SH PNG CNTR," one that reads "HTL" and another that reads "SHCL."

They stop a surly looking kid and ask if "SCHL" is supposed to read "school," but he just barks back at them "How should I know?"

He's down with the D.

The D Kid explains that no one here goes to school, or knows how to read or write, or even what letters are despite wearing them on their clothes, because there's a douchebag tyrant in charge of the kingdom who doesn't allow them any kind of learning. In fact, if anyone were to try to learn to read or write, or even to put a few letters together to form a single word, they'd be immediately arrested and thrown in prison!

We also learn that the name of the town is "Nonsense," and because Sechlow and Righter was a company run by gleeful sadists, the townsfolk are now required to sing a song about it.

It ain't "Les Miserables," but it is tres miserable.

The song is mercifully cut short by the arrival of "the Scramblers," flying purple monkey-bats with roller skates on their feet who brutally enforce the will of their autocratic leader. They nab all the townsfolk, Mr. Scrabble and the kids, and haul them off to the big castle on the hill.

Once the captives are all assembled in the great hall, a little green Troll Guy announces the arrival of his boss, "The Baron of Badness, the Count of Confusion, the King of Chaos: the Muddler," a dollar store knock-off of Gargamel from The Smurfs (1981-89), which just happened to be the most popular children's television show in America the year this special was made.


So the monocratic Muddler has gathered his people here today on a whim, hoping to assuage his boredom by throwing a few of them into the dungeon for whatever whimsical little transgressions he can think up and spontaneously declare as law.

Also present is his stout, nasty brat of a daughter Rotunda.

She's evil, homely and a total buffoon. The triple crown of fat character stereotypes.

Rotunda, whom I've just renamed "Chonk Ivanka," urges her father to mete out harsher and harsher sentences for such crimes as "thinking about changing signs" and "thinking about putting I before E but not after C." In fact our little backwards D Kid initially gets a year in the dungeon for these very felonies, but the vindictive be-yatch Chonk talks her dad into doubling the sentence. She gets so excited at the prospect of another human being suffering two years' incarceration that she jumps up and down and busts right through the floor, requiring a couple of Purple Monkeys to pull her out.

I smell a running gag...or maybe it's one the Interns using the litter box.

The noble guardian Mr. Scrabble has had enough of the Muddler's shit and steps forward to give him a piece of his mind. He calls him, amongst other things, "a menace," "a disaster" and "the worst person in the world."


At first Muddler seems flattered by all these nasty insults, but when Mr. Scrabble dares suggest that no one can keep people from putting letters together and making words the despot turns on him. With Chonk Ivanka's gleeful approval he decides to sentence Scrabble, Lexa and Tad to doing the backstroke in a vat of boiling bullion.

Before the monkeys can seize them and drag them away two things happen. First, Chonk Ivanka notices that Mr. Scrabble is "kinda cute" and starts giving him her best squinty sexy-time eyes. Second, the trio of condemned upper-worlders grab each other's hands and scarper, running in place Scooby-Doo-style before sprinting out the door like three Halloween bats out of hell.

Chonk, disappointed at the loss of her prospective beau, asks her pernicious poppa if he thinks they might really get away from the Scramblers. He vows that they mustn't, as they are clearly a threat to the bedrock foundations of ignorance and stupidy that ensure his hold on the Nonsense kingdom.

You've got a little schmutz on your nose there, buddy.

Well, gosh...that's the first half of it done, and I've got to tell you it's been a hardscrabble job of reviewing far. It can be mighty taxing to my poor, beleaguered brain when the shit I'm watching is as dumb as this is, so I'm going to take a little break here to refresh myself and introduce you to our newest research Intern, Mr. Bootsy, whom we just hired this past week.

Bootsy is a self-taught programmer and web guru, a peer support specialist with a local feline psychiatric unit, a licensed paralegal, and moonlights as a bassist in an old-school, all-cat funk band called Frousty Tuna.

I think he'll prove a valuable addition to our team, and I'm sure you'll be hearing from him during The Twelve Days of Shitmas this year.

Now let's get back to our regularly scheduled program.

We left our heroic trio fleeing the castle with a flock of flying Monkeys in hot pursuit. They reach the center of town and duck into a half-ruined building that used to be a library. They hunker down behind some shelves, and the dumb Monkeys fly right past the place to continue their fruitless pursuit.

As they congratulate each other on their narrow escape they hear something move behind them and turn to find a pretty (but poorly drawn) blonde in an Alice in Wonderland dress, shuffling nervously and holding a lit candle. She begs them not to turn her in, but they assure her they're friends...and in hiding just like her.

This is Lexa, whose father had taught her to read when she was a little girl and who has been sneaking in and grabbing books from a pile left in a corner of the library ever since.

"I wanted a Kindle, but we can't get wifi signal down here."

Lexa now takes them on a magical misery tour of the town of Nonsense, explaining all the ways in which illiteracy has poisoned their once-thriving community. No one can read any of the signs, so no one knows which shops to go into. No one can read the names of products, so know one knows what to buy, and no one can even read numbers, so they wouldn't know what to pay even if they did.

It seems to me illiteracy is the least of their problems if they're all so stupid they can't even recognize and point to things they want or remember where they can get them. Historically speaking, huge chunks of most societies' populations have been unable to read or write, but they still managed to conduct commerce and fulfil their basic needs.

She also complains that everyone is languishing in terminal boredom because "they can't exchange any ideas." They don't have any ideas to exchange, she explains, because they don't have any books from which to glean them.

This seems to be less about education and more about inbreeding.

Finally she points out a sad-faced couple sitting on a park bench. It seems they're in love but are too shy to tell each other, and because they can neither write a love letter nor read one, they're just shit out of luck and stuck pining away for each other and wanking in the dark.

I'm an advocate for universal literacy as much as the next guy, but come on! There are plenty of other ways people can communicate their fucking feelings, like a sultry stare, a batted eyelash, or just opening your damn mouth and asking for what you want. What I'm saying is there's a huge difference between being illiterate and being impenetrably stupid.

Dumbass Mr. Scrabble swallows all of these absurd assertions hook, line and sinker, but at least his heart is in the right place. He vows that it's up to the four of them to free the citizens of Nonsense from the chains of oppression. Before he can formulate a plan of action, however, four of the Monkeys reappear and grab him.

"Quit humping me, you horny bastards!"

Lexa and the children escape, but Scrabble is taken away and brought up before the Muddler on a host of high crimes and misdemeanors. Scrabble boldly asks the tyrant why he seeks to keep his people from learning. The Muddler admits that as long as he can read and write but they can't he's better than they are, but if they could do it, too they'd end up knowing more than him, realize what a dumbass he is, and topple his regime. An ignorant populace is an easily controlled populace, and control is the goal.

It's the G.O.P. platform in a nutshell.

After this brief moment of ill-advised candor, Muddler decides he'd better get rid of Scrabble fast, lest he spread his book learnin' and his cheerful attitude all over the place and spoil this sweet despotic deal he's got going.

Suddenly Chonk comes bounding in, all a-twitter at how handsome and dreamy Mr. Scrabble is. She begs her dad to let her marry him, and since she's the bad apple of his stanky eye he agrees. Chonk is over the moon, and in her amorous ecstasy she bursts into song. It's a grating, grinding, gut-grasping thing, the musical equivalent of shitting out barbed wire.

When she's done what passes for singing, she starts in to gloating. She jumps up and down wildly and shouts "He's mine! He's mine! He's Mine!" until she breaks right though the floor again.

It didn't get a laugh the first time so they thought they'd try it again.

Mr. Scrabble begs to take whatever horrific punishment the Muddler had in mind instead of having to marry Chonk, but whatever Chonk Ivanka wants, Chonk Ivanka gets, and his protests are in vain.

Chonk has him locked in a cell at the top of a tower, and makes sure he has plenty of pin-up posters of her to keep him company as he awaits their imminent nuptials. He takes the posters down and makes paper airplanes out of them, tossing them out the window in the hopes of catching his friends' attention, and wouldn't you know it, but the very first plane swoops right past their faces.

What are the odds?

Soon afterwards Mr. Scrabble has a visitor in the form of a cloaked figure holding a tray and offering him food through the bars of his cage. He notices a note sticking out from under one of the plates and sees Lexa's face peering up at him from under the hood.

The note says his friends are ready to help him but don't know what to do or how to plan. Thinking fast, he points out the window and says "Look! Someone is putting letters together to make words!" and the Monkey guards fly out in a zealous rage to track down the phantom miscreants. Finally he and Lexa are alone and can speak freely.

I smell romance! Sorry, no...this time it's definitely one of the Interns.

Mr. Scrabble tells her their only hope is to start a full-scale literacy revolt. She and the children will have to put letters together and make words on all the signs in town in a rapid strike-team guerilla action, so quickly and surgically that the Monkey goons can't keep up with them. Eventually, he reasons, the rest of the townsfolk will feel empowered to join the revolution and fight back.

It’s a really dumb plan. We already know none of these people can read, so what good will it do to suddenly put words in front of them? Does he think they'll spontaneously gain the ability to make sense of them? That suddenly the entire fabric of their society will change through some miraculous, deus ex machina lexiconic enlightenment? In a word, yes. That's exactly what he's counting on. He sends Lexa off to assemble her team, who run around blitzkrieg-style rearranging letters and making signs make sense...and gosh darn it, the townsfolk do start having vague, fuzzy memories of the before-times when all the signs meant something to them. One of the old heads says he "seems to remember reading" when he was a boy, and that it's all coming back to him now.

Even the little ones, who can't possibly have ever been exposed to coherent printed language at all, can suddenly all read too, all because their parents or grandparents once told them there used to be things called letters and words.

"Now I smell something...and it's spelled 'b-u-l-l-s-h-i-t!'"

Lexa points out the backwards letters on everyone's shirts and suggests that if they wash their damn clothing and maybe turn them right side out they can make words of their very own, and so they do.

Then all hell breaks loose.

Well, all "hello" breaks loose.

Everybody suddenly wants to read everything everywhere, so they all storm the library, singing the Alphabet Song, to engage in a gluttonous orgy of literary mayhem.

Have you ever seen such depravity?

Back at the castle, meanwhile, the Troll Guy heads up to the tower to bring Mr. Scrabble down for the wedding. The revelers in town hear the pipe organ playing, so Lexa marshals them as troops to storm the castle and break up the ceremony.

In the castle hall they've just reached the point where Chonk gets to enthusiastically say "I do," but when it's Mr. Scrabble's turn, he freaks right the fuck out and starts punching Monkeys left and right to try to escape.

The mob arrives at that very instant and a madcap melee ensues, where the Monkey troops are quickly routed by sanguinary townsfolk weilding heavy hardcover books and using them as bludgeons.

Words can hurt, people.

Lexa, whose father was apparently the rightful ruler of the palace at one time, declares that Mr. Scrabble is now Sir Scrabble, and his first official duty as knight of the realm is to kick the ousted Muddler to the curb.

As he stands proudly before the people whom he helped to miraculously and illogically liberate, the citizens chant the newly coined name of their town. Instead of "Nonsense" it has been decided that it will henceforth and forever more be known as "Makesense."

It's official. This is the dumbest thing I've ever reviewed.

Chonk realizes she's not going to get to marry handsome Scrabble and starts to pout, but he assures her if only she'll learn to read and quit being such a whiny, entitled bitch, she'll be able to find herself a fine husband tout de suite. To that end, various citizens now offer her self-help books, saying encoraging things like "This book will make you nicer," "This one will help you make friends" and "This one is a diet book!"

"And this is The Book of Mormon!"

Sir Scrabble, Teri and Tad suddenly realize they've got to get back to their own world or they'll be late for the Halloween party they were getting ready to go to at the start of the program. Scrabble calls for Lexa to follow them, and the three run back to the pumpkin patch where it all started, hoping against hope they won't be late for all the apple bobbing, hard cider and awkward conversation.

When the three reach the surface it's already dark and Scrabble is utterly deflated to see that Lexa is not with them. They sadly begin to wonder if the whole episode wasn't a shared hallucination, possibly brought on by some toxic fungus in the pumpkin patch or a coincidental trio of traumatic brain injuries.

They turn to go, but suddenly hear Lexa calling from the other end of the patch. The four heroes link their arms together, Yellow Brick Road-style, and head off together to face their future together.

And these two head off to make some badly drawn babies.

See? Reading really is fundamental!

The end.

Well that's it for The Three Faces of All Hallow's Eve for 2022! I hope you don't mind letting yourselves out. I've got to get back down to Nate's old man cave/home theater and started cleaning up after those filthy Gophers. It's gonna be a long fucking winter.

See you all at Shitmas!

As always, Cheers and thanks for reading!

Written by Bradley Lyndon in October, 2022.

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