Dracula, Isis, and The Strangeness of Memory

Dracula, Isis, and The Strangeness of Memory


Every year around Halloween I like to dig out some long forgotten seasonal relic from the Comfort TV crypt for a fresh look.


A few days ago I saw a mention in a classic TV Facebook group of a 1979 special that aired on ABC entitled “The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t.” Never heard of it – but from the YouTube comments it was obvious that this was a cherished holiday memory for a lot of people. Sounds like exactly what I wanted. So I checked it out. 



My review? This is one of the worst, god-awful half hours of television I have ever endured.


I know by saying that I am stomping on the nostalgic joy of others. And I know how that feels, because I’ve introduced friends to some shows that still bring me that same joy, and watched as they looked at me like I was nuts.


But that’s what makes childhood memories that endure into adulthood so fascinating. Logic and critical judgment are easily overcome by warm reflections and sentiment.


 “The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t” aired once on network TV and then repeated annually on the Disney Channel for more than ten years. 


If you never saw it either, here’s a recap: Dracula (played by Taxi’s Judd Hirsch!) is concerned that Halloween may soon be canceled forever. He calls a meeting in Transylvania attended by the Wolfman (Jack Riley), Frankenstein’s monster (John Schuck), and the Witch (Mariette Hartley). Dracula’s assistant Igor is played by Henry Gibson. 



It’s the Witch who is threatening to cancel Halloween – apparently the holiday cannot properly begin unless she flies her broom across the moon’s shadow. The other monsters try to convince her to change her mind, but she’s tired of the whole bit, and will only relent if her long list of demands are met – one of which is that Drac takes her disco dancing every night. 




Meanwhile, a family of four prepare for Halloween, worried that this might be the last time the kids will get to dress up and trick or treat. These two stories intersect in the climax, where the Witch has an epiphany and Halloween is saved. 



The script was by Coleman Jacoby, a veteran gag writer who peaked in the 1950s feeding jokes to Bob Hope and Fred Allen. Nearly 30 years later he still had the same comedy instincts but not one joke landed for me. As with The Christmas Toy, I found the commercials (for Kenner) more interesting than the show they sponsored. 


I was fifteen when this special first aired, so even then I probably would have dismissed it as dumb and corny. But if I was seven? Maybe I would have thought it was awesome. And maybe it would have stuck in my memory to the point where seeing it again as a teenager or adult would have been a delightful experience.


I know this because every time I return to Isis (or The Secrets of Isis), that’s how I feel. 



The 22 episodes that comprise this 1975-1976 CBS series, originally aired on Saturday mornings, can be as silly as anything in “The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t” but my joy is undiminished by such assessments. Here’s the premise: science teacher goes to Egypt (we don’t know why), digs up a magic necklace (buried about eight inches deep in a country that’s been digging up relics for 4,000 years), and acquires the awesome powers of an Egyptian goddess. She can stop time; she has full command over all the earth’s natural elements; but she uses her powers to help the students at her high school learn lessons about friendship, honesty and being happy just being yourself.


It makes no sense. But I love it. I think JoAnna Cameron as Isis is still as poised and cool as any superhero from the MCU movie universe. I think the life lessons taught in the stories are as applicable today as they were in the 1970s. But I’ve shared this show with friends who never saw it, and they can’t get past the clunky special effects and the saccharine dialogue.


So if you love “The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t,” hold on to that love. No one here will judge you, even if we can’t see it through your eyes. I’ll be over here watching Isis make friends with a guy in a bad gorilla suit. 





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