As I mentioned previously, Halloween is Grinch Night is one Halloween special I’m certain I must have seen, yet have no recollection of. The TV special originally aired in 1977 on ABC, and I can’t imagine that was the only time they ever ran it (it won an Emmy, that usually warrants a few repeats over the years.) And I further can’t imagine my parents choosing not to watch it when I was a child; we saw It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and Garfield’s Halloween Adventure every year they aired. But I have no memory of the Grinch’s second outing, so either ABC stopped airing it when I was still too young to remember, or my family just never caught it somehow. Naturally, I had to correct this lack of memory, and tracked down a copy to check it out.
While How the Grinch Stole Christmas was produced by Chuck Jones, Halloween is Grinch Night was produced by his Looney Tunes cohort, Friz Freleng, as one of the many Depatie-Freleng productions. Dr. Seuss himself, Ted Geisel, also acted as producer and wrote the teleplay. Because Boris Karloff, the original narrator and voice of the Grinch, had passed away several years earlier, he was replaced in both roles by Hans Conried (whose voice you may recognize as Captain Hook from Disney’s Peter Pan.) It’s pretty obvious it’s not Karloff, but it’s still a pretty good sinister voice.
The plot only meshes with the previous special’s continuity if you assume the Grinch is a recidivist.
The story — told in typical Seussian non-sense rhyme narrative — is of a recurring night of terrors for the Whos of Whoville. Every time a particularly sour-sweet wind blows, various critters become agitated, and it awakens the Grinch, who declares it Grinch Night and sets out on the prowl. Grinch Night is never explicitly linked with Halloween in the special aside from the opening title screen — in fact, in some video releases, the special is simply retitled Grinch Night, dropping the “Halloween” part of the title. Nevertheless, it aired as a Halloween special originally, and it absolutely fits, because Grinch Night is a very Halloweeny night. It’s dark and stormy, and when a young Who named Ukariah (voiced by Gary Shapiro) is blown away from his home while on a trip to “the euphemism”, he is put face-to-face with the Grinch himself. Trying to spare his town from the Grinch’s evil — arguably worse than in the previous special, as the Grinch is more overtly magical here — Ukariah challenges the Grinch to do his worst to frighten him. What follows is an extended bit of dark and colorful surrealism. I can easily see this special frightening a small child; I’ve seen horror films made for adults that don’t get anywhere near this trippy.
One of the tamer moments.
Being a Dr. Seuss special, even the “normal” segments are a bit on the surreal side, with fun deigns and vivid colors. The color scheme is generally darker — more tuned to purples and other cool colors — than the previous Grinch special, because of the Halloween connotation, but it’s every bit as vivid. There’s a lot of rhyming and clever dialog, and there are a few songs, including Henry Gibson providing a song for the thoughts of the Grinch’s put-upon dog Max, and Thurl Ravenscroft lending his voice to the bass in a few of the tunes.
Halloween is Grinch Night was never going to supplant How the Grinch Stole Christmas in the mind of the public. Halloween isn’t as big a holiday as Christmas, and there wasn’t a Grinch Night book building a fan base beforehand. But it’s still pretty surprising to me how under-the-radar this special seems to be nowadays. The Grinch and Halloween work pretty well together thematically, and the special is a lot of fun. It’s become available on several different Dr. Seuss DVD packages in the last few years, so it’s definitely worth checking out for those who have kids, or those who just have a sense of fun nostalgia for old Halloween specials.