Artist Charles Addams is most widely known for his cartoon series “The Addams Family” which ran in The New Yorker, which then became the even more popular ABC television program which ran for two seasons between 1964 and 1966. While I’m not the appropriate age to have experienced the David Levy-developed John Astin and Carolyn Jones-starring program, thanks to a helping of ‘60s re-runs on TBS when I came home from school, I knew about the creepy, kooky, mysterious, and spooky family from a young age. Imagine my delight when a theatrical version came to my local Cineplex and it was every bit as hilariously dark as one could hope for. Now, some 30 years later, Paramount Pictures is releasing Barry Sonnenfeld’s (Men in Black) directorial debut on 4K UHD for the first-time, along with an extended cut featuring unused footage. It may mostly be cosmetic, but this release is a reminder that some stories are lightning in a bottle, capturing a cast and a concept that works only once in a generation, and stand the test of time.
For 25 years, Gomez Addams (Raul Julia) has mourned his estranged brother, Fester, who left after a fight, never to return again. How lucky it seems that on the very night that he and his family — wife Morticia (Anjelica Huston), daughter Wednesday (Christina Ricci), son Pugsley (Jimmy Workman), mother-in-law Granny (Judith Malina), and their accountant Tully (Dan Hedaya) — gather to perform a séance to communicate with Fester — that Fester (Christopher Lloyd) returns with a doctor in tow, telling tales of his accident-induced amnesia. With his brother returned, Gomez is ecstatic, blinded by the fact that there’s a traitor in his midst and someone is not who they claim to be.
In the years since the theatrical release, there’s been a tempering of fandom, but no cooling. In fact, the Addams Family have become something of an ideal within certain Internet circles. At the time of their release (and even now in their animated adventures), the Addams Family is presented as the outcasts of society, the dregs, the broken, the dysfunctional. As more and more people find themselves feeling the same, of course it makes sense that they would idealize this particular kooky family. Except, when you take a closer look at the Addamses, the idolization makes a great deal of sense. Gomez and Morticia not only have a loving, respectful marriage, but are clearly engaged in an active sex life, the antithesis of most married couples in primetime. Too often the couples are presented as either bickering or downright violent (both exemplified in Married… with Children), but, well before Third Wave Feminism of the 1990s struck, The Addams Family presented heads of a household who literally longed for each other. Not only that, they love their children, supporting them unequivocally in their passions. From an outsider’s perspective, does Wednesday try to kill Pugsley? Yes. But within the framework of a family that never runs out of cyanide and plays games like “Wake the Dead,” Wednesday knows exactly where the line is between fratricide and rough play. So when threads pop up theorizing how Gomez would be the type to rent rooms to college students, putting them through rigors that will make them ready for their careers, throwing money at them so they can chase their dreams, we not only see it in our minds, but can sense the truth in our hearts. As an agent of subversion, this is *exactly* what the Addams Family would do.
Surprising no one, from this perspective, not only does the film hold up, but it’s downright progressive in a variety of ways. The jokes, dark as they are, play straight and continue to generate laughs. The premise, while a tad ridiculous, works well with the vaudevillian approach of the narrative. There’s song, there’s dance, there’s something ghoulish ready to capture you in its trance. In this new edition, the song/dance number “Mamushka” is extended with previously unused footage to add about two more minutes to the runtime of the film. So if you enjoy that portion of the film, the song, delightful as it is in the theatrical version, is given more time, allowing the tremendously talented Julia to really lean into his theater roots and up-sell the moment where Fester stops feeling like the pretender he is and like the person he wants to be. Granted, I possess a bias as I loved this film as a child to the point it was one of two film posters I placed on my walls, but the cast is just so perfect in every role that it’s hard to imagine anyone else. The vocal cast for the new animated films are fairly close and definitely fit their medium, but in live-action, it’s either the original television cast or this one.
Other than the additional footage, the 4K UHD edition (physical and digital) includes an optional 30-second introduction from Sonnenfeld, a brand-new 16-minute Filmmaker Focus featurette, and the previously released seven-minute archived featurette. Of the many things you’ll learn about Sonnenfeld’s approach to directing his first feature, the one that’s been making the rounds the most is how the cast wasn’t a fan of the original ending of the script, so they had a meeting and tasked Ricci with talking it over with Sonnenfeld. You’ll also find out about cinematographer Owen Roizman’s (The Exorcist) reaction to Sonnenfeld’s directorial ideas, how they got those kids to cry in the scene where Morticia reads to them, and plenty more fun behind-the-scenes tidbits. Between the new footage and new featurette, there’s not enough to really warrant a brand-new purchase unless you’re a major Addams fan. That said, the 4K UHD remaster might be enough to turn the tide on that decision. Though no HDR is used, the 4K UHD is still quite lovely in a variety of ways. For instance, it’s easier to denote the detailing in the costumes, the colors (though dark) possesses a vibrancy suggestive of the lifeform that’s present in the darkness (very emblematic of the Addamses themselves). Surprisingly, there’s no obvious artifacting in any of the shots, giving the film a modern quality despite its age.
This remaster is worth the pick-up if you’re either a superfan, someone who likes to have 4K everything, or you have no copies at all. You likely won’t get much from the featurettes that will change how you feel about the film as a whole and the extended sequence, while a great deal of fun, doesn’t alter any specific aspect of the film. You won’t miss what you don’t have, so it’s difficult to recommend this beyond the aforementioned reasons. It is a lovely remaster that you’ll be glad you have, so there’s little chance of buyer’s remorse. It’s just a good idea to know what you’re getting into before slapping down your cash. As someone who already has a fondness for the film, I certainly don’t feel like I wasted any time on a revisit. Was more like going to a home to visit old friends: familiar, comfortable, and warm.
The Addams Family Special Features:
- *NEW* Introduction to “More Mamushka!” version by director Barry Sonnenfeld (1:41:39)
- *NEW* Filmmaker Focus: Barry Sonnenfeld on The Addams Family (16:32)
- Archival Featurette (7:29)
Available on digital October 19th, 2021.
Available on 4K UHD and remastered Blu-ray November 23rd, 2021.
For more information, head to Paramount Pictures’s The Addams Family home release website.