Vincent Price's Once Upon a Midnight Scary was the most charming Halloween special of the '70s
Holy mackerel! This slice of family horror was like an afterschool special for goths.
Read to Me
The Seventies were undeniably the golden age of horror on primetime network television. Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling shifted his focus to the spookier Night Gallery. ABC, the channel known for its family programming, aired a film called Satan's School for Girls— Aaron Spelling produced it and it starred two of Charlie's Angels. You had fright-flicks like Bad Ronald and Salem's Lot. Darren McGavin battled zombies and witches on Kolchak: The Night Stalker. KISS had its own made-for-TV movie — made by Hanna-Barbera! And who could forget the demon doll from Trilogy of Terror?
And, of course, there were the Halloween specials. Speaking of KISS, they appeared alongside Carol Brady in the groovy, goofy Paul Lynde Halloween Special. But for fans of classic horror — and, honestly, a healthy dose of after-school special — there was Vincent Price's Once Upon a Midnight Scary.
Airing in late October 1979, Midnight Scary showcased three adaptations of famous scary stories — Richard Peck's "The Ghost Belonged To Me," Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," and John Bellairs' "The House with a Clock in Its Walls." Price, the august star of The Bat, The Abominable Dr. Phibes and, um, Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine, introduced each short from his "library." The segments came across as a cross of his spoken-word bit in "Thriller" and an infomercial for a book of the month club.
Price was far and away the most notable name attached. Outside of Rene Auberjonois (Benson, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), giving it all as the iconic Ichabod Crane, the cast was a real who's who of "Who?" Honestly, it's almost impressive how this production booked actors who were in little, if anything, else. We're talking names like Mike Brick and Pat Petersen. To be fair, most of these roles were for teens.
As the lead kid in "The Ghost Belonged to Me," Christian Berrigan delights with his enough "Holy…!" declarations to make Burt Ward envious. For example, when the translucent ghost girl in the barn tells him she died in the water, he exclaims, "You were drowned? Holy mackerel!" That's just funny. Later, as he watches a flood wash away a bridge like a scene from The Ten Commandments, he blurts, "Holy Moses!" Good stuff.
Likewise, Auberjonois really milks his line "Silly specter!" for all its worth. Considering it's the most cherished story ("An American classic," Price reminds the audience like an eerie substitute teacher), "Sleepy Hollow" receives a surprisingly rushed retelling. But the Headless Horseman honestly spooks. To remind you that you are indeed watching Seventies horror, the director does not shy away from showing a severed human head.
Like The Ghost Belonged to Me, The House with a Clock in Its Walls was adapted from a relatively recent young-adult novel released in the 1970s. Perhaps that's why so much of the affair feels like a presentation from the fine people at Scholastic Books. It's like a Bookmobile come to life, only the star of The Tingler is behind the wheel.
With a heavy dose of Seventies production values — bowl cuts for every boy! — Midnight Scary brings you right back to the era of bellbottoms and banana seats. If your parents made you do homework that night — or if you're just younger and nostalgic — seek it out.
Did you have a fond memory of Midnight Scary?